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Vaporwave is a music genre and artistic movement that branched off from Hypnagogic Pop in the early 2010s. Characterized by its nostalgic and surreal atmosphere, Vaporwave blends electronic music with chopped and screwed and samples, while also featuring a distinct visual style that pays homage to bygone eras of popular culture (typically the Memphis Design, Y2K Futurism, and more recently Frutiger Aero eras).

Vaporwave has been interpreted by many as being a criticism/parody of corporate aesthetics and capitalism,[1] though others disagree and instead see it as a celebration of these aesthetics.[2] The genre is not merely a musical experience but rather a cultural commentary on the rapid pace of technological advancement and the commodification of the past.

History[]

The genre emerged in 2011 from online communities, such as Turntable.fm. In subsequent years, it gained popularity through websites such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Tumblr, Last.fm, 4chan, and YouTube. Its rise in popularity coincided with the decline of Seapunk and while the two certainly share similar aesthetic choices, there is a distinct difference between the two.

The key difference between Seapunk and Vaporwave is that Seapunk had a much more focused aesthetic on early '90s CG images and aquatic life. On the other hand, Vaporwave cast a broader net on its aesthetic cues, choosing to highlight the period from the 1970s to early 2000s (crossing over somewhat with the Y2K Futurism aesthetics of 1997—2004). It is debated when the period that Vaporwave is centered around ended; some mark the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as the ending point, while others mark the Great Recession of 2008 as the end point. Since 2022, Frutiger Aero aesthetics of 2004—2013 have started to make their way into the Vaporwave scene, which would make the cutoff point 2012—2013 when smartphones and Flat Design became fully popular and social media took a different turn.

DEAD_MALL_SERIES_-_The_Vulnerable_Marley_Station_Mall_(Ft._Music_by_S_U_R_F_I_N_G_from_DEEP_FANTASY)

DEAD MALL SERIES - The Vulnerable Marley Station Mall (Ft. Music by S U R F I N G from DEEP FANTASY)

One of the big early inspirations for the Vaporwave visual aesthetic draws direct inspiration from the Memphis Group, a name given to a group of post-modern designers and architects, founded in Milan, Italy by Ettore Sottsass in 1980. The original group disbanded in 1987, but their influence lived on, and Memphis Design peaked in popularity from the late 1980s to early 1990s. By the mid-late 1990s however, it had become seen as a tacky product, and its popularity faded. In the late 2000s/early 2010s, Memphis began to gain appreciation from designers, collectors, and many of those with nostalgia and fond memories of the '80s/early '90s.

The bright colors and simple shapes would later inspire media and products aimed at children and youth of the era, in aesthetics such as Memphis Jr. and Factory Pomo. Examples included Nickelodeon, MTV, Pee Wee's Playhouse, Discovery Zone, Gymboree, Trapper Keepers, toys, and many other staples of Kidcore, which given the time period it was popular in, makes it perfect to fit in with the Vaporwave aesthetic, since many early members of the Vaporwave community were kids during the time the Memphis style was popular.

Vaporwave has garnered some significant attention from the music press as of late. Most recently, artists such as Vektroid, HKE, Infinity Frequencies, The 2814 Proyect and R23X have gotten covered by music sites and blogs such as The Guardian, Dummy, Fader, FACT, The Wire, Thump (Vice), Red Bull Music Academy, The Quietus, Resident Advisor, TinyMixTapes, Marcel's Music Journal, Cokemachineglow, The Needle Drop, and others. Coincidentally, several Vaporwave zines have started popping up, the most notable of them being Private Suite Magazine.

Visuals[]

Popular visuals utilized in Vaporwave aesthetics can include, but are not limited, to Anime and cartoons, (often from the '70s to '90s but not always, ie. Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even The Simpsons, as popularized by artist Lucian Hughes), drug use (almost always in the form of codeine syrup or lean, or pills), Classical sculptures such as the Apollo Belvedere and Laocoon, Consumerism (often displays brand names and logos, such as Adidas, Pepsi Cola, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh Plus, PlayStation, Arizona Iced Tea, and Fiji Water), computer hardware and graphics from the '80s-early '00s (The Windows 95 operating system is used often in vaporwave artwork and edits, as are images of early computers such as the first of Apple's Macintosh PCs), city skylines, malls, sadness or distress (often employed to emphasize the ironic soullessness of the Vaporwave aesthetic, in a 'sad but aesthetically pleasing' kind of way), Liminal spaces (while on a creepier level, the surreal and nostalgic feeling goes quite well with this aesthetic), grids/lines/shapes (the inclusion of this in particular has led to some confusion with Synthwave aesthetics), pink and teal, altered reality (pictures with unnatural hues and tones can be seen throughout this aesthetic. Heavily edited pictures of the world around you can soon become unrecognizable and foreign), glitches, and the gratuitous use of Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters. Japanese seems to be one of the most used languages in the vaporwave community's artwork. Full width versions of Latin characters, used in Japanese, Korean and Chinese computers, are also commonly seen in the aesthetic.

There is an air of ambiguity of whether Vaporwave artists are either celebrating the rampant capitalism that birthed the Vaporwave aesthetics, ironically mocking the hollowness of a lot of these visual cues which mistakes shallowness for depth, or just happens to think they look or sound cool/nostalgic. It is generally left up to the listener as to what they think the artist meant with the final work.

Media[]

Most Vaporwave entertainment seems to be relegated to YouTube series (although that doesn't stop a lot of major corporations to, ironically, co-opt a lot of Vaporwave aesthetics for their marketing campaigns), with series such as Dan Bell's Dead Mall Series and Retail Archeology being prime examples of cataloging what Vaporwave is all about, while SkyCorp Home Video takes the Vaporwave aesthetic and becomes a major pastiche of early '90s entertainment and commercials. The films Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse, Valerian City of a Thousand Planets, and The Wave use the vaporwave aesthetic within their respective worlds and for stylistic and creative narrative.

Video Games[]

Ecco the Dolphin

Influential game for the vaporwave community, Ecco the Dolphin

Vaporwave, unsurprisingly, also has a rather strong and thriving presence in video games. Although it's primarily in the independent game space, the two best-known examples of Vaporwave video games are Broken Reality and Mall Quest. Although one can find many examples of Vaporwave gaming on GameJolt to play for free (which is fitting for the general tone Vaporwave goes for).

Vaporwave also prominently co-opts video games within the aesthetic as well, as the video game industry was becoming increasingly profitable at the time vaporwave is based around, so the aesthetic often incorporates video games from the time, including the NES, GB, SNES, PS1, GBC, Dreamcast, GBA and occasionally Atari devices.

A game frequently referenced in vaporwave is the game Ecco the Dolphin, as well as it's sequels, even inspiring one of the founding albums of the genre, Chuck Person's EccoJams, as well as the song ECCOと悪寒ダイビング by Macintosh Plus, from the famous vaporwave album Floral Shoppe. The music of the game is popular among fans of vaporwave for it's trippy feel and all around vaporwave vibes, and the game is one of the reasons why dolphins are so prevalent in vaporwave imagery.

Music[]

現代のコンピュー_(Music_Video)

現代のコンピュー (Music Video)

Vaporwave originally started as an offshoot of the genre hypnagogic pop, which was what the founding artists of the genre, such as Daniel Lopatin, Vektroid and James Ferraro were labelled as at the time. The genre was first characterized by its heavy use of samples from the 1980s and 1990s music, typically pop, smooth jazz, or Muzak. Samples are often pitched down, layered, or altered in classic chopped and screwed style. However, vaporwave has started to incorporate more original compositions in a range of directions, from the happy, and faster paced sounds of artists such as Surfing and George Clanton to the more distorted and surreal sounds of artists such as 2 8 1 4 and Nmesh. Artists have also started to get creative with the physical mediums they sell their albums on, ranging from the conventional (vinyl and cassette) to the unusual (Minidiscs, floppy discs and even Game Boy Advanced cartridges). There are so many Vaporwave Music Artists out there that we won't be able to exactly list them off, but we can give you a list of some Vaporwave artists that can serve as an introduction to the genre.

Some of these artists include:

Vaporwave vs Synthwave[]

Due to a lot of similar aesthetic cues, most notably neon grids, palm trees and the famous sunset, to the untrained eye, it's easy to confuse the aesthetics of both Synthwave and Vaporwave (and some people have tried to make politically motivated edits that do, indeed, confuse the two aesthetics and assume they are the same). Let it be known; they are, indeed, two completely separate aesthetics with two completely different goals in mind. While Vaporwave is more political, satirically using consumerist media, including advertisements, products, shopping malls and brand logos, as well as presenting its nostalgia in a way that feels more dreamy or trippy, using faded pastel colours and glitched visuals. It also celebrates the expansion of civilisation, often showing computer graphics of the time[3], and most notably using Japanese visuals, including anime, Japanese text and Japanese music, as Japan was at the forefront of the expansion at the time, experiencing an economic miracle and producing all kinds of technology that was shipped all across the world.

Synthwave is more of a genuinely earnest celebration of television, music and video games from the 80's, sometimes mimicking the bad plot lines and awesome visuals, and has a more dramatic colour palette, featuring vibrant neon colours (excluding green) in contrast with dark blues and blacks. This confusion is also not helped due to the fact there have been several instances of Synthwave and Vaporwave artists collaborating on projects and some artists coming in-between the two genres, such as Home and Hotel Pools.

In short, Synthwave concentrates on fast-tempo electronic music inspired by the emerging synth scene in the 80's, while Vaporwave concentrates on the ironic use of consumerist media and mass-produced and artificial pop music, but also celebrates nostalgia from the 80s and 90s.

Subgenres[]

Since the music genre was born, Vaporwave has expanded into multiple directions, making it hard for newcomers to fully understand how it is defined. Below, you will find a list of the more well-known subgenres of Vaporwave to help understanding the common traits and differences between them.

Broken Transmission[]

THE_ART_OF_VAPORNOISE_従来の蒸気騒音

THE ART OF VAPORNOISE 従来の蒸気騒音

Within Vaporwave, Broken Transmission stands out as one of the most distinct styles. The music incorporates samples of television commercials, radio jingles, and dialogue clips, and blends them with the typical Vaporwave sound while chopping them up in an erratic manner to evoke the impression of a disrupted transmission.

Eccojams[]

Chuck_Person's_Eccojams_Vol_1._Visual_Album

Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol 1. Visual Album

Eccojam is a piece of music usually made from a single short loop of the source material. It is nearly always from the seventies, eighties, or nineties and smothered with effects, most notably reverb and echo. Made popular by Daniel Lopatin (under his Chuck Person alias), many points to this being the very beginning of Vaporwave as we know it, due to a lot of the hallmarks of modern Vaporwave popping up in the Eccojams sound.

Faux-Utopian[]

Subgenre of Vaporwave, which takes elements from another subgenre such as Utopian Virtual created from James Ferraro's album Far Side Virtual, but instead of presenting a retrofuturistic utopia, it presents a much darker and surreal version of this utopia. Still, it is much more optimistic and less ironic than the original Vaporwave. As of the 2020s, it is considered a response to its parent subgenre.

Future Funk[]

Main article: Future Funk

Future Funk is one of, if not the largest subgenres of Vaporwave, partially splitting off into its own aesthetic, using Vaporwave-style sampling in its music, and particularly concentrating on Vaporwave's use of Japanese media of the time. While the subgenre originally focused on the funk scene, with the original album of the scene being Saint Pepsi's Hit Vibes, which was almost entirely built upon 80's funk and disco sampling and modern EDM drums and audio effects, the scene took a turn towards sampling Japanese city pop and anime music and a majority of its imagery being taken from vintage anime, usually set in an urban environment, thanks to the musicians Macross 82-99 and Yung Bae.

Future Visions[]

Similar to Mallsoft, Future Visions turn the futuristic atmosphere of Vaporwave into a real experience. The "vision" is taken literal, as future visions stands out as one of the more visual expressions within the Vaporwave genre. Different to other subgenres, it heavily relies on ambient textures, resulting in a fusion of hypnagogic drift and utopian styles. With a predominant use of synthesizers and dreamy elements, Future Visions is distinctly characterized by its dominant Cyberpunk themes.

Hypnagogic Drift[]

Hypnagogic Drift, among the earliest manifestations of Vaporwave, possesses a more dream-like atmosphere compared to other subgenres. It created a drifting feeling by using unconventional samples and sometimes borders on the verge of ambient music. 骨架的 stood out as one of the first artists to create music in this style, but the genre has since continued to evolve. Notably, this subgenre is recognized for its frequent use of weird visuals, aiding the surreal atmosphere of the music.

Late Night Lo-Fi[]

Late Night Lo-Fi adopts the practice of sampling from Eccojams and draws inspiration from the 90's retrofuturism found in utopian styles. However, it's very different from it by presenting these influences in a new, apolitical light. This subgenre is primarily focused on evoking the atmosphere of vibrant city nights, infused with a blue feeling. It achieves this by heavily sampling 80's music and smooth jazz, creating a sound that captures the essence of bright lights and the allure of big city evenings.

Mallsoft[]

Main article: Mallsoft

Similar to Faux-Utopian, Mallsoft utilizes the concept of "virtual plaza" that is commonly associated with Vaporwave. Its sound is characterized by reverbs and a washed-out quality, creating a dream-like atmosphere that is supposed to emulate the sensation of strolling through a virtual plaza. Additionally, mallsoft shares the concept of a hypercapitalist dream world (or nightmare), connecting it with utopian virtual and faux-utopian genres.

Utopian Virtual[]

One of the first subgenres of Vaporwave, Utopian Virtual is mostly inspired by Jame's Ferraro's 2011 album Far Side Virtual, which used intentionally artificial sounds, such as midi pianos, simple drum patterns and synthesizers, calling to mind a plastic utopian world of the Sims and fashion magazines of the late 20th century. Much of its imagery is inspired by the simple and too-clean textures seen in late 90's and early 00's 3D video games.

Vapormeme[]

A satirical genre that criticizes the over-aestheticization of the Vaporwave and also takes the misconception that the typical music is "easy" to produce, literal. There's many releases of this type and many people confuse them for real Vaporwave due to their sheer amount. Examples are Dream by bl00dwave and Subliminal Romance Part II by WΔll Flowers.

Vaportrap[]

Vaportrap is a type of Vaporwave that incorporates drum beats from trap. The characteristic trap drums include hi-hats with varying note subdivisions, typically between 8th notes, 8th note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets. Other common characteristics are 808 bass, and medium or slow tempos. Blank Banshee is an example of Vaportrap.

VHS Pop[]

VHS Pop is one of the most popular Vaporwave subgenres, being home to some of the most influential Vaporwave musicians, such as Luxury Elite, Surfing, Eyeliner and George Clanton. It generally mimics or samples pop music from the 80's and 90's, though often uses vocal effects and reverb to give the genre the iconic dreamy nostalgia of Vaporwave; though, is still considered one of the more lucid subgenres of Vaporwave.


Subgenres that are less prominent inside the Vaporwave community or focus more on a visual theme rather than an unique sound are listed below:

Deathdream[]

Vaporgoth_ホログラフィック_ゴシック_(Hologoth)

Vaporgoth ホログラフィック ゴシック (Hologoth)

Deathdream (or Vaporgoth) is a subgenre of vaporwave that draws inspiration from the dissonant, dense, gloomy and oppressive atmospheres of genres like black ambient and drone, is characterized by its simple and obscure use of samples. The genre was started by several unrelated vaporwave artists, such as father2006, Chinese Hackers, The Darkest Future, etc.

Aesthetically, the genre is presented in a distorted and dark style, where a lot of death symbolism is used, which is highly reflected in the narrative of the genre's songs and albums.

The genre is easily recognizable by the usage of dark ambient synthesizers (low octave droning synthesizers, chorus synthesizers), dark and heavily atonal sounds, reverb, a more minimalistic sample editing (as opposed to the more traditional vaporwave), lo-fi, slow, creepy production, and other techniques used to create a dark mood. The songs are usually either very short or very long, but always unstructured and "illogical", the tracks are sometimes no longer than two minutes or can be more than 10 minutes long (as in the case of the album White Death by father2006). Chopping, chorus, reverb, delay and other basic elements of Vaporwave production are still used, but they are more infrequent.

Doomerwave[]

Main article: Doomer

Doomerwave2

An example of Doomerwave.

Doomerwave is described as a microgenre that combines Vaporwave with Post-Punk, Post-Rock and Chopped 'n' Screwed music, as these musical genres are stereotypically associated with the Doomer subculture online. Doomerwave tracks often consist of samples of songs belonging to these genres. They are slowed down both in speed and pitch, and melancholic elements are added, like record cackles, glitch sound effects and high reverb. Multiple Doomerwave songs, tracks and remixes can be found on YouTube and Reddit, where they gained a cult following.

Dreampunk[]

Dreampunkguide

A Guide to Dreampunk music by u/LIFE2979 on Reddit.

Not to be confused with Dream Punk, Dreampunk was largely born from the vision of 2814 (the collaboration between HKE and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力) which was initially a more ambient take on Vaporwave music that relied less on samples and more on original instrumentation, while embracing the Cyberpunk elements that Vaporwave played with more upfront. Since then, however, Dreampunk has started to drift away from its Vaporwave roots and evolve into its own unique aesthetic.

Gamewave[]

Gamewave is a very vague term, which would encompass several Vaporwave microgenres centered around video games. Especially, video games from the period between the 80s and the 2000s. Some notorious examples are :

Hardvapour[]

5_MOST_INFLUENTIAL_HARDVAPOUR_ALBUMS

5 MOST INFLUENTIAL HARDVAPOUR ALBUMS

Hardvapour is an Internet-based microgenre that emerged in late 2015 as a tongue-in-cheek response to Vaporwave, departing from the calm, muzak-sampling capitalist utopia concept of the latter, in favor of a Gabber and Punk-influenced sound.

It has, in recent years, however, gotten some controversy and flak due to a lot of the artists within the genre saying and doing things that are just blatantly done for the sake of offending people and starting to border into Fashwave territory - so it has largely been disowned by the Vaporwave community as a whole, much like other offensive subgenres.

Signalwave[]

The_Mysterious_Genre_Known_As_"Signalwave"

The Mysterious Genre Known As "Signalwave"

Signalwave is the in-formal name for Vaporwave that is primarily focused on old media sampling, particularly from television ads and the like. Although this has been taken in many different directions (the cassette release of Laserdisc Visions adopted this approach), there are typically these unifying characteristics to these "broken transmissions". Some of these include sample-heavy, dated media aesthetics, and mild musical inclinations. These releases also may incorporate smooth jazz into themselves to invoke the garbage muzak aesthetic that Vaporwave is built upon. Some of the most prominent artists in this subgenre are bl00dwave and nmesh.

Slushwave[]

Slushwave is a subgenre of Vaporwave that encompasses the sound of “t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者“: heavily layered tracks that are often longer than normal Vaporwave (typically longer than six minutes), obscured under ping-ponging sampling and significant reverb.

Spainwave[]

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An example of Spainwave mimicking the iconic Macintosh Plus cover.

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Another example of Spainwave centered around the city of Seville and with clear Synthwave influences.

Spainwave is a subgenre of Vaporwave, originating from the subreddit of the same name, with many influences from other subgenres such as Vapormeme, or Laborwave and Fashwave (in the sense that there are works heavily influenced by Synthwave aesthetics), which deals with themes or cultural references from the Iberian Peninsula (especially Spain and its regional cultures) and imagery from the Spanish Golden Age as well as modern Spanish content. Although not limited to the 80s, it covers more periods from approximately the 60s to the 2020s. With a special emphasis on the 2000s and 2010s, it could also be considered a subgenre of Tenwave or at least a meeting point between the two aesthetics. Despite being a genre with many years of existence behind it, it was not until the 2020s that it entered the music category with a song titled Rajoywave, named after politician Mariano Rajoy.

Vaporfunk[]

Vaporfunk is a subgenre of Future Funk. Typically, Vaporfunk has slightly less energy, and tempo than Future Funk, but still uses upbeat rhythms. Typical characteristics are funky bass lines, upbeat drums, horns, and disco/funk guitar riffs. Vaporfunk is often used to described "chill" Future Funk. Some examples are:

Criticism[]

Cultural appropriation[]

Vaporwave has been accused of appropriating and commodifying elements of various cultures, particularly from East Asia. This includes borrowing imagery from Japanese pop culture, incorporating kanji characters without full understanding or respect for their meaning, and treating cultural artifacts as mere visual tropes. Due to its high potential for becoming formulaic and lack of any accompanying real-world contexts, it could be said that this applies to all content vaporwave samples, regardless of origins, including Western cultures, Latin cultures, and even propagandist variants when in context to a seeming lack of any input from modern nations who may no longer follow or approve of the past actions being promoted by such subgenres.

Additionally, even "low-brow" culture such as advertisements are often misinterpreted as having been popular or well-remembered, despite such famous vaporwave samples as "Mac Tonight" (from a late 1980s commercial for 24/7 McDonalds) having always been obscure among the general populace; if cultural appropriation can be extended temporally, it can be argued that vaporwave has contributed to a muddied and inaccurate perception of worryingly recent historical events.

Repetition and stereotypes[]

Vaporwave's tendency to rely on recurring motifs and visual clichés, such as palm trees, statues, Greek columns, and VHS artifacts, can be seen as formulaic and repetitive. Critics argue that this can result in a lack of innovation and originality, with many vaporwave works appearing similar or derivative.

Resources[]

External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.

Lists and Guides[]

Communities[]

Vendors[]

Playlists[]

Media[]

Film[]

  • The Flying Luna Clipper (1987)

Video Games[]

  • Verlet Swing (2019)

Gallery[]

References[]

  1. Zhang, H. Arts Studies and Criticism Vaporwave—Anti-Capitalism Internet Music.
  2. Nowak, R., & Whelan, A. (2018). “Vaporwave is (not) a critique of capitalism”: Genre work in an online music scene. Open Cultural Studies, 2(1), 451-462.
  3. as example, Weathercore#Philosophy
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