We Live in a Beautiful World:
Finding Vaporwave Inspiration in Unlikely Places
By Katherine Murphy Sanchez
If you’re a Vaporwave enthusiast, you’re an inherent lover of all things dated. In this community, we embrace what’s not current, what’s not trendy, what’s not old enough to be considered retro or vintage. That brief moment in time, from the late 80s to the early 2000s, is our sweet spot, and we’ll fight anyone who calls it ugly.
A trip down the Vaporwave rabbit hole is a trip into a world that only exists in unreliable memory – or so you might think.
The fact is, that world is out there waiting for you, sometimes in the places you least expect.
We all know and love dead malls, but not all of us are lucky enough to live near a dead or dying mall and have the opportunity to explore it regularly. That’s when we have to get creative and think outside the box when it comes to finding treasure troves of Vaporwave inspiration.
Spoiler alert: It’s a whole lot easier than you think. In fact, it’s right around the corner or just down the street.
I learned this firsthand only a few short months ago, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I was visiting my parents in my home state of New Mexico, and the three of us took a road trip to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere, we stayed overnight at a Best Western in the tiny town of Artesia. Outside of some top-quality enchiladas, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much. A town of this size doesn’t exactly have a bustling nightlife scene, so when we got bored after dinner, we headed over to the local bowling alley. I hadn’t bowled in years.
I was in for two surprises that night. First off, it turns out that I’m a pretty great bowler. If you know me, this is downright shocking. The second surprise came a little bit later. After working up a thirst bowling strikes and spares while “Freebird” played over the sound system, I went off in search of a soda. And that’s when it hit me. This place was a goddamn time capsule! How had I not noticed it before? Everything, and I do mean everything, was stuck in the 1990s. Nothing had been remodeled, redesigned or updated in any way. I was in an aesthetic wonderland, and I hadn’t even been observant enough to notice what was right in front of me.
I mean, see for yourself: The mural above the pins is pure futurefunk goodness, dated in the best possible way (and shoutout to my mom for bowling a perfect strike mere moments after I shot this photo!). The homage to a local league for becoming the state champs, the dark paneled walls, the popcorn ceiling…everything harkens back to a time where we forged communities with like-minded people, a time I thought was disappearing in the digital age.
And this café? Close your eyes and I guarantee you’ll be transported to birthday parties long past, the taste of grocery-store bakery cake frosting and pizza with stretchy cheese lingering on your tongue. I picked up a Styrofoam cup of Sprite in this café, and the flavor hit me like it hadn’t in years. Was it thirst, or was it nostalgia? Hard to say. And the man, eating alone…who is he? What’s on his mind? Does he come here often? Do you?
As we headed out for the night, after mom had handily beaten us at two games, I took one last look at the bowling alley, low-slung under the dark desert sky. Cold War-era rock detailing and a font that screams “this place is fun!!” added to the dated sensibility. Not vintage, not current, but somewhere in between. Vaporwave.
If I could find the a e s t h e t i c s I craved at a bowling alley in a small town, where else could I find them? I was immediately excited and inspired, and on the drive back to the hotel, I kept my eyes peeled for signs, buildings, architecture that fit the aesthetic. The kind of thing people roll their eyes over, saying “They’ve GOT to remodel!”
If you love Vaporwave aesthetics, and I’m guessing that if you read this far you probably do, I encourage you to head out into the world with fresh eyes. You never know what you might find. When I got home to Seattle, I brought my newfound idea with me, looking at my life with Vaporwave-colored glasses. For example, on my daily walks to the supermarket in my neighborhood, I hadn’t ever noticed this sign and it's pure aesthetic goodness.
(credit: photo by @kidson45thsea on Instagram)
My experience at Artesia Lanes showed me that Vaporwave is about more than nostalgia for a past we didn’t experience. It’s here in the world, now, and it’s proof that there’s beauty on every corner if you know where to look.
I’ll end with this. When we got back to our hotel that evening, as though I was being rewarded by some universal force for making the decision to search for the beauty all around me, I was greeted with this in the lobby.
Someone, somewhere, PLEASE turn this into a Vaporwave album cover. Let’s start a sub-genre, in fact.
The sky’s the limit.