H E L I O S REMEMBERS A LIFE FULL OF NOSTALGIC, RETRO, CINEMATIC MOMENTS
I was born in the wrong decade or century and I’ve never really come to grips with feeling like an alien.
Exotic things have always excited me. The sound of a 1972 DeTomaso Pantera or some ancient Persian instrument will always call to some deep part of me lost in the modern world.
To know me as a man, not the marble statue (or even the voice of the marble statue), is to know someone who lives to experience “cinematic moments”. When I look back on my life, I’m able to look past struggle and failure and depression and perfectly remember the moments that struck me like a scene in a movie. Memories here and there that brought out feelings from deep within.
Growing up as a child in the '80s and '90s, I've been programmed to the aesthetic. To experience those retro visuals and feelings inside what many would call an ever-shrinking, increasingly boring world is to experience bliss. Have you felt it too?
Vapor95 embodies a certain feeling. Some call it retro. Some call it vaporwave. Some call it aesthetic (but most could never possibly explain what that actually means). For others, it represents what it feels like to exist inside a certain film. We’ve tried to capture a feeling and I think we’ve done it well.
But nothing can capture the feeling like actual pack-your-luggage-and-grab-your-passport travel. h e l i o s has been to a fair few places in his travels. Every now and then, he feels like he's been whisked away to one of those movie moments. As if, just out of sight, there's a crew surrounding a director and he's saying, "brilliant...absolutely phenomenal".
During this time of isolation and solitude, memories pop up and tug at emotional places I have trouble accessing in lock-down. They are a memory of a memory of a place and time I’ve probably never even experienced.
When this is all over, I hope you feel inspired to live each day like it’s a movie because...it is. I’ve felt it. While you're inside your house watching movies, know with all your heart that one day, you will be living a movie moment of your own.
Maybe you'll be on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when they ring the closing bell. Maybe you'll cross the street with ten thousand other people at Shibuya Station. Maybe you'll drive a vintage Porsche cross country. Maybe you'll have a bizarre, surreal conversation with a stranger in a stale L.A. bar at two in the afternoon. Whatever it is, you'll feel something.
The following list is my attempt at capturing this feeling for you. I present to you a series of images, short memories written as best I could remember (though, a couple are sort of fictionalized).
In an effort to make you feel, please click the image to open the music which played over each scene as I experienced it.
#1. A Room With a View
To witness Hong Kong harbor at night from a 32nd floor hotel room is to witness mankind in a new way. A room with a view. That’s all you need. My two friends napped off their jetlag while I stood on a chair pushed up against the floor to ceiling window. I wanted to feel like I was falling. Clouds drifting from mountain to harbor swallowed neon buildings whole. It wouldn’t have shocked me much if a flying car had roared past the highrise and interrupted the silence the three of us shared.
#2. Just Dead Space
If you’re new to Los Angeles, the air makes your nostrils stiff and dry. You notice the first or second helicopter chopping overhead and say to yourself, what they say about helicopters in Los Angeles sure is true, isn’t it? In the taxi, my beautiful, young driver from Brazil tells me cats have a mystical power. She says she wants to try to be an actress here and when she says the word “try”, I shudder. We drive through a dozen neighborhoods. In a city where daydreaming is required, you forget most people are just trying to survive. “Have fun in L.A.,” she says as I get out of the car. You can’t see the palm trees or the beauty or the faded dreams from the hills above. From up there, it’s just dead space.
#3. Behind the Half-Cracked Door
When the rain was heavy for a week straight in Taipei, I discovered a creakiness in my body and an aching to relieve some tangible pressure closing in on my soul. I’d take the elevator to a bathhouse on the fifteenth floor of a department store. One time, I was alone in the pool and fixated on this half-cracked door. I wrapped a towel around my waist, pushed the door open, and followed the stairs to the sixteenth floor. I found an abandoned floor, completely gutted, wires and foundation crudely exposed. There were three doors. I chose one off instinct and ascended another set of stairs to a roof the size of two basketball courts. Rain tickled my half-naked body. The red lights of the department store sign hanging off the side of the building made the mist around me glow pink. The roof was a maze of cables, tubes, vents, and raised walkways. I wished I had a cigarette to light up then. It seemed appropriate. I could stand near the edge, take a drag, and look out over the sprawl. The city was still a place where I could be a stranger looking for mysteries to unravel and trouble to get into.
#4. Land of the Morning Calm
Winter in the land of the morning calm had seemed endless and in the spring, the magnolias and cherry blossoms barely appeared. Everyone kept saying the coming summer would be "unusually pleasant" but it always sounded like a question. To think of that summer and call it anything less than pleasant would be to misremember your story and paint over it with another version. Like all things though, memories are impermanent. When summer came to Seoul, everyone shed their winter coats and you were transported to a music video where you could fall in love daily. The sunsets hung in the air forever and the people are warm. You gave a mixtape to a girl you liked and everything changed. The title said "this is summer funk."
#5. A Week in Paradise
If life was a movie, I wanted mine to look like a rum commercial from 1987. The same kind of euphoric, washed-out, artificial happiness. Instead, I was starting to look like a sad French poet on my family vacation to paradise. I was sunburnt, numbed out, starved by loneliness, and always looking a little lost. White beaches, perfect weather, eternal bliss. It all began to feel flat. It finally rained one day so I spent the morning at the piano in the empty lobby trying to play the melody of "Resonance" by Home when a lady from the Midwest sat down next to me. I gave up on the melody when I realized I didn't have enough hands. I told her a story I can no longer remember. She rubbed my back and said, “sounds like you’ve got the island blues, sweetheart. A tropical heartbreak.” She was right.
The revolving rooftop walkway towering above Bangkok's other skyscrapers creaked with every revolution around the skyline. Tourists posed for lame pictures but I circulated the roof a thousand feet up in silence. Above the walkway, massive panels of lights projected neon across the sky. When I looked to the street 84 floors down, I remembered the congestion of traffic and human and animals, something out of a cyberpunk film, all crammed into a tiny space. When I looked to the black and orange horizon spread out in all directions, there was a momentary belief in the ideal of tomorrow as it's portrayed in movies and books. Maybe we will have flying cars and cloning will be drama-free. But in a flash, a year passes and it's 2020. I'm back in Bangkok, this time trapped. The 84th floor rooftop is closed now and there's a curfew in place to deal with the virus. The future is impossible to predict. But one thing is for sure, it won't ever be the same.
7. This Is the Real World Now
While some malls are quite healthy if they're located near central hubs of a city, leeching off of a popular store like a Target, or complete with cinema, most suck. Unlikely businesses thrive in the dying American mall ecosystem. The chicken teriyaki guy. Starbucks. The vape kiosk. The print-your-own-shirt spot. Something draws me to malls and other great gatherings of people and commerce. I like to watch people, analyze them, and try to build a database of human behavior through snapshots. But in the crater left by the Internet, I no longer feel the same way when I walk around a mall. You enter the mall next to a teeming restaurant and this fools you into believing there's life inside. Once you're past the food courts, it's lifeless. It's such a vaporwave cliche you could record a reverb preset there. Almost completely empty at dinnertime. We don't need to gather. We don't need to connect. We don't need to come together. This is the real world now. It’s not fun. But, it’s what we got.
#8. To the Keys
I’m on a cigarette boat making my way to the Florida Keys. Vanessa screams at me but the roar of the engine is deafening. She's mad because the mimosa she's been trying to drink spilled down the front of her clean, white swimsuit. I try my best to go slowly but it's hard with all this power at my fingertips. I don't even care about the party we're going to or the important people we'll meet tonight. I'm becoming horsepower drunk and I think I'm going deaf from all these trips but the view I catch when the bottom of the sun kisses the horizon is what I live for. "One day," I say to myself as I grip the wheel tighter, "I'll catch that sun." Then, the speed drowns everything out until I can't even hear myself think, until I can't remember where we're going.
9. Khao Lak-Lam Ru
In 2014, I flew to Thailand to train kickboxing like Jean Claude Van Damme. It'd been a dream since I saw the film Kickboxer as a little dweeb in 1995. My girlfriend wasn't sure I'd come back when I said goodbye to her at the airport. I arrived at camp with the flu, broke my toe on the second day of training, and another sickness I contracted in Thailand (probably Dengue fever) left me bedridden for a week. My goal of becoming a professional kickboxer evolved into some sort of melancholy purgatory. I wrote all day to pass the time. When the roads cooled off, I'd take my motorbike into the hills with no helmet on. Every night around the same time, I'd spin the bike around and head home. And every night, the same questions would slither into my head. Don't you want to see what's around the curve up ahead? How long will you wonder what's hidden in the darkness beyond your headlight? Do you have the courage to start all over or will love call you home?
10. If These Walls Could Talk
To me, Patrick Bateman's apartment in the American Gardens building is the embodiment of vaporwave as home. The emptiness, the clarity, the angles. While I've never stepped foot inside, I hope to one day own a space that screams, "I make a ton of money, I've got no taste, and I'm stuck in 1995." I imagine myself sitting slumped on the same black couch next to the chairs where Paul Allen met his demise. I'm in my tanning bed and the sound of Macintosh Plus echoes in from the other room, a distortion of a distortion. I think to myself, “I have all the characteristics of a vaporwave fan: blood, flesh, aesthetics. Something nostalgic is happening inside of me and I don't know why...”