The Evolution of Vaporwave
It’s hard to completely describe Vaporwave, regardless of how many sentences you use. This now thriving subculture has drawn influence from a number of cultures, artists, genres of music and time periods. Yet despite it’s diverse, ironic and somewhat pretentious origins, Vaporwave has solidified its identity among subcultures. Thus, outliving many of its counterparts founded during the same time period, from similar origins and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
In that time, there have been several stand out influencers who have helped vaporwave develop its identity at times where its meme underpinnings threatened to be it’s undoing. These people have quite literally molded vaporwave from a genre of music created by teens slowing, chopping and remixing '80s elevator music into a blossoming art culture… with more remixed '80s music.
Let’s take a quick look at ten people who have truly shaped Vaporwave.
Daniel Lopatin, an experimental electronic artist from Massachusetts, is arguably one of the founding fathers of the vaporwave movement. The Vaporwave genre actually originated on online forums as an aesthetic characterized by glitch art, '80s and '90s subculture and a surrealist/sarcastic perspective on pop culture and consumerism. However, in 2010 Lopatin’s release of Ecco Jams 1, under the pseudonym Chuck Person, served as one half of what would become the album that defined Vaporwave music.
Lopatin released Ecco Jams one as a joke. The album consisted mostly of '80s hits that had been slowed down and spliced repeating short sections of the original song for the duration of the tracks.
Enter James Ferraro a musician, vocalist, producer and composer, known for his exploration of hyperreality and consumer culture. Around the same time that ‘Chuck Person’ released Ecco Jams 1, James released a project called Far Side Virtual, which true to his style explored consumerism through the lenses of globalization and internet culture.
Unknown to both James and Daniel Lopatin, these two styles would become the basis for what would soon be considered the album that defined Vaporwave as a genre, Floral Shoppe.
Macintosh Plus AKA Vektroid
Taking inspiration from her predecessors, Vektroid, born Ramona Andra Xavier, in Washington State, fused the themes from Lopatin’s Ecco Jam 1 and Ferraro’s Far side Virtual into the masterpiece largely responsible for popularizing Vaporwave music - Floral Shoppe.
Floral Shoppe was released under one of Vektroid’s many aliases, Macintosh Plus and to date is the only studio album released under this alias. Following the release of Floral Shoppe, Vektroid aka Macintosh Plus, quickly gathered a following for people interested in her strange, droning take on '80s funk and elevator music.
Floral Shoppe opened the floodgates for a number of artists looking to share in this unique, anti-consumerist, nearly anonymous and ironic take on '80s and '90s subculture. The Vaporwave music sub-genre essentially embodied these sentiments by essentially promoting the appropriation and remixing of older music into newer explorations of hyperreality.
The Death of Vaporwave
Shortly after Floral Shoppe gained prominence, the Vaporwave movement went through a period of uninspired, largely disliked music that gave the movement a bad reputation to the general public. This downturn for Vaporwave arguably began when artist, Robin Burnett, known as Internet Club, released a number of projects that borrowed themes from Floral Shoppe but instead of condemning capitalism- promoted it.
While Internet Club’s approach to Vaporwave music was innovative and intelligent, those who followed after the artist were largely uninspired. Vaporwave albums effectively became a mish-mash of rehashed '80s and '90s advertisements with music that did it’s best to imitate Floral Shoppe’s major themes.
Rebirth and Blank Banshee Zero
In September of 2012, Patrick Driscoll, known by the alias Blank Banshee, would rise to become the savior of Vaporwave with the release of his self-titled and self-released album, Blank Banshee Zero. Blank Banshee Zero would reform the Vaporwave genre by introducing a classic Vaporwave sound fused with a trap beats and heavy bass drops.
A Wave of Innovation
Blank Banshee’s innovation on Vaporwave music, opened the doorway for more interpretation of the message the subculture carried.
Atmospheres 1, a project by anonymous artist Echo virtual, took innovation to a new level by combining completely original music, samples and sounds that mimicked those typically found on a weather report. The album was generally an acquired taste and was intended to transport listeners into an alternate and haunting reality.
Following this, Hong Kong Express - now known by the moniker 2814 - took the idea of transporting listeners into alternate realities, through his album “Romantic Dream”. The album is described by the artist as a brief and romantic foray into the nightlife of Hong Kong.
Romantic Dream served as the catalyst for a new revolution of Vapor Wave. The subculture’s music had evolved from a simple caricature and criticism of capitalism, to be a way of communicating a narrative through music.
Following Romantic dream, a variety of sub-genres emerged from Vaporwave, one of which would emerge as the face of the genre for a time - Future Funk.
Future Funk vs Mall Soft
Future Funk began emerging in 2012 with a number of little-known releases that played with classic, upbeat funk and new disco themes merged with known Vaporwave elements. Future Funk quickly became the most popular type of Vaporwave music and was even branded as its own genre following the highly successful release of Hit Vibes by producer Saint Pepsi in 2013.
Hit vibes succeeded in remixing catchy soul tunes into energetic and upbeat dance tracks with heavy bass and drums. This new take on vapor wave would go on to influence countless Vaporwave artists, solidifying Future Funk as its own genre.
One such artist was Macross 82-99 who released Sailor Wave later that year. Sailor Wave was a collection of remixed Japanese disco songs remixed as a tribute to Sailor Moon. Yung Bae, a producer from Portland, Oregon would release his self-titled debut, which featured similar Japanese pop songs remixed with heavy drum and bass.
Mall soft can be considered the anti-thesis of Future Funk.
Where Future funk deviated from traditional Vaporwave, creating a more upbeat, dance-centric style of music, Mall soft became the epitome of using elevator music backed by intense reverb to create music that fit a particular theme of particular places.
Producer Disconscious would lead the way for future Mall soft creators, with the release of Hologram Plaza. An album that relied heavily on a treble reducer and reverb to transform '80s tunes into droning, repetitive pieces.
A Continued Evolution
Vaporwave is a rare success among internet subcultures and rightly so. Where most attempts at something similar failed, pioneers in the Vaporwave movement have managed to steer the development of its music, aesthetic and culture at pivotal moments.
Vapor95.com for example, has played a massive role in bringing Vaporwave aesthetic into fashion. Four years after Vaporwave emerged as a subculture, there was still a void in the market where fashion was concerned. As popular as the aesthetic had become, wearable designs were scarce and hard to obtain. Vapor95.com solved that problem and has continued to popularize the Vaporwave aesthetic since.
From this seemingly sarcastic and characteristically “un-serious” movement a number of successful artists, businesses and producers have made their way and continue to develop Vaporwave. Vaporwave is now more than a “mere” subculture. It's the embodiment of expression for a unique group of people, telling their story of existence in a diverse and interesting number of ways.