The Story of Vaporwave's Most Iconic Label: DMT Tapes FL
The Story of Vaporwave's Most Iconic Label: DMT Tapes FL
by Pad Chennington
What’s cookin’, what’s poppin’, it is your boi Pad Chennington and today, I want to tell you the fascinating story of one of Vaporwave’s most beloved, important and iconic labels: DMT Tapes FL. We are going to be looking at the history of this label, it’s inspirations for creating it, as well as 5 releases from the label’s incredible arsenal of albums that will be the perfect starting pack for your dive into everything they have to offer. I was able to hear the story first hand from the creator himself, Vito James, and I am absolutely honored to share the incredible story of how it all came to be. Folks, get cozy, because we’re talking some Vaporwave history.
After spending much of the year as a recreational listener and lover of Vaporwave, Vito created DMT Tapes FL in the middle of November 2014. Vito’s first encounter with Vaporwave was James Ferraro’s sample-free work in mid-2012, the first traditional vaporwave he heard came in a back-to-back (YouTube autoplay suggested) viewing of popular video clips for “Cherry Pepsi” by Saint Pepsi, followed by “daphne” by Luxury Elite. Something hit his interest immediately, and he told me he remembers having this feeling of, “what is it about this that sounds so…special?” His ear was picking up on the sample usage, yet his brain wasn’t connecting the dots yet on how this stood out to him so much.
*Far Side Virtual by James Ferraro
Vito eventually figured out how vaporwave was made in the springtime of 2014 when picking up two major influential recordings: Riviera by Kodak Cameo, and Rose Quartz by Luxury Elite. The concept of turning old songs into new songs was always a subject of interest when exploring genre movements such as plunderphonics, mashup, and others. Vaporwave however? It felt like the complete next level for him in regards to potential.
“My obsession began roughly here, as the middle of 2014 was budding and I started discovering the amazing label scene in the form of four biggies: Fortune 500, Business Casual, Dream Catalogue, and Ailanthus Recordings. Almost all of my listening from April 2014 to starting the label in November 2014 was spent browsing these amazing collections. I was captivated just as much by how the labels presented the artists/albums as I loved the music involved.” - Vito
As he was finishing listening to the complete collections of aforementioned labels, while also delving into the wealth of ‘no label’ releases on various artist Bandcamp pages, he was starting to wish that there were more… a lot more (not that there weren’t already hundreds of albums out there in vaporwave scene already!). Vito notes that what scene had at the time was great but he always wanted more. Vito would often compare vaporwave to his love for chillwave, which was strongest to him in 2010-2013. That genre had mostly died out by the middle of the decade, and Vito had a sadness in realizing that vaporwave might be able to follow suit.
After seeing his first “Vaporwave is dead” declaration on the subreddit, the sadness drove him to one simple action: the making of a Bandcamp account. He had no idea what he had in store except he knew he wanted to use it to increase the amount of vaporwave that was on the website. If this really was a dying genre, on its way out the door, he thought to himself “I really better do this promptly.”
Right off the bat, Vito decided to adopt a rapid pace of new album releases from the very first months of the label's existence: He recalls being in that mindset of, “Live today like it’s your last,” but instead of it being him that was out-the-door, it was vaporwave. Or so he had feared.
Luckily, Vito slowly realized just how often people were willing to declare the genre as ‘dead’. Still, he was not taking any chances by slowing things down. He devised an idea from the late months of 2014 that, until he met artists who were interested and willing to release on this new label, he would produce the music himself. Vito had a background of making ambient music for 5+ years by this point, and while he states he was not super confident in what he was making, the experimental part of him did not mind. He was excited at the possibility to do audio presentations in a unique way.
*Where You're Going by Calusa Eisenhower
“The first tags I put on DMT-FL were “educational ambient” and “Florida Ambient”, not intending to make a new genre, but because I was specifically using field recordings and media clips that were A) about the state of Florida (in theme to the FL theme I’d gone with), and B) general educational material. I always liked the idea of blurring the lines between information and entertainment, and so many of the early DMT-FL albums are made in this way: plundered ambient made from traditional Vaporwave sample sources, while including spoken word bits under distortion. I decided to create many artist names and use them for different themes; for example, to cite my first three artist aliases of DMT Tapes FL: Calusa Eisenhower always focused on the teachings of Alan Watts; Orlando Turnpike always featured dystopia and feelings of an uncertain future; Ed Asner, Secretary of Defense was a faux-documentary series (derived from a real documentary about Florida) in an alternate timeline where Florida is a country instead of a state.” - Vito
*Florida, #3 by Orlando Turnpike
For the first half-year of the label (11/2014 - 05/2015), Vito was the person making the majority of the music. By the time he had reached 100 releases on the label, he had made close to 80 of them, and if we compare that to today in 2019, Vito’s music makes up about only 25% of the entire label instead of 80%! As he continued to make albums on DMT-FL, Vito would post them onto /r/vaporwave and then browse the place for other independent artists. He would send private messages to those he adored or appreciated most, or if he discovered somebody who looked like they had a unique sound but no representation, he would contact them too. All of the artists who made it into the first one-hundred came from Reddit. Inquiries included: Dan Mason, La Trace, waterfront dining, Nanoshrine, Cobalt Road, Shima33, American Online, and many others that comprise the 2015-16 label digital discography.
John Zobele (from Business Casual) created and publicly gifted DMT-FL our famous rainbow FL logo (based on my own artist's conception made in MS Paint), in May 2015. It remains our logo for 4+ years and I have no plans to ever swap it out” - Vito
As time went by, attention started coming towards the way of DMT-Tapes FL. (Thanks to an idea Vito had one day to make music videos for choice label songs that he was listening to most.)
”I found various YouTube channels that were dedicated to ripping old VHS tapes wholesale for their advertisements and commercials, and I made quick-edit promotional clips of my own featuring the music of DMT Tapes FL. Plugging the URL of an album while mentioning in the description that our music is free / Name Your Own Price, this ended up being the best form of exposure that I could have selected. To this day, I maintain two channels for the label (DMT TV and LSTHETIC; the former contains only on-label music while the latter allows me to make videos for other artists/albums I am a fan of, but may not represent).” - Vito
*Vision by Plastique
A large portion of DMT-FL’s success comes from offering their artists maximum freedom when it comes to bringing their digital music to other platforms, including other labels, their own personal Bandcamps, streaming services via distributors, and syndication onto physical formats.
“Many labels tend to require an artist to only have their album available through their label page; usually, I find other label owners become upset if they find out an album they released was featured on another label, and/or is available on a personal artist profile of the person they’ve just worked with. I do not adhere to these policies for DMT Tapes FL, as I believe this label is a conduit for helping connect interested listeners to exciting new releases. Limiting an artist’s ability to rehost, re-release, or procure physical copies of an album has never been my interest!” - Vito
*Land of Sunshine ☁ State of Dreams ☀ by Ed Asner, Secretary of Defense
Vito adopted a model of breaking each year of the label into seasons, largely in part due to the decision of major artist waterfront dining, who has been the single greatest inspiration to Vito both as an artist and as a friend. waterfront dining approached Vito in the summer of 2015, when Vito was, at the time, considering closing the label after around 150+ releases due to excessive hostility and toxicity he was encountering from other rival figures in the Vaporwave scene. waterfront dining convinced Vito that he should keep up what he has been doing and that they should start a new chapter together. To this day, the only other person to run DMT Tapes FL with Vito was waterfront dining himself, in the form of what they called “DMT-FL, season 2: DMT[REC]”. This concept of naming and modeling seasons for listener historical perspective was kept and upheld (often with a logo update or add-on to keep the design fresh). It was during this period that, thanks to the amazing friendship and encouragement of waterfront dining, Vito started to emerge from his shell more and more.
He helped coordinate major events for the label at this time; Vito and waterfront dining appeared together on a Minnesota radio show via Skype call to promote the label, leading him to understand that there may be a huge opportunity in spoken word appearance.
DMT-FL and waterfront dining remained immensely close in the years that followed the 2015-2016 run of waterfront dining acting as co-owner and co-administrator of DMT Tapes FL. While the duties have returned to Vito himself for the remainder of 2016 and into 2019, Vito states that the history between waterfront dining and himself will always be of the most highly-regarded and respected. The label even almost ended after 8 short months without the influence of waterfront dining.
“My model has remained largely unbroken for nearly five years now: all DMT-FL albums are available on our page without exception. The only requirement I have is that artists allow us to continue hosting these albums digitally and free, for the sake of retaining listener
excitement and exploratory prowess from future generations who find the label. The worst thing I could imagine is having the label become an incomplete unit, as this could harm the enthusiasm of those who enjoy our material.” - Vito
*Ursa Minor by Your Dark Nate
DMT Tapes FL is most enjoyed when people know the entire collection is available to them at all times, and without a rationing hierarchy that other traditional labels like to employ when including a paywall. As vaporwave is made almost entirely from unauthorized royalty-free sample-usage, Vito believes it would be unethical to start charging admission when the majority of content is created for absolutely free as-is.
Vito tries to do a major event each year for the label, usually in the form of a massive album dump that greatly increases the amount of new music for listeners, but in a short-term and exciting digital festival. The mainstay he has done twice now is “Vaporwave is Alive”, first in January 2016 and the second in July 2018. The goal in both cases was to have a new album every day all month long (which was met successfully both times). Vito also did a version of this event where Vito himself was the sole artist, called DreamVerb (which ended up being the caption name of DMT-FL: Season 5 [2018-19]).
*You and No One Else by Late Night Simulator
These events have become one of Vito’s favorite aspects of running an outfit like DMT Tapes FL with such digital freedom abiding. The music of the first “Vaporwave is Alive” actually received attention from #1 subscriber-count holder on YouTube, PewDiePie, who plugged various DMT-FL artists in several consecutive videos throughout November 2016. Vito states the label still receives a healthy amount of new listeners from this plug, albeit three years after it happened.
“The best tool I have to help the artists who release for us is to use my ability to write in any way I can. I do album reviews for artists whenever I can, although my dream of having a review for every DMT-FL album has not yet been achieved. It is one of my goals for the 2020s.” - Vito
*Instructions for Household Retention by Aerobic
Vito has made many promotional tools for vaporwave as a whole that do not just help the works of DMT-FL released albums, such as “1001 Vaporwave Albums You Must Hear Before It Dies” (a review project of Vito’s favorite albums, which is, as of right now, halfway complete). Vito also created mixtape presentations in the form of a series called simply “100 Hours of Vaporwave”. Combined, these various writing projects and audiovisual plugs come together to form his daily life of trying to get as many people as possible onto the DMT Tapes FL wavelength. Vito always wants people to know that this collection is for everybody, constantly growing, and meant to be a staple of the scene and genre he loves so dearly.
“I can only hope that every recording we’ve ever featured is cherished by someone, archived for the future, and is never ever forgotten.” - Vito
Now that you know the story, you understand why they have a whooooole dang lot of releases! Luckily for you, Vito and I want to help you out—here are five historic DMT-FL albums to help you dive in.
1. Dan Mason ダン·メイソン - Miami Virtual (02/02/2015)
The first album to ever really get big on the label, to this day it is DMT Tapes FL’s biggest puller and it gets dozens of downloads per month.
2. waterfront dining - Pages EP (01/01/2016)
This is Vito’s personal favorite set of songs from the many that waterfront dining contributed to the label; to him, it felt like the harbinger to the amazing year of Vaporwave that 2016 was. The last song on here ended up being plugged in a Pewdiepie video, which gave DMT Tapes FL huge exposure in late 2016/early 2017.
3. Nanoshrine - SEGAS
The entire SEGAS trilogy is on DMT, but the first one is Vito’s choice if he had to choose one!
4. haircuts for men - 地下カラオケ ep (11/16/2015)
This is one of Vito’s most played albums personally on-label. The mood here is exquisite and every HFM release has this special tone to it, this one is absolutely no exception.
5. 猫 シ Corp. - ショップ @ ヘルシンキ (03/01/2016)
Ah, Mallsoft made by authentic mall recordings as made by the artist. Cat Corp walked around a mall while on vacation and recorded the raw field recordings himself, then made a
vaporwave album using the genuine crowd audio. Highly evocative and one of the most fun albums to give the lore of mallsoft for new listeners!
Simply put, DMT Tapes FL is an incredible label and represents the wonderful potential of the Vaporwave scene, a scene fueled by community and a constant passion to keep on growing and archiving. Vito has created a hub world for many fans and artists alike, and I know DMT Tapes FL will continue on as an iconic, legendary label for years and years to come.
Much love, ur boi, Pad Chennington.
"Also known as "Youtube's Vaporwave Valedictorian", Pad Chennington is a content creator who has created a substantial following on YouTube for his videos discussing all things Vaporwave. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Pad's videos range from reviews to breakdowns, interviews to unboxings, and much more, always revolving around odd and interesting music genres found throughout the internet. Pad has also recently released an album in February titled "CONTRAST" that is available as a free download via the My Pet Flamingo label."