Riding the Vaporwave: The Rise of “Internet Music”
The Vaporwave movement was born on the internet. In 2012, Vaporwave began as an exploration into a musical subgenre of atmospheric, minimalist tones tinged with nostalgia. Overtime, it became more than music, evolving into a whole culture of fashion, art, and even political sentiment.
What exactly is Vaporwave? Stylistically speaking, the “vaporwave” is a high tide of jazzy, 80’s Muzak chopped and screwed to produce dystopian and sedative tracks. The songs are typically sampled from that hollow tune that plays on a loop after the dentist’s receptionist puts you on hold. However, they’re layered and pitched down to exchange banality for a gooey vibe dripping with synthesizers and bass.
The songs exude sensuality and retrofuturistic, pastiche imagery. Vaporwave artwork largely incorporates glitch pics, Windows ’95 logos, and marble statues a la Michelangelo’s David. Similarly, visual representations of Vaporwave commonly include snippets of Japanese text most likely obtained via a haphazard Google Translate job.
What seems like an utterly random amalgam of “hipster nonsense” actually culminates in the political undertones associated with the micro-genre. By mixing generic, old-school infomercial music down to hypnotically slick sounds, Vaporwave pokes at the current capitalist structure. Deeming capitalism void of emotion, the music and imagery imagine an indolent, synthetic future caught in the net of accelerationalism. This is a theory developed by Karl Marx that predicts hypercapitalism, structural implosion, and consequential anarchy. Essentially, jaded dissatisfaction with the present and a longing for the simplicity of the past lay at the core of Vaporwave.
A bit dark, I know. But to me, Vaporwave represents something much more powerfully positive. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this genre is that all of the music and art was founded, created, and shared by everyday people simply equipped with an internet connection and passion. One popular Vaporwave artist known as Metallic Ghost is a 17-year-old from Chicago that literally played a concert from his bedroom with five other artists from the internet. There are no tangible albums or iTunes presales, no big-budget labels or professional sound studios. It is music made by us, shared by us, and reveled by us.
In very recent years, the idea of “internet music” has come into fruition, a DIY concept that encourages “we the people” to create and share whatever music we want and enjoy. The advent of YouTube paved the way for sites such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp to offer my generation a stage and foundationally encourage any individual to post whatever creativity flows out of their minds and into software like GarageBand or Ableton. It’s an authentic collaboration fueled by this distinctively Millennial sense of community and visceral belief in distributed expertise.
Vaporwave serves as but one example of wide scale reverberations caused by DIY music. Artists like RL Grime, TNGHT, and HUCCI are a handful of Electronic Trap artists that harnessed the unfathomable power of social web space to introduce themselves and carve a path for their unique sound. They collaborated with artists from all corners of the internet to spread what has now become an internationally popular and immediately recognizable genre of music. Likewise, as a teen on his MacBook, Australian artist Flume put his own distinct spin on Electronic Dance Music. He completely redefined the genre with what he christened “Orchestral Crunkwave”, which successfully launched him into stardom in just two short years.
While the increasing influence of DIY music is certainly a testament to technological advances, it is more so made possible by the behavioral nature of my peers. We’re tolerant and supportive, we long for authenticity, and of course, we love being praised for our talents. We are no longer satisfied with simply being told what to listen to or with being force fed set paths. Now more than ever, it is evident that we have the power to voice our ideas, to create movements, and to make a change.
- June 19, 2014