Music scenes and styles generally start in areas. Grunge started in Washington, Dubstep originated in South London, and Techno formed in Detroit.But with the internet having become the controller of our lives (long live the internet), music has been able to spread to all different areas with the touch of a button.
For one particular genre, the scene started from the deep depths of the internet.
Yet, despite this style being developed over the world wide web, it distances itself distinctly from the advances of the world. It relies on having the listener feel like they are in an elevator with cheap music blaring on the speaker. The singer wails in a lower pitch than what was recorded decades ago. Accompanied with the song are visuals of old eighties flicks and designs that could only remind you of a milkshake cup from a mall that hasn’t been updated in 30 years.
This is Vaporwave.
Unlike other genres, Vaporwave was formed mainly over the internet. A descendant of chillwave and hypnagogic pop, the style draws heavily from Japanese, Ancient Roman, and American culture.
A majority of Vaporwave songs are samplings of pre-21st-century music ranging from American disco, Japanese city pop, and eighties ballads. It becomes a task for the artist to use the original sample and distort to the point that it is a completely new song.
Dating back to 2010, a variety of artists experimented to figure out what the style would be. Albums such as Eccojams Vol. 1 and Far Side Virtual formed the basis of Vaporwave. It wasn’t until Ramona Xavier (F.K.A. MacIntosh Plus) released Floral Shoppe in 2011 that the style had a defining album.
The most famous Vaporwave album, Floral Shoppe samples from artists such as Diana Ross and Pages to mix into the Japanese corporate aesthetic. “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” by MacIntosh Plus is probably the most recognisable song of Vaporwave. Despite only being reuploaded to Youtube in May 2018, the song has already hit over 5 million views.
Floral Shoppe’s album cover became a key concept for the style. The aesthetic and visuals are as important as the music. Every album became an art piece with visuals and music intertwining to form twisted and unique albums.
Vaporwave became an internet sensation afterwards as it was memed quite heavily. Where most pop culture sensations die a quick death, Vaporwave experienced an influx of intrigued listeners. Subreddits and tumblrs were created to celebrate their new-found love of faux elevator music.
Come 2013, it was time for expansion. Vaporwave had started to become multi-faceted and given the technology in the 21st century, experimentation was easier than previous generations of music.
In 2012, Canadian artist Blank Banshee 0 released his self-titled debut album. This album was one of the first examples of expansion of the genre.
Blank Banshee 0 popularized the Vaportrap genre within the music community. As the name suggests it is a blend of Vaporwave with trap elements. It was a hit with Esquire saying that it was “more approachable than a lot of music in other vaporwave subgenres”.
The album used a combination of old computer sounds and nineties videogame music. It’s what the community needed, a new outlook on the genre. And with that, came Future Funk.
If Vaporwave is your cousin that’s going through their weird re-invention phase, Future Funk is their much more approachable brother. Future Funk is a mix of Daft Punk inspired French House, current day Disco House, and high tempo Vaporwave. Generally using eighties disco tracks and Japanese city pop the genre has sampled the likes of Chic, The Whispers, and Tatsuro Yamashita.
The mainstay album of the genre to many fans is Saint Pepsi’s (now Skylar Spence) 2013 album Hit Vibes. Saint Pepsi released his first album under his moniker on 27 December 2012 with Laser Tag Zero.
By the time Hit Vibes released on May 31, 2013, Saint Pepsi had released seven albums. This is a common occurrence among Vaporwave/Future Funk artists as sampling can be a quick process that only requires mixing, not recording.
The album became a smash hit. Songs such as ‘Better’ epitomised the high paced nostalgic feel of Future Funk with the song getting comparisons to Daft Punk’s first two albums. If you want a fun exercise: pull up both Better by Saint Pepsi and I Can Make It Better by The Whispers (the sample used in the song) to compare the original and modified version.
‘Cherry Pepsi’ by Saint Pepsi showcases the nineties aspect of the genre mixing in a Sister Sledge sample with Lo-Fi mixing techniques and filters. The song has gained over five million views on YouTube with the Hit Vibes album having over two million views on YouTube.
This album became the basis for Skylar Spence’s career. Signed by Carpark Records (the record label top chillwave artist Toro Y Moi is signed to), Skylar Spence was emerging from the scene. Forced to change his name due to copyright issues with Pepsi (yes, it really happened), Skylar Spence experienced one problem. He couldn’t sample anymore. Why you ask? Because you can’t make money off samples without paying the original artist.
It is the reason why The Avalanches and Daft Punk don’t release albums every year. It is incredibly hard to get artists to let their music be used. And it’s become the problem in the Vaporwave community. There’s no money to be made if you are an artist. Skylar Spence was able to create new songs being able to utilise his guitar playing and drum machines. His album, Prom King, was described by Pitchfork as “dance music that’s almost a late-‘00s throwback”.
Other artists have used it as a way to build up their portfolio to work in the music industry. However, it’s leading to a growing problem. The Vaporwave community is dissipating. There is not enough interest anymore. The discovery phase is over and there’s nothing to replace it.
Some sub-genres have risen in past years. The memeable Simpsonwave solely focuses on the aesthetics of old Simpsons episodes while mixing in Vaporwave tracks. There is also the politically focused Fashwave which draws heavily on using fascist propaganda as an aesthetic. These sub-genres, however, have not taken Vaporwave to any new heights. In fact, it’s detracted from the original aesthetics.
It seems as though the Vaporwave boom is over. While there are great samplers out there such as Macross 82-99, Desired, Yung Bae, and Fibre, they have either moved towards EDM or haven’t been able to move past the community towards a bigger audience.
The main problem with Vaporwave, Future Funk, Vaportrap, Mallsoft, Seapunk, and all the other sub-genres and offshoots isn’t the music or the samplers. They have very talented and dedicated artists and fans within the community. It’s the fact that it has to be explained to you to get it.
When you listen to a rock song you can understand the core values through the lyrics. With Vaporwave if you aren’t pining for a nostalgic trip to an old outdated mall that hasn’t been updated since the nineties, it may lose you. And if it’s got you, it’s hard to talk to your friends about it. To them it’s weird. To you, it’s art.