While most mallsoft albums try to recreate the experience of visiting a mall in real life, what would happen if a release strove to recreate the experience of visiting a digital mall instead? This is the question that Merced Mall [Virtual Tour 2004] ponders. The experience remains a soothing one, with all the ethereal background noise you would want and expect out of wandering through a vaunted retail space, but the digital twist gives the release an entirely different texture. 90s games didn’t have the luxury of populating their wide-open spaces with sprites, so Merced Mall feels weirdly empty, but in a more welcoming way than you’d get from more traditional mallsoft. It doesn’t feel like a dead mall so much as a mall that happens to be empty. It allows for a genre used to sticking with the same handful of tricks to try out something new. And the result is something different, yet familiar.
Once upon a time, many years ago, back before COVID was a thing, Christmastime at a mall was a big deal. The bustling hives of frantic shoppers and fitful children would pack in for the holidays, and the malls themselves made sure to up their game. Decorations would appear seemingly overnight; giant ornaments, tassels, trees, and of course a (paid) photo opportunity with Santa Claus himself. All that’s well and good, but it doesn’t convey the coziness that a mall used to have around Christmas. Whether it’s the promise of shelter from the biting cold outside, the general cheer of the holiday season or the relentless, inescapable sound of Christmas music piped throughout the mall, these vaunted shopping Mecca’s just feel different at year’s end. But we’re here to focus on the music. Specifically, the latest album from mallsoft maestro Looking Through Sheets.
It can be hard to hear amid the hustle and bustle of a filled-to-capacity shopping mall, so it’s great that Christmas at the Brand New Lifestyle Center gets that. Sure you’ll hear some classic tunes on occasion, sometimes even with disarming clarity, but more often than not, recognizable tunes will weave in and out of your consciousness, never quite feeling alien, but not quite familiar either. This is all beautifully conveyed through the opener, “Christmas at the Brand New Lifestyle Center.” A massive 15 minute journey, the track packs the aforementioned instant recognition, but isn’t afraid to scramble the signal up a bit. It helps to keep you a little off-kilter as you barge through the doors of the retail palace. Sure, that might sound like “Silver Bells” for a split-second, but just as quickly it’s gone, fading into a cold repeating loop devoid of warmth. Where’s the characteristic warmth of a regular mall? Maybe it’s in one of the other wings.
“Spengler’s Things” could well be an indicator that a classic Christmas shopping experience is going to be hard to find. A reverberant, haunting vocal distortion drives the track, and things feel more like Halloween than Christmas on this one. It’s decidedly unnerving. But what’s this? Where is that piano music coming from? A warm glow seems to be emanating from somewhere, and sure enough, “That Christmas Mood” (a collab with Swanson Teavee) at long last brings that Christmas spirit roaring in. There’s more crowd chatter in the background on this track, and the mall just feels more full of life in these parts. You must have started in the abandoned wing, is all. The warmth carries over into “Same Time Next Year”, another peaceful track that seemingly carries you right into the heart of the mall. Eager shoppers bustle and shout across the halls, interrupting your chance to hear the music once in a while. It’s starting to feel like there never even was a pandemic after all. “Bon Marche” seems to agree, as this track comes the closest to a traditional mallsoft track. Slowed samples, reverbed drums you’ve definitely heard before — all that good stuff. It provides a comforting sense of familiarity amidst the storm of all these foreign sounds, and allows the track to feel a lot more unique than it might if it weren’t on a holiday album.
You just might have gotten too comfortable though, as “Carpenter Way” almost entirely strips away music. It’s there, but very faintly, and the track is primarily instead motivated by a solitary set of footsteps and the sound of an elevator. Dropping off some shopping in the car? Or just going home altogether? It’s hard to say with “Lark Bells Carol” (a collab with Ghost Fliers). The track is absolutely beautiful, a stunning, melancholic rendition of (unsurprisingly) “The Carol of the Bells” that doesn’t really sound like it takes place at a mall. You’re definitely still around people, but it doesn’t have the same mall-like quality to it. A restaurant to grab a bite? An airport? Where are you going? Given the further progression into the dark on “1961” it sure seems like the fun times at the mall have come to an end. Distortion comes back here as well, perhaps as you reminisce about a particularly good holiday from years past? Do you enjoy going to the mall so much that when you’re done, it makes you incredibly glum? If the closing track, “Humbug”, is any indicator the answer is yes. One final piece filled with melancholy for the road, then. One very simple but very sad melody loops for a couple of minutes, before the album gracefully bows out.
While these concluding tracks make for great listening, they aren’t necessarily festive. The back half of the album might be better saved for after the holiday season concludes. As the New Year comes around, you might find yourself thinking about how sad it is that the holiday season built up for so long, only to be gone in a flash. And that is when you want to put the back half of this album on. Soak up the melancholy of the album alongside your own feelings rather than bring things down while there remains so much to be happy about!
Maybe mallsoft still has room to grow after all. All it took was departing the concourse. And that’s what we get with “Live” at Lowe’s, May 6 2015: a mallsoft album that feels fresh and exciting amidst an ocean of albums that all fall back upon the same few tropes. Instead of faintly ominous reverb and the idle chit-chat of window-shopping pedestrians, Lowe’s shifts its attention elsewhere. While the people in the store are still present on the album, their presence is much less conspicuous than other entries in the genre. While we do hear the crowd’s footsteps and mumbling on occasion, their influence on the sound comes more from what they are doing. A greater emphasis is placed on the scraping of barrels, rolling white noise of carriages, and piling of mulch bags. The end result is an album playing in the same toolbox as its peers but in a whole new way.
Favorite Track: The Relaxing Music Plays On Repeat While Shopping
Music to Mood Boards By offers a chameleonic variety of sounds. As the opening track samples Anna German, you’d be forgiven for expecting a mellower release, but what we have here is an album absolutely jam-packed with hip-hop drum beats draped across an eclectic mixture of sounds that should be incongruous, but are ultimately rather harmonious. Mallsoft gives way to funk, and then to soul, to bossa nova, and so on and so forth, until the album winds all the way through its diverse spectrum. While the drumbeats sometimes threaten to upset the delicate sense of serenity afforded by listening to this album, they never quite overstep, managing to walk a very fine line. This is a good choice for when you can’t quite settle on one sound to listen to and would rather cycle through a few things.
Ahh, fall. The best time of the year. Autumn foliage, spooky movies, and the…looming threat of Satan taking over the world? That’s right, back in the ‘80s (hell, even today in some parts) there was a growing fear that Satan would engender himself into every house throughout the world thanks to horrifying rituals and depraved sexual acts. Which begs a much more important question: what would the music of a real satanic panic sound like? Well, thanks to Vacation Bible School, we have an answer.
You’ve been driving on this road for hours. Some of these signs look familiar. Haven’t you driven by that gas station before? No clue where to go next, you refer to your map, a whirlwind of directions that loop back on themselves, making no sense — and yet exactly as much sense as the situation calls for. And what’s this music that keeps phasing in and out of the car radio? Fleeting. Soothing. Sinister? TERRA ATLANTIS delivers a calming musical experience, but it never lets you get quite comfortable enough to fully relax. While this game soundtrack may be masquerading as utopian, something ominous lurks just beneath that static. Be wary.
Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, Listen To This Music, Dodge
We here at Utopia District recently had the absolute thrill of interviewing the game composer duo of Sonny Rey and Matt Naylor, collectively known as The Soundlings. The duo has contributed music to a number of projects, most notably ESPN’s Monday Night Football and the HBO series Lovecraft Country. But their newest project, Knockout City, is something…a bit different. An online multiplayer dodgeball experience, Knockout City is a frantic, colorful world filled with zany characters, fun-as-heck gameplay, and an extraordinary array of music. Let’s dive in and see how Sonny and Matt crafted the music of the world of Knockout City.
Utopia District: There are certain sounds one might expect from a traditional sports game. Genres, general vibes. But Knockout City is far from a traditional sports game. In what ways did you want to lean into those sonic tropes? And in which ways did you see an opportunity to distance yourselves from them?
Sonny Rey: When we were presented with making the music for Knockout City, we definitely didn’t think of it as a traditional sports game. Our goal was to enhance the artistically vibrant world of KO city. Sonically, the one thing that might link this to music for sports games is the ridiculously high energy! Other than that, nothing about this process was traditional. The whole world of KO City is just so wacky and different in terms of its style, that it allowed us to really break free from those sonic tropes you are so used to and mash and cross genre lines we usually wouldn’t.
UD: How challenging was it to craft all these different distinct voices for the radio stations? To what degrees did you want them to feel different from one another, while still accounting for them showing up within the same game experience? Was that constraining in some ways? Freeing?
Matt Naylor: I’d say definitely freeing. One of the most enjoyable parts about writing this music was starting a new band. It kept it fresh throughout the entire project and kept us on our toes! Because we were tasked with creating different bands, it expanded the musical palette of the soundtrack. We wanted every band to have their “thing.” So, while The Hologramatix have Doo-Wop vocals chopped and blended into an electro hybrid track, Johnny and The Breakers has a 1960’s Surf Rock core. The one thing that stayed constant through the bands was the use of brass and horns. That was something we knew we wanted to run throughout all of the music.
UD: What was the process for crafting these bands? How’d you arrive at each one? Did you start with the music and shape the identities of the bands around the sounds, or did you start with the sound and shape the identities around what felt correct at the time?
SR & MN: We actually started with the identities. We would sit and talk for hours about who the band was and what kind of instrumentation we would use to define them. There was a small experimentation process while producing but we’d always come back to the same question: “Would this band use this sound?” If the answer was no, we’d change it up!
UD: You’ve crafted music for sports-related projects previously, most notably ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Did you take anything away from that you were able to utilize when it came time to Knockout City? Further still, anything noteworthy from previous projects that were of particular help here?
MN: We learn something new with every project. Something in particular that helped us create this music was all the amazing musicians we’d met from previous projects. We brought in a dream team of talented players that made our tracks come to life in a special way. As we keep working on bigger projects, there’s a lot more at stake and we’ve learned how to deal with that pressure. In one of our first meetings with the team at Velan Studios they asked us to deliver an “award-winning soundtrack” to which we said, “No problem!”
UD: What challenges did crafting music for an online experience pose? Traditionally, music doesn’t play as integral a role in the online multiplayer experience. In which ways did you strive to ensure the music was still something that could draw players in? And what efforts went into ensuring the presence of the music during gameplay without itself serving as a distraction?
SR: Making the music as fun as the gameplay was one of our main goals! The game is so fast-paced and frantic, we needed to match that energy level. We were working closely with Matt Pirog (Audio Lead at Velan) and he wanted to use music as a dynamic part of the game experience. He wanted players to have an advantage when listening to the musical cues during a match. So when a player gets knocked out there’s a big brass fall. Or when it’s game point, the music bumps up a half step, adding to the intensity. The fact that Matt incorporated the music into all of the sound effects really helps to tie it all together.
UD: To piggyback off that energy level we were talking about, in what ways did you try to embody that beyond incorporating the score into the sound effects? Did it show up in melodies? Instrument choice?
SR: I would say we tried to embody that energy in every aspect of the music. The tempo. The elaborate brass arrangements. The hard-hitting drums. It is a combination of all of these parts that make up the high-energy sound. The retro-futuristic world definitely influenced the approach we took to the sound. Combining things like big band brass with modern electro beats gave it a unique sound and energy.
UD: Looking at the game, it’d be easy to find it challenging to get the correct tone. Were they any sounds you were experimenting with and ultimately discarded?
MN: If we’re being honest, we nailed it from the start! Even our original demos made it into the game. There were revisions and things that the team at Velan wanted to hear more of, but we were always on the same page with the overall vibe and aesthetic of Knockout City. It’s one of those things where it was a match made in dodgeball heaven.
UD: I always like to close out my first-time interviews with the same question, but what brought you to the industry? How’d you find yourself scoring games? Was it a natural progression from other mediums? Always been fans of games?
SR: Matt and I can say the same for ourselves: Music was all it was ever going to be for us. Games were also a huge part of both of our lives growing up and even to this day! Scoring games has always been a goal for us and is honestly a dream come true.
MN: When we were presented with this opportunity, we didn’t hold anything back. We knew Knockout City was going to be a hit and fell in love with the world right from the start. This is just the beginning for The Soundlings, so expect more sound things!
And there we go! A pulling back of the proverbial curtain. A glimpse at the crazy amount of work that Sonny and Matt put into the vibrant and varied world of Knockout City! If you enjoyed the interview, please check out the duo! And the music!
Online COMMUNITIES SHIFTED BY A GLOBAL PANDEMIC: A LOOK AT ART MOVEMENT RESILIENCY & ADAPTABILITY THROUGH THE LENS OF VAPORWAVE
When the curtains closed on ElectroniCON & ElectroniCON 2, there was a promise of something more, something greater. Where was the scene headed? What was next on the docket? We as a community had made such extraordinary strides in so short a period of time, the next months and years were cause for excitement. Anticipation. And then the world ground to a halt. An entire planet in lockdown, with nowhere to go.
Some industries were able to weather the pandemic rather well, such as online retailers like Amazon. Others – like the movie industry – had a lot of problems to contend with, and very few solutions. How do you justify spending so much money to make films when your fledgling streaming platforms don’t stand a chance of recouping the loss? Some, like Warner, bit the bullet and chose to release their films through HBO Max. But this wasn’t a solution, merely an answer. This problem didn’t stop with cinema, though. How would the music industry, through which most artists make their living through touring, cope? While there was no shortage of creative solutions — major bands like Muse or Between the Buried and Me chose to take this time overhauling classic albums, providing brilliant new mixes- one of the fastest responses and most logical solutions came from…vaporwave. Online concerts sprang up rather quickly, and a movement that formed almost entirely on the internet had to return once more to that which gave life to it. So what were the takeaways from these last nightmarish months? What did we learn? What’s next?
PART 1: Return To Sender
In a way, vaporwave being forced from the real world back onto the internet was a homecoming. Starting in small groups on forums or Facebook, the vaporwave community, while very much niche, is tight-knit and passionate. Coming off of the crescendo provided by the aforementioned ElectroniCON’s, these myriad friendships that started digitally before pivoting to the real world were unceremoniously shoved back into a virtual space.
It would have been perfectly understandable for many labels or artists, or even fans to just throw their hands up in defeat, and hope that the community could weather the pandemic, coming out unscathed. But many in the scene had the incredible idea of just taking what we could from the in-person events and adapting them to the internet. What if we could still gather and come together as a community across the globe to see our favorite artists perform? What would that look like? Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Barely a month after the lockdown orders began for many in North America (around February 2020) we saw Syncup.World in collaboration with SPF420. Featuring Cash Wednesday (a Skylar Spence project), March 28th would mark the real opening of floodgates for the months ahead. Just two days later, Pacific Plaza Records would seamlessly pivot the Virtual Memory series to an online presentation with the sixth entry, alongside All Hell Breaks Loops. The good news is the series recently celebrated its twenty-fifth entry on May 30th! So this shift to online has been a success, to put it mildly. Here’s to twenty-five more!
While it took a little bit of time for the community to really get used to the idea of “attending live shows” on Twitch or YouTube, the relatively short period of downtime for vaporwave meant that things picked right back up again. As May 2020 rolled around, the community was present with an absolute deluge of events to choose from. First up was the 7th Anniversary Show for Business Casual on May 1st. Featuring sets from nanoshrine and Diskette Park among others, such a monumental event was quite the way to kick off the summer festivities. Shows in the month of May weren’t anywhere near finished either, as the end of the month brought the weekend spanning Pure Life Festival as well as Vaporspace Online, which raised $5,000 for charity.
And these events carried on for months and months, all the way up to now. Since the lockdown, it’s been nigh impossible to go more than a month without an incredible event. To just cherry pick a few, we had We Love DMT <3, a show of support for Vito, one of the most dedicated and important members of the community (featuring the likes of 猫 シ Corp., Dan Mason, and Bodyline) in July of 2020. Or how about Vapor95 Live 5.0 in February of 2021, which featured names like Lola Disco and desert sand feels warm at night. While many of the shows were smaller in scope, with only a handful of artists, some events swung for the fences with massive lineups that spanned multiple days. Like Late Night Lights, the lofi event (which Utopia District hosted and was heavily involved with alongside Gorgeous Lights) featuring luxury elite, telepath, and Hantasi to name just a few.
Why was this transition so seemingly easy for vaporwave? There are a number of reasons. Saying the scene started online is only a surface level analysis. There was also the opportunity to learn and grow. And grow we did; as the number of online shows expanded, so too did the quality. Many artists were provided the opportunity to take their real-world applications in the music scene, and convert them into an online space. Skeleton Lipstick for example had previously thrown the Terminally Chill vaporwave dance parties in Philadelphia. This prior experience with live events carries with it a certain know-how for magnetizing a community towards an event. That remains a useful skill when things pivot to an online community, as people still need to know where to go, right?
One big thing that certainly helps is the “hobbyist” nature of the community. Many of the musicians or visual artists (though of course not all) don’t involve themselves in vaporwave as a career, it’s more often a secondary (or tertiary) form of income, and generally more of a hobby. This was beneficial because not only did it mean many members of the scene were able to approach many different facets of putting on a show themselves, but there was also less red tape to contend with. With fewer hands in the cookie jar, the process of getting a show off and running could sometimes be as simple as asking.
But another major strength of our community is passion. Most folks involved in vaporwave do so from a place of love. There’s an indescribably passionate fan base built into this community, one built (shocking though it may be for an online group) on positive reinforcement and love. By the nature of vaporwave coming from a place of love, many of the shows were free. Which bears mention, as both showrunners and artists foregoing a fee for the sake of the community is…extraordinary. These events being passion projects meant the musicians and visual artists, and behind-the-scenes folks generally did everything for free, because if they didn’t, who would?
This passion covered every facet of the concert experience. These online shows were filling in for the opportunity to actually be at a show, so that created many conundrums that might not be immediately thought of. For instance, how do you make a stand in for a live venue? If you’re not really going somewhere, that doesn’t mean you can’t go anywhere. This is where some fantastic solutions show up. The long-gestating game Second Life plays a key role in helping those who want to have as close to a real concert experience as they can. You can take your in-game avatars to a club or two and enjoy the show in this venue, dancing to your heart’s content, talking to people, and everything in between. Sure, it’s a facsimile, but it’s a very creative one, and it offers some heightened sense of camaraderie. Why not head to Betamax, the brilliant vaporwave venue helmed by SNWCRSH (a friend of the site!). Or Ramb.ly! (Created by FoxBarrington)
Part 3: What’s In It For Me?
This passion and desire to put on these shows is all well and good, but what’s the point of it been? What did it do? The answer’s not all that dissimilar actually. Passion yet again rears its head, coming to the forefront. This tight knit community had come to appreciate and desire more of these events, but with the lockdown we had to find new ways to come together.
So at its most basic, continuing to put these events on allowed the community to continue expanding. More artists hopped on and performed, including some artists that might otherwise not have had the opportunity to do so: DATAGIRL, Skule Toyama, Donor Lens, TUPPERWAVE, bl00dwave, Seabaud, or Ducat to name but a few. With this global genre it can be hard to travel the globe for a show. Plus the presence of these vaporwave shows in the live streaming community get more eyes on them than otherwise might be the case. Those who might normally have skipped past or had no interest in seeing a vaporwave show in person, might tune into a broadcast and find that they were previously unaware of how much they loved the scene. That’s all it takes. One fortuitously timed moment, and you have another passionate newcomer feeling their way through this sprawling, ever-evolving scene. Besides, we’ve established this community is a driven one, and it’s even easier to simply click on a link to enjoy a show than fly or drive somewhere.
Plus the DIY nature of much of vaporwave means the barrier of entry tends to be lower. It’s more tied to your work drive and how motivated or interested you are in making something happen. And the online shows amidst that lockdown lowered those restrictions even more, as you no longer had to worry about going to a location, carrying gear, and every worry and hassle that go with traditional touring.
These online shows further still helped bring attention to areas that might often be overlooked or merely underappreciated. Thanks to the likes of PocariSweat, Skeleton Lipstick, Pacific Plaza Records, and more, themed afterparties joined the fray, allowing these glorious get togethers to linger even longer in everyone’s hearts and minds.
The opportunity to revisit shows is another underappreciated benefit. When you go to a live concert, you feel the electric atmosphere, drink in the sights and sounds, and when the show is over, those emotions, while they may linger, will eventually dissipate into nothing. Archives of live shows that include the chat transcripts, allow the moment in time these shows represent to be captured forever, with the same level of electricity and excitement as the moment they were happening. The same reactions, the same fidelity, the same electricity. Sure, you can sift through YouTube and find single songs here and there — captured poorly on someone’s phone, as normally the only recordings of high quality are professional ones, which of course cost money. This is yet another facet of vaporwave that is provided for free. The lack of obstacles between consuming and enjoying vaporwave are arguably the smallest they’ve ever been right now, ironically amidst a massively restrictive pandemic.
This ability to revisit shows also draws attention to one of the great unsung heroes of the live show: the visual artists. Visual artists provide exquisitely executed marriages twixt picture and sound, but for live shows, it’s more often than not a one-off. If the music it was crafted to pair with isn’t there, it may be an interesting collection of images, but you wouldn’t just sit down and watch them in silence. The archived shows remove that problem from the equation, allowing both repeat viewings of visual sets, as well an increased appreciation for them. It takes what might normally be a thankless job (or at least less appreciated than is deserved) and draws much-deserved attention back to it. So let’s draw a quick little bit of attention to some of the visual artists whose work caught our eyes during these festivals: VideodromeTV, Sleep Pattern, BootyWizard, Billy Galaxy, Pixel8ter, ///\/, and oh so many more!
Now, not only are these experiences free, they’re available in the same high quality as the live debut of the show. You can relive them in a way that you can’t with other shows. A live concert — unless the band specifically arranges for it — won’t be recorded to the same quality as a pro one. Just random phone camera clips scattered across YouTube. The massive wave of online shows allows concert viewing with regularity and quality rarely, if ever, seen — especially for free.
And then of course, at a very basic level, these events are great examples of “portfolio pieces.” The performers, the visual artists, the showrunners, all areas required to make one of these shows happen are pretty impressive things to be able to say you’ve pulled off. Is it so hard to believe that creating a live event could lead to greater opportunities both within and without?
The obvious question to ask next would be “what’s the next step?” Where do we go now, amidst a world at long last returning to normalcy?
The answer here and now is Worldwide.wav, happening right now, June 11th and 12th, a culmination of all the lessons we learned from the past year-plus of putting on and attending live shows. A truly global concert event, covering every timezone on the planet and running for an extraordinary 36 hours. We here at Utopia District are hosting a block in collaboration with My Pet Flamingo, representing one of six legs of this trans-global vaporwave celebration.
But what about beyond that? What’s the next next step? Well, given how the world is progressing, it seems only natural we return to live shows, no? The real question will be whether we pick up right where we left off, or if things will be more cautious at first. Or is the solution something else entirely? We as a community have made such tremendous strides these past months, it seems only fair we keep moving forward. What dimensions has vaporwave yet to breach? Are these upcoming destinations even in sight? When will we even know? Vaporwave is nothing if not open to experimentation, so it’s likely safe to assume that, no matter what comes next, its loving community will be along for the ride.
A sprawling, meditative excursion to Tallon IV, the famed planet Samus Aran explores in Metroid: Prime. With music that brilliantly mixes the familiarity of one of Nintendo’s greatest series with that of a relaxing ambient album, Prime is a hypnotic aural excursion across an alien landscape. Alternating between twinkling, relaxing pieces, and frantic driving polyrhythms, the release is a must for anyone fond of the Metroid series. While it offers a compelling mix of the new and the familiar, as the wait for Metroid Prime 4 grows ever longer, this release couldn’t be more welcome.
Is The Greatest Vaporwave Project of All Time Secretly a Rock Band?
Rebirth in Reprise
There are certain defining traits we can look to when trying to qualify the sound of vaporwave. Samples, appropriation of recognizable brands, great loops, pastel-based color palettes, hard to come by physical releases, and a Bandcamp presence are just a few of vaporwave’s core components. What if we told you there was a rock band that had all of these?
The Dear Hunter – not to be confused with Deerhunter— are a rock band originally from Providence, Rhode Island – now based out of Port Angeles, Washington — renowned for their ambitious album concepts, as well as the ability to seemingly mix genres at will to great success. Founded by former The Receiving End of Sirens vocalist/guitarist, Casey Crescenzo, the group has churned out an incredible array of inspired music, creating some of the best tunes, well, ever. The most well-known of their projects is The Acts, a five-album story spanning the life of a young man as he repeatedly makes poor decisions. There is also The Color Spectrum, an “album” consisting of 9 separate EP’s each covering a color on the visible spectrum, as well as black and white, with the intent of pairing a specific sound to a specific color.
That’s all well and good, they’re a very talented band. So what? What’s all this got to do with vaporwave? Well, it just so happens that the band adheres to many of the same principles as those artists that create vaporwave. Let’s dive in.
One of most commonly cited tenets of vaporwave is that of sampling. While it may play less of a role these days than it did in the movement’s infancy, it’s still very much a part of the scene. And this happens to be a practice The Dear Hunter adheres to. Honestly, we could come up with hundreds of examples, but we’ll just cherry-pick a couple. Let’s start with a track off of the closing album in their Acts story, Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional. The closing track of the album, “A Beginning” is both a narrative and musical crescendo. A somber, retrospective on every track that led to this point in the story, the song concludes with a beautiful piano melody that runs from the 5:26 mark to the track’s conclusion. But what if we told you this piano piece was STOLEN. That’s right, you can find the very same piano piece on a completely different song by a completely diff…well, by a band. The melody can be heard in the song “Vital Vessels Vindicate” by a rock band called The Dear Hunter.
Starting at 5:43, you will hear the same piano track. Coincidence? Unlikely. And that’s to say nothing of some melodies that show up on Act V that are slightly changed from where they might be in their original form. A song titled “The March” on Act V has an eerily familiar vocal piece to it. Starting at 2:32 you hear the lyrics:
Was that there’s far too many ways to die
Far too many ways to die
Now those lyrics on their own could describe any number of songs, but if you compare it next to the sample of the source material, it sounds like it might be completely lifted from a track that existed prior to Act V. It’s eerily similar to a segment of the song “The Old Haunt,” (starting at the 1:01 mark) which as it turns out it sampled from the same band that made “Vital Vessel Vindicate.” That’s right, that track also comes from The Dear Hunter. Clearly, this band has a particular group they like to lift samples from.
Loops are another mainstay of the vaporwave movement. Look no further than some of the earliest pieces, like “Nobody Here” to get a feel for it. And that’s a feature of vapor music that, much like sampling, may not be as essential as it once was, but it’s still very much a part of things. For a perfect example of this let’s look at the track “A Night on the Town” off of The Dear Hunter’s Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise. The track opens with a blaring, in-your-face guitar riff. But here’s the thing, once the riff concludes, they play it again. I mean, do we even need to say anymore?
This one’s a little trickier and took some exhaustive investigative journalism on our part. There are certain brands intimately associated both with vaporwave music, as well as its general aesthetic. Brands such as Arizona Iced Tea, or the example we’ll be talking about now: Fiji Water. The iconic square packaging is the defining trait of the brand, but you know what the next most important thing about it is? Water. And there are multiple references to water strewn throughout the band’s discography. Let’s look at the album art for the Blue EP off of their Color Spectrum project.
Sure looks an awful lot like water to us. Just like what you can find inside of a coveted bottle of Fiji. What’s more, for anyone familiar with the geography of Fiji, it’s an island. And the above picture appears to be of a coastal region. A coastal region that might itself be an island.
But not so fast, we’re not done with that artwork. If you notice there are also quite a few shades of blue present in that artwork, some of them even look pastel. And as we know, pastel blues and pinks play a huge role in the vaporwave aesthetic. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve also used pastel pinks before. Recently, a vinyl box set of all of The Acts was released, which included newly redesigned artwork for the first three albums. And on the album art for Act I: The Lake South, The River North, if you look hard enough you can find some pastel pink. We’ve taken the liberty of blowing up the image for you and circling the suspect area, don’t thank us.
Now, of course, not every vaporwave artist is required, nor are they necessarily expected to have a Bandcamp page. But having one doesn’t hurt. And wouldn’t you know it, The Dear Hunter has a Bandcamp page. Sure seems suspicious to us if they’re not a vaporwave group.
We think it’s safe to say we’ve provided ample reasons why you could make the argument that the greatest vaporwave act of all time is actually, secretly, The Dear Hunter. If you can’t arrive at the same conclusion that we have after this much irrefutable evidence, it’s out of our hands, but we hope you arrive at the same conclusion that we have.
Happy April 1st to all of our dear readers here at Utopia District! What’d you think? Did you fall for this for even a second? No?
Well, if you’re interested in digging a little deeper into what The Dear Hunter is really about, we’ll include some helpful links below. They’re a pretty incredible band -this writer’s favorite music group of all time in fact- and they deserve as much attention as they can get!