On today’s episode our conversation revolves around YouTube and the creators that played a crucial role in the continued life and ongoing exploration of the Vaporwave genre. We discuss the extent of YouTube’s place in the cultural resurgence of the genre, and what we owe the people that made the early mixes, and explored the sound.
We will examine how the YouTube platform helped the genre evolve beyond its initial sound & aesthetic, and what the relationship between the platform and the genre means. We recognize the unsung heroes of Vaporwave’s continued existence, and how through YouTube, they shaped and spread the genre. Join us as we explore the significance of YouTube in the Vaporwave movement, and ask the thought-provoking question, would Vaporwave still exist if YouTube did not exist?
Hop on the Utopia District train to find out, through an intriguing conversation on how technology and creativity can shape musical movements, and the potential impacts of online platforms on music cultures.
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On today’s episode our conversation revolves around YouTube and the creators that played a crucial role in the continued life and ongoing exploration of the Vaporwave genre. We discuss the extent of YouTube’s place in the cultural resurgence of the g…
Welcome to the Utopia District Podcast! Today, we have a special guest who will take us on a funkadelic musical journey that will have you grooving in your seats. That’s right, we have none other than the Scottish future funk producer, Mélonade!
Welcome to the Utopia District Podcast! Explore with us the numerous facets of the internet that we have forgotten over time. Remember the day when you could customise your desktop and use special media players? We talk about how these things are now…
ElectroniCON is an incredibly important event for the vaporwave and adjacent communities. Presented by George Clanton of 100% Electronica, ElectroniCON 3 was a pilgrimage that brought vaporwave fans together from all over the globe, to Brooklyn NY on Aug…
In order to properly invoke nostalgia, one would have to employ certain techniques that would trigger our various senses in order to recall the feelings of memories we lived in our younger days. A familiar sound palette, album artwork of a beautiful sunset, sample choice, and the descriptive title perfectly places the listener back in time to enjoy the late summer nights of our youths. Neighborhood Afterglow by b o d y l i n e is the album for those who are soaking up the last summer nights before the turn of the season.
At its core, Neighborhood Afterglow is a nostalgia-evoking album that is reminiscent of a specific time period in vaporwave’s history. That time period is that of the early 2010’s, as the album is a textbook example of a classic vaporwave sound, down to the sample choice, speed, and amount of reverb applied to each track. The six-track album thus displays itself as a cohesive work that encapsulates feelings of mellowness and a sense of floating into the ether.
The album opens with “Traffic Light Plaza,” which features synth bell arpeggios, washed-out vocals, and reverbed percussion which sets the tone for what to expect in the album. Following tracks such as “Waterglide” and “Afterglow Waft” follow a similar format, with drawn-out chords on a rhodes piano, repeated hypnagogic guitar melodies, and a heavy low synth bassline that is reminiscent of early works of vaporwave, such as that of Luxury Elite and Cvltvre.
I believe that this album should be listened to by anyone who is a fan of the genre as there is nothing that this album presents that is particularly sonically original. While a lack of originality may sound as a negative descriptor, it reflects that the album’s sound is based on a formula that has been proven to be enjoyable to many fans of the genre, which is that a slowed and reverbed sample can prove to be sufficient enough to produce a good track. However, that also does pose the possibility that such an album in this format could be lost in the sea of the many vaporwave albums that have a similar sonic palette. In other words, if the average listener did not know that this album was released this year, one may think that this album is a classic vapor album from 2013 (which is certainly not a bad thing!).
Overall, this album is a very nice compilation of tracks that brings the listener a sense of comfort as it relies on the effective format of slowing and reverbing tracks, which eliminates a likeliness of any particular element that may not be enjoyed by all listeners that one may find in newer releases that incorporate a greater amount of experimentation. This album is definitely one that can be enjoyed by newer and older fans of the genre and one that is perfect for a listen on a late summer night.
Ah, 1997. I was at the tender, innocent age of five, discovering the things that would influence me for the rest of my life, such as Power Rangers and mimosas. It was also the final year that the original Sailor Moon anime was aired on American television sets. Back then, I didn’t really care, but it appears that for one vaporwave artist, this was nothing short of a tragedy.
Eric Gordon — aka Darien Shields — has been in the vaporwave game since 2017 and told me that he had a goal in mind when creating this alias: to create a total of seven unique albums, themed according to the years that Sailor Moon (the show he takes his name from) aired on television, so from 1991 to the aforementioned 1997. Platinum Phantom is the last in this series of albums, and as such, every sample from the album is from the far-off year of 1997. Besides the theming, he stated this time that he, in his own words, wanted to lean more into vaporwave cliches.
“This time I focused a lot more on MIDI composing than on any previous albums though. Some songs are wholly original compositions made from the samples I lifted. Some parts are just straight up slow-downs, but I tried to do that as sparingly as possible this time so I could really explore more and invest more of myself into the music.”
I like vaporwave albums with themes as it helps in the artist’s grand quest to make the listener feel something. Walking through a rainy Japanese mega-city or shopping in an eerily empty indoor mall or just making you feel sad as !@#$ are all popular themes in vaporwave. The question is; what is this album trying to make you feel? And the answer is: Well I’m not quite sure. Yes, nearly all of the samples are from 1997, but at no point did the album feel like this is something that was from or paying homage to that year. The album seems to lack a coherent vision or goal, not just overall, but in the individual songs as well.
So let us get right into it with… a slowed-down voice clip from Austin Powers? With that rather curious introduction, “Backstreet” continues. It begins intriguingly enough — Austin Powers sample aside — with an interesting melody, but instead of adding variation to that melody or having the song ramp up, it does the opposite and slams on the brakes. The music stops and what replaces it is some ultra lofi drum work and what sounds like someone banging on a pot with a metal spoon. This goes on for a bit before the melody from earlier fades back in. However, by this time my “groove,” as it were, was broken, leaving me rather unsatisfied. Vaporwave is no stranger to change-ups, however, there is usually an overarching feeling the artist is trying to convey when this is done. With this track, and many others on the album, it almost feels as though it is two different tracks and ideas unharmoniously meshed together.
“Comrade Chad” begins with a few scattered sound effects. Blowing wind, the sound of shoes squeaking on gym floors, and a tambourine. These sounds start to come together to create an interesting beat, but it just straight up stops before anything can come of it. What follows is a vaporwave tune with some pan flute thrown in which lasts for all of 47 seconds (I counted) before it again turns into something else that does not at all resemble what came before. A simple tambourine and drum-filled rhythm that can be described as rather plain. There never feels like there is a reason for these change-ups to take place and there isn’t enough time for each piece to develop before it goes on to the next one.
“Tux” is a classic vaporwave affair with a slowed-down sample and some sexual undertones. It is minimally edited, but this harkens back to the vaporwave “cliches” that Darien mentioned earlier, so it appears this was very much on purpose. It does not sound bad, just rather plain, though it is undoubtedly vaporwave, and likely will scratch an itch for those who are a fan of the classic style.
“Cosplay” is a faster tune that sounds like it should be blasted at a fashion show. This is to say, that while it plays like it ought to be turned up nice and loud, it is not what your attention and focus should be on, leaving it in a bit of an odd position. I know that is not exactly helpful for what the music actually sounds like though, so I will say that it has a lot of electronic sounds and sirens and such. It is not poorly composed or made, but it is simply not something I can see myself listening to outside of a Zoolander film.
The uncomfortably named “Daddy” is in the same vein as “Tux.” We get a slowed-down sample that ups the groove factor, and has served as the base of vaporwave for over a decade now. This one is a bit more edited than “Tux,” which puts more of Darien’s personal touch on it. Reverbed, mixed, and tuned down with some impressive sound engineering towards the end with how the song fades out.
“Novartis” is a nice little tune that kicks things down a notch and conjures up images of running down a beach in slow motion, or at the very least watching a commercial for a Sandles Resort. It is a very light track and the one I think most has the “vibe” of 1997 that I think Darien is trying to convey throughout the entire album.
It leads into “Daisuki,” which has very little to say about itself, as the song appears to be two minutes of a nine-second melody on repeat with only minimal variation. The sound itself is very “mallsoft” and the right amount of echo is put on the track to make it feel the part, but it sounds like it should be a piece of something larger. If this was a track on a mallsoft album, I would excuse it as simply there to set the tone, but I am unsure of how to feel about it on an album like this. As with change-ups, repetitiveness is something that is no stranger to vaporwave. For some artists, it has even become their go-to technique, but when one does this, you had best make sure those nine seconds resonate with the listener. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t.
I liked the next track, “Outrun.” However, this may be only because I am on a chiptune kick as of late. Just over two minutes of classic arcade-sounding goodness, and though it feels out of place on the album, as a stand-alone track, it is a catchy piece and is an example of repetitiveness done the right way. It conveys a clear feeling of “retro-ness” and has the clearest intentions of all the songs on the album. It isn’t complex, but in this instance and with what the song is trying to make you feel, it doesn’t need to be.
Sampling a scene from the 1997 box-office bomb B.A.P.S is “Pimpsqueak.” Following the sample is a short tune in the classic vaporwave style, with a slightly tropical feel, before “Main Drag (Feat. Donor Lens)” takes us back to the throbbing beat of a dance club. It is slightly minimalistic in its sound, but I feel like it does what it sets out to do. A track that sounds like it is meant to be played as a generic dance tune in an action movie, with the main character moving his way through a club, on his way to confront the drug lord that distributes his product in the basement of the place. The song is meant to inform you that, yes, this is indeed a place where young people go to boogie and do drugs, but that is it. It is one of those rare dance tracks that is not actually meant to be played too loud. A bit repetitive yes, but I dare you to find a dance track that is not.
The longest track on the album is the finale, “Deep Blue/Orange Julius.” It begins with a 1:40 piano piece before suddenly transitioning into a slowed-down version of Amy Grant’s pop hit, “Good for Me.” A great choice for a sample, however, there are some issues. It appears to only be minimally edited, save for being slowed down. I also fail to see the significance of pairing it up with the initial piano solo. I feel like the artist was trying to get across a message to me that I simply did not understand, and I really tried. I thought perhaps there was some significance in the name, with the piano being Deep Blue and the Amy Grant part being Orange Julius, but a google search revealed no correlation. And finally, though it is a small issue, “Good for Me” was released in 1992. Just sayin’
Looking at the info on the Bandcamp page for this album reveals that there are a wide and impressive variety of samples used in the making of this album, but for such variety, it seems that there is very minimal usage of them in meaningful ways. So much so that I was fooled into thinking that a track that used multiple samples, had only one source. The love is just spread too thin. The talent is there (Shields’ previous albums attest to that) and you can tell it’s there, just not the sound. If I had to sum up the album with a single phrase, it would be: missed opportunity. There are plenty of instances where the album hints at something great, but then switches to something… not as great. The jumping around of tones and styles is jarring and the theme of 1997 just does not excuse this. Platinum Phantom feels like three completely different incomplete albums rolled up into one, only sort of complete album.
Imagine you’re in a record store, aimlessly flipping through the crates. Through the sea of album covers, one in particular catches your eye: a nondescript, purple-tinged picture of a faceless figure in a hazy landscape. It seems like a real photo, but you’re not quite sure. You turn the record over to find that it’s named Blissful Days, and sports utopic track titles like “Morning Dew” and “Sun Kissed Skies.” Could the music possibly be as idyllic and tranquil as the presentation suggests?
The answer is a resounding yes, and it comes to us by way of California producer days of blue. Slushwave to its core, Blissful Days is the follow-up to their 2021 LP (titled Days of Blue, conveniently), an album which adopted a more cinematic ambient approach, and which, by the artist’s description, “began its conceptualization […] amidst the wildfires that ravaged my home-state.” Blissful Days also marks their first sampled work since the 2020 full-length 虚 (Imaginary). This time around, days of blue paints a decidedly more optimistic and comforting soundscape – a natural move when following such a somber release and electing to reintroduce samples to their toolkit. This brings me to the first major strength of the album: the sample choices themselves.
As is common for slushwave, days of blue pulls snippets from a handful of sources, stretching, rearranging, and looping them repeatedly until they produce a world that could only be their own. While the origins may vary, they’re tied together by a few common threads: rich, emotionally-potent chord progressions and transcendent vocal melodies. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the second track, the 16-minute tour de slush that is “Morning Dew.”
Following the sprawling ambient opener “Dawn,” “Morning Dew” begins similarly sparse and nebulous. The introductory drone grows gradually, lulling you into a sense of ease until suddenly evaporating into harmonic bliss sprinkled with percussion. The transition is especially bold and unexpected after the free-form ambiance that comprises the record up to this point. As the song evolves and weaves between different movements, the 16-minute runtime begins to seem minuscule; the piece is so hypnotic that it could be extended into an album of its own. Thankfully however, there’s five tracks to go, and what comes next is another definite highlight.
“Blue Hue” starts as one may now expect: a slow, filtered fade-in, but the drop at 3 minutes yields yet another surprise – not only does this album have bass, but it’s groovy as hell. It’s here that days of blue solidifies their keen sense of pace, progressing from the amorphous opener, to the understated sway of “Morning Dew,” now arriving at a track you could slow dance to. It’s also during this piece that the vocal samples creep to the forefront, gliding atop the dense clouds beneath as if to serve as a guide in this surreal journey.
I could continue describing in detail the remaining four tracks in order, but in truth, the atmosphere this album conjures is somewhat beyond description and is best experienced firsthand. Instead, I would ask vaporwave fans to recall the first time they listened to a slushwave album and truly resonated with it. The intrigue of feeling alien and yet uncannily familiar. The contradiction of yearning for days long gone while also alluding to a distant future. The hazy loops pulling you under until you lose track of time. For me, it was t e l e p a t h’s cosmic lullaby, the 2015 monolith 星間性交 (Interstellar Intercourse), an album which days of blue cites as an inspiration.
Blissful Days takes me back to the wonder and mystique of experiencing 星間性交 for the first time, while still feeling like a logical step forward for the style; the mix sounds vivid and full despite an ocean of reverb and phasers, the theme is self-evident, and the visual personality oozes from every corner; from the album art, to the Bandcamp page, to the artist’s entire social media identity. Blissful Days by days of blue looks and sounds exactly like you would expect given the name: an escape into a lush, serene daydream.
Above all else, one of my favorite features of this album is just how patient it is, clocking in at 55 minutes with a mere 7 songs. The buildups are long, but never without payoff. Complementary samples relay back and forth at length to trance-like effect, never overstaying their welcome. Despite the album’s subdued nature, it boasts a quiet confidence under the surface, asking the listener to commit their time and trust, and in return offers a gorgeous aural experience that begs for another listen after completion.
The only factor that prevents Blissful Days from being utterly flawless is the closing track, “Sunset Gradient.” While an ear-worm in its own right, the song carries an easygoing mid-album groove in place of an opportunity to drive the release toward a thematic conclusion, a role which may have been better suited for the aforementioned “Morning Dew” or the flight-inducing “Sun Kissed Skies.”
In a time increasingly focused on disjointed streams of bite-sized content, the best slushwave often forces us to instead slow down and stay put for a little. Blissful Days is a cathartic respite that delivers exactly what it promises in this regard, and is sure to capture the hearts of fans of the style. The artist describes the work as “a journey of a day, from morning to sunset,” and yet it manages to feel infinite during its best moments. Fitting, given the album’s Bandcamp description, a mere 6 words:
How far can you break down a video game, into its bare essence? To the point that it can be reassembled and played inside your mind with nothing more than your own imagination? That’s the concept of Equip’s 2016 debut, I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky. As mystical as a phantasmagorical lucid dream, Equip delivers us a serene, yet at times deeply ominous concept album of an RPG played within one’s mind. A mix of the halcyon, early-polygonal games of the PlayStation, and the golden age of high-quality pixel art role-playing games of the Super Nintendo, along with a playful approach to mixing and harmonies that lead us intrepid explorers down fascinating, lichen-infested groves or dark, moldy dungeons. Druids and danger lurking behind every corner.
Debuting in 2016, Equip showed the world their unique RPG-midi fusion style through this album. In that year, modern-style vaporwave was relatively young, yet one of experimentation. Artists were taking chances with heavy hitters like the fascinating and iconic News At 11 or the swirling plunderphonic NEW GAIA by the artist of the same name. Equip was not an exception to the heavy releases that year and struck with one of vaporwave’s most recognisable albums since Palm Mall, by virtue of its exceptional atmosphere and fusions of plunderphonic sound effects and original melodies.
The album starts with a track composed entirely of Final Fantasy menu sound effects. Where on a lesser album this could seem gimmicky and rote of vaporwave’s ‘unique-for-the-sake-of-it’ trappings at the time, these effects are all used with meticulous certainty, especially in setting up the album. We aren’t just hearing these sounds, these are noises of the album’s menu itself, that we navigate through simply by listening. And, for instance, notice that the next track “I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky ~Opening Credits~” uses none of the sounds? You wouldn’t hear them in an example of the track’s name; they are absent. An example of the particular use of the samples.
These effects are a cornerstone of the album and truly enhance the experience. For the listener to truly believe this game is being played in their minds, that the titular palace truly has a hold, these effects bolster that aural landscape by showing us not as passive listeners, but as players of the album, through which every crispy footstep is our own in this lonely castle.
But these are flourishes. Low-poly icing on the polygonal cake. The album must stand on its own in terms of the composition for it to be worthwhile for future spins, something that it absolutely achieves. What feels so strong about the album is the mixed layering of longer ambient harmonies with the more melodic midi synths. This expands the album’s sound to allow for a deeper listening experience. You can focus anywhere on the music and still be transported away. These sounds, too, are uniquely mixed to create a specific soundscape that shows the skill of Equip in how he understands the world he’s made.
Just the right amount of reverb on footsteps. The ever-so-slight crust on a druid’s dark laughter. These call back to memories of old midnight play sessions of our favourite RPGs. The entire concept of the album is realised in both these mixes and that of the midi instruments. Drums are just so squishy and textured as to allow for a feeling of momentum. They switch to airy synths, giving a wandering or morose sound. As seen on tracks like “Druids (Encounter)”, the lengths to which Equip has gone to master these sounds in a way that are satisfying and additive to the track’s atmosphere is impressive. It pays off wonderfully.
That said, perhaps some tracks outstay their welcome, for instance, “Cloud Generator” doesn’t need to be seven minutes long, and some tracks like “Reunited” could be cut in half. Overall, however, it’s an iconic album. Fitting for either ambient or close listening with its focus on both long harmonies and unique sampling of game sound effects. This album gets a recommended 4 out of 5 for any aspiring adventurer, daring enough to seek out that palace in the sky!
My doctor says that I need to stop getting so bothered by the little things. He says it is bad for my health, but all I feel when looking at the cover of Sev’s latest album Zero-G is FURY. The cover depicts the instantly recognizable Blue Falcon F-Zero Machine, presumably piloted by legendary racer/bounty hunter Captain Falcon, but flying through space! F-Zeros were not meant to operate in the cold vacuum of space and low gravity environments, which is why Captain Falcon uses his Falcon Flyer Space Cruiser to navigate the stars! Everyone knows that! Such a lack of respect for a universally beloved franchise is tough to forgive, but I will admit that the music within the album in question may allow Sev a pass, but only just barely!
Zero-G was released late April on the ever-reputable Pacific Plaza Records, with the artist stating that this was his most challenging project to date in his six years of making music. The main inspiration for the concept of this album likely will not surprise you. Sev credits the well-known vaporwave producer Equip and specifically, his CURSBREAKER X album.
“The idea of making an OST for a game that doesn’t exist was so interesting to me. The authenticity to the style he was aiming for and the incredible world-building and musical storytelling he was able to accomplish immediately inspired me to undertake Zero-G.”
Vaporwave and video games go together like me and Chipotle so I was eager to give this album a listen. The tracks are named things like “Title_Screen.wav” and “Combat Tutorial,” which I am a big fan of, not only because they go with the theme of course, but because it gives a plain description of what it is you -ought- to be feeling when listening to the track and what the creator had in mind when producing it.
So naturally the first track on the album, entitled “START UP” is a charming little tune, but only 15 seconds in length. It can be forgiven for this though, as all you have done so far is turn on your game console. You have not actually begun to play the game. Be patient.
The first taste of the actual “game” itself is in “Title_Screen.wav,” which paints the picture of a futuristic starfighter action game. The track has a slow start, as one can imagine the title of the game slowly coming into view before the song really takes off with some synthy goodness and a bass line that serves to up the groove factor. It does a great job at setting the tone for the rest of the album and establishes the first brush strokes in the video game that you should be picturing in your mind as the rest of the album plays.
But slow the hell down Space Cowboy, you aren’t ready for takeoff just yet. “Worldmap” is next and is one of the slower tracks on the album. The tune is a calming one, but is made unique by its use of various sound effects that continue to play into the album’s theming. Retro blips and confirmation sounds signal that the player of this game is likely scrolling through menus, possibly looking for where they can invert the analog stick.
“Homeworld Departure” is the fourth track on the album and it signals that it is time to blast off, with the help of Soul▲Craft, who has a guest spot on the song. The song is more upbeat and faster than the ones that came before and allows Sev’s roots as a trap artist to shine through. The song makes sure to set the right tone though. You are taking off and blasting through space, but the enemy has yet to reveal themselves and as such, you do not get a feeling of high-intensity combat with this one.
“MissingNo. #1 [Forest Planet]” is a style of vaporwave that I have really begun to enjoy recently thanks to an album I had reviewed previously. It’s a track that is undoubtedly futuristic in tone but heavily leans into nature and the natural world. It hits the breaks on the trap-style percussion and tones down the synths a tad, allowing instruments like the wood block to give the track a much more down-to-Earth sound. This in addition to the sounds of birds chipping and flowing water makes this track stand out in a special way even if the synth is still front and center.
Much like previews before a movie, the tutorial is the best part of a video game, and track six on this album, “Combat Tutorial,” is a banger and the track where the entire album really starts to get going. This, along with the following two tracks, “MissingNo. #2 [City Planet – ft Chrom ’47]” and “Escort Mission” are where Sev’s skills as a producer shine. Percussion, synth, and 8-bit chiptune all come together to create three great tracks which nail the retro game tone the album is going for.
“MissingNo. #3 [Ice Planet]” starts out as a relatively chill affair (heh) but in a good way, sounding exactly like how ice would sound if you know what I mean. (Note: My editor wanted me to explain how exactly ice sounds, but we all know what I mean right? Right. Don’t be such a dick Gban.) The track doesn’t stay that way for long though, as it breaks off into a trap beat that would feel right at home on a Blank Banshee album, but doesn’t get too carried away so as to not break the mood of the piece.
Hey, a title track on a vaporwave album! Pretty novel! “Zero-G” is good, but it is not great. It is heavy on the synth and an easy enough listen, but I cannot help but feel that this was a track for Sev to show off something that is uniquely his sound, and what we get instead is a relatively tame synthwave song. It does accomplish what it sets out to do and continues to build upon this retro virtual world of galactic starfighters, but still winds up feeling like a missed opportunity.
A quick breather with “Prelude.” The calm before the storm, until at last, the climax in “Boss Battle [ft. Prismer].” This is the heaviest, heart-poundingest track on the album, and as well it should be. It comes out swinging, but still leaves room for things to escalate. Furthermore, Sev includes plenty of switch-ups allowing other instruments to take the lead at different times, masterfully switching between retro chiptune and synth that is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Sadly, there is a slight problem in that the song ends rather abruptly. Furthermore, as slamming as this track is, it feels like it belongs in the cocaine and dream-fueled world of Kirby rather than something like a Star Fox or Metroid game. With that said though, the track is one of the stars of the album and a great listen.
A winner is you on the last track of the album, “Mission Complete.” One final breather and a congratulations, the first half of the song paints a picture of you landing back at home base and receiving a medal for your valor. The second half, though, is led by a repetitive baseline that I sort of see as the credits rolling. It’s a somewhat less active song than the other tracks on the album, but does serve its purpose as a good closer. It ends on an almost sinister note though as if the camera zooms in on the corpse of the defeated boss and you swear you see it twitch. The End?
Zero-G was an ultra-fun listen and the highest compliment that I can give is that it most definitely accomplishes its goal in painting the picture of a retro starfighter that you can be fooled into thinking actually existed. On top of that, the tracks are wonderfully and neatly composed with only a few minor complaints in regards to risks not taken. The question is, does it excuse the insult on the cover as mentioned in the first paragraph? The answer is a resounding maybe…
Please note, this piece was originally conceived back in 2019, and as such, may offer different representations of some corners of the scene than would be applicable today.
PART 1: Introduction
When it comes to defining the most finite sentiments that vaporwave has offered on a consistent basis throughout its now decade-long history, arguably no other concept has been hammered on more prominently than corporate culture. Ever since its inception, this genre obsessed itself with everything that the market world, mega conglomerates, and structural capitalism as a whole have come to represent in the very recent past.
We can claim this “very recent past” as beginning in the 1980s in America with the rest of the world to follow. Factors like high market saturation and resulting economic prosperity enjoyed by the world’s richest companies inadvertently produced a telling byproduct: capitalism’s intersection with mass media and the deep, dark realms of endless advertising.
With the world presenting this facade of pure wonder under the veils of the economic boom, advertisers capitalized if you will, on the general public’s willingness to spend their money and live as carefree a life as they could, with marketing to match this level of wonderment. Because the most fortunate of citizens had the financial means to do so, they let themselves fall under a spell of blissful ignorance as they flocked to new and exciting paradises dubbed “shopping malls.” Here, they could add to their already growing and mood-reflecting wardrobe of saturating colors and patterns.
These consumers expressed this sense of materialistic bliss through happy-go-lucky pop tunes full of synthesizers and blasting drums, two facets that perfectly complemented all the fun they were having with their perceived sense of safety, sustenance, and self-worth. It was as if even the worst parts of the Cold War era had no effect on the next day. These negative aspects only existed for a second in their minds, because they would just move on the next day and keep living what can only be described as “a life worth celebrating.” It was truly a period in the history of display media that comes off as spotless in every single way — marking a continuous, pristine image of advertising day by day to naive consumers. It was an era that’s easy to desire living through if you hadn’t, and just as easy to desperately want to return to if you had.
This period, of course, led us to where we are today. In this modern world that is so far off from those seemingly gleeful and almost too-perfect times, we as consumers are left with the remains of an era lost to the inevitable realization that maybe capitalism isn’t as functional, ideal, or sustainable as it once portrayed itself through the lens of advertisements.
This moment right here… this is where the tenets of vaporwave first start to crystallize. Those perceived pleasures through the eyes of mass media we were talking about? They were exactly that: perceptions. Two separate, yet balanced sides to this vaporwave coin. They each provide vivid pictures of how this genre tackles the concept of corporate hypocrisies.
Vaporwave has and always will retain an essence of corporate life. The word itself is derived from the concept of “vaporware,” technologies that were (often deliberately) advertised but never officially brought to market. It’s a genre that reflects the general resentment of those who promise extravagant products with no intention to actually create or deliver. It also exudes this sense of high class or a luxurious standard of living through its audio aspects, its imagery, and its overall narrative as a whole.
But therein lies the central question: does this genre lean more towards a pure celebration of this time, or an endless, despondent critique of it? The answer certainly isn’t clear, and it actually raises the following question: does a true answer even exist at all?
We may never learn these illustrious truths unless we look back to how we’ve reached this point in the ten-plus years that vaporwave has existed. With that, an exploration of the confounding history of “vaporwave’s corporate dichotomy” is all-too-necessary.
PART 2: Have A Little Faith
Perhaps the easiest way of analyzing this underlying notion within vaporwave is to dissect its seemingly infinite facets. As it stands in this present analysis, that would mean looking back and aligning which subgenres of vaporwave best fit the mold of both the positive and negative commentaries on the state of capitalism.
Again, it must be reiterated that these two sides are genuinely equal in their weight on the genre. As remarkable as it may seem, each perspective has been taken on and given as much runtime and artistic dedication as the other, which effectively cements this case as wholly unique and practically exclusive to this genre. But to move away from obsessing over this exposition, let’s start on the brighter side of this disunion and take a look at the subgenres that see corporate culture in the most laudatory of lights.
Arguably the most clear-cut, obvious, yet exceptionally necessary depiction of this sentiment is found in the realm of future funk. This genre, in essence, embodies all things characteristic of grander society’s collective mood, mindset, and overall state of being under the shroud of capitalism — a state of being that can only be described as pure and utter ignorance. Using the word “ignorance” here may entail some sort of negative connotation in one’s mind, but just as vaporwave as a whole struggles to hold a stable overtone on certain terms, so too does future funk in this case.
Rather than accepting that negative connotation, future funk takes its positive aspects and ramps them up to an all-too-vivid and exhilaratingly joyous degree. From its visuals right down to the music itself, the genre is the most ideal soundtrack for an “ignorant” society. It’s the sound of citizens cohesively ignoring any and all bad things around them and relishing in the bright and happy material world that is presented to them, whether virtual or not. They are relishing in the moment.
The genre’s sonics reflect this notion extremely well due to a myriad of signature aspects that vapor-listeners know all too well at this point. Take for instance its instrumental components — those pounding kick drums and glistening synths that are meant to engulf the listener with a sense of energy and wonder at the same time. Draped atop those components are often repeating riffs of insignificant vocal passages that are only meant to aid the mood of the song rather than capture any thematic or meaningful sentiment.
Two central factors in enjoying future funk are how the music feels to the listener, and how the visuals portray what is being heard. These striking scenes of busy city life during the day and night alike — they evoke that sentiment so powerfully because, well, who cares about thinking deep when you’re having so much fun and living in that aforementioned moment?
That idea is exactly how future funk takes this sense of ignorance and puts the most blissful of spins on it. It recognizes that living under this corporate umbrella can be undeniably hectic, yet so intoxicating at the same time — so why not revel in its wonderment? Why not take on this fast-paced, capitalistic lifestyle with music that matches its velocity?
Well if it isn’t obvious enough already, you begin to fall deeper and deeper down this path of ignorance the more you accept the “right” answers to these questions while experiencing this genre. It gets to a point where there has to be something more to this life than what’s being presented to us at that moment — something festering behind this endless stream of commercials and city life.
Believe it or not, these speculations couldn’t be more valid; there exists an entire subgenre that embraces these corporate cues just as openly as future funk does, but in a far more restrained sense.
PART 3: Utilize Your Impact
Here we arrive at “utopian virtual,” the vaporwave genre with a whole different way to express its love for the corporate world. But unlike future funk, utopian virtual sees its ideals falling more within the realms of acceptance and admission of the capitalistic mindset rather than blissfully living amongst its luxuries. This genre takes the everyday world for what it is, and instead of feeding into any sort of critical vitriol for all of its most negative features, it presents a counter-mindset to what is perceived as evil by the loudest of critics.
Arguably the two biggest themes that this genre calls its own are “recognition” and “compliance.”
“Recognition” in the sense that it calls upon society to recognize that the world will never see its oversaturated fixation on advertisements and collective branding go away. Because if anything, it is only going to become stronger and even more all-encompassing. And “compliance” in the sense that instead of putting up a fight against this environment as it stands (and will continue to stand,) it is more optimal to celebrate this culture and engulf ourselves in its admittedly endless benefits.
It presents an all-too-realistic depiction of an ordinary 9-5 workday, where one’s biggest rewards are a coffee from Starbucks in the morning, an efficient and productive day at the office in the afternoon, and a McDonald’s dinner for the entire family to enjoy. All in a day’s work — now do it all again tomorrow.
This mundane and unexciting style of life is presented through the most complimentary light possible, with the genre focused on making every single day as impactful and ultra-productive as it possibly can be. You experience this through the texture and environments of the music; jaunty and subdued sonic passages that often incorporate the sounds of office life, mobile devices, or your typical quick stop at the local fast-food restaurant during break time. The music itself inspires this rat-race style of motivation through oval sentiments that almost hypnotically coax you to get as much work done as possible in order to adhere to that necessity for capital, for endless quarterly growth, that necessity to succeed, that necessity to keep living…
The fact that the genre can present this daily routine with such positivity and idealism is arguably its most fascinating feature, and one that is made even more fascinating when juxtaposed against the openly detracting genres that see this world just as vividly, but under a completely opposing viewpoint. This concept of needing to succeed and keep living at the hands of capitalism just doesn’t appear to be the most accurate depiction of reality. A third dimension must exist — one rooted in tragic realism.
PART 4: No Love No Money
Tackling the other side of this coin is quite a bit more depressing and disheartening. Especially so when considering the light-hearted and apparently perfect world that both future funk and utopian virtual create. But it is a side that deserves just as much consideration and, like it or not, has just as much weight on the realities of the world we live in today as its counterpart. The vaporwave antithesis to all things great in the corporate world can be most prominently found in the subgenres like “faux-utopian” and others akin to it.
Subgenres like this have aroused the ire of some in the vaporwave community for various reasons. They criticize them for being too broad and loosely defined as a whole, for example. Despite this, their collective sound and thematic elements are enough to serve as the best example of how we reject corporate culture. Even as we embrace or resign ourselves to this very culture, the same fact remains true. Whereas future funk and utopian virtual paint a world full of optimism, gleefulness, and sincerity, this area of vaporwave sees that same world and completely indulges in nearly every single mishap, failure, and resulting catastrophe that has occurred at the hands of capitalism since its once-unquestioned era.
It obsesses over the themes of lost love, lost passion, and a lost sense of being. And instead of blaming anything else for these things, it berates those who have made this world so empty for them from their point of view: the untouchable, the invincible, the ones with all the power, the ones with capital. No better word describes this viewpoint and corresponding feeling than “emptiness” as it is, and in doing so, it also best represents the meeting of this style’s themes and musicality as well.
This style goes completely against the tight, controlled, and easily accessible compositions that the other two genres have to offer. It mirrors its unquestionably seclusive motifs with either long and drawn out passages of pure aura and atmosphere, or through a deconstruction of those previously mentioned positive elements. All of these aspects combine to illustrate an intentionally distasteful and unsettling commentary. That distaste falls back on the concept of recognition as described before. Instead of recognizing the positive perceptions of the corporate world, this genre recognizes every single negative facet that comes about as a result of feeding into that “ignorant” mindset.
This despair is completely rational, it is nothing that is extrinsically fabricated. And yet, the other side is just as real too. Somehow, someway, vaporwave was able to take a completely divisive concept and intensify its highest highs and lowest lows within two entirely separate visual, audio, and thematic styles respectively.
Because these two contrasting viewpoints are emphasized to their most radical and almost unattainable degrees, we really cannot come up with an answer to our central question: whether we show more love or hate for the corporate world. Perhaps the only way we could come up with something is to enter the intersection between the two — a single instance of vaporwave that, in itself, depicts both points of view in its wake. To do this, we must enter the hub of all things corporate. We must enter the mall.
PART 5: Good Buy
No place, no setting, no structure, better represents both contrasting sides of vaporwave’s fixation with the corporate world than what can only be described as the pinnacle of consumer culture. The shopping mall is without question the defining mark for this dichotomy; it represents the themes, spirit, and general reasoning of both sides of this struggle in full. Of course, vaporwave’s obsession with the concept of the mall revolves primarily around its corresponding medium of artistic translation: the ever-popular subgenre of mallsoft.
Mallsoft takes the visuals, audio, and feelings of this physically and psychologically massive structure and places them in various, distinct situations. While some reflect a sincere enjoyment of consumer culture and the participation in the capitalist lifestyle, others choose to present a state of abandonment, lost hope, and decay as a result of that glittering world’s economic changes and proceeding failures. These two perspectives blatantly portray our conflict from each side, and the reason it’s so significant that the genre can accomplish this is that it allows for a narrative to be constructed.
Through experiencing mallsoft, we can visually see the history of how we got to this point, and as a result of this, we can better identify why each side of this debate conveys the respective themes as they do. Take the journey from the whimsical nostalgia heard on an album like Disconscious’ Hologram Plaza, and follow it up with a desolate wasteland of a listen like Hantasi’s Vacant Places. That chronology is illustrated artfully. We can feel sympathy for those that want to live in a wholly perfect world where one’s only worry is if they’ll be able to get all the products they want by the time the mall closes.
At the same time, we can also better understand the reasons this mindset led to such peril and despair via the sheer decay of these malls in the subsequent years. That depressing aura you feel when listening to any particular project that indulges in the dreadful world of deterioration, disintegration, and corrosion that most malls have succumbed to is felt as sharply as can be.
But back on the other side, there still exists a fleeting hope to return to a time that, for the most part, has been completely erased from history… all except for the undemolished remains of these abandoned structures. That’s why the idea of the mallsoft narrative works so well: it presents each viewpoint as if a story is being told, and a true story at that. In doing so, it gives us a partially conclusive answer to this subject as it stands.
PART 6: Conclusion
Okay, so maybe our central question hasn’t been directly answered, but that does not mean we’re without any form of resolution. Through the intersecting viewpoints provided by the pure narrative essence of mallsoft, we can reasonably claim that vaporwave perhaps should not strive for a collective agreement on the state of corporate culture, but should simply draw their own interpretations on it based off of admiring both the historic and contemporary state of the world.
In doing so, we are able to acquire evidence as to why we might adore the capitalistic world of the past, or despise the state it is in right now. Both perspectives, if it hasn’t been said enough, do have equal weight, especially through the lens of vaporwave. And that just proves that this genre does more than the average style of music, art, or any other form of expression as a whole when it comes to redefining what it means to historicize and conceptualize certain facets of society in a completely nuanced way.
Only vaporwave could ever accomplish this, and we have to give it credit for that. Coming to these stark realizations serves to reiterate the following points: there are no right answers in this genre, no single way of thinking, and no collective agreements.
The corporate world will always exist, and though its form may change in both positive and negative ways, vaporwave will always be there to present the most realistic takeaways from these changes in our current day and age.
I have been in a bit of a rut recently. Every so often, I get in these moods where the fire in my heart that keeps my love of vaporwave alive begins to flicker. Albums that used to stir my soul and strike a chord with me start to feel the same and the genre falls into a bland spiral of “meh” ness. Indy (the boss man) knows I get into these moods, so he approaches me with this album to review with a simple message attached: “You are gonna like this one.”
Bathroom Plants is a utopian virtual vaporwave producer who calls himself a “PhotoSynthesizer” (I see what you did there). He broke into the scene back in April of 2019 with Installing Symbiotopia 2.0.1, an album that apparently caught the attention of vapor-veteran Golden Living Room. The two collaborated with one another on Bathroom Plants’ second album 9 Reflections (which infuriatingly has 13 tracks on it) released on Halloween of 2020. Both albums are really solid and provide an almost religiously hopeful soundscape that seems to have become the artist’s MO. Thus we come to December of 2021 with his new release, Garden of Accrescent Vistas.
The themes of the album— and in fact, the entire Bathroom Plants project — cannot be ignored. “I consider Bathroom Plants as a project focused towards creating a positive vision of the future, something to hope for and work towards. Basically an antidote to the dystopian cyberpunk visions that have become our present reality.” The album, much like his previous ones, is filled with images of a perfect utopian future. All the tracks are dripping with hope and optimism of a world that could be. One of understanding, cooperation, and harmony with nature.
Right off the bat, Bathroom Plants sticks to the sound I mentioned above with the first track “Expedition of Earthly Healing” but mixes it up with impressive synth use and what sounds to be a sitar, an instrument which probably ought to be used more in vaporwave. I was quite impressed with this one as the track could have easily looped the first minute and a half together and it would have been more than enough for many producers, but Bathroom Plants continues to add to it, ensuring the song never gets boring.
“Building Together on Toppled Pyramids” continues to make use of the old school instruments by tossing in a pan flute to the tune of a lovingly melodic synth that expertly mixes up old with new, with the pan flute going in HARD towards the end, but in a good way.
In keeping with the long and optimistic-sounding names, “New Heights that we may all Soar” shows off Bathroom Plants’ lovingly gentle touch in regards to the synth, showing that you do not need to go crazy to produce great vaporwave that relies on a synthesizer.
Track four, “Telepathic Pathways of Love,” gives off a more retro-futuristic vibe, with a wonderful climax towards the end, piling on some heavy synth sounds that make you feel like you have arrived in a far-off future time where everything is just amazing and no pain exists. Kind of like walking into the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland.
If there is any part on this album where it slips a bit, it would likely be “Recalibrating the Cosmic Scale.” This is not to say that this is a bad track by any means, but compared to the other songs on Garden of Accrescent Vistas, it seems a tad simple. Halfway through the song, a futuristic choir rings out in harmony which got my hopes up, but he does not stick with it which is disappointing.
“Ancient Spirits in the Infinite Forest” (loving these track names) is a nice, slightly more atmospheric track. It is an airy and more ethereal piece that does not overstay its welcome at two minutes and thirty-three seconds, making it the shortest of the album. A smart move on Bathroom Plants’ part as it prevents the track from getting repetitive and shows that sometimes, less is better.
The second to last track, “Digital Organics Beyond the Horizon of Time” is the one “simple song” that many vaporwave artists have on their albums. By this I mean the song is not too complex, but what separates this simple track from others is that it manages to come off as not being lazy. Like the other tracks on the album, it does not rely upon repetitiveness, which is something that not too many similar tracks of this kind can say.
The grande finale comes in the form of “An Ever-Growing Future.” It is the proverbial cherry atop this treat of an album and paints a picture of a utopia where technology and nature have finally found harmony. The track is uplifting and sounds almost classically composed as though it were made by someone who had been doing this their entire lives.
I once told a fellow Utopia District member that I prided myself on being a tough person to please. When asked about what it would take for me to give an album a five-star review, I told them that I had no idea, but that I would know when I heard it. This is an album that is filled with hope and optimism and may have very well reignited my love of the genre. And yet I am filled with rage, because now I have to go to Indy, hat in hand, and say the words that I swore that I would never say to him:
There are some Halloween memories that most people have likely experienced in their lives, such as carving pumpkins or going to Halloween parties. Even on a night where ghosts and ghouls walk the Earth, there is nothing to be afraid of. After all, such monsters that we dress up as are only make believe, right? Well, Satanic Panic 4: Possession by Vacation Bible School makes those scary monsters come to life, and YOU are at the center of it all.
The narrative of the album follows the listener, as they make their way to a party at a church, looking forward to a night of fun. However, as this is not a typical vaporwave album based on relaxation and good vibes, things will not go as planned. Imagine going to a Halloween party, excited to see your crush there, except when you finally see her, it turns out she has a partner, and it’s not you. Can things get any worse? Of course! She could get possessed by a demon, and it could be your fault. Now then, how do you plan on surviving? Do you think you can save the day? Such questions can only be answered by giving the album a listen. If getting chased by Satanists in Satanic Panic 3: Hell House was not enough to spook you away from the series, then you are in for a scare.
While the concept for the album is very intriguing in its own right, the music itself is quite captivating even when separated from the other elements of the album. The selection of sound choice comes from a variety of different sources, including various genres of music, promotional movie trailers, and atmospheric noise. The wide range of audio sources helps to put the listener in the state of feeling as if the events are unfolding right in front of you.
There is always a feeling of uneasiness throughout the sample choice, regardless of what the original source was, which demonstrates that Vacation Bible School has significant skill when it comes to manipulating samples. For example, on the track “Harvest Moon Over the Pumpkin Patch,” VBS manipulates the pitch and tempo of “Shine On, Harvest Moon”, an old blues song dated to 1908 , which creates a feeling of tension, despite the listener consciously knowing that this part of the album is the most relaxing it will get. Sounds of leaves crunching underfoot and crickets chirping that cut out half way through the song, as well as the music cutting out all together before the track is completed, add to the feeling that this Halloween party is not going to go quite like the rest. While the majority of the storytelling is told through atmospheric noise and instrumentation, track 6 of the album, “The Demon Wrecks Havoc,” uses voice clips from a promotional trailer for the 1987 movie Demons 2 to describe the situation you are faced with: “There is nowhere to hide, no place to run.”
The music that is sampled varies greatly in terms of genres and the ways they are manipulated, with blues, pop, rock, and synth-dance all being reverbed and filter-cut in such a way that can make your hair stand on end and leave you anticipating to listen to the next track. There are times where it appears VBS clearly wants the lyrics of the samples to be heard in order to convey order, and times where the lyrics clash against instruments into a garbled mess, making it abundantly clear that chaos surrounds you. Even if one listened to this album without looking at the titles of the albums, a listener could fairly easily discern which types of emotions VBS is trying to convey to the listener with each track. In terms of how each sample is manipulated, the tracks appear to be produced using similar techniques. Such techniques include running the track through filters, lowering the pitch of samples, slowing the tracks down, and the occasional reversal of a sample helps to create terror that is felt when listening to this album.
After listening to this album multiple times, I believe I am going to skip carving pumpkins, lest they end up possessing my crush after I cut into it, revealing a hidden demonic spirit. Actually, scratch that. I think I am going to skip out on Halloween parties for a while altogether — you can never be too safe.
As the days get cool and the nights get longer, the spooky season is upon us. What better way to enjoy the season than with a Halloween vaporwave tape. The third offering in the Satanic Panic series by Vacation Bible School is just the tape to scratch that Autumnal itch. The story continues where Revenge of the Satanic Panic! left off. Things are not what they seem at the haunted house your church is putting on. Evil lurks among the decorations and haunted displays. I feel this album creates a wonderful atmosphere to convey its tale. The album plays out like an 80’s horror movie. The first track is a mix of calming tunes with sinister undertones that come in and out and intensify as the story unfolds. The use of stereo effects really puts the listener in the story. I listened to this album start to finish in a dark room with headphones, and felt like this amplified the listening experience.
Vacation Bible School
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Favorite Track: s h o p p i n g _ f o r _ d e c o r a t i o n s