It’s highly likely you’ve seen some form of vaporwave in a meme somewhere, or in the comments on someone’s artsy-looking post. Or even whensomeonespamsthiskindoftext. But what you may not know is that there’s an entire world of vaporwave to get lost in, find yourself and get lost in again.
Vaporwave as a trend began in the early 2010s, primarily made from slowing down and repitching songs from the 1970s-80s, as well as adding reverb and digital delay. The most famous example (which has since been featured in countless Vines) has to be what is commonly referred to as “Macintosh Plus.” The slowing down and repitching of a peppy Diana Ross song then turned into a melancholy meme. Take, for example, this slowed down version of “Africa” by Toto. While not succumbing to too much digital distortion, the song, now slower and in a new key, provides a more somber context. Not to mention the imagery found with the video, incorporating ‘90s computer imagery with surrealist backgrounds, classical art sculptures and capitalist satire.
This sort of aesthetic has spawned an extremely diverse musical genre, all encompassed by the singular name of vaporwave. Here’s “vaportrap,” which incorporates the same elements of vaporwave music (synths, capitalist satire, ‘80s-’90s satire, computer rendered images) but is more modernized, like the trap music of today. The most famous example of this has to be the artist Blank Banshee. Especially in his debut album Blank Banshee 0, he relies on samples from the ‘80s and the ‘90s, mixed with original beats and vocals to create a neurotic, atmospheric alternate dimension of music. “Teen Pregnancy,” for example, started a viral trend on YouTube called “Simpsonwave,” featuring distorted clips from The Simpsons over vaporwave songs. The song uses a sample from “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Another popular offshoot of vaporwave has been the artist 2814. Their music, while using almost exclusively Japanese characters for song titles, definitely focuses more on the atmospheric and otherworldly aspects of vaporwave, as opposed to melodic content. Thus, it is very reminiscent of Vangelis’s soundtrack to Blade Runner, and better listened to while doing homework or as background music.
Perhaps my favorite from this, however, is the artist known as HOME (his Twitter is hilarious, too). You may have heard his song “Resonance,” which briefly became popular on YouTube. HOME incorporates all of the nostalgic sounds of vaporwave and the dreamlike wonder, but with original composition, production and instruments. It is a divine combination of influence mixed with creativity and appeal to a more mainstream audience. It is not so abstract and atmospheric as 2814, yet not as reliant on pop culture, memes and melodic content as Macintosh Plus.
HOME’s album Odyssey is a phantasmagoric joyride from start to finish. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve fallen asleep to this album, or listened to it awake for pleasure. Starting with “Intro”, the simple C major-A minor progression slowly builds on itself evolving into one of the most emotional tracks on the album, leaving you either looking at the sky or crying in your bed, wishing to be a kid again. That’s followed a few tracks later by “Decay,” which incorporates a simple progression between only three chords but builds on itself through introducing various instruments. “Decay” is a very prominent example in which HOME utilizes just tapering off some of the highest frequencies of his digital instruments to create an effect similar to that of the tracks that are slowed down and repitched. This can also be heard on “Tides” and the drums on “Resonance.”
There are no lyrics, but the music speaks for itself. “Odyssey” also has to be one of the most consistent albums I’ve ever experienced, with each song breathing an entire world into your ears. It speaks to the depths of your soul, yet with no message in mind. You take what you want from vaporwave. And I think that’s the spirit at the core of the whole genre- the concept of repurposing older music is inherently anti-capitalist, and nearly every single vaporwave song that exists can be found for free online or streamed (although Macintosh Plus and 2814 have seen vinyl, CD and even cassette releases to capitalize on the nostalgia).
You can go as far as you want into the world of vaporwave, but at its heart, it’s a community of internet users who are nostalgic for a different time, who’ve found the sound that takes them there, even if they never lived through it.
If you’re looking to dive right in, I’d recommend this 20-hour playlist on Soundcloud called “Slave To The Vaporwave” as well as the subreddit. Hopefully soon you, too, will focus your entire lifestyle around the aesthetic and immerse yourself in the warm, wishful, wonderful world of vaporwave.