Charles Vaughan hammers one final nail into Vaporwave's digital coffin.
The advent of modern production technology and internet culture has created a ridiculous world of niche sub-genres to lose yourself in. Yet somehow, these inescapably annoying online genres have developed mainstream appeal, only to be killed off by the very communities that created them in the first place. Vaporwave is the most notable of these recent trends, a genre that’s very death sparked an internet-wide meme that is 'as Vaporwave' as the genre itself. Very meta for what is essentially slowed down 80s disco music. But does it matter, and if so why? Well, this is a great form of procrastination, so I’m going to explore this further on behalf of nobody. You’re welcome.
Vaporwave’s origins are widely agreed to be rooted in records such as Far Side Virtual and Eccojams Vol. 1. These albums took two very different approaches to the same goal, creating a sense of nostalgic drive that encapsulated the memories of the current internet age with sonic motifs from by-gone eras. Where Far Side Virtual creates a polished, gleaming sound of the future, a capitalist technological manifestation that embraces the fundamental ideas of accelerationism, Eccojams chops and screws songs to create a warped nostalgic journey through the echo of the 80s. In short, they were widely accepted to be forward thinking works that utilised the internet community and resources in a way that not many other genres had before, beside perhaps PC Music, and whatever Witch House was. Platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp have created a new form of DIY culture and self-expression, allowing artists to negate the need for labels and publishers entirely, reaching thousands of ‘sad art boi’ listeners overnight. Even YouTube’s suggested video algorithm has helped shape and push forward this online movement, constantly pushing users back into endless cycles of more and more obscure song titles and Simpsons clips with purple VHS filters. Vaporwave does have substance, with a common distinct political undertone: anti-capitalist critiques of consumer culture and technological usage with sarcastic takes on the gleaming prospects of the 80s. Though, much like most internet trends with political undertones, those undertones have been eroded by an online community rushing to join in, and ultimately change the movement for their own benefit. Depictions of deep purples, old school computer graphics and that fucking Roman statue head used on the front cover of Floral Shoppe overtook the political and social subtext that the genre was founded on.
This strong visual aesthetic has ultimately also become its downfall. The visual style became so ridiculously iconic, what started as a part-jovial, part-political encapsulation of the genre has re-defined itself as an absurd internet sub-culture, no more than an internet meme featured in countless vine compilations on YouTube. This visual aesthetic was suddenly catapulted into the mainstream when MTV and Tumblr re-branded in 2015. Both did so of their own accord, both included extensive usage of the visual aesthetics of Vaporwave. This neglected the key elements of cooperate parody that vaporwave was built on, and basically relegated the genre to a whole new level of un-cool. It was like discovering a wicked indie band when you were 16, then suddenly watching them sell out, appearing on This Morning and making polite banter with Holly and Phillip whist counting the cash offstage. The prime example of this is Seapunk. As ridiculous in style as it is in name, it is thought of as the direct predecessor of Vaporwave, and was brought to mainstream public attention by an infamous performance from Rihanna, who used a green-screen backdrop of Seapunk visual aesthetics in an SNL performance, which became one of the most absurd spectacles of the 21st century, and that’s including Trump’s tweet war with Snoop Dogg. It didn’t help either that the very websites that founded and help grow Vaporwave were now facing turmoil. Soundcloud has suffered in recent years heavily, reporting a $54 million dollar loss in 2015 and last year sacked 40% of its staff. Some would comment that it is ironic that the death of Vaporwave altogether could be at the hands of progressive capitalism forcing its platform out of existence. Others would say who cares? I would reply, no one by this point. Vaporwave was a forgotten dream, with mainstream publications reporting article after article on the death of Vaporwave, with no one really listening. Except for me obviously.
So, what do we have to learn from this story? Don’t put your trust in online whimsical trends? Don’t try to sustain a movement on a community that loses focus and care after five tweets? Go do your dissertation rather than writing about Vaporwave constantly? Maybe all of those, maybe none of them. It is interesting, and potentially worrying, how popular a small online genre, mostly known as a meme, can get limelight through mainstream artists on primetime TV and be a visual inspiration for big name website designs. The internet clearly has the power to influence mainstream culture in ways we could never expect. But maybe our efforts should be concentrated on pushing influences and topics that don’t involve neon Roman statues and non-sensical Japanese characters. Maybe we should instead concentrate our efforts on some of the more meaningful content produced from the internet. That said, 4Chan still exists, so maybe this is better.