Last month a YouTube algorithm suggested I watch a video entitled, "A Disturbing Online Music Mystery", about an enigmatic artist named b e g o t t e n, in a genre I'd never heard of: Vaporwave.
"In 2017, a series of conversations between an unknown music producer and a record label owner would lead to the upload of 6 disturbing albums, each including their own set of tragic poems, blocks of confusing Chinese texts, mysterious music videos and paragraphs that recite the label owners experience with this unknown music producer, a producer with a worrisome story that seemed to get all the more real as time went by."
The video was compelling and really caught my attention. I quickly found the b e g o t t e n catalog on Bandcamp and downloaded much of it. I liked what I heard although I wasn't sure why. It was spooky, slowed down samples and loops, with tons of processing.
That mystery has since been revealed as somewhat of a hoax. The identity of b e g o t t e n, the producer, and label head are understood to be one and the same.
My computer, working with the algorithms, offered me more choices and I soon found myself down the rabbit hole.
"The name derives from "vaporware", a term for commercial software that's announced, but never released.
Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music, a visual art style, and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. It is defined partly by it's slowed down, chopped and screwed samples of smooth jazz, elevator, R&B, and lounge music from the 1980's and 1990's."
All things I hate. Raw materials no one cool ever thought was cool, somehow made cool.
Academic Ash Harper described the typical Vaporwave track as "a wholly synthesized or heavily processed chunk of corporate mood music, bright and earnest slow and sultry, often beautiful, looped out of synch, and beyond the point of functionality."
Ash Becks of The Essential noted that larger sites like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound "seemingly refused to touch vaporwave throughout the genre's two-year 'peak'. Common criticisms were that it was "too dumb", or too "intellectual."
Another video: "107 Vaporwave Albums You Should Know!" consists of album covers and brief descriptions, but no sound bytes. I Googled a handful, and that too led to Bandcamp.
None of these artists are on major labels, and most use pseudonyms, probably due to all the uncredited samples.
After that early peak vaporwave soon splintered into many subgenres, such as Future Funk, Mall Soft, Late night Lo-Fi, and Utopian Virtual. On this Weekend Mix, the brief "Hit Vibes", by SAINT PEPSI, from 2013, is the earliest example.
What I hear, mixed in with the above hated influences is a continuum of electronic music from Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, the soundtrack to "Blade Runner", Eno, '80's mutant disco, Bill Laswell's Material, and more recently Boards Of Canada. This mix is more about making those connections.
In the early '80's, I worked in a SoCal architects office as a photographer and graphic designer. From my desk in the sleek new building, often staying late into the night and into the next day, I viewed, across the street, a world class mall. Somehow the kids making Vaporwave manage to capture that ambience.
Through my immersion, I finally understand '80's nostalgia. The optimistic beginning of a new, brightly colored technological future. In the '90's the internet and free flowing information super highway were going to solve everything. It's easy to see why it would be embraced by younger people in a less optimistic era with an ever more uncertain future.
Like anything, at first it all sounds the same, but pretty soon it doesn't.
|All the Japanese is as real as Google translate allowed|
It's always good to know what the kids are digging. This mix of "cool muzak" is a good soundtrack for a long drive, when you're tired of hearing the usual suspects.