Born in the 2010s, Vaporwave has been quietly spreading through the internet. More than just a relentlessly self-conscious 90s in-joke, the genre challenges how subcultures used to be made. 

In the Beginning

The Vaporwave genre made its debut in 2010 with  Daniel Lopatin‘s “Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol 1” and James Ferraro‘s “Far Side Virtual“. These projects featured warped samples of cultural artifacts from the late 80’s and 90’s which would become the genre’s calling card.

This technique was adopted by other artists such as Skylar Spence, Blank Banshee and Vektroid (whose album “Floral Shoppe” brought Vaporwave popular attention).

Bolstered by online communities within Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Reddit, Tumblr and Last.fm, the genre began to expand and flourish without a geographical origin or traditional industry influence.

While a lot of musical genres have successfully migrated from music clubs and urban neighbourhoods to the internet, Vaporwave is the only one that uniquely belongs to today’s generation of digital natives.

More Than Just Music

However, Vaporwave didn’t spring out of nowhere; most tracks share an atmospheric “elevator music” quality with Ambient, and its heavy focus on sampling has its roots in the chopping and screwing techniques of early 90s hip-hop. The subversive, D.I.Y. attitude of most artists is also reminiscent of punk philosophy (back before anarchy became a mass-produced fashion accessory).

Musically, Vaporwave isn’t really a radical departure from what’s come before, leading some to question whether there’s really enough there to call it its own genre. However, where Vaporwave does stand apart is in its aesthetics. Much like punk, it’s inseparable from a wider subculture: a digital art movement based on our millennial nostalgia for the last days of the 20th century.

"Vaporwave Overload" by Shinuzui
“Vaporwave Overload” by Shinuzui

It’s an ironic 90s interpretation of the future pasted together from Windows 95 logos, VHS tapes, pirate cassettes and cyberpunk anime where everybody still uses floppy disks. Taken as a package, Vaporwave forms a trippy yet coherent emotional experience for a generation that still remembers the lost innocence of a world before the War on Terror.

The Future?

We are now at a point where music is no longer influenced by geographical location, but by forums in cyberspace.  The traditional power balance of pop culture is being redefined by a global network of digital natives who are developing entire looks, sounds, and cultures from the comfort of their bedrooms.

Regardless of how derivative or deliberately postmodern “Vaporwave” may be, it is also one of the most forward thinking developments in music in decades. While copyright organisations like the RIAA may say the internet is hurting the industry, the people of the web are actually driving its evolution.

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