Vaporwave is a music genre branching from electronic Chillwave. But the unique and iconic visual aesthetic cultivated alongside it is now, debatably, more popular and recognizable than the music itself. Vaporwave, as an aesthetic and movement, has been described as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern consumerism and the soulless glamour of late capitalism. Its purposeful vagueness has led to more overt and blatant offshoots of vaporwave, like Fashwave (which attempts to co-opt a lot of vaporwave symbolism to promote a fascist ideology) or Laborwave (which removes the ambiguity of Vaporwave's capitalist critiques in favor of promoting a Marxist ideology), though both of them also tend to blend in a lot of Synthwave aesthetics as well, leading to a lot of people assuming the two aesthetics are the same.
Vaporwave, like many other aesthetics, gives you nostalgia, even if you weren't from the '70s to '90s both the images and music (mostly the music) send you to an era that once was.
Common themes of the vaporwave visual aesthetic include:
- Anime and cartoons, often from the '70s to '90s but not always, ie. Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even The Simpsons (as popularized by artist Lucian Hughes.)
- Drug use, almost always in the form of codeine syrup or lean, or pills.
- Consumerism; the vaporwave aesthetic often displays brand names and logos. The most common include Adidas, Pepsi Cola, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh Plus, PlayStation, Arizona Iced Tea, and Fiji Water.
- Computer hardware and graphics from the '80s-early '00s. The Windows 95 operating system is used often in vaporwave artwork and edits, as are images of early computers such as the first of Apple's Macintosh PCs.
- Sadness or distress; often employed to emphasize the ironic soullessness of the vaporwave aesthetic, in a 'sad but aesthetically pleasing' kind of way. This is similar to depictions of drug use in vaporwave artwork.
- Liminal spaces, while somewhat creepy, the surreal and nostalgic feeling goes quite well with this aesthetic.
- Grids, lines, shapes; a crisp clean edge can be found in most vaporwave artwork.
- Altered Reality; pictures with unnatural hues and tones can be seen throughout this aesthetic. Heavily edited pictures of the world around you can soon become unrecognizable and foreign.
- Glitches, tons of glitches.
- The use of Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters. Japanese seems to be one of the most used languages in the vaporwave community's artwork.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Communities
- 3 Music
- 4 Press
- 5 Fashion
- 6 Video Games
- 7 Movies and Series
- 8 Vaporwave vs Synthwave
- 9 Subgenres
- 10 Gallery
- 11 Videos
The genre emerged in 2011 from online communities, such as Turntable.fm. In subsequent years, it gained popularity through websites such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Last.fm, 4chan, and Agora Road's Macintosh Cafe. Its rise in popularity coincided with the decline of Seapunk and while the two certainly share similar aesthetic choices, there is a distinct difference between the two.
The key difference between Seapunk and Vaporwave is that Seapunk had a much more focused aesthetic on early '90s CG images and aquatic life. On the other hand, Vaporwave cast a broader net on its aesthetic cues, choosing to highlight the period from the late '80s up to the late 2000s (crossing over some with Y2K aesthetics), but many will generally mark September 11th, 2001 as the ending point for the period that Vaporwave is centered around. There is an air of ambiguity of whether Vaporwave artists are either celebrating the rampant capitalism that birthed the Vaporwave aesthetics, ironically mocking the hollowness of a lot of these visual cues which mistakes shallowness for depth. Or just happens to think they look or sound cool, and is generally left up to the listener as to what they think the artist meant with the final work.
There are several niche communities that fans from the vaporwave community gather and discuss and share vaporwave music. These are the r/vaporwave subreddit and Agora Road's Macintosh Cafe Member Forum.
Vaporwave was first characterized by its heavy use of samples from the 1980s and 1990s music, typically lounge, smooth jazz, or Muzak. Samples are often pitched down, layered, or altered in classic chopped and screwed style. However, vaporwave has started to incorporate more original compositions with a heavy focus on ambiance (as seen by acts like ２８１４). Artists have also started to get creative with the physical mediums they sell their albums on, ranging from the conventional (vinyl and cassette) to the unusual (Minidiscs and floppy disks).
There are so many Vaporwave Music Artists out there that we won't be able to exactly list them off, but we can give you a list of some Vaporwave artists that can serve as an introduction to the genre. Some of these artists include:
- Vektroid (creator of Floral Shoppe)
- Skylar Spence (the artist formerly known as Saint Pepsi)
- George Clanton
- S U R F I N G
- t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者
- Infinity Frequencies
- 猫 シ Corp.
- Angela Regina Rossi
Vaporwave has garnered some significant attention from the music press as of late. Most recently, artists such as Vektroid, HKE, Infinity Frequencies, 2814, and R23X have gotten covered by music sites and blogs such as The Guardian, Dummy, Fader, FACT, The Wire, Thump (Vice), Red Bull Music Academy, The Quietus, Resident Advisor, TinyMixTapes, Marcel's Music Journal, Cokemachineglow, The Needle Drop, and others. Coincidentally, several Vaporwave zines have started popping up, the most notable of them being Private Suite Magazine.
A less-often spoken about characteristic of vaporwave is vaporfashion or clothing inspired by the vaporwave aesthetic. This can include brands that were popular in the '80s and '90s, such as Nike, ESPRIT, FILA, Adidas, etc., as well as specialized stores that sell vaporfashion (most famously among these brands being Vapor95).
Vaporwave Fashion Vendors
- Nike (No, seriously, they sell Vaporwave-themed clothing.)
- Catori Clothing
- Palm Treat
- Para Palm Apparel
- Public Space
- Ishihara Design
- Virtual Plaza
- Pink Dolphin
- Neon Talk
- Iced Tea Aesthetics
Vaporwave, unsurprisingly, also has a rather strong and thriving presence in video games. Although it's primarily in the independent game space, the two best-known examples of Vaporwave video games are Broken Reality and Mall Quest. Although one can find many examples of Vaporwave gaming on GameJolt to play for free (which is fitting for the general tone Vaporwave goes for). As for games co-opted by the Vaporwave scene, a lot of Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and Playstation 1-era games get embraced by the scene, but the most popular games embraced by the community include Earthbound, Waverace 64, Jumping Flash, and the original Super Smash Brothers.
Movies and Series
Most Vaporwave entertainment seems to be relegated to YouTube series (although that doesn't stop a lot of major corporations to, ironically, co-opt a lot of Vaporwave aesthetics for their marketing campaigns), with series such as Dan Bell's Dead Mall Series and Retail Archeology being prime examples of cataloging what Vaporwave is all about, while SkyCorp Home Video takes the Vaporwave aesthetic and becomes a major pastiche of early '90s entertainment and commercials.
Vaporwave vs Synthwave
Due to a lot of similar aesthetic cues and colors, to the untrained eye, it's easy to confuse the aesthetics of both Synthwave and Vaporwave (and some people have tried to make politically motivated aesthetics that do, indeed, confuse the two aesthetics and assume they are the same). Let it be known; they are, indeed, two completely separate aesthetics with two completely different goals in mind. While Vaporwave is a bit more tongue-in-cheek and can be seen in certain lights as being critical of the capitalist system and may or may not be making some sort of political statement with their co-opting of '80s-'90s corporate symbolism and is more "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" with the cheesy elements of this, Synthwave is more of a genuinely earnest celebration of all things '80s (and now '90s, since a lot of Synthwave artists are starting to expand their scope and are playing with a more '90s-centric sound and imagery, which can lead to further muddying of the waters between what is Synthwave and what is Vaporwave) in all of its cheesy, over-the-top glory. This confusion is also not helped due to the fact there have been several instances of Synthwave AND Vaporwave artists collaborating on projects (most notably, Synthwave artist Bart Graft has collaborated with Future Funk artist Bubble Keiki to make the album Emerald.)
In short, the main difference between Synthwave and Vaporwave is Vaporwave tends to be more ironic while Synthwave tends to be more earnest with their embracing of '80s and '90s aesthetics.
Eccojam is a piece of music usually made from a single short loop of the source material, nearly always from the seventies, eighties, or nineties, and smothered with effects, most notably reverb and echo. Made popular by Daniel Lopatin (under his Chuck Person alias), many points to this being the very beginning of Vaporwave as we know it, due to a lot of the hallmarks of modern Vaporwave popping up in the Eccojams sound.
Generally seen as Vaporwave's happy-go-lucky sibling, Future Funk (or Vaporboogie) takes the sampling aspect of Vaporwave, but rather than try to turn it into a decayed version of what it once was to mock the hollowness of capitalism at the time, Future Funk will take samples from the 1970s and 1980s disco tracks and cut them in a way to make a completely new, groovy track for the people to enjoy. The Future Funk sound tends to draw a lot of inspiration from French House and Synth Funk and makes new, fun, poppy music (in a time when, frankly, we desperately need it). The aesthetics from Future Funk are definitely Animecore to the max, taking lots of inspiration from anime from the '70s, '80s, and '90s (Sailor Moon and Lum from Urusei Yatsura, in particular, are extremely popular to use in Future Funk, making them unofficial mascots for the genre).
As stated above, Future Funk takes musical cues from Vaporwave, French House (which gives it some very subtle connections to the poppier entries into the Synthwave genre), Nu-Disco, and Synth Funk to create fun, happy tracks to dance to, taking samples of old funk tracks from the '70s and '80s (bonus points for using Japanese funk music, which is very obscure compared to its American counterparts) and repurposing them in a manner similar to Vaporwave (to the point where Future Funk will often just be lumped in with the genre despite the very clear differences in musical philosophy between Future Funk and Vaporwave. Some popular artists in the Future Funk genre include マクロスMACROSS 82-99, Topaz Gang, Flamingosis, Yung Bae, Mike Tenay, Architecture in Tokyo, Yuni Wa, スーパーセックス永遠にSUPERSEX420, Fibre, Night Temp, and 悲しい ANDROID - APARTMENT¶.
Visually, as popularized by the YouTube channel Artzie Music, Future Funk visual aesthetics are usually just a looped GIF of a classic anime set to the track (popular animes to utilize are Sailor Moon and Urusei Yatsura, although other classics will pop up like Dragon Ball, Lupin the 3rd, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Macross) so there's a heavy element of Animecore to the visual aesthetics of Future Funk, but it's also not unusual to find aesthetic cues from Vaporwave and Synthwave, either.
Hardvapour is an Internet-based microgenre that emerged in late 2015 as a tongue-in-cheek response to vaporwave, departing from the calm, muzak-sampling capitalist utopia concept of the latter in favor of a gabber- and punk-influenced sound. It has, in recent years, however, gotten some controversy and flak due to a lot of the artists within the genre saying and doing things that are just blatantly done for the sake of offending people and starting to border into Fashwave territory, so it's largely been disowned by the Vaporwave community as a whole.
Hypnagogic Pop is pop or psychedelic music that evokes cultural memory and nostalgia for the popular entertainment of the past.
Mallsoft, (also known as Mallwave) is a subgenre of Vaporwave music meant to elicit nostalgia using imagery of shopping centers and remixed anonymous soft rock muzak one might hear in a shopping mall. It can range from simply invoking the nostalgic memories of a trip to the mall as a child or it can go into the surreal category by turning up the echo and invoking the imagery of a long-abandoned mall still echoing the soft Muzak-y sounds throughout its long-empty and decaying halls.
Signalwave is the informal name for vaporwave that is primarily focused on old media sampling, particularly from television ads and the like. Although this has been taken in many different directions (the cassette release of Laserdisc Visions adopted this approach), there are typically these unifying characteristics to these "broken transmissions": Sample-heavy, dated media aesthetics, and mild musical inclinations. These releases also may incorporate smooth jazz into themselves to invoke the garbage muzak aesthetic that vaporwave is built upon.
Simpsonwave is a sub-aesthetic of Vaporwave that emerged in 2015, characterized by its use of imagery from the
wildly popular cartoon, The Simpsons. It is, first and foremost, a video-based aesthetic. Most Simpsonwave videos follow the same format: a series of clips from The Simpsons, edited with trippy visual effects and played on top of a popular Vaporwave song.
Simpsonwave seems to have originated from a Vine uploaded on October 27, 2015, by Spicster. The Vine features a clip from The Simpsons Season 7 Episode 20, with Resonance by HOME playing in the background. This Vine appears to be the first Simpsonwave video uploaded to the Internet.
In January of 2016, a YouTube user by the name of Solid's Cardboard Box uploaded a very similar video on YouTube, titled "simpwave". This was the first Simpsonwave video uploaded to YouTube, and the genre has been primarily spread through YouTube videos ever since.
Simpsonwave was popularized in February of 2016 when YouTuber Lucien Hughes uploaded a video called ¨ＳＵＮＤＡＹ ＳＣＨＯＯＬ¨. It featured edited video clips of Bart Simpson, which were synchronized to the song Teen Pregnancy by BLANK BANSHEE. The video went viral and inspired other videos following a similar format.
Slushwave is a subgenre of vaporwave that encompasses the sound of “t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者“: heavily layered tracks that are often longer than normal vaporwave (typically longer than six minutes), obscured under ping-ponging sampling and significant reverb.
Universetic is an aesthetic that involves themes of Spacecore and Vaporwave.
Vaporgoth is a music genre born from vaporwave, born in 2013, that takes strong influences from post-industrial, industrial, and related genres like dark ambient (that shapes the genre strongly). This has been coined by a band named Chinese Hackers and after embraced by experimental acts like VVVX Software. Aesthetically, the genre presents itself with distorted and dark images in the horror sense, similar to the dark ambient aesthetic and in line with the music and with the dark ambient tradition in itself.
The subgenre is a relatively unknown variant of vaporwave, compared to future funk and similar genres. It's not to be confused with vapornoise, which takes its cues from harsh noise and is, therefore, more direct towards a "harsh" direction rather than the darker one of vaporgoth.
The genre is easily recognizable by the use of dark ambient synthesizers (droning synths at low octaves, chorus synths), dark and strongly atonal melodies (or simply atonal sounds), reverb, lack of bass or extremely droning bass, distortion (not in the musical sense, but not even in a harsh noise fashion like in vapornoise), razor-sharp lo-fi production with vaporwave samples, to create a dark ambience. Songs tend to be short and unstructured, two minutes to five (in rare cases), compared to a four to seven minutes duration of vaporwave (future funk, especially) to ten minutes or more of dark ambient. The genre also employs samples from films, to create a harsher sonic appearance. Cut-off, chorus effects, and other staples of vaporwave production are still used heavily. Drum machines may be present, even if the use is rare (and rarer in vapornoise).
Vapornoise is a genre, born in 2013 that takes inspiration from vaporwave, harsh noise, and post-industrial, in the tradition of musicians like Throbbing Gristle.
The genre started with beginning exponents such as Universitat De Barcellona, テレビ体験 and ░▒▓新しいデラックスライフ▓▒░. Musically, the goal is to create a noisy and chaotic razor-sharp sound, with no particular ambientation as the goal. Aesthetically, the genre is not different from vaporwave, even if more surreal.
The genre is relatively unknown, even if more popular than vaporgoth, a similar genre with different goals and aesthetics musically and visually.
The genre is characterized by the over-extensive use of samples, put in a chaotic and distorted fashion with effects such as reverb, distortion, flanger to create a non-musical ambientation. The compositions range from "chaotic" and beatless lo-fi vaporwave to harsh noise compositions, that occasionally "return" back to vaporwave in a few passages. Compositions tend to be longer than vaporgoth, at the same duration of common vaporwave (four minutes). Voice samples are not common, and widely distorted if present. The genre samples primarily jingles and atonal sounds in particular rather than songs. The genre tends also to emphasize hisses and static noises. Microsampling may be present to use widely in albums of this type of vaporwave.
VHS pop was a subgenre/movement very closely related to classic-style vaporwave that emphasized the old-school retro nature of vaporwave with a strong nostalgic (or faux-nostalgic) implication.