About Vaporwave

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Vaporwave is a multimedia aesthetic phenomenon and internet meme with roots in an electronic style of music, also called Vaporwave, which began to emerge in the early 2010s.  As a style of music, Vaporwave has roots in the downtempo, relaxed atmosphere and vintage analog sound of chillwave and the “chopped and screwed” technique of reappropriating existing music using heavy effects.  In the early 2010’s, artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Vektroid, and James Ferraro established a musical template in which existing music, often R&B, Smooth Jazz, Elevator Music, or Lounge Music from the 80’s and 90’s, was heavily edited, usually slowing it down, adding effects like reverb and delay, and looping smaller portions of the music.  By morphing accessible music friendly to commercial purposes into a distorted, hazy, atmospheric version of itself, the effect of this early Vaporwave was to elicit a complex mix of associations and reactions, including ironic humor, surface pleasantness, nostalgia, and an uncanny sort of eeriness all at the same time. 

Even from the earliest few releases, the musical aesthetic of Vaporwave was mirrored by the visual aesthetic of the album art associated with them.  Vaporwave looks like it sounds: the vapid, inoffensive, and empty pleasantness of 80’s and 90’s consumer culture reduced to a haunting echo of itself. To this end, Vaporwave related art usually starts with images which reference nostalgic and or commercial themes, such as simple 3d modeling, retro computer imagery, pixelation, as well as somewhat more distantly related aspects of imagery like Japanese lettering and greek busts.  Also like the music, these images were often filtered, distorted, and/or glitched, creating an effect analogous to a scratched or broken record committed to pixels. The style is also associated with light blue green, pinks, and purples, which reflects the cooled down and easy nature of the music.

The visual arts originally associated with Vaporwave music led to a reflective sense of design and fashion, which to some extent even developed associations with particular smells and tastes.  The result was the development of a holistic Vaporwave aesthetic, or A E S T H E T I C, as it might be spelled in Vaporwave culture, in which ironic and genuine appreciation are intermingled, sometimes to the point of indiscernibility.  In it, consumer culture is in the same moment celebrated, mocked, and looked at with a kind of uncanny horror, and the past is revived in a way every listener knows could only exist in the present. Once Vaporwave had become more a multimedia phenomenon than a music genre, an aesthetic than a template, the original forms of both music and visual arts, in turn experienced massive diversification and crossover into other genres, cementing an enduring legacy and higher degree of popularity for what, at the time might have seemed to be merely a transient microgenre, or simply just a joke.  While Vaporwave always contained a large dose of irony, it can be appreciated at a serious level, and the endurance of aspects of the Vaporwave aesthetic towards the end of the 2010s demonstrates that something about this way of approaching art struck a lasting chord with a lot of people. This site is dedicated to understanding and appreciating the complex and highly ambivalent nature of Vaporwave, as well as it’s current and potential influence and legacy on other styles, be they visual, auditory, or both in nature.