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Exploring Vaporwave: A Subgenre And Cultural Phenomenon

Vaporwave, much like its synthwave counterpart, delves into the realms of nostalgia and retro aesthetics, but it does so with a distinctive approach. Emerging in the early 2010s, vaporwave is as much a visual and cultural movement as it is a musical one. Let’s explore the essence of vaporwave, its key characteristics, and its place within the broader context of synthwave and its subgenres.

The Essence of Vaporwave

Vaporwave is a subgenre of electronic music that is heavily influenced by 1980s and 1990s pop culture, commercialism, and digital technology. It often features slowed-down samples of smooth jazz, elevator music, R&B, and lounge music, creating an eerie, nostalgic, and sometimes surreal listening experience. The genre is also characterized by its use of chopped and screwed techniques, heavy reverb, and a distinct lo-fi quality.

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Key Characteristics of Vaporwave

Nostalgic Sampling 

Vaporwave artists frequently sample music from the 80s and 90s, including forgotten pop hits, corporate music, and TV commercials. These samples are manipulated to evoke a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, often slowing them down to create a dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere.

Aesthetic and Visuals 

The visual component of vaporwave is integral to the genre. It often incorporates retro computer graphics, early internet imagery, glitch art, and neon colours. The artwork is reminiscent of outdated technology, with influences from Japanese culture, ancient Greek statues, and corporate logos, contributing to the genre’s distinct aesthetic.

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Themes and Concepts 

Vaporwave explores themes of consumerism, capitalism, and the ephemeral nature of digital life. It critiques and romanticizes the consumer culture of the late 20th century, presenting a dystopian yet oddly comforting vision of the past.

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Notable Artists and Albums

Macintosh Plus – ‘Floral Shoppe’ 

One of the most iconic vaporwave albums, ‘Floral Shoppe’ by Macintosh Plus (an alias of artist Vektroid), is a cornerstone of the genre. Its track ‘リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー’ is emblematic of vaporwave’s sound and aesthetic, featuring heavily processed and slowed-down samples.

Saint Pepsi – ‘Hit Vibes’

Saint Pepsi (now known as Skylar Spence) is another key figure in the vaporwave scene. ‘Hit Vibes’ blends upbeat, funky samples with a vaporwave sensibility, showcasing the genre’s ability to merge nostalgia with infectious grooves.

Internet Club – ‘Vanishing Vision’

Internet Club is known for pushing the boundaries of this genre, exploring darker and more abstract sounds. ‘Vanishing Vision’ delves into the eerie and unsettling side, with disorienting samples and a haunting atmosphere.

Vaporwave’s Place in The Synthwave Spectrum

While vaporwave and synthwave both draw heavily on nostalgia and retro aesthetics, they diverge significantly in style and thematic focus. Synthwave often celebrates the futurism and optimism of the 1980s, with its high-energy, cinematic soundscapes and polished production. In contrast, vaporwave takes a more critical and introspective approach, using its dreamy and distorted sounds to reflect on the past and comment on consumer culture.

Also Read: Synthwave: Subgenres And Fusion Styles

Despite these differences, vaporwave and synthwave share a common thread in their exploration of memory and cultural artifacts. Both genres have given rise to vibrant online communities and have influenced various forms of media, from visual art to fashion.

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Vaporwave stands out as a unique subgenre that blurs the lines between music, art, and social commentary. Its nostalgic yet critical examination of the late 20th century provides a stark contrast to the more celebratory nature of synthwave. Together, these genres encapsulate the complex relationship we have with the past, offering both a refuge in nostalgia and a lens through which to critique it. As vaporwave continues to evolve, it remains a fascinating and multifaceted component of the broader retro revival movement.


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