The vapour/vw scene began almost exclusively within the digital domain, using either Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube or any other available means to share these sonic creations. However, it also took on a physical form – based on artist and label affiliation – and it was the audio cassette. It was argued at the time that if it were to take on a physical form, the cassette would be perfect as it is cheap to make, easy to distribute as well as customize, fits with the temporal aesthetic (the 1980s was pretty much the era of the cassette) and has a compatible fidelity. Later on, the next format it took on was the vinyl record as both artists and labels were getting ambitious and the means were more in reach. Both vinyl and cassettes are enjoying a much wider rebirth/renaissance, even as digital downloads are declining and the subscription service is becoming the new norm for distributing and consuming music.
And yet, there is another possible format emerging from the horizon. During the weekend of Cassette Store Day 2018 (of all times), two vapour labels, My Pet Flamingo and Section 9 Tapes, released Flamingo Funk Volume 1 and プラネットネオ東京 respectively on a format that officially died around the time vaporwave was emerging. It was the MiniDisc.
I will not bore you with the history and the details of the format in general. In fact, the best single resource for everything MD can be found here. There are also a couple of nice personal appreciations of the format: 1 2. And, of course, there’s the detailed summary of sorts.
The MiniDisc has the potential to be the signature physical format for the vapour scene. It combines the reliability and clarity of a compact disc (or any optical drive) with the durability, portability and versatility of the compact audio cassette. There is the digital nature that is retained upon duplication. Like both vinyl and cassette, there is the ability to create uniquely designed objects on the part of artists/labels (and if the listener missed out on the MD runs, it is possible to “make your own” using a blank MD). For the moment, it is actually easier to get a decent to excellent player, either portable or home use, second hand as well as blank MDs.
Beyond its physical qualities, the MD is the most compatible to the spirit of vapour. The MiniDisc was a format unique to the 1990s and continued into the 2000s (even when other digital music players entered and exited the market), whereas both the cassette and the vinyl have existed before that decade. While the format has been active in the worldwide market for a little over twenty years, it was deemed – and remembered – as a failed/dead format in the United States. If there is a scene that can appreciate things like “lost opportunities” or “what could have been”, it would be a scene that is already in that period of time anyway. Creating vapour albums on MD can simultaneously create an alternate past (reliving the 1990s again) and an alternate future (expanding your listening format options). And maybe with enough attention and interest, vapour/vw can bring back the MD in a way that other independent scenes maintained and resurrected the vinyl and the cassette in the late 2000s/early 2010s.
And so … another avenue is open and thus proving not only that vaporwave isn’t dead but has the ability to bring new life into unexpected things.