A few days ago, I was listening to Night Swim. As I was watching what I presumed to be an upload of a very limited VHS tape version, I was thinking back to the time when [adult swim] was the thing to watch if hanging out in the college dorm. Soon, I boarded the involuntary memory train as the music and the images continued forward. It’s an unusual madeleine for sure but it occurred to me more than ever why this scene was born, died, reborn, died a second time, third reborn, etc.
The surface explanation as to the appeal of vapour/VW is “evoking nostalgia”. While to come extent true, it does not really explain why people either obsessively listen to it on a daily basis or why people go out of their way to make their own or sometimes both. After all, every generation for as long as those who can remember and recall has had its waxing nostalgic phase. Hell, part of the 1990s had this fascination with the 1960s as the Boomer generation reached its own mid-life crisis. (The difference here is that many of them were either in senior management or executive level and thus could translate their frustration into product & profit. We are not so fortunate and thus we have to make do with vaporwave.). Above all, mere nostalgia does not take into account how it has evolved away from mere 1980s regurgitation and ventured into many other sonic realms (and hopefully more to come). Yet it still remains vapour.
I think what lies at the deep heart of the scene is returning not so much to some point in time, but rather to a state of mind. When I was taking a night swim (not literally mind you), I remembered what it was like – and more importantly what I was like – in college. I was passionate, driven, self-assured, eager and comfortable with things. This was when everything seemed fresh and new. There was not that cynicism and bitterness that comes during adulthood (and this generation has experienced various forms of this probably more than any other). Yes, I had downturns before and even during college, but it was nothing like what would happen afterwards. The mindset I have adopted and accrued after at least a decade of disappointment and resentment is not one I asked for, nor sought to acquire. Realizing this now, I am working to dismantle it and rebuild it anew. The vapour is aiding in that endeavour.
If there’s one recurring idea you have heard from me at this point, it’s that there’s nothing new under the sun. Repentance is a classic aim. Using art as a means of repentance is just as classic. Hell, I would imagine that what drove us to draw on cave walls or scratch something on the dirt is a desire not just to mimic what we see, but to see deeper than the surface. Maybe we could make real what we imagine in ourselves and thus change what is inside and/or around us. That desire is no different now than it was back in the 18th century with Roccoco or the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of fantasy. It’s just the circumstances and the means have changed.