分析: Happy Birthday, VW or How We Learned to Stop Dreaming and See for Real All the Castles in the Sky

A certain valedictorian and a certain discussion has made the case that the scene called vaporwave began on 19 July 2009 with the upload of this video. This would later be considered B4 on this album, which would serve as a key cornerstone for what would be an art scene that would accomplish in mere years what has taken decades to achieve in popular or hybrid music forms and perhaps even centuries in high art forms. After going through “death” after “death” after “death”, the scene has not only survived but is beginning to expand even more with one big show just around the corner and another big one coming soon and I’m sure more things down the road.

Instead of trying to tell more of the larger story of the scene’s first decade, I thought it would be best to explain more about how I came onto the scene, first as a listener and then as an artist in my own right. After all, the secondary title of this includes the words “personal examination”.

As it tends to be the case with me, what seems like an “out of nowhere” move could actually be traced back to some well-planted seeds that would in turn sprout into something more in time. This has certainly been the case with my music career, both overall and in specific areas. So while I say that it was late 2017 when I began the dive into the vapour, you really have to start with my first effort at music making.

I knew I wanted to make my own music for as long as I could remember. I particularly wanted to make music that sounds like the music that I like. I would have to wait until college when I could begin pursuing it. That was when I had acquired the instruments, the computer, and a class that provided the necessary tools for home computer-based music production. I would also work at WCWM, which would not only expose me to many artists I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, but also would show me that it would be tough sell. And this was in that post-Napster but “just-about-to-happen” iTunes moment as well … let alone before Bandcamp and Soundcloud and Spotify. But even with that potential doubt, I would learn the tools and develop my voice.

It was 2006 when something clicked in me on how to make music under a name I could stand behind. It occurred when I listened to the entirety of Cocteau Twins and their sound – as well as dream pop in general from what I heard – felt like something I could use as a starting point for other things. Thus, I started The Spangle Maker. While dealing with an assortment of personal changes and trials, I would make two EPs, an LP and would compile all the digital singles released in the span of five years.

Then 2009 happened. But it wasn’t 19 July that would be significant for me. I literally began the new year with a long drive from one metropolitan area where I spent nearly two decades growing up to another where I had barely any familiar connections. The transition was not as smooth as I would have liked it to have happen. Setbacks led to more setbacks led to more setbacks (and I was already down by some other scars accrued prior to 2009). Thus was the beginning of a long depression period.

This led to a shift in creative focus away from music. Part of it was also being drawn to and thinking that film-making was a better path for me, personally, creatively and professionally. But I was also getting disillusioned with the state of music in general. Even though I had little to no interest in what was occurring within “Big Music”, I conclude that there was no point in me continuing if this was going to be the prevailing norm. So for almost a decade, I ruled out making music for any kind of public.

Of course, this didn’t mean I stopped listening to new music, even though I did not buy/venture as much as in other years. One of these purchases was back in September 2013 when Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven was released via Warp Records. I personally have been a fan of the label since end of high school/beginning of college and when I saw it, I was intrigued by what it could be. I was treated to a familiar sound palette but executed in a new way. Sure, this sounds like using the GM sound bank off of any MIDI-equipped … anything. And yes, this does sound like it could come from a particular time. But it doesn’t have to be nor does it really. It’s not returning to a point in time; it’s just drawing upon one time as just another colour. I enjoyed the world the music created and it was one of those points of comfort during several trying times. Without me knowing it, this was the first key seed that would eventually sprout forth the vapour for me.

Over the next four years, I would do day-jobs (sometimes have them, sometimes not), work on film projects and go through on-off periods of anxiety/depression. There would be some simple recordings where I would sketch out an idea that could lead to something, but at least it would be just something to keep me going. I would keep my eyes open for music and every now and then, I would see something referencing “vaporwave”. I was fully aware of the on-off 1980s nostalgia gaze, but I didn’t quite connect the two. After all, while they share some aesthetics, I don’t think you could consider this film to be “vaporwave” (maybe proto?). I saw a few reviews from The Needle Drop mentioning this but I just noted it and moved on with my life, never listening to it.

There were a few YouTube channels that had used some vaporwave. One in particular used – what I would find out later – Saint Pepsi’s “Enjoy Yourself”. Not knowing anything more, I enjoyed listening to that song. In time, I picked up a few others from Blank Banshee. Finally, in late 2017, I saw a few videos trying to describe what this scene was all about, including wosX’s (now deleted) survey of the scene. This was the jumpstart that started – what was then – a dedicated effort to play six years or so of catch-up

Between those sources plus the Vaporwave Essentials Guides (and there are a few more where that came from) and whatever Vapor Memory uploaded as recommendations, I started my own random and circuitous journey through the realm of vapour. I even kept a listening diary of the different albums I had heard. As I was listening to these different albums, I was impressed with the diversity of sound as well as the dedicated talent. The music matched my normal sensibilities effortlessly and I loved the imagination and daring a lot of these releases had. I will admit that as I’ve listened to the popular highlights, I probably saved myself from hearing the other 90% or so. But if I liked something, I would definitely make every effort to get it for myself, which meant Bandcamp was very active for me.

As I was listening to this music – and even began to reach out to these artists – it was clear that this was not just a scene where I was just a mere observer. Furthermore, I could see that there was no reason for me not to be a part of this. After all, I still had the equipment (never had to liquidate it for cash) and I definitely had the know-how to make whatever I wanted. And that was the other attractive aspect. I wasn’t going to make the umpteenth version of Floral Shoppe or be a second [insert favourite artist from the scene here]. I didn’t have to retread the same grounds others have. If anything, it was a chance to add my own spin. Another way I put this was that it wasn’t so much I had to tailor myself to vapour, vapour was tailoring to me. So vapour did what nothing else before could: it gave me my music-making mojo back.

So, I declared a new moniker and got to work making my first album of new material in almost ten years (The Rose of Al Basrah was September 2009; The Singles Vol. 1 would be released in May 2011, but that brought together all the singles I put out then). After some thinking and brainstorming, it was very clear that the first album was to be called Reincarnated Resurrection. I even had a concept for the artwork already in place. Because I had some material that I thought was strong and could make a good first appearance, I only had to finalize the existing material and create from scratch a few new ones. And, creating a nice full circle, I was able to work with someone whom I met when I first settled in Massachusetts. I made the album available on 31 August 2018 (what would be a year before 100% Electronicon).

In addition, I was also networking in the scene, both as an artist and a fan. I got to meet Emmanuel Hoachlander, the guy behind Ohm-N-I and who runs Section 9 Tapes. As we got along very well, he wanted to put the album out on cassette (and later, MiniDisc would be an option). I would continue to work on new material and engage in the scene online whenever I could. In time, some other opportunities presented itself and that should make my future prospects better. It will be a while until the next follow-up but I will still keep a presence going with a remix or a compilation appearance or being featured on a track or two. And I write here as well (which is slowly getting more noticed … as I shared this more).

All in all, it’s incredible to think that this little hybrid of an old piece of VHS ephemera married with a personal plunderphonics experiment would create one of the most creative and engaging music movements to fill the interwebz. Call it vaporwave. Call it millennial punk. Call it post-electronic. Call it “chillwave for Marxists” or “smooth jazz for millennials” [this guy’s words]. Call it simply vapour [also this guy’s words]. There may be nobody here, but that doesn’t mean something is not there.

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