Vaporwave, a style concerned with cultural and artistic critique, is an extremely broad genre that is often hard to define. However, vaporwave has a definitive aesthetic that makes it easily distinguishable from its influences. Vaporwave was pioneered by the artists who made up the genre’s first wave in the early 2010s, after which many new artists began making their own music in this style, continuing to push the boundaries of what vaporwave can be. Nowadays there are many different sub-genres of vaporwave: mallsoft, chillgressive, hardvapour etc.
Vaporwave was initially influenced by cyberpunk literature and movies such as Akira (1988), as well as consumerist themes found in 1980s pop culture and new age music from that same time period. In 2009, James Ferraro released Far Side Virtual which marked the beginning of vaporwave as a distinct musical genre (present day). After that point there were many different artists who began to produce their own albums within this style and pushing it into different directions; for example EccoJams/Eccojammer released OtoHana (2010) using Nintendo game samples and slowed down j-pop beats whilst INTERNET CLUB released the album Virtual Plaza (2010) which incorporated samples from YMO’s Technodelic, a popular electronic album from 1980.
In 2011, the album Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus was released and became an instant classic of vaporwave. It became known for its use of samples from YMO’s Obsession and a track by Enigma called “Sadeness” which helped define the style of vaporwave. The album was later re-released in 2014 with new cover art by Saint Pepsi, who released his own successful album last year, Hit Vibes, giving him the title of “the next Macintosh Plus”. Another artists worth mentioning is Blank Banshee who has been described as “the godfather of vaporwave”. Blank Banshee began releasing his music in 2010; with his project New Dreams Ltd. He has since then continued to produce more albums within this genre and his music has been featured on many vaporwave playlists on YouTube as well as being sampled by other artists within the genre such as INTERNET CLUB.
As we have seen from this short history of vaporwave, it is an extremely broad genre that is hard to define and is constantly pushing into different areas.
“Vaporwave is a musical genre characterized by its use of sampled Buddhist meditation music and easy-listening music from the 1980s and 90s, often accompanied by an aesthetic which could be described as “aesthetically-pleasing corporate anonymity” – Wikipedia
As you can see from this quote above, vaporwave is often associated with a ‘corporate anonymity’ aesthetic that has been used to criticize capitalism and consumerism in recent times; it uses this aesthetic to make fun of these things whilst also drawing attention to them in an artistic way. This style made famous by Macintosh Plus (Floral Shoppe) has now been mixed with other styles such as mallsoft, flexstyle etc.
Most vaporwave artists have their own unique sound which makes it hard to say exactly what it sounds like because each artist has their own unique styles of production; some artists include Saint Pepsi, James Ferraro, INTERNET CLUB, and Vektroid etc.
Here are some of the most popular vaporwave songs from the 1980s
YMO – Technodelic (1981)
Technodelic is the sixth album by Yellow Magic Orchestra. It was their last album before being disbanded in 1983. The track which is used in the vaporwave genre is “Technopolis”.
The Cars – Heartbeat City (1984)
Heartbeat City is the second album by American rock band The Cars. Released on September 26, 1984, it was the last studio album by the band before their 11 year hiatus that lasted from 1985 to 1997. Each track on this album has been used to create a vaporwave track and its most popular is “Dangerous Type” which is made into a vaporwave version of itself in this song:
This song also includes samples from other songs which are used within the genre such as “the power of love” by Huey Lewis & The News and “The End” by The Doors.
YMO – Behind the Mask (1984)
Behind the Mask is YMO’s seventh album. It was released on October 21, 1984, and became their last studio album for nearly a decade, as the band would disband in 1993 after their live album Live at the Apollo was released. The track which is used in the vaporwave genre is “Behind The Mask”.
Enigma – Sadeness (1990)
Sadeness is a single released by German musical project Enigma from their second album, MCMXC A.D.. It was one of two singles to be released from this album, with “Mea Culpa” being the second single. “Sadeness” reached number one in at least 18 countries including Switzerland and Germany where it spent ten weeks at number one on its respective chart; it also won an Echo award for Best Single of the Year in Germany. This song has been used to create many vaporwave tracks such as this one:
This track was also sampled by Macintosh Plus in his song Floral Shoppe; if you listen to both tracks you can see how much of an influence this song has had on the vaporwave genre.
YMO – Technopolis (1982)
Technopolis is the first track on YMO’s sixth album, Technodelic. The track itself is iconic and has been used many times since its release in 1982. It has been used to create many vaporwave tracks, and is one of the most popular tracks within the genre.
YMO – Nagisa no Sinbad (1983)
Nagisa no Sinbad is an instrumental track from YMO’s seventh album, Behind the Mask, released on October 21, 1984. It has been sampled in vaporwave multiple times and you will find that it is often played at the end of songs to add a sense of finality to it.
The Human League – Don’t You Want Me (1981)
Don’t You Want Me? is a 1981 hit single by British synth-pop group The Human League. Written by lead singer Philip Oakey and produced by their original producer Martin Rushent, it was the second single released by the band in the UK and their first to enter the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart, where it reached number 2 for five weeks behind “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” by Pink Floyd. In 2000, “Don’t You Want Me?” was voted number 98 in “100 Greatest Dance Songs” by music magazine DJ Mag.