Vaporwave is dead, right? It went through its growing pains at a quicker rate than “traditional” genres, likely due to being a largely virtual creation. Rising to the height of internet memedom, it died out only to be resurrected, boasting a slew of microgenres, sampling techniques, and an army of new artists to bolster its online presence… So what is the future of vaporwave? You have come to the wrong guy (you fool!), but luckily, I know three people that have far more authority on the subject.
I sat down in my high rollers’ suite (read as: chat room) with three rising stars of the community to pick their brains a bit about where the genre is going.
Hot off the release of his new album Flashback Memories (formerly reviewed by yours truly in issue 6) I S S A C A S C I I is rapidly rising through the vaporwave scene.
Next is Zer0 れい whose latest album ブラックマジック (Black Magic) has already taken the spot as album of the year in the hearts of some vaporwave consumers. And between you and me, something big from him is on the horizon…
Finally, we have desert sand feels warm at night, a young artist from the UK whose ambient and ultra chill albums have become breakout hits across the community, especially on the Private Suite Discord.
On the community:
Desert Sand Feels Warm at Night: I don’t think there will be a continuing growth or decay, but I think there will be waves of creativity, there will be waves of people just all doing the same thing, which we are kind of going through right now. How many times have you guys gone onto reddit and seen “This is my first vaporwave track, what do you guys think?” And it is just the same thing.
C A S I N O: Ah, reddit…
D: It is a very controversial space for both good and bad things. Proper debates have happened there, but so much of it is just the same.
I S S A C A S C I I: But there are many good albums released almost daily in the vaporwave scene.
D: With some of my albums it is just random. Sometimes my albums get a hundred upvotes but other times my albums just get like zero.
I: Personally, I think the genre is currently going nowhere. Every new generation is discovering vaporwave constantly, but I read that most producers stay in the game for about three years before dropping out and moving on to “real music” like synthwave.
C: So there is no loyalty to the genre?
Zer0 れい: I hate that.
D: Why did you do that in the first place if you were just going to drop out? Like why not stay with it instead of moving on to something else that you are just not into and makes you depressed?
On the industry:
Z: I think you are a great example, desert, of someone that has worked in the genre that tried to take it and really grab it by the balls and push it forward.
D: I do try and make it my own thing because I think copying an artist is not right, but taking ideas from an artist and putting your own spin on it is the way you develop a genre.
I: Everyone has their own ears, and you talked about this. Why people are not loyal to the
genre. I don’t think there is lots of money to be made, even with big players like Private Suite.
C: Since when did we become a big player?
D: When you go into a very new genre like vaporwave, I think you need to take it with a pinch of salt and realize that this will never be your main focus at any point. This will always have to be your side thing.
Z: I think what 猫 シ Corp is doing right now with his new label and Palm Mall is sort of changing things though. He has started a company to do pressings. He has been signing artists like with contracts and shit. He has an actual business that he is starting.
On offering their art for free:
I: Desert and Zero, you are both giving your albums out for free. Why are you doing that?
D: Because I appreciate the music. I don’t wanna sell stuff I haven’t made originally.
Z: When I make music, it is my baby. I want to share it and listen to it. Why would you want to prevent people from listening to your music. It’s principle. I am trying to share my music with as many people as possible. I just want people to listen to my stuff.
D: It’s all about sharing. I don’t think about money when I am making albums. I don’t really care what other people think. When I make an album it is for me. I feel like it is a barrier almost if you make them pay for your music. People don’t enjoy it if they have to pay.
Z: For me though, I am really happy to see that there are some artists still going out, starting labels, pushing new artists, reinvesting into the scene. I think Hiraeth (猫 シ Corp’s new label) is a really good example of this.
On the evolution of the genre:
I: Do you think it will stay vaporwave? I think it will just become synthwave, or ambient or french house music. I think it will no longer become vaporwave.
D: But remember, vaporwave is not now becoming a musical genre, but like a musical emotion. You can have a completely ambient album and it would just be ambient, but because of vaporwave, it can have the city sounds. Vaporwave is a feeling. It encourages artists to start making original music. It’s fun to make original music.
Z: It is an art movement more than a genre at this point. I haven’t played a single original note.
I: That’s why I see myself as a DJ. You pretend you are the musician. So I can understand why people see the genre that is just a meme.
C: You don’t consider yourself an artist?
I: No. I just don’t feel like I have the right to call myself that you know?
Z: One thing that bothered me with the scene is that if you push it even a little, people start shouting that it isn’t vaporwave anymore.
D: There are people that think that there has to be this massive concrete wall around the genre and not mix it with future funk or ambient. There is gonna be quite a lot of new artists though. I think the genre is gonna grow, and I just hope the good ones can rise through the grains of sand. People talk about the generations of vaporwave and I think we are moving into the fourth wave. I think there is going to be loads of blending. People will try anything these days. I hope people can distinguish the good from the very good.
Zer0 れい : For me, I think we are going to be going broader mainly, but more focused at the same time. I think we are going to be actively crossing over into other genres and I think the genes that are a bit more ill defined will start to become their own things. Like future funk will start to become its own distinct genre, same with signalwave, like slushwave did.
I: I see French house and future funk only getting bigger. I see a merge with synthwave and I see a constant push for non-sampled vaporwave and my biggest concern is that there will be a strike to take down eccojams, but I don’t think it will happen.
When Bruce Bethke wrote his short story Cyberpunk in 1980, he had no idea that he would be coining the term for one of the most revolutionary movements in science fiction. At the time, he and other science fiction writers felt boxed in—science fiction had become stagnant. They found their influence in the New Wave science fiction movement of the ‘60s. New Wave sci-fi encouraged authors to be more experimental not only in their writing style or content, but within their actual stories as well. It came as a response to postmodernism, and grew itself into a crock of diversity. Cyberpunk pulled from influential resources like film noir and gumshoe stories, taking the tropes that made those genres their own, and combined them, in the words of William Gibson, into a “sophisticated blend of science, history, pop culture, hip lingoes, and dark humour.”
Utilizing a plunderphonic approach, vaporwave attempts the same. Both utilize pastiche—a form of art that touts itself as imitation, the sincerest form of flattery. To describe pastiche, postmodernist Frederic Jameson once remarked that the style “randomly and without principle but with gusto cannibalizes all the […] styles of the past and combines them in overstimulating ensembles.”
Veronica Hollinger, editor of Science Fiction Studies, once remarked that “cyberpunk—like the punk ethic with which it was identified—was a response to post modern reality that could go only so far before self-destructing under the weight of its own deconstructive activities.” We see a similar catastrophic identity in vaporwave, to the point that “vaporwave is dead” has become one of the most identifiable memes of the community.
With the publication of New Worlds magazine, this new, postmodern science fiction had a platform to deliver itself, much like a virus corrupting your system. When Michael Moorcock took on the role of lead editor in 1964, he set out to “define a new avant-garde role” (Stableford, 1996) for the genre. Using New Worlds, he challenged writers to submit something new, something different, and in issuing this challenge not only did he cultivate diversity within the science fiction genre, he also helped to bolster its success. The term cyberpunk, however, would not catch on until the ‘80s when Gardner Dozois, the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, would begin to popularize the term.
Writers like Philip K. Dick began to think about what the future would be like, and focused on ideas that dealt with the ethicality and morality of people in dystopian situations, where society had been broken down. They explored apocalyptic futures laden with lives ruined by artificial intelligence and the oversaturation of technology. Roger Zelazny, J. G. Ballard and many others would begin to focus on the impact of drug culture, technology and sexual revolution to avoid other tropes that science fiction had come to rely upon. It was a genre that began to “[reflect] on the ‘rapid proliferation’ of technologically mass-produced ‘products’ that are essentially abstractions—images, advertising, information, memories, styles, simulated experiences, and copies of original experiences.” (McCaffery 1991, p. 4 New Spaces for Old Motifs? The Virtual Worlds of Japanese Cyberpunk) When our attention turns to what vaporwave has become as a subculture, we see that this is one of the cardinal features, and with the accessibility we have to endless forms of media, as well as the tools with which to sculpt it, vaporwave shows its punkier nature.
Their playgrounds were societies usurped by multinational corporations—things that started out as everyday, household names that cancerously grew, quietly placating the masses while they took over the government and military and all else until they were an invasive, ever constant reminder in the lives of the people who struggled to survive in their stories. The societies were dingy and disheveled, kept in order by AI that in some instances would favor humans, choosing the haves from the have nots, and in others, simply obliterating them. These grimdark envisionings of a technology-dependent society quietly began to coalesce and solidify themselves as a concrete genre, and as more writers threw their takes in on this commentary of modern living, a movement was born. Cyberpunk would go on to explore the inequality of capitalism and how the abuse of capitalism would change and comment upon human relationships with technology. That same drive to explore the relationship of media to consumerism and capitalism is reflected as another cornerstone of the vaporwave hivemind.
Influential stories like Neuromancer, by William Gibson, helped to solidify cyberpunk into its own genre; the novel itself drew upon early hacker culture and the punk subculture. In her article Vaporwave, or Music Optimised for Abandoned Malls, Laura Glitsos commented of vaporwave that “the listener draws upon their own repository of past experience but only in order to ‘plug into’ the complex and collective (re)production of memory as a form of play.” Vaporwave is a hivemind of nostalgia accessed by connecting to this massive memory circuit—and with modern technology, this collective memory is available to all who have the capabilities of accessing it. Neuromancer practically predicted what would come to be wireless Internet, its characters experiencing their lives by plugging into a giant, shared network. To do their best, the hackers outside of the network were doing their best to break in and liberate humanity to a world where access to information would be truly democratic. In Glitsos’ article, it seems that she tries to tackle vaporwave from the standpoint that now, we are the next generation of hackers who are hopelessly sending messages out of the networks and overly saturated technological playgrounds we exist in today.
Gibson also drew heavy influences from Japan, stating that “modern Japan simply was cyberpunk.” Cyberpunk and vaporwave have another commonality in their draw towards a consumer heavy, technologically forward-thinking Japan. Dennis Taillandier mentions in his article New Spaces for Old Motifs: The Virtual Worlds of Japanese Cyberpunk that authors had “extensively used high-tech, hyper-consumerist Japan as a motif or a setting for their works, so that Japan became in the mid 1980s the very exemplification of the future.” Modern Japan became the benchmark for what was not only capitalistic, but futuristic. Theorist Toshiya Uneno dubbed this now cultural trope as techno-Orientalism, which sparked discussion as to whether or not aspects of American cyberpunk were culturally appropriating. American cyberpunk about Japan, in the eyes of Taillandier, combined lots of high tech imagery with stereotypical aspects and ideas of traditional Japan—things like martial arts, geishas and the Yakuza. Vaporwave, for the most part, is made by English speakers, who often not only musically, but visually draw from not only Japanese, but other Asian cultures, sharing this aspect with cyberpunk.
Meanwhile, the island that had inspired so many ideas for the genre began to contribute to it, as well. In 1982, the serialization of the manga Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo) would help to bring forth the first wave of Japanese cyberpunk. Set in a post-nuclear Tokyo, nihilistic protagonists must come to terms with societal pressures and the machination of the government, as well as coping with being unimpressed by the compromises they’ve had to make as a collective society in order to continue to survive. When we assess vaporwave under a similar lens, we find it as the western equivalent response to a global financial crisis. Vaporwave reflects the post apocalyptic sounds of a financial collapse and the voice of a generation coming to terms with the fact that they must live with the consequences of a consumer-driven world. And they are resigned and indignant about it.
Akira would go on to influence other manga-ka and animators to envision a dying, futuristic Japan, and it would manifest itself in such series as Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. Its influence still extends into more modern creations such as Serial Experiments Lain and Ergo Proxy, touching on a heavy dependence on machines, the Internet, and the access to knowledge.
The cyberpunk hero need not have the most benevolent of morals—that’s not to say that there aren’t protagonists that aren’t all good, but for the most part, the lead in a cyberpunk story is often a social outcast, a misfit who may not have a problem with hurting someone to ensure they are able to survive another day. They face the brutal realities of their situations, and are often begrudgingly made to carry out a task that, in the long run, leaves them no better off than where they were to begin with.
The idea of this reluctant protagonist was explored in the 1981 publication of Johnny Mnemonic (William Gibson). Johnny is a mnemonic courier—a person who has sacrificed memories of his own to have implants put into his brain. The implants allow him to store encrypted data and then transfer it to other people who pay highly for it. The risk is that if these couriers are asked to carry data that exceeds their capacity and choose to do so, they have a limited amount of time to deliver the data, lest they suffer crippling, even life-ending side effects. Exploring the unwilling hero idea even farther, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner began to do the same.
Deckard, too, is a begrudging player in his story—forced to reassume his role as a bounty hunter. The replicants are synthetic humans, bio-engineered to work in colonies off-world. Deckard’s world is dingy and hopeless, and as he undertakes the task of hunting a group of escaped replicants who have taken refuge on a dystopian earth, he comes to question not only his humanity, but that of the replicants he is hunting. Like Akira, the influence of this work spans far, influencing video games, anime, other science fiction films and even television series. Eccojams, Floral Shoppe, and Birth of A New Day all also share something in this—among their genres, they are behemoths who cast long shadows of influence over all who would hear them.
All things that experience a bubble growth come to a critical point where they pop, and as cyberpunk began to approach a more mainstream market, it too would experience this. When Johnny Mnemonic was made into a film in 1995, it showed how a society concerned with marketing and return on investment would come to subvert the very thing that tried to subvert it. The film Johnny Mnemonic was a critical flop. The film took its own liberties with the story in effort to make it more appealing to a casual audience, resulting in a story heavy on cyber, and light on punk. As vaporwave grew from a tiny movement in the back alleys of the internet to a means of delivering messages from several like-minded individuals, it too would endure generalization.
An example of this would be リサフランク420 _ 現代のコンピュー (Lisa Frank 420_Modern Computing). Often thought of as the benchmark of the audio vaporwave experience, it has been described by some as “just a slowed down version of Diana Ross’ It’s Your Move.” People who weren’t necessarily immersed in the genre would come to think of vaporwave as “just slowed down” samples of ‘80s classics, much like cyberpunk would come to be generalized as “high-tech, low life sci-fi,” rather than movements that, like dada, expressed the creators’ frustrations with the idea of consumerism and how it controlled their lives.
Though the Macintosh Plus classic does not represent the sheer diversity of what vaporwave was, or has become, like Bethke it pushed boundaries into an unexplored yet necessary world. The next time you skip your stop to push deeper into the city, or stare into the black portal of your phone, digging for samples, remember this: cyberpunk foretold that this future would happen. Vaporwave reminds us that it’s already here.
“Anime Beyond Akira: The Construction and Destruction of Cyberpunk Tokyo.” Little White Lies. Accessed November 03, 2018. https://lwlies.com/articles/anime-beyond-akira-cyberpunk-tokyo/.
Meeting up with a group of Korean vaporwave producers wasn’t something I’d planned to do on my holiday. I was leaving for vacation in Seoul in a matter of days, when I casually mentioned it to someone at Private Suite. In a flurry of ideas they suggested we get in contact with some producers over in Korea, since it might be a good opportunity for the magazine to reach out to vaporwave fans and creators internationally. For my own sake, the idea of meeting up with some of the people who actually make the music that fuels the scene was a great opportunity. It might sound odd to say, but it’s easy to forget that behind all the artwork, samples, loops and aesthetics, there’s real flesh-and-blood people. So, I decided to spend part of my holiday immersed in the Korean vaporwave scene.
1: Where I meet my guide and get introduced to vaporwave Seoul
During our planning, a name that seemed to come up almost immediately was Jeju Digital, the Seoul-based multimedia company and record label. I was planning on meeting their head honcho, Jeju (moving forward, I’ll refer to the man as Jeju, and the collective as Jeju Digital). Jeju was the guy who could help me connect all the dots in the Korean vaporwave scene.
Once I landed in Korea, Jeju reached out to me proactively to get planning. He offered to meet me and some friends near our hotel and show us around the city. Not just the generic tourist sites, but the areas that really inspire him and his collective in the music they make. We were staying in Myeong-dong, a huge luxury shopping district in the middle of Seoul, which reminded me of Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo. This is the apex of Asian shopping culture: endless stores, packed streets, neon everywhere, crowds bustling. It’s the kind of scene which has inspired countless vaporwave artists over the years.
Jeju brought one of the artists he works closely with, Wave Area, to hang out on this introduction to vaporwave Seoul. Having arrived just a day or two before, knowing no Korean, and realizing winging it could only get us so far, it was great to see two friendly faces.
Jeju Digital is an ambitious project. Across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Bandcamp, the organization puts out a diverse, and quality mix of Korean-influenced vaporwave. They work with underground and emerging artists like Legacy Prodx, JPEGSTRIPES and Clear State, run a buzzing Instagram account, and a YouTube channel dripping with artwork and photography. They also have a podcast showcasing up-and-coming Korean artists. The culture of South Korea is their main fuel, with samples often taken from ‘80s and ‘90s Korean pop. Hangul is used liberally, photos of Seoul adorn many of their releases, and many of their artists live in Korea. They really wear their heart on their sleeve and it’s a clear break from the traditional Japanese, American or Hong Kong influences on vaporwave.
“Jeju Digital is a record label that started with a few friends, we’re based all around the world and it’s a small collective of music and video producers,” Jeju told me. Nearly standard for the genre, anonymity is important. Jeju continued, “We use various names, aliases for whatever is going on. I don’t have a real production name, the people behind it aren’t important.” It’s much more about the concept with Jeju Digital, and concept is something they have in spades. Jeju Digital operates less like a traditional record label, and more like a multimedia project. It’s based on the idea of a mega-corporation in the far future—the titular Jeju Digital—which has totally taken over Korea. In order to solidify its power, the company alters current and past media to fit its own corporate tyranny. Jeju informed me, “It’s a Korean conglomerate, so like Samsung or Hyundai; in Korean it’s called chaebol. Jeju Digital fits into this timeline that starts in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ends in the far future. Jeju Digital is like a huge mega corporation which takes over everything. Government military, everything, just like the Tyrell corporation in Blade Runner.” Jeju Digital is simply sending this warped media out into the world. “You take away people’s ability to think outside of Jeju Digital, you look back at the past and you see the present and you’ve got nothing to refer back to,” Jeju said.
2: A record store far from the lights
The inspiration behind the concept might be drawn from our first rendezvous point: an underground (literally) record store beneath Myeong-dong station. There’s a weird mishmash of older Korean music, super-modern K-Pop, and imported western records on the shelves. Jeju explained that, for quite a number of decades, South Korea was isolated when it came to music. The authorities heavily dissuaded imported music, instead promoting Korean musical styles considered to be more wholesome and acceptable. This restriction started to break down in the ‘90s, as South Korea liberalized, leading to the unique diversity mentioned above.
One of the best legacies of this distinctive musical history is the huge variety of earnest, easy-listening Korean music available, most of which is completely unknown to a global audience, but provides fertile ground for sampling and remixing. You can see how this Galapagos Syndrome in Korea’s musical history would lend itself to the idea of a mega-corporation trying to return a future Korea to a more restricted, darkly wholesome past that half-existed.
3: Where Jeju and Wave Area tell their stories
Jeju is originally from the UK, with a long history in DJing, promoting and working with various producers, which became more evident as we chatted. This isn’t someone who has just hopped on a bandwagon looking for novelty; there’s a real appreciation for what vaporwave is doing, and the potential for what it can do here. Vaporwave can seem like a young or even immature genre: at its worst just hyped up teenagers in their bedrooms slamming their keyboards. Then you meet someone like Jeju and it puts the genre more into context. There are always people out there pushing the limits of electronic music, using it to freak people out and bring people together. If vaporwave can attract those old heads as well as bring in new blood, the genre can only get better for it.
Wave Area is a veteran hip-hop beatmaker; which led to an affinity for vapor trap. He released his first full-on vaporwave EP, Mind Collective, in 2017. Wave Area is a native of Seoul, and took quite an interesting path to the discovery of vaporwave. Like almost all South Korean males, Wave Area was drafted into the army at eighteen, and went through several years of mandatory service. He easily recounted the story: “When I was in the army, we had a system, you get to use the computer once a day for thirty minutes. So every day for thirty minutes I used to go on there and listen to music, mostly older music. Then one day I discovered this artist called Blank Banshee, I started listening to his music and became addicted to him. So every day I was listening to Blank Banshee in the army. Now I’m finished in the army I’m able to make hip-hop beats all day.”
One of the most intriguing things about media is how it must feel as a native person to see artists from other countries reinterpreting your national culture. So much of vaporwave samples Japanese, Hong-Kong, or (in the case of my hosts) Korean music from the past. But most of the people doing this have no idea who the original artists really are, and most can’t even speak the language. Wave Area, when asked what it feels like to see huge artists like 식료품groceries using Korean Hangul to decorate and title their releases, responded, “I think it’s cool they’re using Korean words honestly. Even if they’re using the letters, just thinking about the shape, the form, that’s not a bad thing.”
This cross-cultural mix goes both ways, as exemplified by our old friend Floral Shoppe. Wave Area said, “When I was listening to Floral Shoppe, that music reminded me of when I was young. My parents played that kind of music on our LP player. I actually played Floral Shoppe to my parents and they said ‘oh this is that old music we used to listen to’, they couldn’t even tell it was remixed.”
“So your parents like vaporwave?” I asked.
“My parents like vaporwave,” he responded with a laugh.
As I said to Wave Area at the time, that’s an all-time quote.
4: Where a new friend comes along
We then met up, ironically, at Starbucks, with a vaporwave artist who recently arrived in Seoul: Phreddy M. Phreddy grew up in Mexico, and came to Seoul to study at university. He’s been making music for a number of years, and like Wave Area recently moved into a vaporwave style with his 2017 release D e c e p c i ó n.
When asked how he started, Phreddy explained: “I started making techno music, minimal, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to be stuck in the same place. I always like to be moving. I don’t like to be static, depending on my emotion, because last year was difficult for me. I decided to come to Korea. It was a big decision since it’s the first time I was far away from home. I really felt like my future was uncertain.” As someone who lived in Tokyo for a year, I can relate to Phreddy. It’s not easy uprooting yourself to somewhere totally new, and unless you become fluent in the language and culture over a number of years, like Jeju, it can remain a challenging (yet ultimately rewarding) experience.
But at the same time, you have to keep moving, be it from one genre to another, or one city to another. In fact, part of the reason Phreddy started to work more within the vaporwave style was to reflect his emotions at the time.He told me, “I needed to do something emotional, I’m emotional, I need something to stress this emotion. D e c e p c i ó n was when I decided to come to Korea, also I was going through some personal stuff. So it’s a kind of history, it’s like a story.”
One of the unspoken tenets of vaporwave is that it often attracts people who are feeling dissociated, lost, people who want to see that listless, dreamy emotion reflected back at them. Phreddy said, “I just want to express emotions I have, and do the songs for me so that in the future, when I listen to this music, I will remember the bad time I had, and the good thing is you know, being depressed, do something good with the feeling.”
So as much as the music can be sad, it can have an uplifting impact. And if that’s true for the listeners, it follows that it should be true for the artists themselves.
5: The living marketplace of nostalgia
Jeju then took us to an older, more rustic area of Seoul. Seoul is a modern city, with many of the gleaming buildings, modern transportation and conveniences you’d expect of a high-tech Asian city, but it also has its rough edges. You’ll find parts of the city which look just like they must have in the ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘70s. There’s some grit in these blocks, they feel lived in.
One of these areas was around Dongdaemun and Dongmyo. An old market district, even more densely crowded than the rest of the city. The main area of the market serves traditional Korean food, but numerous shops and smaller markets are dotted around the area, packed full of old vinyl, CDs, laserdiscs, cassette tapes and more. A whole history of defunct recording media stacked under their roofs. As we walked the streets and halls, Jeju talked me through his love for Korean ‘trot’ music. The name derives from the foxtrot dance, and the genre was the main style of music promoted by the state following the Second World War. It’s jaunty and upbeat, full of vocal inflections, and with a repetitive rhythm that makes it easy to dance to. Crates and crates of trot tapes, CDs and vinyls are everywhere, and many of the shops in the streets around Dongdaemun make their entire living selling trot music.
We stopped and had a beer near some of the shops selling old TVs. Those massive old black CRTs, encased in plastic. I was amazed there’s anyone still looking to buy these things; I even remarked on it to Jeju. But the market and streets around it were buzzing with life and energy, people were really excited about these old boxes from the 90s. It was here, among these relics from a near-forgotten past, that Jeju shared with me some key inspiration for what he does:
“When I listen to old Korean music, I get nostalgia, I get nostalgia for an old Korea that I never experienced, like this real old style of Korean music, the foxtrot music, it makes me feel nostalgia. For me as an outsider in Korea, that’s really fascinating. And going back to Jeju Digital, I deliberately wanted Jeju Digital to have a Korean flavor, because I knew that I could, to an extent, represent Korea authentically. I can read Korean, I can speak Korean, I can find Korean music authentically.
“But vaporwave, the only thing that really holds it together is nostalgia, kind of that lost feeling. That’s vaporwave. You know that looking through the rainy window, that’s vaporwave. That lost feeling of nostalgia.”
6: Time to say goodbye
It’s a compelling speech, and one that really connects to the longing a lot of vaporwave artists and fans feel. Whether it’s the South Korean soldier spending his precious internet time listening to Blank Banshee, the Mexican student using FL Studio to escape depression, the British expat submerging himself in Korean granny music, or me, on holiday just trying to scrape some meaning out of my travels, we’re all trying to find something deeper through the sound. I find so much enjoyment in that. Vaporwave revels in irony and cynicism, a genre built on rolling your eyes and sticking your tongue out at the world. But it’s also a deeply sad, longing genre, a genre which just wants to find a slither of meaning and belonging in a world which seems bereft of it. So if my little fact-finding mission around Seoul has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all feeling that way.