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Between nostalgia and critique of capitalism, What's the Vaporwave ?


New Traveler
Before I start spreading the subject of this article, I would like to thank Agora for giving me her trust, it is with pleasure that I will write this article about the Vaporwave. Thanks to the staff PePsIcAnpixeled

First of all, what is Vaporwave?​

What's Vaporwave ?

Musical genre (hard to define) and artistic movement born in the years 2010, Vaporwave is this month in the spotlight on the blog, for the simple and good reason that it fascinates me! Maybe you're really wondering what I'm talking about. Or even that you thought it was a computer bug or a diabolical virus from another time when you saw this strange window appear, which is definitely not your operating system. Otherwise, you are really too nostalgic. And this is surely another reason to enjoy Vaporwave !

In a few words, Vaporwave is a current inspired by retro culture, technology and advertising, with a certain nostalgia for the 1980/90s. In a few more words, it sounds like a big joke. A parody of our consumerist society and pop culture. In other words, Vaporwave is a dystopian critique of capitalism.

And if you're wondering why "Vaporwave" is called vaporware, which refers to computer products that have been advertised to the public but have never been manufactured or distributed. Without their release having been canceled for all that. The latter then float between the conceptualization phase and the infinite digital graveyard.

The origin of the Vaporwave​

Vaporwave Background

Under the sea punk genre (where hip-hop figures of the 1990s mixed with technological aesthetics with the omnipresence of dolphins and horribly pixelated turquoise blue seas), the vaporwave is above all a musical current born on the Internet.

These pioneers are none other than Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) and James Ferrero. But if you want to discover more about the genre and its evolutions, listen to Floral Shoppe's album Macintosh Plus, which is a great reference, without forgetting Chuck Person's Eccojams (One of my favorite albums and its unforgettable A3 sound). Without forgetting Vektroid, Internet Club, Saint Pepsi or Blank Banshee.

"Vaporwave is based on nothing and represents Capital in its most shapeless appearance. It's the ghost of corporate music, a kind of tombstone for empty shopping malls. If everything solid melts into the air, then the vaporwave is a critique of music created in the vacuum of capitalist society."

Grafton Tanner, author of Babbling Corpse: vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts.

A Vaporwave Video Background

The ingredients of the Vaporwave​

At the base of the vaporwave, one always finds samples of the sound environment of the 1980/90s diffused in places of passage, at work or in the temples of consumption (music from elevators, shopping malls, waiting rooms...). These sounds (also called Muzak) are essentially intended to mask unpleasant noises, voices, or to promote an ideal climate to push the consumer to buy.

In the vaporwave, we perceive them looped, reverberated, pitched and mixed with other diverse and varied genres (disco, pop, funk, rnb...). Creating in the end sets sometimes relatively oppressive. Take an elevator music that runs in slow motion, with a sound quality voluntarily degraded: it can sound creepy. This recurring way of slowing down the tempo can be seen as an opposition to our accelerationist society. In any case, we feel the contrast.

"Sadboy": when the steam wave is spleen

In this sense, it is not surprising to find an unfortunate link with substances such as codeine. Widely put forward by artists like Yung Lean, excelling in a hip-hop still well influenced by vaporwave.

The term "Sadboy" is also regularly associated with the movement for many reasons. This musical genre perfectly describes this generation wanting to escape from its daily life, a consumer society and a world beyond it. Between unemployment, ecological crisis and terrorist threats. In short, a way to disconnect from the real world for the benefit of cyberspace. And to dream, quite simply.

A great source of inspiration for listeners and graphic designers​

Far from being reduced only to that, the vaporwave is relatively addictive because it knows how to be funky, jazzy and necessarily high. It's a real invitation to dream and relaxation which you quickly get a taste for if you know how to let go. It will also know how to give you desires of dance on a disco background!

But above all, it is a great source of inspiration for a lot of artists who create sub-genres (like Simpsonwave, hypnagogic or chillwave, future funk...) and so many other hybrid genres that are difficult to define. In the end, the vaporwave movement is very rich and it would be a pity to be satisfied with only its purest form.

The aesthetics of the Vaporwave​

In the visual compositions of the vaporwave movement, nicknamed A E S T H E T I C, we often find the same elements:

  • Emblematic logos of capitalism, consumer products, advertising, etc.
  • Pixel art on Paint under Windows 95/98, glitch art
  • bright colors or pastels, from pink to purple, when it is not a holographic rainbow of colors
  • tropical ambiances
  • Miami
  • Tokyo
  • antique sculptures (because absolutely timeless)
  • retro video games
  • Japanese cartoons
  • dolphins (reference to sea punk)


Overall, there is a very marked nostalgia for the technological world of the 1990s. Going from a highlighting via screenshots of the universe of Windows 95, to everything that is now obsolete (VHS, CD, game consoles...).


The love of Japan and the aestheticism​

We also feel a strong influence of Japanese culture, especially the aesthetics of Tokyo and its neon lights. Of this overpopulated city that never sleeps and which seems to have remained stuck in a colorful and kitsch universe typical of the 90s. Tokyo being also undeniably the cradle of geek culture, its connection with the vaporwave movement seems then very obvious.

The Vaporwave according to Me​

I think it's a real philosophy, and I think people who don't know what it should look into it more because it's really worth it. By the way, I invite people who have read this article to read the one published on our website. We have more details about its history and its future on https://vaporwave-clothing.com/blogs/infos/what-is-vaporwave


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Eccojamming Emperor

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In any case, the Vaporwave is a kind of internet mistake, people started to publish art on Tumblr and Reddit, then it gave what it has given today :) I take note of what you just said, thanks for the info.PepSiDawgwitcan
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Well-Known Traveler
Great post. Interesting theres a hot topic 'fuck aesthetic' thread completely disputing the appropriateness of the 'tokyo' influence.
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