Tag Archives: Vaporwave

How Software’s “Island-Sunrise” Became a Curious Cult Classic

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Software, 1984. L: Michael Weisser, R: Peter Mergener.

Digital-Dance is an obscure 1988 LP from the little-known (at least in America) German duo Software. Released at the time by the cult label Innovative Communication, the record is a collection of leisurely electronic instrumentals, drenched in nostalgia and indebted to ambient and downtempo soundtrack work.

Save for its urgent title track—a brisk, no-nonsense throwback to early ’80s industrial synthpop—and the closing song “Waving-Voices,” Digital-Dance is mostly dedicated to capturing one of life’s most curious phenomena: the way time seems to slow down during vacations, particularly if that vacation is in a tropical location.

Oceanic sound samples, like lapping waves or keening birds, crop up throughout the record, and Digital-Dance‘s song titles are deliberate nods to seaside scenes. Both “Sea-Gulls-Audience” and the multi-part “Oceans-Breath” incorporate mournful saxophone and dreamy synth textures, the former recalling the hazier parts of 808 State’s “Pacific.”

The album sets the mood immediately, opening with the addictive “Island-Sunrise,” which has become a vaporwave touchstone. It’s easy to see why: Thanks to a taffy-pulled tempo, the song feels like it’s suspended in deep space. Syrupy synthesized strings, 8-bit keyboard whimsy and occasional percussion sizzles—percolating woodblocks, hissing rattles, cautionary chimes—create an alluring and narcoleptic atmosphere.

And now, almost 30 years after its original release, 100% Electronica record label—home of the Australian vaporwave phenomenon S U R F I N G—is issuing a limited-edition vinyl pressing of Digital-Dance, along with a host of other Software titles, available digitally for the first time.

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The Mall, Nostalgia, and the Loss of Innocence: An Interview With 猫 シ Corp.

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Despite its often serene facade, vaporwave can contain dark themes. For 猫 シ Corp.—a Dutch native who reveals his first name as Jornt—the genre’s greatest exponent of mallsoft, the loss of innocence is key. Speaking with him about one of his more recent albums—the retro-futuristic eccojams of Class of ’84, he cryptically tells us it provides “an image of a (past) world that we love to escape to because our old world died in 2001.”

This mention of 2001 is a very specific reference to make regarding an album that, in evoking everything from Saved by the Bell to the Breakfast Club, couldn’t seem more divorced from world history post-1993. However, it becomes much clearer when we consider another recent album—NEWS AT 11—and realize  that his records share in the same intriguing worldview, one which partly involves blocking out the troubling turn world history took after a certain catastrophic event.  As hinted at by the album’s release on September 11, 2016, this event was the 9/11 terrorist attack, which the producer confirms “was indeed the subtle, but yet very obvious, theme of the album.” He explains, “When the Twin Towers were hit on that day in September the old world died. It’s like the whole planet suddenly opened up and changed, [and] not for the better. Gone were the peaceful days.” However, as irretrievably lost as these days are for 猫 シ Corp., NEWS AT 11 and its samples of daytime TV finds him trying to reclaim them. Revealing that he took many of the snippets of morning news programs from YouTube, he says, “If you listen closely you hear the samples being cut off right before they announce the dreadful event. Like it never happened. Yet it did, but your mind cuts away right before the memory.”

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Solidwave: The Top Physical Vaporwave Releases

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Vaporwave famously takes its name from ‘vaporware’—the name for products in the tech sector that, despite being officially announced for imminent release, never actually see the light of day. Given this inspiration, listeners would be forgiven for assuming that the genre’s ‘LPs’ and ‘singles’ were always meant to be listened to as mp3s, where they’d be eternally confined to a kind of digital half-life almost as ghostly as the Infinium Phantom. However, even though vaporwave certainly enjoys flirting with notions of unreality and illusion, the genre does, in fact, have a longstanding relationship with more tangible musical formats. That relationship mostly involves the humble cassette tape and the similarly humble VHS, two formats which, rather than situating vaporwave firmly within the present era, serve to reinforce the sense that many of its albums are long-lost relics from a dimly-remembered past.

And yet, even though though the genre’s physical-release focus does remain mostly on cassette, it’s becoming increasingly common to find new and canonical records, from older classics such as Vaperror’s Mana Pool to newer entries like R23x’s VELTHL, being issued on vinyl and CD. If nothing else, this development is significant because it challenges the sense that vaporwave is simply about nostalgia and internet culture, confirming it as a genre worthy of being appreciated purely on its musical merits, like any other. Labels seeking to take vaporwave out of the Internet forums, perhaps, wish to make it appear more “legitimate” before a wider audience. Here’s a rundown of 10 of the best recent vaporwave releases on these two formats.

HKE – HK

Originally released in January 2015, HKE’s neo-psychedelic HK was reissued on beautiful 175g blue vinyl in December 2016. Musically reminiscent of the London-based producer’s seminal work as 2814 with t e l e p a t h, the album is nonetheless even more abstract, otherworldly and mind-bending than all three of 2814’s previous outings. These floating soundscapes create a powerful sense of being lost in a dystopian megalopolis-in-the-sky, and the heavyweight 12″ gives us something to hold onto as we drift in space.

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Album of the Day: 아버지, “Reflection”

아버지 is the owner of the Business Casual, an imprint largely focused on future funk. But on Reflection, 아버지 mostly bypasses that genre’s usual peppiness. Essentially consisting of tiny micro-samples that are looped and looped and looped again, almost to the point of becoming maddening, its eight tracks don’t evoke the optimism and playfulness of bl00dwave or Ursula’s Cartridges, so much as they do an inescapable descent into claustrophobia and confusion.

In fact, Reflection barely even resembles 아버지’s work as the occasionally challenging (yet still recognizably vaporwave) chris†††. Its nearest benchmark is the latter’s No Lives Matter from March 2016; but where that record’s mechanistic repetitions still left plenty of room for actual melodies and songs to play out, Reflection traps the listener in a tiny box of infinitely-repeated blips and stutters.

This might make Reflection seem too difficult for its own good, yet it’s an impressive testament to 아버지’s talent that his subtle manipulation of microscopic source material can create such a powerful atmosphere of detachment and isolation. His ceaseless jolts disrupt time’s flow, and in so doing they make Reflection one of the most absorbing ambient vaporwave records of the past year.

Simon Chandler

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 아버지is the owner of BLCR Laboratories.

Equip on Shoegaze, Video Games, and Vaporwave

Equip artwork

Illustration by Valentina Montagna.

Though the monumental I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky has only been out for three months, its maker, Chicago-based producer Equip, has been making music for longer than you might think. He started with computer-based music in 2008, “after falling in love with Burial’s Untrue and all the future garage and leftfield bass music that came after it.” Aside from the spectral gloom of dubstep, what particularly goaded him into conducting his own musical experiments were interviews with his favorite producers, which often revealed that “most of them hadn’t even been making music that long—which was inspiring for me to start.”

He candidly admits, “My first attempts at making electronic tunes were all pretty generic, and lacked a cohesive sound—I would hear a great tune and I’d write a rip-off track.” Fortunately, that began to change when he got a job at a record store and was inspired by the dream pop and Krautrock he discovered there.

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