One day you’re listening to nostalgic Pop, and the next day it’s Dancehall, and the next it’s Punk. Music tastes change faster than the seasons, and with good reason. There is an infinite amount of music to be heard, and with new genres and artists surfacing practically every week, it’s imperative to listen and understand what all the hype is about.
One particularly exciting time in musical history came in the mid to late 2000s, when niche ‘music zones’ such as Vaporwave, Glo-Fi, Cloud Rap, and Witch House burst onto the scene, cultivating substantial followings and cultures around them.
Just what is Vaporwave? Google it and you’ll be confronted by images of early Macintosh computers, pastel, digitally constructed collages, and obscure Japanese characters in combination with prominent commercial symbols of the 80’s and 90’s. Listen to it and you’ll find it is both subdued and gaudy, with a slow and dreamy sequence of sounds that can bring the listener into a quixotic state.
“Vaporwave, in my opinion, is our current ‘punk scene’,” said Liz, co-founder of the e-venue SPF 420, in a 2013 Dummy Magazine feature on Internet-bound collective “New Generation.” “The digital rebels. The ones who ‘steal’ others’ music, just to manipulate it and chop it up a bit. That is so fucking punk…It’s like how punk bands only knew how to play power chords. It’s brilliant. Vaporwave isn’t lazy, and neither is punk. I think that these two genres of music are parallel: short tracks with messages that are very literal, made with minimal intent (for the most part).”
The advent of the Internet has changed the music making game, both in terms of technological capabilities and shareability. With more and more new artists emerging in the online world, it is making it that much easier to get discovered, or at least to become well known in the online music community.
“The Internet has changed music forever,” said New School junior Arianna Aviram, who previously worked for electronic music producer Hot Sugar. Aviram thinks these hyper-specific genres are important in terms of classifying music. “They have a distinct sound, you can categorize them together. Some people are looking for a specific sound.”
“The internet [has] provided a space for people that felt like they didn’t have access to music,” said Nathan Cearley, show curator at the Brooklyn-based experimental music venue Silent Barn and member of the music group Long Distance Poison. “Maybe it was people who felt they didn’t have a place, or fit in with the already established music groups. They felt more comfortable establishing a digital virtual community. The content has always been positioned politically as kind of a critique of Capitalism and a critique that makes use of the dominant images of the 90s brands and typical signifiers, and by somehow employing those communities, are being sarcastic and it’s satire and parody and it’s irony and hence it’s actually an examination critique of our symbolic universe.”
Whether it’s the clothes, the lingo or the attitude, the music of the 00’s is essentially about “coding yourself,” according to Cearley. “I think things like Seapunk or Vaporwave or Witch House–I think they all emerged not from reality but from Tumblr and out of the Internet first. The scene seems to be more important than the music itself.”
“I think those genres are cool though I’m not sure we can even call them genres, “ Cearley added suggesting instead, that with their roots deep in the unavoidable hashtag via sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, “tags” might be a better fitting term.
Still, like many others, Cearley remains skeptical about the substance and grounding behind these niche genres. “In terms of the behavior I’ve observed, because it’s so net-based, it’s problematic,“ he said. “It involves a lot of sharing, selfies, promotion, hyping, advertising, a lot of strategies and behaviors that are no different to me from Madison Ave.”
But others are encouraged by the connectivity of the Internet and the level of experimentation it inspires. “I think its good because more people are experimenting and gaining confidence, especially for young women. More young women are making music,” said Angelina Dreem, net artist and founder of POWRPLNT, a digital arts collaboratory. “There’s so many articles about the feminization of the Internet,” she continued, “It can be a safe space, an autonomous zone away from the structures that held back women before.”
“All those genres are imaginary and creative in their essence,” said Dreem. “I feel like we want to facilitate that so more voices can join the conversation. A lot of Internet art comes from a very privileged perspective. I think challenging people to make things that won’t get liked is where we could improve. More widespread participation would be fun, more people making music for cheap is good.”
Like Vaporwave, Seapunk is a microculture that developed out of the net, combining many different elements of the cross disciplinary musical terrain. It is “a style of music that incorporates bits of 90s house, the past 15 years or so of pop and R&B, and the latest in southern trap rap—all overlaid with a twinkly, narcotic energy that recalls new-age music and chopped and screwed hip-hop mix tapes in roughly equal measure,” critic Miles Raymer wrote in The Chicago Reader, in a January 2012 article entitled “The Week Seapunk Broke.”
“Seapunk went viral for two months then it was gone and then it started something else, Vaporwave,” said Dreem. “The aesthetic is based in that evolvement in fast, quick communications. Seapunk was a thing happening on Tumblr and the music just coincided. The music is almost second to the naming of it, the brand, that is connected to the means of production.”
“The means of production now are sample based, focused on electronic producing using Ableton or Fruity Loops,” Dreem continued. “[Artists] want to make stuff and want to make a certain sound, to make it fit in with the sound and virality. There’s a lot more music online and more people coming up online. I see people get booked for things online, but then live they’re not that good, but they’re still viral online so no one mentions anything. You don’t have to be good if you have a lot of followers. As far as being a trendsetter, you’re selling an object, an avatar, an identity, your profile. It’s an entity that can be traded sold and shared, you’re not just making music anymore.”
Step into the world of Cloud Rap, another niche music genre, and you’ll find Swedish rap artist Yung Lean. He recently had his first U.S. and Canadian tour “Black Marble” in August of 2014, where he hyped the audience with his absurd yet catchy lyrics and trill beats. With an audience adorned in bucket hats, graphic hoodies, Nike, and HBA sportswear, the scene was set. This was the moment that Yung Lean’s Internet presence manifested itself and came to life for a night of ethereal rap music.
Like Yung Lean’s internet persona, the role of the avatar has increasingly become a fixture to establishing oneself online among the masses. “People want to make a different version of themselves online,” said Aviram, speaking to the freedom and anonymity of the Internet.
Aviram says she values music that’s doing something new and fresh, “Not boring ironic rap like rapping about Jansport and drinking lean.”
One critique of the micro-niche is that new music, and for that matter the Internet itself, is linked with privilege and “a certain class of young people,” as Dreem put it. “Engaging in the Internet is a sort of privileged thing in a way,” she continued. “The generation is more socially isolated and is used to living and exhibiting online.” Nevertheless, she said she understood the impulse to follow one of these genres. “These online communities offer a sense of belonging that is bigger than yourself,” she said. “It makes you a part of a bigger culture. Somebody will like it and it gives you that currency.”
Questions of privilege aside, there is something intriguing about joining the online music scene. One is immediately immersed into the thrills and possibilities of the virtual world, and associating themselves with a bigger, international online culture. There are so many voices, creative visions, and sounds. The trick, for many of these net artists, is to remain hyper aware of the trends and hashtag associations, yet at the same time, to stay within their own niche music zones.
Is all of this good, or bad, or just something that has become a staple of our culture? Artist Angelina Dreem sees the Internet as the “new DIY venue” and “free space.” Student Arianna Aviram agrees calling it “an independent venture” where artists have the ability to “make themselves something out of nothing, incorporating their friends, and collaborating.” Musician Nathan Cearley thinks these cultures “revolve around hype because the Internet is hype based, that’s its coding, sharing, hyping, spreading and making things go viral making things go viral.”
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〈〈 Vaporwave 〉〉
Vaporwave came onto the scene in the early 2010s from indie dance genres like Tumblr infused Seapunk and Chillwave. These subgenres are essentially an offshoot of electronic dance music, manipulated and tailored in very specific ways that cater to a certain group of people and aesthetic. Vaporwave exists as both a parody and critique of consumerist society, ‘80’s yuppie culture, and New Age Music–while sonically and aesthetically showcasing a curious fascination with nostalgic artifacts.
Characteristics: 80s lounge music samples, smooth jazz, elevator music or “Muzak”– music played at shopping malls, cruise ships, airliners, hotels, or hold music– altered through pitch/slowing down/layering/chopping up, a dystopian critique of capitalism. Use of visuals primarily glitch graphics, Internet symbols, late 90’s web design, outmoded computer renderings, cyberpunk aesthetics, Japanese characters prominent.
Related artists: Vektroid, Macintosh Plus, James Ferraro, Blank Banshee, Donovan Hikaru, Saint Pepsi, Vaperror
〈〈 Witch House 〉〉
Witch House is an occult themed, dark electronic music genre/visual aesthetic
that came about in the late 2000s. It has heavy influences of chopped and screwed hip hop, dark ambient soundscapes, industrial noise experimentation. Big use of synths, drum machines, drone repetition, obscure spooky samples, and heavily altered indiscernible vocals. Occult aesthetic, witchcraft, horror inspired, and Unicode symbols are prevalent throughout. The genre often incorporates triangles, crosses, and other such Unicode symbols to keep it obscure, and as a method of keeping the scene underground and harder to find on the Internet.
Characteristics: Techniques rooted in hip hop, chop and screw, drastically altered
and slowed down tempos, with skipping time stopped beats. Elements of drone, noise, and shoegaze. Goth beats and hip hop drum machines, noise atmospherics, eerie samples.
Related artists: Salem, oOoOO, Pictureplane, Purity Ring, Grimes, Modern Witch, GLA▲SS †33†H, LUCIFEAR, ΔAIMON
〈〈 Cloud Rap 〉〉
A type of hip hop music with ethereal and dreamlike beats. It often has stream of consciousness lyrics that are both surreal and absurd. It is described as an Internet sub-subgenre whose producers usually collaborate online. Many of its producers are prominent in areas such as New Jersey, Seattle, and the Bay Area. Avant-garde label Anticon and experimental hip-hop group Clouddead are cited as a precedent to the genre, with their music rooted in hip-hop with psychedelic influences and surreal lyrics.
Characteristics: Dreamy, ethereal beats, use of synthesizers and digital audio workstations, experimental hip hop, stream of consciousness lyrics.
Related Artists: Yung Lean, Lil B, Clams Casino, SpaceGhostPurrp, Main Attrakionz, Kitty, Prada Mane
〈〈 Glo-Fi 〉〉
Music that emerged in the mid 2000s characterized by use of effects processing, synthesizers, looping, sampling, and vocals that are heavily filtered with simple melodic lines. It can also be called chillwave or hypnagogic pop. The genre is a fusion of music trends from the 2000s with that of retro 80s music and the use of ambient sound with modern pop. Jon Pareles of The New York Times described the music as, “Solo acts or minimal bands, often with a laptop at their core, and they trade on memories of electropop from the 1980s, with bouncing, blipping dance music hooks (and often weaker lead voices). It’s recession-era music: low budget and danceable.”
Characteristics: Use of synthesizers, drum machines, samplers and other instruments, ambient and dreamy, with filtered vocals and hints of 80s electropop.
Related artists: Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Small Black, XXYYXX, Com Truise, Youth Lagoon, Blackbird Blackbird, Teen Daze