As the virtual Carnival krewe gets ready for its second online parade, members select some of their favorite examples of vaporwave.

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Members of the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave

[Updated] Last year, the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave (VKV) made its Carnival debut, parading online with virtual throws. The floats were pieces of vaporwave art--videos that play with the visual and sonic iconography of consumerism in the Eighties--and the most interesting reveal complex relationships to that past. Vaporwave's fetish-like affection for synth strings is grounded in both how real and unreal they are--real enough to serve their musical function, but unreal enough to reveal the faux, constructed nature of whatever song or soundtrack they were used in. Pop culture imagery is employed with nostalgic affection, but it's a love despite the obvious awareness of how corny, manipulative, and/or failed those images were. Vaporwave never signals a desire to return to better days; its makers show pretty clearly that there's nothing worthwhile to go back to.

VKV's second virtual parade will roll February 21 at 8 p.m., and this year's parade will feature 18 floats with the theme, "Tomorrow, the Future." Each float will represent a year and a vision of the future from 1983 to 2001, with floats rolling in chronological order. This year's parade will be experienced as a multiplayer video game that attendees will download to their Mac or PC from VKV's website starting at 7 a.m. the day of the parade, with the parade rolling at 8 p.m. Players/attendees will collect throws within the game environment and be able to choose which to wear. There will be 32 throws that will be exchangeable for real, 3D-printed objects at local businesses the day after the parade.

VKV will also throw its first IRL Ball Saturday, February 4 at Daiquiri Lounge. @lilinternet, Rusty Lazer, Quickie Mart and VKV's robot Dick Joskey will perform DJ sets, and WWWWHHHHAAAAMMMM!!!!, a vaporwave tribute to George Michael, will play live. Eureeka Starfish and Dangerous Rose will also perform, and an audiovisual installation will honor this year's court: George Orwell, Rockwell (of "Somebody's Watching Me" fame) and C3PO. Doors open at 9 p.m. with a $10 cover.

Since vaporwave sounds like a lot of concept, I asked krewe founder Merely Synecdoche to give us a way into the vaporwave world. Here is what he/she and other krewe members came up with. Sonically, if often borrows from hip-hop's chopped and screwed aesthetic, but some of the examples here evoke a shimmering, seductive endlessness. Tracks may end, but there's no sense that they have to. Others, like tracks by Saint Pepsi, play like bangers in the clubs we never see in 1984's The Night of the Comet--the places where people dance joyously to songs that sound familiar until a passing comet turns them all to dust.

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Space Jam, Official Website

To understand what Vaporwave is, we first must understand what it can never be. Warner Brothers’ Official Website for Space Jam is a popular web-tourism destination today precisely because it hasn’t changed at all since it was first published in 1996. While we certainly have the tools to build websites like this today, we couldn’t do so without obscuring the subject matter in so many CSS layers of irony, satire, and yearning for times that were. And although we understand that there is no back button in the browser of life, we cannot help but click, anyway, and hope.   

Vaporwave harkens back to a time when we knew who our enemies were: Steroid-addled Soviet-ish figments of our imaginations who wanted to stop Michael Jordan and Newman from Seinfeld from being the best they could be, basketball-wise. It’s not as simple anymore: the Soviets are Russians now, and MJ’s Hitler moustache boosted sales at Hanes. It’s no wonder we look back longingly toward a time when life made more sense. -- Merely Synecdoche, Krewe Founder 

猫 シ Corp - "Palm Mall"

This is the best and most complete piece of Vaporwave with which I am familiar. I came across this amazingly detailed sound- and video-scape of a mall while I was finishing my degree in Business Music at a prominent online university, and it buoyed my spirit on many a long night studying in the online library. Vaporwave can often come off as a snide joke, but the satire inherent to this mallscape only briefly obscures the exquisite artistry with which it was made. Nevermind that it’s a simulacrum of a mall, which is itself a simulacrum of a town square, because oh, what a simulacrum it is! -- Jon Cage, “Conceptual Artist”

Hong Kong Express - "Ghost"

I always defined vaporwave as an artistic satire of hypermaterialism and commercialism, melding glitch art and pop imagery from the 1980s to today; most notably from the Japanese economy-boom in the '80s and the birth of the Internet, to portray a time that was once glorious as something that is now dead (see: The American Dream). I’m really attracted to the darker tones of Vaporwave like 2 8 1 4's ふわっと/Drifting, Ghost by HKE, or The Architect by Sandtimer or other stuff the DREAM CATALOGUE label put out. This dark stuff departs from the bright, poppy sounds of early Vaporwave and really explores the genre. -- ストゥープキッド, Director/Editor

Saint Pepsi - "Enjoy Yourself"

This is the kind of question that starts brawls at X-Men movies: “Please explain this phenomenon in all its fantastical complexities, but be careful not to leave anything out!” While I would never pretend to fully understand vaporwave, Saint Pepsi’s "Enjoy Yourself" helped introduce me to the genre and also captured the elements of vaporwave that I appreciate most: nostalgia, humor, and musicality. 

Ironically, I first saw this in this Esquire feature about vaporwave that totally cribbed its title from our 2016 parade. -- MacHyp, Designer

Beyoncé - "Formation"

Okay, so bear with me here. "Formation" isn’t vaporwave, but it represents the degree to which vaporwave was absorbed back into mainstream culture almost as quickly as it erupted. Look at the washed-out, white-heavy shot with the immediately recognizable VHS “PLAY” icon in the bottom right corner of your screen, right around the four-minute mark. Now laugh, because no VHS machine in history recorded or played back in ultra-super-duper widescreen. Now chuckle quietly with the full confidence that no detail escapes Beyoncé. Now chortle as you casually mention to your friend sitting next to you that you’re pretty sure that Beyoncé was referencing Vaporwave culture with that little bit of VHS-emulation. Now disagree with your friend about something Beyoncé-related. Now assault your friend’s social media accounts. -- 

Ronald McReagan, Multimedia Jockey


From 2015's Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave parade

Updated January 19, 9:32 a.m.

The "Palm Mall" video has been replaced with a version that shows the 3D animation referred to in the text.