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#21 From the Twitter archives, part 6: Notes on Vaporwave
Looking back at the fondly-remembered 2010s genre.
Vaporwave as readymade. Duchamp’s 1917 work ‘Fountain’, a urinal signed ‘R Mutt’, was a utopian gesture—it said that any mundane object could be art, and by implication, anyone could be an artist. The appearance of vaporwave indicated those principles had finally filtered into music.
Even in music, there were precedents of course. In the 60s, Caribbean musicians took reggae records and made somewhat surreal instrumental remixes out of them, inventing dub. Later came sampling. Vaporwave was new in that found music was presented as was, or with minimal alterations.
The sounds typical to vaporwave dated from the 80s and 90s: electronica of the time, smooth jazz, muzak, videogame soundtracks, adult contemporary. The turn of the millennium was typically the cutting-off point, and not coincidentally, many vaporwave albums featured the WTC in their artwork.
It seems vaporwave artists yearned for the spirit of 80s and 90s capitalism, even though most were too young to remember anything of the era. Something did change post-9/11: a certain optimism—I’d call it the utopianism of neoliberalism in its first two decades—disappeared from the world.
“I’d love to be a machine—wouldn’t you?” Warhol’s question is more pertinent than ever. Many vaporwave artists were extremely prolific. Skeptics will say that’s because anyone can rustle up a mixtape in no time. What does it mean to be an artist in the (post-)postmodern era?
Make it New!—this was modernism’s mantra. Postmodernism chants it too, only now the New shall be made from the Old. Bricolage is the dominant form in pomo art. Technical skill is not nearly as important as before (though Warhol was in fact a highly trained and skilled artist).
What counts for the pomo artist is a mediumistic ability to channel the zeitgeist into artistic gestures that resonate. Vaporwave was not only about the music, the aesthetics of the album and tape covers were just as important. The full package evoked a certain hard-to-define feeling.