At its core, vaporwave was a punk movement. It was the punk of the ‘10s, and now that it’s decidedly unpunk, it’s about time everyone stops Green Daying the hell out of it. Thanks to releases that took a more experimental stance and stood out more, vaporwave carved out a very specific niche that united artists all over the world. Refusing to be as unified as witch house and chillwave before it, using unclearable samples, and generally reinventing plunderphonics for a new audience, vaporwave was, and in some cases still is, one of the most compelling DIY movements to stem from the internet.
These days, it has devolved into sub-Reddits debating what is and what isn’t vaporwave, which completely misses the point. Stylistically, vaporwave is seemingly only pinned down by aesthetic and the use of samples rather than a specific sound or feel. That signature retro-inspired look that quite often featured Japanese text, glitch art, renaissance sculptures, lo-fi cyberpunk visuals, video game sprites, early web design, outdated CGI, and a lot of pink and purple, isn’t as prominent as it once was.
But what caused this shift to begin with? HKE, the founder of Dream Catalogue and an artist himself, thinks “the shift began as early as people like myself, Telepath and all the others who came up with us on Dream Catalogue coming into the scene back in late 2013 and early 2014, really.”
“What we were doing was always a bit different from what was and generally still is commonly known as vaporwave and really we were just paying attention to ourselves and the stuff we were posting on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and not very much to what had come before. But as time went on we all evolved as artists in our own individual ways to the point where the connection to vaporwave is almost non-existent now.”
One of HKE's many aliases, in this case Sandtimer, saw him releasing an album called Vaporwave Is Dead in 2015, featuring industrial, pulsating, and downright aggressive songs void of all the signature sounds of earlier Dream Catalogue releases. The album features a track titled “An Ode To Vaporwave (RIP),” and its dark ambience plays out like an old man revisiting bittersweet memories.
“[The] initial goal wasn't to ever make it a strictly vaporwave label,” HKE explains, “and that just became the tag and association over time despite the fact many artists on the label were never even making vaporwave-like music in the first place.”