Vaporwave Is Out of Control: The State of the Genre Map in 2023

Sets and the CD
39 min readJan 31, 2021

Everything that can be invented, has been invented.

You’ve heard this one.

Whether it was through your brilliantly embittered literature High School teacher, a stoner buddy stuttering a hot take in college, or me just now, you’ve been confronted with this quote. A quote that is actually from 1899. Despite its origin story being a negation of the validity of what it claims, I want to entertain it for a while. Let’s get cozy, and dissect the nature of genre collages in another fuckton-word essay about music in which I will-

S I K E !

Genre guides shouldn’t have introductions. Even the Vaporwave genres article doesn’t get one. So, for once in my life, I’ll cut right through the chase. If you want one of my classic fuckton-word essays, you’re in luck because I enjoy writing them, and I love vaporwave so it shall be my next victim. This is a Part 1 to a two-part series I will be publishing on Vaporwave, just to get you acquainted with the state of the genre in 2021. In Part 2, we will be tracing the history and all the socio-cultural implications of this fascinating dystopian movement. For now, we will be taking a look at what vaporwave is, and the many offshoots of the genre, leaving no stone unturned, and no shopping mall unvisited.

Here is how this is going to work. I will give you my own first impression of each subgenre below — and I’ve written this portion of the text slightly inebriated for your own pleasure. This will be followed by a reductive descriptor of what the genre involves, courtesy of the my digital directory comprised of Reddit and RYM, and then a list of the top three albums that encapsulate subgenre, ideologically, musically, or aesthetically, if you will. We will end with a reflection and a verdict. In my world a reflection is a relation: whether it’s an actual futuristic utopia, an unfortunate ex-boyfriend, or a fastidious cramp, I will describe the heck out of where exactly this little land is located, and how to get there. In the verdict, I will officially declare whether this is a genre, or just the name of a Tumblr blog.

Classic Vapor / Faux Utopian

First Impressions: In our world — 2020 deluxe edition, 2021 — eight years are enough to make something a “classic.” That’s scary. Imagine people referred to as your eight-year-old self as “classic you.” Classic Vapor is Vaporwave to the uninformed. Vaporwave, if you’re part of the uninformed, is slowed-down, out-reverbed ’80s elevator lounge. Sexy female vocals that sound like the drunken hoarseness you may only find pleasing in the drunken context of a karaoke lounge — if you even remember what those are, these days. But it’s the aesthetics. The ambiance. I’m fond of lounge music, so I always found the source material exciting enough. It’s just ambient, really.

From the Gospel

A sample-based genre characterized by heavily synthesized and processed manipulation of corporate mood music. The name itself is a spin on the 1980s term “vaporware,” a software or hardware project that fails to be released to the public. The sound results in a sacred, mystical, sultry, dreamy, hyper-real, and/or crystal-clear caricature of mass media from the late 1980s.

The Logline: Take a song, slow it down, amp up the delay, and enjoy with some Fiji… water, that is.

Essential Release: Well, Macintosh Plus- SIKE again! Please, do yourself a favor and get into the real vapor. 札幌コンテンポラリー by 情報デスクVIRTUAL. And if you need my review, let’s be friends on RYM.

The Scene: POV: You have penetrated your computer screen and now you’re swimming in-between Windows 95 Windows, as you boot up the installation CD Rom of your favorite Digital Encyclopedia. The CD Starts getting weirdly corrupted and you’re stuck wandering in between pages and pages of architecture and ancient art definitions you don’t understand. But, it’s chill.

Valdict: I’m famous for being “that person to tell others about Vaporwave.” I’ve been at this game since 2012, because I take pleasure in seeing their reactions. I’ve seen people fall in love with Vaporwave harder than me with Panchiko. I can only hope to continue performing this ritual as more creative and disturbing genres come into the scene. I don’t know how long I have left until this one penetrates the mainstream fully without a rubber. Clearly, a genre.

Proto-Vapor

First Impressions: 1980’s Japanese City Pop. And some electronic jazzy pioneers who were also Japanese. Technically, Proto-Vapor is any music that sounds like it might have preceded and thus heavily influenced the genre. But, it’s basically City Pop. And Shigeo Sekito.

From the Gospel

Artists and releases that predate vaporwave aesthetics and technique and either serve as a direct influence or indirect influence.

The Logline: Vaporwave before it had a name.

Essential Release:: 華麗なるエレクトーン -ザ・ワード- by セキトオ・シゲオ(totally not my old radio show’s theme music)

The Scene: You’re listening to fifty-year-old Japanese experimental midi music and wonder, “If they only knew about the Roman busts…”

Valdict: I don’t think the Vaporwave aesthetic necessarily relies on effects. I truly don’t. Which is why I don’t think Proto-Vapor is meant to be the music Vaporwave samples. No one yet Vaporwaved Tropique’s Big Business, the most sampleable 1979 disco tune, so I would never call this proto-vapor itself. But the offbeat synths, the quirky electronica, the Japan of it all… I don’t know, it sounds legit to me. A genre.

Lo-Fi

First Impressions: What is Lo-Fi? Is it a Soundcloud tag? Is it a Youtube Category? Does it exist beyond the internet? In my hipster world, Lo-Fi was a production descriptor for when a Bandcamp album sounded like it was recorded with Apple Voice Memos from the inside of thick corduroy pant pockets. So, I guess no, it doesn’t exist beyond the internet. Wait, wasn’t it the opposing term to Hi-Fi? WAIT. Doesn’t the Fi stand for FIDELITY? Low Fidelity? Clearly these are not my first impressions.

From the Gospel (Wikipedia… I don’t make the rules, guys)

Lo-fi is a music or production quality in which elements usually regarded as imperfections of a recording or performance are audible, sometimes as a deliberate aesthetic choice.

The Logline: For which? The production technique or the Youtube tag?

Essential Release: I don’t know. Maybe this?

Valdict: Can we please find a new name for the Youtube tag? Lo-Tube? BTSACT (Beats To Study And Chill To)? Lofi without the dash? Because that’s definitely a genre. But, right now, Lo-Fi isn’t, because, once again, it’s a production technique.

Plunderphonics

First Impressions: I think this is the only “genre” that was a genre long before the concept of vaporwave even existed. I’d venture in to say, even when the source material for the concept of vaporwave was being produced, the ethos of plunderphonics was already being played with. Plunderphonics is the pop spin on sound collage, which unites different samples from a wide variety of records together to create new, enticing sounds. It has a lesser blended quality to it, like eating a scrumptious layered cake with velvety mousse, crispy icing, crunchy sprinkles and a spongy base to match. It’s just yummy.

From the Gospel

[Plunderphonics] refers to the compositional technique of utilizing and manipulating one or more pre-existing audio sources to create a new composition. Where plunderphonics differs from sound collage is usually in the execution/composition and the end result’s links to more traditional music genres. A plunderphonics song could essentially be a soundscape of assorted layered samples in the same way a sound collage piece is put together.

Read more about the origins and legality of Plunderphonics in John Oswald’s outstanding 1985 essay “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative.”

The Logline: Even if it’s meant to be a “sound collage” you still have to produce it.

Essential Release: There are two people in the world. The ones that consider The Avalanches’ Since I Left You as the quintessential plunderphonics release, and the ones that give that title to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… I am fully aware I pulled a cop-out here, but I love you both. And, for those who who stan J Dilla’s Donuts for this, you can hate me, but I still linked it.

The Scene: A daydream in which every sound gives birth to another daydream and you’re stuck in this acid trip of sounds and waves and moments and nothing makes sense because it’s from different songs but it creates something so new how can anyone say this is derivative can you stop discriminating are you okay.

Valdict: The grandaddy to all you know and love. Absolutely necessary, even if not just for Vaporwave. A genre, and more than that, a practice.

Dark Ambient

First Impressions: oMiNOusNeSs. If you, like many a simpleton, get easily bored by ambient music and are looking for something edgier, why not indulge in this compelling genre’s lower-octave cousin? Sadly enough, he might be just as boring, but he makes you sound way cooler.

From the Gospel

Dark ambient is a form of Post-Industrial music that emphasizes an ominous, gloomy, and dissonant atmosphere.

The Logline: Slowed-down Trent Raznor, minus the bestiality metaphors.

Essential Release: Prospectus I by raison d’être

The Scene: A graveyard for your hopes and wishes.

Valdict: I mean, this is definitely a genre. It’s got a rich history, complete with scenes, waves and subgenres. Maybe, we’ll dive in someday.

Dream Punk

First impressions: Shoegaze? Isn’t shoegaze “dream punk?” Something tells me no. Fine. Then shoegaze is psychedelic goth, and I don’t know what dream punk is.

From the Gospel

Dreampunk came in use in 2015 due to UK-based Dream Catalogue in order to describe the surreal, dream-like quality of the music they release. Each album is accompanied by similarly surreal artwork, meant to convey the sights and sounds of a vague, unfamiliar future world with its many moods and atmospheres. Today, the genre has evolved to a point where it distinguishes itself from its Vaporwave roots, standing as a unique and independent movement.

The Logline: Dark Ambient goes cyberpunk and has an allergic reaction to all the makeup, forcing it to stay dark IN THE MIND.

Esssential Release: new tokyo blue mood 東京 by Subaeris

The Scene: You have infiltrated someone’s brain. They like sci-fi and are severely depressed. For some reason, it looks like Tokyo.

Valdict: I notice the overlap between this and around fifty other subgenres below. I mean HKE says it’s a thing, so it’s a thing. Is it a thing we need? Ask HKE.

Darkwave / Darksynth

First Impressions: I always thought that the easiest way to “create a music genre” is by making it Darker and Edgier — I think you can tell I have around thirty TV Tropes tabs open as I write this. Darkwave is synthwave music with more abrasive, metallic beats, darker themes and a more apocalyptic feel. We’ve left techno-paradise for synth hell.

From the Gospel

Darksynth as artists incorporated atmospheric fast tempos into a much heavier and darker style. Music videos and album artwork moved away from synthwave’s ’80s aesthetics and embraced ultra-violent horror, action, and satanic imagery. Artists are marketed similarly to metal acts, and exhibit similarly loud and distorted production.

The Logline: The dark and edgy cousin of Synthpop no one hangs out with, but it’s like cool to hit him up during Halloween.

Esssential Release: The Order of Chaos by DEADLIFE

The Scene: You want to rave, but there’s a global pandemic, so you buy yourself some trippy GoVee lights, project an epilepsy-inducing Youtube video on your ceiling and blast Gregorio Franco to upset your neighbors, who are actually having sex during this whole thing. It’s beautifully upsetting.

Valdict: It’s scary, but it used the de-facto rule to become a genre. A genre. If for no reason than to make Iron Skullet happy.

Synthwave

First Impressions: A wave of synths splashing amidst the sea of sound? Is it even supposed to sound different than chillwave? Maybe, synthwave is more constructed and melodic and less reliant on chaotic delay? Maybe.

From the Gospel

Synthwave takes most of its inspiration from synth music and pop culture from the 1980s. Musically, synthwave is often instrumental and has a “futuristic” theme, with large, throbbing, retro synths. House-influenced heavy drums, often side-chained, are also very popular. It draws inspiration from a variety of genres that originated in the ’80s, including Synthpop, Electro-Disco and other derivative styles.

The Logline: In which an attempt is made to make ’80s music thirty years after the fact.

Esssential Release: I want to say In Decay by Com Truise, but In Decay, Too was made in 2020, it’s just as good and it deserves some love.

The Scene: You’ve been binging Stranger Things and wished the newer seasons’ critical consensus wasn’t as divisive as it is. To escape the anxiety of this heated net e-debate, you purchase a pair of mom jeans and watch Back to The Future.

Valdict: I’m more of a soft rock and cheesy ’70s kind of gal. In fact, you may not know this, but my least favorite decade in music is the ’80s. I’m not sure that a re-do is the answer, but it works for many. A genre.

Outrun

First Impressions: Can Ryan Gosling be an aesthetic? And, on that topic: can Ryan Gosling’s silhouette in Drive be an aesthetic? What about imagining Ryan Gosling’s silhouette in Drive as canon for the Neoromancer movie that still needs to happen as an aesthetic? If your yes is a resounding “yes,” then Outrun exists in your world. Vaporwave’s darker cousin is less roman busts and more Miami Vice and kicks the kitschy-ness up a notch forgoing the nerdy world of computer screens for sexy, sexy grainy sunsets. I’m feeling hot already.

From the Gospel

Upon further research, I have discovered that Outrun is accepted as the visual aide of Synthwave. The following excerpt is taken to describe the aesthetic components of Synthwave:

[Outrun] albums are generally arranged in a style that is similar to a Film Soundtrack, Film Score, Television Music or Video Game Music album. Album covers are heavily influenced by 1980s films — especially Science Fiction and Action movies, such as Blade Runner or The Terminator — TV shows — specifically Miami Vice and Knight Rider) — video games, and other elements important in 1980s culture.

And

Outrun is all about fast paced racing-themed music influenced by the old Outrun video game from 1986.

The Logline: In which an attempt is made to make Ryan Gosling an aesthetic ten years after the fact.

Esssential Release: Nightcall by Kavinsky. Or just the entirety of the Drive soundtrack.

The Scene: Pick your favorite moment from Drive or the Out Run videogame. It would be easier to pirate an .AVI than replicating a Commodore 64 game.

Valdict: I’ll take any variation of Ryan Gosling as any kind of ultracolorful aesthetic. A genre.

Retrowave

First Impressions: I haven’t done enough surfing in a lifetime to ride all these waves myself. Or enough open mics to test terrible lines like these in public. I think Retrowave is a catch-all term to describe all these genres, like one would say “surfing” is a catch-all term to describe all the things you end up doing on a surfboard while on water. And it gets oddly specific. Simpsonwave, fashwave (and it’s not fashion I’m afraid), and even the dangerously comforting world of Trumpwave exist all under Retrowave. I don’t think you’ll see me surfing any time soon :(

From the Gospel

There is no specific consensus as to what this is, or should be. But according to yet another illuminating Reddit thread, I was not on the wrong track:

Retrowave is a sub-genre of Synthwave that is all about mimicking the styles made popular in the original 80s boom period. Retrowave has several sub-sub-genres under its umbrella, each focusing on one of those mimicked styles. The best way to separate them is by describing a scene and imagining the soundtrack for it.

The Logline: How many things can be followed by the suffix “-wave” before they become a meme? In this essay, I will…

Esssential Release: Turbulence by Miami Nights 1984.

The Scene: A sunset, a blazer, a thrill in the air tonight.

Valdict: I mean, technically, yeah. In fact, there is a whole world of synthwave music for us to breakdown and discover together. What do you say, fellow reader, wanna explore Sweatwave and Sexwave with me next? (I’m totally not flirting…)

Dreamwave

First Impressions: At long last, the ever-promised swirling hint of vaporwave. Some may call it more commercial, I call it more accessible. Want to teach your clubbing buddy how to get into something a little different? Pop on some dreamwave. Dreamwave is the vaporwave treatment applied with a more ethereal and wandering reverb sensibility? PSA time: I am still waiting for the Cocteau Twins of Vaporwave to emerge, if only to give rise to what I think I will coin, on my own, in this Medium article Vaporgaze.

From the Gospel

Dreamwave is a term to describe the chilled out side of Synthwave, with slow tempos and cinematic sounding tracks. Just don’t call this Chillwave as that existed outside of Synthwave as that did Vaporwave. Dreamwave uses hazy atmospheres and textures that are made more accessible through pop song structures and the addition of vocals.

The Logline: Music Ryan Gosling’s Drive-mancer counterpart uses to Chill And Relax Or Study To.

Essential Release: Coast by Sellorekt/LA Dreams

The Scene: You’ve fallen asleep watching Drive on your phone while at the beach and it’s like, chill.

Valdict: It exists. It has a distinct identity. And I don’t want to be hypocritical here, if there is a chance Ryan Gosling is involved I’m here for it. A subgenre.

Future Funk

First Impressions: Back when I realized people (read: Dummy Magazine) were actually spinning the Vaporwave narrative to make sense in pseudo-intellectual discourse, I asked myself: okay so, then what do we do with Future Funk? Future Funk is the anime theme song version of Vaporwave. Like in Hypnagogic Funk, we hear faster, more dancey music — but this one actually f***s. I’m not sure you could play hardcore Macintosh Prime Vektroid at a pregame, but you could sure rock Saint Pepsi and induct more than one frisky guest to the church of holy soda. It’s infectious, shimmery-sparkly and probably swapped the dope for coke. If anyone can write an essay about the darkened depths of reverbed out disco, be my guest.

From the Gospel

Future funk is a sample-based form of Nu-Disco which formed out of the Vaporwave scene and genre in the early 2010s. It tends to be more energetic, incorporating elements of French House, Synth Funk, but presents them in a much cleaner fashion, along with. vaporwave editing techniques and 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s disco sounds, with an affinity for nostalgic sounds, lo-fi distortion, and slowed-down samples. Reverb effects are prevalent, but the music is generally less ambient and more rhythmic, with more groove.

The Logline: She’s not your regular Vapormom, she’s a Future Funk mom!

Esssential Release: Studio 54 by Saint Pepsi.

The Scene: You’re at a roller disco, but it’s in outer space and everyone’s a little stoned.

Valdict: I don’t think anyone in the world can ever hate Future Funk. It’s infectious, modern, lighthearted and irresistible. To be honest, I find myself returning more to Future Funk and Mallsoft than I do Classic Vaporwave. The best kind of genre.

Vaporfunk

First Impressions: Not all the Witch House x Vaporwave siblings from the family could turn out particularly intriguing. Despite not being the middle child, Vaporfunk acts just like it: derivative, spoiled and a little entitled. She just needs some encouragement. Come on. Vaporfunk is applying the vaporwave treatment to funky lines, without speeding up and glamming up the rich energy a-la-future funk. So, slow and funky. But not house. She’s complicated and complex and still needs to grow into her own.

The closest we’ll get to a From the Gospel

“Vaporfunk” is sort of in between [Vaporwave and Future Funk], using vaporwave techniques on old disco and funk tunes, and maybe a bit more spare with the effects, though that does vary.

The Logline: The Vaporwave machine goes even further and funkier back in time and visits some hot, bangin’ disco tunes.

Esssential Release: hotel vibes by bl00dwave

The Scene: You’re pregaming for the outer space disco and went a little too heavy on the devil’s lettuce, so now you’re couch locked, but still feeling it son.

Valdict: I was spot on before finding this subgenre. Turns out, when these things are being named I think the “Vapor” refers to the editing techniques of the music, and the suffix hints at the sampling material. So: Vaporpunk would be “vaporwaved” punk, Vaporgoth is slowed down Bauhaus, Vaporcore is vapor on vapor, and so on. This explains why Future Funk evolves into a different style even if they both end up featuring ‘funk.’ Anyways, a genre.

Chillwave

First Impressions: Chillwave has hardly anything to do with vaporwave, but the suffix -wave at the end implies it needs to be on this list. Honestly, Frank JVC describes it better than I ever could hope to. Chillwave is the mom of the vapor, a misty early 2010s galaxy-printed record sleeve with a good dose of analog synths that “sound like stars.” It’s also a more palatable way to get acquainted with the likes of the vapor, so please do get to know Ernest, Alan and Chaz. And, if you do become a professional chiller you’ll totally be able to rock a far-out pseudonym without the need for the lackluster indifference prompted by our post-caps, fullwidth W O R L D.

From the Gospel

Originated in the summer of 2009, Chillwave artists emulate lo-fi aesthetics, such as extensive reverb, but often centering on vocals and melodies. Can be reminiscent of Dream Pop, Noise Pop, and/or Sunshine Pop, but chillwave artists are distinctive in their variability of recording methods and use of technology.

(Side note: this description sounds alarmingly out of touch, please refer to Larry Fitzmaurice’s much more dazzling description of this glittering genre).

The Logline: In the summer of 2009, suburbamerican stoners can’t afford nightlife or air conditioning, so they lock themselves up in their bedrooms and attempt to chill out by self-producing, fresh cool synth beats. Hijinks ensue.

Essential Release: At the risk of sounding lazy and repetitive, it’s the Life of Leisure EP by Washed Out.

The Scene: You’re swimming into a luscious, crystalline blue artificial pool. Your dive’s loud splash sounds like the stock market crashing.

Valdict: I discovered Chillwave when Vaporwave was taking off. Sure, I was some three years late to the original movement — and to figuring out what exactly was happening the infamous Washed Out cover we all know and love today. I hold a special kind of love for it because the Big Three played a very Big Role in my music taste ten years ago. Let’s give it up for them. A genre once. Let’s see if someone brings it back circa 2028. RemindMe!

Glo-Fi

First Impressions: I’ve never heard of this. But I’m excited to. My guess is that glo-fi is chillwave recorded with post-COVID freeware by a sweaty NYU dormer in quarantine.

From the Gospel

The music in question here is even lighter, more guitarry and even more typically indie, but it’s kind of besides the point, ultimately because you rarely see the term used nowadays — it lost out to the others, and it’s so similar to them, just less specific and useful. This evolution is intended to refine the traditional sound of vaporwave making more room for “a higher level of production” that is characterised by a mix of chillwave’s danceable nostalgia and beach feelings with hypnagogic pop’s lo-fi psychedelic landscapes and vaporwave’s style of production. A perfect label to describe the complexly layered sound and sophisticated dance-pop sensibilities on display here.

The Logline: A synonym for chillwave-y vapor that no one uses despite it sounding a lot cooler. Might take its revenge in 2028.

Essential Release: Causers of This by Toro Y Moi (yes, this is a chillwave album because the essential release is scheduled for the future, if you want something new indulge in Enchanted Instrumentals and Whispers by Windows 96).

The Scene: You’re emerging from your dive back in 2009 and all of a sudden Reddit has taken over the stock market and the summer is extra sweaty because of the face masks.

Valdict: Just read above. Not a genre now, but I still hope the chillwave revival will be the time for Glo-Fi.

Cloud Rap

First Impressions: Like Chillwave, Cloud Rap is one of the most ancient genres to make this wondrous list. There is still no “psychedelic rap,” and my personal suspicion — despite my self-admitted hip-hop ignorance — is because this monicker is a much more fun way to describe the crazy, thick beats courtesy of the dense, dripping electronic production that serve as the juiciest samples the genre can buy. I still fail to see how it’s directly related to vaporwave, but it sounds like it might be so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

From the Gospel

Emerging around the late 2000s and early 2010s, cloud rap is a form of Hip Hop characterized by a distinct form of relaxed, ethereal, dream-like, and reverb-heavy production.

The Logline: Psychedelic rap. Trip rap. No, I’m never using the term Trillwave.

Essential Release: You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack by Viper. What? This is an article about Vaporwave genres, did you expect me to be serious?

The Scene: You’re spitting some bars on a cloud. You suddenly realize this means you can pretty much spit anything you want, because the cloud is so soft that no one seems to notice.

Valdict: A genre. Might be the genre that gets me to pay attention to hip hop music. Maybe.

Pizzawave

First Impressions: The sound of sizzling marinara sauce on garlicky dough as it cooks in a coal oven of gargantuan proportion. With reverb and delay.

From the Gospel

PZA coins this as his term for his vaporwave, but iirc PZA got busted for just taking some really obscure electronic artists, slowing down or putting filters on the music, and trying to pass it off as his own. Nasty stuff.

The Logline: Some producer who goes by PZA decided to name a genre after himself. Unfortunately, the same individual also ripped other producers on Bandcamp and was responsible for Vaporwave’s first Dramawave.

Essential Release: According to Bandcamp, the only place where this seems to exist, it’s this — CAPITAL CUSTOMERby PZA. The self-titled has more evocative album art.

The Scene: You’re browsing Bandcamp and realize someone stole and slowed down a track that you had previously stolen and slowed down. The horror you feel is palpable, like a good ol’ pizza pie.

Valdict: Not a genre. Would have been a clever publicity stunt if it weren’t for the infamy that arose. With great puns come great responsibilities, friend.

Memewave

First Impressions: The sound of sizzling Office Gifs of Jim’s face staring into the camera tinted in medium garlicky purple as they cook in a coal oven of gargantuan proportion. Reverb and delay optional as the tint does the trick.

From the Gospel

A derisive term critical of the music, Vapormeme producers tend to take multiple aesthetic styles with no contextual reason and mix them with the various styles, presenting them in a confused light that has no purpose. This is another subgenre referred to as “broperwave,” because of its mindless nature.

The Logline: Sentient, self-aware Vaporwave that has somehow realized it’s a joke.

Essential Release: I am a purist, so I’ll take anything that is actually making fun of Vaporwave. Like Ocean Plaza 2004 Bonus Track by Vape Kloudz, because Coastal Nostalgia by Stereo Component is too beautiful to be called a meme. There is a heated defense of Vapormeme artists, if you want to dive in this problematic discourse.

The Scene: You’re dressing up as Roman bust for Halloween and celebrate it on 4/20 for shits and giggles.

Valdict: In its original iteration, not a genre. If you’re looking for a name to classify Vaporwave spoofs, then this is it. Because, let’s face it, the existence of Vaporwave itself has become a meme.

Simpsonwave

First Impressions: The sound of the sizzling Simpson’s theme sauce on garlicky dough Bartface as it cooks in a coal Homer oven belly of gargantuan proportion. Add the nighttime filter from your favorite movie editor. With reverb and delay.

From the Gospel

Simpsonwave constitutes a genre of YouTube videos that collage classic “Simpsons” moments with vaporwave tracks. The clips from “The Simpsons” are often heavily edited, given a codeine purple filter, a static-y VHS feel, and generally arranged with psychedelia in mind.

The Logline: Microvapor jingles over trippy Simpsons clips. A Master Class in avoiding copyright claims on Youtube.

Essential Release: Here is a whole playlist of Simpsonian Masterpieces for your viewing pleasure, made by the Simpsonwave pioneer Lucien Hughes.

The Scene: I don’t know… you’re watching The Simpsons and accidentally butt-shuffle Mactintosh Plus?

Valdict: No. N O . No matter watch Pitchfork says.

Vaportrap

First Impressions: So, once Vaporwave finally gave into Future Funk and decided to hit up a bar. It was kind of late at night, she was barely legal, the whole thing felt a little seedy but it sounded like it could be fun, like anything touched by Future Funk. In-between the darkness of the night, the loud normie music, and the surprisingly accessible alcohol, Vaporwave felt a stare. It was Witch House, who’d eyed her with a beguiling gaze a few steps away. They whisper-shouted their way into a conversation by the counter, and after a few cocktails, Witch House couldn’t help but want to try taking this statuesque beauty home. They made sweet love to a slowed-down, reverb drenched remix of In The Air Tonight. Nine months later, Vaporwave gave birth to Vaportrap — which is actually the real-time it took for the genre to develop over the course of 2012–13, thanks for the speed of Black Banshee. Vaportrap embraces the retro restyling of vaporwave with the twinkles of Witch House and the loud pulsating drums of trap. And she’s a whole other animal.

From the Gospel

Vaportrap incorporates a blend of Hi-tech Trap percussion and Hip Hop music that makes use of Vaporwave imagery and musical textures set to the reutilization of old samples, such as 1990s pop culture or old computer library sounds, and often uses samples from old computer software. The samples that guide its direction make it much more inventive and experimental than typical trap or hip hop, whilst the influence of vaporwave’s aesthetic, 1990s cyber-culture and technology remain an important aspect of the genre, as evident with the old computer screens often featured in the artwork.

The Logline: Blank Banshee tagged his Bandcamp magum opuses with Vaporwave to capitalize on the trend, and became the voice of a generation.

Essential Release: Blank Bansh — SIKE! It’s Remember Last Summer by NxxxxxS, for me.

The Scene: You really want your friends to like Vaporwave. But you don’t know how. It’s some weird shit. So you invite them over. Get the drinks ready, and halfway through the night test the waters. They’re too gone to notice. Let’s hope the next time they’re around sober and you try to play this, they remember not batting an eye.

Valdict: I don’t particularly love trap. I do particularly love Brian Eno, who was the person in charge of all the sound design from Windows 95, which has become the token character-actress-Margo-Martindale guest appearance of Vaporwave sampling. They almost make it worthwhile. A genre — not one I particularly love, but a genre.

Vaporhop

First Impressions: Vaporwave and Witch House realized they didn’t make a bad couple after all. They actually got along pretty well and stayed friends for years. Eventually, the thought came to both of them: why don’t we just… get married? So, they did. Then they had a little brother for Vaportrap! Trappy taught him how to spit some rhymes. Vaporhop is vaporwave slow with hip-hop vocals, either sampled from the source or added in as a bandcamp gimmick to sell your mixtape. Either way, he’s learning so it’s cool.

From the Gospel

As the words of Last.FM wisely state…

Do you know anything about this type of music?

Because no one else does.

The Logline: Unseen/unheard music genre wastes away as millions of missed opportunities pass it by. Why is no one making this? I mean, I guess someone is making this but not calling it this.

Essential Release: Fuck it. They Hate Me Cuz I’m Vaporwave by Viper & Chamber 38. I can’t believe I have not one but two Viper records as essential releases.

The Scene: What scene?

Valdict: Not a genre. I think everyone is just calling it “Vaportrap.” How sad. May I pitch we go for Viperwave? I know we’re dangerously close to Memewave territory here, but come on.

Eccojams

First Impressions: I mean, last time I checked, this was a record name and not a genre. I need to be educated.

From the Gospel

Eccojams is a subgenre of Vaporwave that started life as a form of electronic music technique. It takes old pop songs, usually with a kitsch value, then reconstructs them using delay, glitching, reverb and other techniques to create new music. It came to be associated with Vaporwave after artists were inspired by the style, and worked it into their own.

The Logline: It’s Vaporwave in name, but Plunderphonics in practice.

Essential Release: Umm, Chuck Person’s Ecco Jams Vol 1 by Chuck Person, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Daniel Lopatin…? Should I do a SIKE here and put Vektroid instead?

The Scene: You decide to put all your corrupt CDs to good use and burn them into a modern masterpiece. You have become an underground music scene genius. You are now very famous and very hated. You party with the big guys. You buy a lot of crap with the money you make. You develop a drug addiction to laughing gas. It’s all downhill from there. Your life is empty now. It finally all sounds just like the record you put out in the beginning.

Valdict: I mean, these are Plunderphonics in the style of Oneohtrix Point Never’s Chuck Person’s persona — the name comes from the pioneering record Eccojams. Not a genre.

Segahaze

First Impressions: This was such a missed opportunity to call it something else. Why do we get a Simpsonwave and not a Sonicwave? I mean, you tell me, which one feels trippier to you: an electric blue hedgehog who spins across worlds to collect magic rings at a superhuman speed, or a yellow suburban family. And Bart skateboarding is not a qualifier. Anyway, I don’t know what Segahaze is. I have a feeling it will be the name of a rapper’s baby soon. I do have to guess though, don’t I? Vaporwave with video game noises?

From the Gospel

A variant of vaporwave involving the usage of video game in sampling or evocation of 90s gaming aesthetics. Segahaze is often ambient and broad enough that other Vaporwave subgenres can be explored within it.

The Logline: Segawave but for some reason it’s called Segahaze.

The Big Three: A HA! Now I can put my Vektroid in. New Dreams Ltd. by Laserdisc Visions.

The Scene: The Eccojam tale repeats itself with a female protagonist and video game samples being burned.

Valdict: I mean, these are Plunderphonics in the style of Vektroid’s Laserdisc Visions persona — the name comes from a disturbance in the naming convention that deeply aggravates me. Not a genre unless you want to be super pedantic about this whole thing, and in that case I’m not sure my tone is right for you.

Late Night Lo-Fi

First Impressions: This one is the real tragedy. I was never too persuaded by the idea that vaporwave was some kind of doomer-esque protest on the horrors of capitalism — I find entry-by-request Facebook Groups or privated surrealist meme pages with Lenin as a thumbnail to be the big dramatic havens of Marxist existential dread online. The real, very sad casualty of this list is Late Night Lo-Fi. What was once a pioneering well of creativity via cocktail-esque sophisticated downtempo now exists as the generic preschool beats you might find amalgamated with a busy illustration in a plebcore Youtube mix, dignified as nothing but “Best Music to Study To: Late Night Lo-Fi 2020.” It doesn’t even have vocals we can distinguish the songs with, for God’s sakes. It’s become this nameless, soulless thing that just feels warm for a while before you get bored. The fuqboi extraordinaire of the list. Swipe left at all costs even if the abs look good, please.

From the Gospel

Late Night Lo-Fi takes the idea of sampling from Eccojams and the ’90s retrofuturism of the utopian styles, but presents it in a new apolitical light. It is more concerned with creating a sense of bright lights, big city nights with a bluesy feel. Heavily samples ’80s music and smooth jazz to paint this picture. It is more slow, muddled and raw. It usually doesn’t have original drums laid over it.

The Logline: Your high-society friends might judge you for Vaporwave, but you can listen to this in secret.

Essential Release: LATE NIGHT DELIGHT by Luxury Elite and Saint Pepsi

The Scene: It’s very late at night and you don’t want to put on some stupid Beats to Study and Chill To. You want a Beats to Screw and Count Dollar Bills on a Yacht To. This is the closest you thing you find.

Valdict: I mean, to give credit where it is due, I was kind of wrong because, what I described above is most likely the offshoot of the offshoot of this— which is an offshoot. The offshoot of a genre.

VHS Pop

First Impressions: See, things get fun here because I have no idea what this one actually is, so I might be way off. Is it the sound of a VHS? Is it the recording of pop songs through a VHS? Do we hear crazy rewind effects? Is the rewind even involved? Does the beginning of the song feature the rewinded portion for a more authentic and annoying true-to-era experience?

From the Gospel

An offshoot from late night lo-fi. VHS pop has grown into one of the most created sub-genres. Again, it takes ’80s pop and smooth jazz music, and gives it a lo-fi VHS-style effect, but usually with a more upbeat tone. Though the two styles may be meshed on certain albums, there is a recognizable difference between the two that becomes apparent when exploring further into each style.

The Logline: Summertime vapor. Washed Out Approved.

Essential Release: Palm Haze by Miami Vice

The Scene: For whatever reason, you have decided to soundtrack your buddying romance with beachy Vaporwave. It fits.

Valdict: The offshoot of the offshoot of an offshoot of a micro-genre that may or may not be a meme. You decide.

VHS Funk

First Impressions: See above, but sub “funk” for “pop.”

From the Gospel

There seems to be a riveting Reddit thread dedicated to spotting the differences between VHS-whatever and Late Night Lo-Fi — a tentative clue on the futility of this exercise, perhaps? Anyway, this is the closest you’ll get to discussion on this.

The Logline: Boogiewave. Basically, the same thing as Vapor Funk.

Essential Release: Signals From The Past by Dynamic Frequency

The Scene: You want to make Vapordisco but you don’t really need anyone to dance. People who like dance music without dancing themselves are your target demographic, and they never get any love, so this is really great.

Valdict: I’m coming to realize these genre boundaries are a way to classify what the sample library is. I’ve been exposed to enough Vaporwave to notice the difference between this and VHS Pop. Not sure that’s a good thing. Kind of terrified. If you’ve come this far, send help please.

Hypnagogic Vapor

First Impressions: Take the above concept, but now speed it up. Hypnagogic Vapor has taken our vapor, gassed it up, and now asked Justice to remix it. There’s some danceability where the ambient shies away. A few effects and louder kickbacks usually do the trick. Maybe, you’re falling asleep after an extremely long day. Or you just feel happier. I predict this one will be growing in popularity along with its cousin future funk in the coming years as the sound of the later ‘aughts becomes the new ’80s retro.

From the Gospel

A formal definition of this genre does not exist, so feel free to canonize the above, no need to thank me.

The Logline: Where Vaporwave and Hypnagogic Pop meet. It’s a great place. It’s also kinda weird.

Essential Release: Mantra by VHS Logos

The Scene: Insert a missing Frank JavCee video here. He would do this better than me now.

Valdict: Overshadowed by Future Funk and Hypnagogic Drift, if it even exists. Not a genre.

Hypnogogic Drift

First Impressions: Not a lot of people know what the word hypnagogic means, so let’s just say it means “dreamlike.” Technically, there’s an actually vaporwave-dream-pop spinoff we’ll get to soon, so let’s just say this is more… somnolent. Dream pop is when you’re crisply experiencing your dream to the point you wouldn’t argue it’s wonderful, neat reality until you’re awake. Hypnagogic pop is when you’re still wandering in-between different states of conscience. It’s warpier, more fuzzed, there’s some weirder stuff going on with the vocals. Drowned in layers and layers of laughing gas. Unsophisticated tripscaping. Fuse that with vaporwave and you might end up with an audible dentist trip. Also known as Hypnogogic Drift.

From the Gospel

Hypnagogic is more dream-like, creating weird hypnagogic atmospheres, from strange samples forming music that sometimes borders on being ambient. Arguably, the sub-genre is most commonly known for using strange and evocative imagery to emphasize the surrealism of the music.

The Logline: Ambientdelicvapor. Vaporambiwenewjrnekgjdfsxzcxasqewfgr

Essential Release: Holograms by 骷

The Scene: I am at one with the neural net. I am downloading new consciousness to the system. I exist beyond the screen. You can borrow parts of me by looking at the words I have typed in another destiny. The author of this article is but a fragment of the person who wrote it.

Valdict: A more “out-there” cousin of Classic Vapor that relies less on the political commentary and more on the surrealist millennial computerworld ambiance. But, with, like, irony. A sub-genre.

Mallsoft

First Impressions: One of my favorites. Here we take the very, very basic melodies of the most easy-listening elevator sambaesque pop vibes of the last century and just bury them on a thick cloud of dusky noise. Mallsoft is vaporwave that leans on the more ambient reverb production to make the overall sound more lounge-friendly, turning into soft, background music. The naming was on point here.

From the Gospel

[Mallsoft] blends [Vaporwave] with what can be described as background or elevator music. Mallsoft typically samples Easy Listening, Bossa Nova, Smooth Jazz, and sometimes Ambient. Artists apply a heavy use of reverb in addition to other editing practices found in Vaporwave. It resembles the ambiance and reverberation of large, crowded malls with huge spaces and hazy atmospheres, and a dream-like atmosphere. It’s meant to be left on repeat while doing other things, forcing its way into the our mind subconsciously, to be recalled later as a real or false memory.

The Logline: Vaporwave you can samba-stroll your way through an empty mall to.

Essential Release: 슈퍼마켓Yes! We’re Open by 식료품groceries

The Scene: You’re in a mall. You’re not sure how you ended up there, but you’re inside a mall now, so you might as well just chill.

Valdict: It has now become the official soundtrack of the few remaining active malls perishing, as COVID kills the live shopping experience with gusto. Where I’m from, malls will remain a thing for a while. I kind of want to persuade them into playing this. A genre.

Future Visions

First Impressions: I was trying really hard not to make this into a separate genre. Future Visions sounds too vapory to be Outrun and too synth-y to be Classic Vapor or Faux-Utopian. Something tells me it’s also too deconstructed to be Synthwave and somehow too specific to be Retrowave. So, here we are, whatever this is.

From the Gospel

Like Mallsoft, Futurevisions takes the concept of the futuristic world of Vaporwave and brings it to life, placing you inside the world itself rather than alluding to it. The word “vision” is key, as it is one of the more cinematic forms of Vaporwave. Relying much more on ambient textures than the other subgenres, it could be considered a combination of Hypnagogic Drift and the utopian styles. Very synth-heavy and dreamy, with heavy cyberpunk themes.

The Logline: Futuristic Ambient but we call it Vaporwave now.

Essential Release: UNLIMITED DREAM COMPANY by Amon Dragoon

The Scene: You got cryogenically frozen and you’re waking up in the future. It looks suspiciously like the late 90s and favors a Zoolander Y2K aesthetic. You can dig it.

Valdict: The most overtly futuristic of all the subgenres so far. The samples slide away, favoring smooth synth compositions. Look at me, getting serious for the first time. I may have discovered a new favorite. It makes me, GASP, feel things. A genre.

Utopian Virtual, aka Muzakcore

First Impressions: Utopian Virtual is Vaporwave that focuses on the sonic creation of the ~ethereal corporate~ sound. I know I’ve paraphrased this approximately thirty times in this article, but here let’s just say that in this variant, the yuppie theme is a little bit more obvious. Songs are shorter and more “jingle-like,” the source material focuses mostly on little bits and pieces of exotic music, which may well be actually taken from commercials of the time. This is usually the most straightforward and stereotypical form of vaporwave that comes to mind when mentioning the genre, save for the records in the Classic Vapor section.

From the Gospel

Utopian Virtual music generally uses Muzak to create the sense of a retrofuturistic utopia, though some works have a sinister faux-utopian undertone to them.

The Logline: The boring uncanny valley of Vaporwave.

Essential Release: Far Side Virtual by James Ferr- SIKE! Online™ by LensCorp™ International.

The Scene: As stated in this Youtube comment, “It’s like the introduction music to a corporate ‘synergy amplification and you’ seminar but the seminar never begins and you’re stuck in bureaucratic limbo for all eternity.” Or just a loading screen.

Valdict: If you want me to be honest, I can’t tell the difference between this and Faux Utopian half of the time. But let’s keep it a secret.

Broken Transmission, aka Signalwave

First Impressions: A traffic cone that makes music. Also known as VLCore.

From the Gospel

Broken Transmission is one of the more unique styles of Vaporwave. It takes things such as television commercials, radio jingles, and dialogue clips, fusing them with music and chops it up erratically to give the sense of a broken transmission. A cousin of hypnagogic drift, but significantly more abrasive and at times disconcerting.

The Logline: Do you miss ads when you listen to music? Well, this is the music with the built-in ads for you.

Essential Release: Dream Sequins® by NMESH — which somehow samples Sophie B. Hawkins and it’s not a meme.

The Scene: You’re in Videodrome, but instead of sexy body parts, you become enmeshed (pun totally intended) with the advertisements for the embalming products from the pilot of Six Feet Under. In Japanese.

Valdict: Vaporwave psychedelia! Kind of crazy, kind of fun, kind of fucked up. A genre. Still, this is coming from a person who non-ironically listens to the Misty Portable Hair Dryer commercial song.

Vapornoise

First Impressions: VaporGRIPS! Vapornoise is vaporwave that plays more with distortion and gain, wider reverb, and busier sampling. It’s still slow though, which makes it owe a lot to drone music in general. It’s a lot like Future Drone. Not fast, but just a tinier bit more of life injected into one of the most testing genres in music.

From the Gospel

A variant of vaporwave that utilizes aspects or elements of noise. They range from garbled sounds associated with vaporwave aesthetics to harsh noise composition in the vein of vaporwave.

The Logline: The most aggressively terrible idea in music history (they said it, not me).

Essential Release: v​.​1 by アドブロック+, aka AdBlock Plus, but don’t click it.

The Scene: You’re in hell. You have now discovered hell is a Vaporwave Youtube Poop that never ends.

Valdict: This is a genre. It shouldn’t be. But it is.

Hardvapor

First Impressions: Okay, I know this is unrelated to the musicality, but for the sake of semantics: what is hard vapor? If vapor becomes hard… is it even vapor? I know Hardvapor takes the faster, more extremes genres of electronic music to amplify the intensity via reverb and slowness, but the chaos remains. On a pure, semantic level: what the heck is it even?

From the Gospel

Hardvapour is primarily defined by the fusion of elements of Vaporwave music with elements of Techno and IDM, as well as borrowing a large amount of influence from Hardcore [EDM] and its subsequent subgenres like Speedcore and Gabber, defined by deliberate Slavic dystopian aesthetics (Cyrillic text abound), often concerning drug culture and cyberpunk themes.

The Logline: Please don’t make me listen to this. The second most aggressively terrible idea in music history.

Essential Release: Nothing about this is essential. Ever. But if you’re curious or misanthropic and suicidal, there’s always Hardvapour. by DJ VLAD.

The Scene: Nope.

Valdict: If you like this sort of thing, this isn’t as cancerous. I don’t like this sort of this. It exists.

Churchwave

First Impressions: Yeah. I suppose you could, um, vaporwave Mass. Like… why? But also, why not?

From the Gospel (lol)

An artistic and imaginative process of cognitively mapping religious culture and its current function within late capitalism. Churchwave applies Vaporwave’s critique of late capitalist hyper-consumerism to a contemporary church dominated by consumerism and the practice of equating people’s emotions (which often come through an exploitative means) with the will of God. Within this process pain, nostalgia, and critical engagement with contemporary religion.

The Logline: It was bound to happen, so blessed be Christian Vaporwave music.

Essential Release: Romans 13 by Vacation Bible School might surprise you. Also, he wrote a whole lot about Churchwave and philosophy here, if you want more.

The Scene: You’re at Church but everything is pinka and hazy and, I guess the Roman busts are appropriate here? I don’t know. I haven’t been in a church for a long time.

Valdict: It’s a concept. I don’t think my opinion on it has changed. I don’t have a problem with it. Do you have a problem with it? Because I don’t. I mean… Why? But also, why not?

Post-Vapor

First Impressions: Technically, Post-Vapor is any music that was made following the end of the “first wave” of vaporwave, and thus influenced by the genre. Honestly the ‘post-’ prefix in genre classification highly confuses me because — and I do have the weird pie charts to prove it — technically 76% of ’80s rock music is considered some kind of ‘post-punk.’ Like, after punk? Like, I did too much punk and this is the brilliant sound of my epic hangover? I don’t know. My hangovers always sounded terrible.

From the Gospel:

It doesn’t appear as there is one yet. Tune into 2025 for what happens next in V A P O R W A V E, or The Decline of Western Civilization Part 4.

The Logline: Directed by Penelope Spheeris and HKE, The Decline of Western Civilization Part 4 follows a group of online cyberhackers as they troll their way into world domination by pretending to have invented the world’s most mysterious music genre: Post-Vapor.

Essential Release: I don’t know. I really like this and it’s weird enough. Check out Memory Cards by ClearVisionDream Productions.

The Scene: What do you experience? Riddle me this!

Valdict: I can’t wait until we reach a consensus on what this is. For now, not a genre.

Slushwave

First Impressions: At long last, this surprisingly riveting but almost psychologically exhausting guessing game has come to a close with what is perhaps the densest name so far. Yes, this is worse than Simpsonwave. I’d personally call Slushwave any form of trashy Vaporwave. For example, Trumpwave would be a form of Slushwave. Vaporwave’s Florida. The swamp of vapor.

From the Gospel

The term “slushwave” dates back to at least late 2014, when it was coined by t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 for several of his own tracks as tags on SoundCloud. At its most simplest, slushwave is a subgenre of vaporwave that encompasses the sound of t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者: heavily layered tracks that are often longer than normal vaporwave (typically longer than six minutes), obscured under ping-ponging sampling and significant reverb. Sampling is also employed like most vaporwave but to an ambient end. Aesthetically speaking, slushwave releases bear some commonality with t e l e p a t h’s (earlier) work with track titles being completely in Japanese and album covers bearing hazed stills of Asian women.

The Logline: Vaporwave, except now there’s a barber-pole phaser.

Essential Release: A Night On the Town by VAV-31

The Scene: Things come full circle, and we’re finally seeing Vaporwaved chillwave become a thing. Can you be nostalgic for nostalgia?

Valdict: Everyone seems to be fascinated on how to create this genre. I see technical music production conversations abound, and yet, I don’t recognize what really makes slushwave slushy. It’s so clean. So pure. So pretty. Ironically enough, for something that literally means “watery mud” it’s probably one of the most over-produced Vaporwave scenes around. To those informed, this is most definitely a genre. To us mere mortals? No.

Post-Internet

First Impressions: I am beyond stoked on the idea of this music becoming a thing. Is it going to be a rejection of the digital age? — Although, isn’t that acoustic and/or what folk music is? — Is it going to be music made with open knowledge and embrace of internet DIY self-produced ethos — Although, isn’t that what oldies like me like to make fun of as “internetcore?” Is it going to be just mysterious cassettes distributed on the street by weirdos who make them self-destructible after one lonely listen? — Although: pandemic, and also we’re not getting that Mission Impossible film any time soon, so this wouldn’t really work. Post-Internet is music so far removed from what music is right now, that it sounds completely foreign and alien. Because not everything has been invented. This hasn’t. So, I have no clue what it could be.

From the Gospel

Imagine a dark recess of the Internet, a corner made and once frequented and now left to decay: Geocities, Angelfire, or any number of poorly coded Chinese websites. You don’t remember it being this odd or alien but the memories it evokes are now left with a different dimension to you. To some, I may have described vaporwave at its base but post-internet vaporwave is the uncanny side of the coin. It’s the negative of nostalgia, it at once can make you long for the past and also discomfort you. This is one of the original founding ideas of vaporwave before it broadened itself. This subgenre contains releases that offer aesthetic heavy sampling of sounds and music(ak) that are, in essence, a celebration of Internet culture. Post-internet as a term exists beyond vaporwave but also functions within the genre.

The Logline: The sound of Geocities.

Essential Release: Ryan Trecartin’s I-Be Area.

The Scene: Your life. Everyday. Except now you’re being seen by a computer.

Valdict: 404 Val not found.

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Sets and the CD

Musings exploring the more mystic side of music and art.