Originally emerged from internet communities , vaporwave music has fast become one of the internet wonders in recent years. The genre, which is essentially the ‘mark II’ of seapunk, has attracted a large number of followings on digital platform such as soundcloud, while continuing to sell out physical cassettes copies like hot cakes on bandcamp.
Despite its extremely easy recognisable visual ‘aesthetic’ (most noticably the usage of kanji and images from 80s/90s Asia, Japan in particular*). The musical aspect of vaporwave is somehow kind of vague, true that it is usually typified by its long dragged out samples that sounds sometimes akin to 80s new age dreamy ambient that Eno composed, but other times it could also sound like some uncanny soundtracks you hear from an imported 80s B-movie, so to many new listeners who has just stepped foot into the genre probably would like to ask, what the fuck actually is vaporwave?
So rather than going through the huge bandcamp catalogue of vaporwave music ourselves (those who are interested however here is a great place to start), we catch up with Yellatee by email, who runs a vaporwave label in his home country and just published a vaporwave complication called ▒▒未來ＳＥ幻の海▒▒ himself, to discuss about his decision to adopt vaporwave sounds in Taiwan, the outlook of vaporwave (in particular in Asia), what does he think of ‘aesthetic’ of vaporwave, and his view on the controversy of vaporwave being appropriating Asian culture.
The interview is originally conducted in English. (click for Chinese translation)
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your label Mhz通信販売?
Mhz: My name is Yellatee, a beatmaker, a crate digger, and a vinyl lover. Just finishing my master degree in UK and had been lived in there for three years. Recently me and friend started to set up this label Mhz 通信販売 when I went back to Taiwan, and he is a beatmaker too, and i thought this is a good idea as the vaporwave music is flourishing all over the world.
I think Mhz is the first vaporwave label I came across that is not from English speaking countries, what inspire you to be the ‘vanguard’ of vaporwave in Asia?MHZ: Well I don’t actually think I will be the pioneer of this kind of genre, we have known a few producers to my cquaintances in Asia countries, so to be honest we did not think of any chance to draw the attention from the crowd, we just feel like it is interesting and might have a good fun with it.
And congratulations on the compilation your label recently put out, featuring some big names such as猫 シ Corp. How did it happen?
MHZ: This project started with an underground culture in independent labels around the world, its all about the “collaboration". So my partner and I thought it will be cool to release a comp and release in Taiwan and introduce this kind of genre to Taiwan audiences. So we started to email all those talents from Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and try to make this project happen.
I absolutely love the cover of the compilation as well, it has a very 80s Asian commercial/ B-movie feel to it, and it brings me to the point that the genre is also very well-known of its unique visual ‘aesthestic’. Would you agree that the visuals are so crucial to the success of the music genre that, sometimes even take away the focus on the music itself?
MHZ: As you know, we are both into vaporwave music, so we search this kind of genre a lot, try to find the sickest cover and buy it, no matter what kind of the form it is, physical or digital, as long as the music suits the whole cover art. We are pleasured that can invite the cover designer who have made some covers of the label “Beer on the Rug" , Jan Van der Klejin, to get involve in this project. The outcome came out really well, we both liked the cover.
Vaporwave, like the predecessor Seapunk and sister genres such as Future Funk, was thought to be a brief internet sensation, turns out they all going from strength to strength these few years. Vaporwave in particular is doing extremely well and formed a strong community all around the globe, mostly through bandcamp and soundcloud. But these platforms are not at all popular in your home country (nor in any Chinese speaking countries). What do you think, do you see an obstacle or an opportunity?
MHZ: The Internet has become a real essential thing for new generations, me of course, is part of the user. Therefore, if you upload music or video on it,people sooner or latter will notice your music or label wherever the corner of the earth they live in, so once you find yourself a opportunity, like collaborating with some well-known producers, people will start to search you on youtube or whatsoever. As you mentioned about the Chinese speaking countries that neglecting of BC and SC, well, again, we are not planning things much, we just wanna have fun and play around with it, so we don’t think of the market at all. So this label could be a life-long business, or a 2 year of shorten one, we don’t know, but we just keep releasing cool stuff, this is our
Vaporwave, like nightcore, is celebrated among the internet producers since it has a relatively easy learning curve, but despite of its accessibility, Vaporwave was attacked by music critic for being lousily and lazily produced, with audience of mostly ‘people who have not heard of music first’ before. Do you think this critic is still valid today?
MHZ: I think you already addressed the problem and also gave this question an answer ( cracking up)! The Vaporwave music has tackled different kinds of music from late 70’s disco to 80’s and even 90’s pop and RnB music. For the young youth who are born from the 90’s, those music are still fresh to them, moreover, while the hiphop producers had the lawsuit of the copyright infringement during the 80s, they have had used a lot of samples through popular songs at that period, and some of them even sampled the whole part of the chorus. I guess vaporwave is this sort of status in these days, it could run a lot of debate on this. But sample-based music is an art form to me, so I appreciate all kinds of usage, of course you could be judgemental about the art works, but hey, this is base on your own preferences. There is nothing right or wrong about the work itself.
7.It is a long running thought (or myth) that vaporwave has an anti-capitalist message built in the music, some even went far to say that the cultural appropriation side of vaporwave (i.e. sampling heavily from Asian images, texts and sound) is essentially a showcase of what a globalised capitalism would be like. I’m interested in your thought on this ‘ideology’ part of the genre, is it a true dystopia message?
MHZ: bruh, i would say it’s just a buncha stoned kids making music ! ( hahahah! ) But I’m truly appreciated that the music has combined those Asian elements as we are the same cultures, and this is why I like to try to find more inspirations from our cultures and envirments.
More on the cultural appropriation, I think it is safe to say that there is at least some eroticism of eastern culture involved in the genre, but now we have a counter-part in Asia ourselves, I wonder how’s your artistic approach to this matter.
MHZ: As you know we are making things just for fun, so any possibility could apply. And the aesthetic of Vaporwave is profound, so i will do my works in an artistic way, so please don’t think about our works or tittle of the album is making sense, it is interesting when things don’t make sense. 😀
I think we can both agree that it is truly an exciting time for Vaporwave, Dream catalogue is doing really well that it is having events, physical releases (on vinyl even) and a radio show on London’s NTS, while artist like Nmesh, recently featuring in Fact mix series himself, are making a break through; even MTV has Miley Cyrus to do a seapunk/vaporwave video for VMA. What is your view on the outlook of the genre in Taiwan?
MHZ: I have seen a lot of kids wearing vaporwave wise clothes and gears in my country, but i have no idea what kind of genre they are into, but this is just a fun way to let them know there is another genre that exists on earth by releasing our album in Taiwan. And also, if we could, we could throw more gigs or parties in the near future to prmote vaporwave music.
Finally, could you tease us a bit about your up-coming plans for your label?
MHZ: we will shortly release another artist’s EP in both physical and digital form, and we are looking forward to our cover art too, and stay tuned for our next comp and, come join us to smoke some spliffs and enjoy the song:リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュ
*there are also american romanticism themed vaporwave music
**At the time of publishing the EP is already out, stream below