Vaporwave is more than just music. It’s a new way to approach new ideas

Jeremy Cummings
May 2, 2017 · 6 min read

A new musical and aesthetic movement has been brewing in chat rooms and Soundcloud pages for the last 5 years. That genre is called Vaporwave. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, I will offer an explanation, and then I will describe how the ethics of this movement can be applied to other creative fields, specifically architecture.

Vaporwave’s visual aesthetic consists of carefully curated nostalgia. Douglas Tofoli

This song by MACINTOSH PLUS is one of the quintessential vaporwave tracks. If you play it in the background I guarantee you’ll enjoy this article 200% more.

At it’s core, Vaporwave consists of carefully curated fragments of nostalgia that form a musical and visual critique of corporate consumer culture. The basic ethic of Vaporwave is the repurposing of old aesthetic and creative motifs to create a tapestry of meaning that often runs directly counter to the intention of the original source material.

Vaporwave artists and producers often directly use symbols of mainstream corporate consumer culture, such as elevator music and advertisements from powerful companies like Pepsi, to recreate the feeling of emptiness that grew from the mindless cycles of buying and throwing away that began to solidify during the last half of the 20th century.

One quality sets Vaporwave apart from all other music genres is that it was born and is propagated entirely on the internet. It’s producers often have no presence IRL, using forums such as Reddit and 4Chan to build their audiences and platforms like Bandcamp to distribute their work.

A well-defined visual aesthetic developed in tandem with the music as well. This is similar to the development of the Punk aesthetic, which channeled the defiance and rage of that genre into visual form. Vaporwave’s aesthetic calls on artifacts from the early decades of the internet era as well as classic greek sculpture and well known consumer brands such as McDonalds or Coke. It features an airy color palette of mostly cool colors with vibrant accents of pink and purple.

As a music genre, Vaporwave suffers from an image issue that was also a hurdle for Hip-Hop to gain credibility in society. Like hip-hop, Vaporwave music is composed by sampling existing tracks, then distorting, layering and combining them to make something entirely new. This earns it the criticism from some that it is not a new genre, but simply a ripoff of an older one. Others have declared that Vaporwave is the last new music genre we will ever see. I think that’s a ludicrous claim, though. Vaporwave thrives on constantly redefining itself in different ways, and as long as human beings exist, we will always find new ways of expressing emotions and concepts.

Vaporwave uses symbols of one culture to create an entirely different one. It is a tapestry of symbolism formed of audio, visual, and intellectual motifs.

There are ways that these values can be applied to other creative fields. I’ve been studying a lot of architectural movements and alternative community structures to the typical suburban, individual-focused, nuclear family units.

Last week during my research I came across a fascinating article about Vaporwave and “Hermicities,” which are communities of people who inhabit the same plots of land but live in complete solitude out of choice. These people would exist and interact primarily through the internet and would subsist on rations delivered by automated drones. One caveat is that these communities have Vaporwave music playing constantly over loudspeakers.

Most people would not enjoy this type of community. Many would probably hesitate to even call this a community, given that its members would rarely, if ever, interact with one another. But I am inspired by new ideas, and if communities like his could help certain people feel happier and more comfortable in their lives, then I say more power to them. The rainbow paper about Hermicities is definitely worth a read.

Ever since I read it, I’ve begun to wonder if Vaporwave architecture could ever be a viable idea. I think it can, and it all comes down to one thing: abandoned malls.

The now-abandoned Randall Park Mall. The opening of this mall had such an impact on North Randall that two shopping bags were incorporated into the city’s official seal. It has since been slated for demolition. Wikimedia Commons

Originally an exciting new way to shop and do business, malls were an exciting change to the American retail economy, and played a pivotal role in the growth of our unsustainable culture of consumerism. However, after developers and retailers built these grotesque cathedrals of consumption all over America, many of the malls eventually became unsustainable and closed down.

A considerable amount of thought and criticism has been directed at shopping malls. Critics of suburban sprawl such as James Howard Kunstler have written at length about the problems of suburban sprawl that are intertwined with the rise and fall of shopping malls. Kunstler has advocated bulldozing malls and replacing them with smaller subdivisions for businesses and residences.

I disagree with Kunstler in certain ways, though. Whether you like them or not, malls are a cornerstone of mainstream American culture. They are an important milestone in human history. Tearing malls down outright is missing an opportunity for entirely new architectural environments that serve as both compelling public spaces and monuments to the rise and fall of corporate consumer culture.

Instead of completely demolishing malls, a balance could be struck between preserving the existing mall structures and replacing them with parks, open space, or multi-use recreational areas that benefit the community. I made a crude rendering in Photoshop to give you a sense of what I envision:

I wasn’t lying when I said it’s a crude rendering. I’m not an architect, but I did my best. Hopefully you can understand my vision.

The interiors could even be converted into drone racing tracks, music venues or e-sports arenas that would draw people into the communities that have been harmed by the collapse of their shopping malls. There are a lot of possibilities for how malls can be repurposed. We just need to take a less boring approach to revitalizing these modern ruins.

But what does this have to do with Vaporwave? To me, the idea of reusing a mall while still preserving it enough so that people remember what it once was is exactly what Vaporwave strives to do aesthetically and sonically. Channeling the consumer shopping structures into a new architectural experience is perfectly in line with Vaporwave’s philosophical foundations.

Vaporwave has taught us that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create a new genre of art. By creatively repurposing existing material, it is entirely possible to create entirely new forms of art. When applied to architecture, this could also have positive impacts on the environment, as existing materials can be reused rather than constantly exctrcting more resources for construction. Some new supplies would be needed, but not as much as if we bulldozed the mall and replaced it with a new business park or residential district (and how boring would another faceless business park be? yawn).

This could be the first ever architectural remix. Instead of leaving the depressing husks of these malls laying around all over the place we can create architectural spaces the likes of which have never been seen before. Ideally, the new spaces would be anything but retail. Some shops would be okay, but a balanced, multi-use approach that draws new people to an area and solidifies the community would be the best way to handle this.

To me, Vaporwave represents a new way of thinking about the world. If we can start to think creatively and repurpose the parts of our culture that aren’t working, then we can work to build a better world.


Thank you for reading. If you’re an architect or something similar and you see any flaws or strengths in this idea, please let me know in the comments. If you enjoyed this post, please click that heart and recommend it so more people can see. And, as always follow me on twitter @JeremyCummings3 or Instagram @so.tall.im.in.space to stay updated on what I’m doing.

Jeremy Cummings

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I am the founder of Snaktak LLC, a health food & digital media company 🍇🥑📲This blog is for my ideas that are too big to fit in a tweet

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