The Rapid Proliferation of “Laborwave” and What it Means
It makes my heart swell with pride to see the Laborwave genre growing so rapidly, transcending entire continents and languages, all because of the internet. It feels magical. When I made that very first laborwave edit of Lenin, back in 2016, I would have never imagined that this trend would blow up so phenomenally.
I regularly find art that I have made spread to the farthest corners of the internet, in places i would never expect to find it. And even more fulfilling than that, I have inspired and taught many young artists like myself the techniques that I use. The Lenin-vaporwave edit was essentially a really polished shit-post, designed to provoke controversy. Little did I know that people would start requesting me non stop where they could purchase copies of my art. I had no idea, but I wasn't going to pass up that opportunity, so I figured it out, and now I have sold clothing and prints to more than 25 countries world wide, from Singapore to Russia, from Spain to occupied Palestine. Its a dream come true. Here’s just a couple of examples I encountered this morning that I thought emulated my style very well:
On the flip side of this positive influence I am having on redefining and modernizing the HORRIBLY outdated, perhaps even non-existent aesthetics of the left, is that we seem to have awoken the “dark side” of this visual genre. “Fashwave” as it is un-ironically referred to by its proponents is a cheap bootleg rip off of Laborwave.
The bright neon colors, scan lines, and visual motifs of the 80s and 90s are all still there just the same, but you'll see an explicit celebration of Fascism and genocide. Here’s just one example. I would feel like a bad person if I subjected you to anymore than that.
But before we go any further, I feel it is necessary to elucidate what exactly the word “Laborwave” means to me. Vaporwave, the artistic genre from which Laborwave evolved, is a post-modern music and visual art genre whose surrounding “subculture is sometimes associated with an ambiguous or satirical take on consumer capitalism and pop culture, and tends to be characterized by a nostalgic or surrealist engagement with the popular entertainment, technology and advertising of previous decades. It also incorporates early Internet imagery, mid-to-late 1990s web design, glitch art, anime, 3D-rendered objects, and cyberpunk tropes in its cover artwork and music videos.” (Wikipedia)
If Vaporwave is the Thesis, then Ostalgie, a German term describing a longing nostalgia for life in Communist East Germany, is the antithesis. Our western culture is slowly coming to grips with the collapse of the economic system that we have enjoyed living at the peak of. In coming decades, we will face incomprehensible struggle. It only makes sense that as the world slowly crumbles around us, that we will cling nostalgically to things from our childhood and early lives that remind us of the simpler times. One Eastern Culture, who has already had to slowly come to grips with the collapse of their entire economic system over the past nearly 30 years, not just in Germany, but throughout the entirety of the Eastern Bloc. When places like Russia experienced 10 MILLION excess deaths in the years immediately following the reintroduction of capitalism in Russia, its no wonder why more Russians have a favorable opinion of Stalin than they do Putin.
The synthesis then, is Laborwave. Laborwave as I define it is: an inter-sectional art style reconciling nostalgia for a Soviet past with a nostalgia for the visual motifs of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. While Vaporwave relies on subtext, sarcasm and mild critique of the consumer-capitalist nightmare we have created, Laborwave takes it to the extreme, forcing you to confront the horrifying and uncomfortable truth.
Bertolt Brecht once said: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it.” To me, Vaporwave has always remained by and large little more than a mirror. But with Laborwave, I am trying to make Hammers.
Considering all of these things, the ridiculousness of “Fashwave” becomes even more transparent. How can you take a genre that, from its inception, has been preoccupied with anti-capitalist rhetoric, and use to defend a Capitalist, Fascist cis hetero patriarchy? It would be like if I tried to appropriate Wagner operas and “Birth of a Nation” to create Communist propaganda.
As disgusting as it is, the very existence of the so-called “fashwave” simply proves to me that my aesthetics are powerful and emotionally evocative enough that the right feels compelled to appropriate it. We all know they certainly aren’t the most artistic or creative people in the world. All Fascists, but the Nazis in particular, re-purposed Revolutionary Socialist rhetoric, slogans, vocabulary and symbols to trick the average uneducated German factory worker or farmer that Nazi economic policy would work better than the collectivization proposed by real Socialists. In this way, the fascists discovered a way to mask a brutally reactionary reaffirmation of 19th century property rights in the facade of a Revolution.In societies as broken as the late Weimar republic, willingness for the average German to support a full throttle revolution was outrageously high. So Fascist movements cloaked themselves in a disguise of quasi-Revolutionary aesthetics.
Similar events unfolded in Mussolini's Italy, and various other fascist dictatorships. Even today, far-right Brazilians who defend Bolsonaro and the military dictatorship under Vargas, describe the period of dictatorship as a “military revolution”. It seems that, at least to the narrow far-right outlook on the world, a revolution has nothing to do with historical materialism, the evolution of property rights, the triumph of the oppressed many over the privileged few, or any of the other things that a revolution can’t be without. A revolution is just when one group of people takes power from a different group of people extra-judicially and with force.
Fortunately enough for us Communists, The far right’s commitment to their appeal to male vanity has fallen apart more and more as the decades go by. Say what you want about the Nazis, of course, may they all burn in the deepest fiery pits of hell. But no one can deny that their uniforms looked fresh as fuck.
I mean when you have all of the top capitalist enterprises in the world supporting you, (Hugo Boss Making your Uniforms etc.) its hard to go wrong. But today, this is what the aesthetics of the right wing have become: