What happens when a genre forged on the Internet enters the real world?
The Vaporwave-sphere has been buzzing with excitement over two huge announcements. 100% ElectroniCON, a New York festival created by George Clanton, to be held in August, and the Groove Horizons club-night, happening in London in July. 100% ElectroniCON promises to bring together a host of artists from the 100% Electronica label; including genre titans Saint Pepsi, Vaperror and Dan Mason. Groove Horizons likewise boasts the cream of UK Future Funk , from Strawberry Station to ev.exi and beyond. Both events are proving hot hot tickets, with hype moving upwards through the roof.
Mélonade, one of the artists performing at Groove Horizons, expands on the idea,
"Groove Horizons is really the first Future Funk show in the UK (at least that we know of). We wanted to give people in both the UK and Europe the chance to see some great UK artists live, and to meet them and chat about the scene. If it’s a success we will be able to build on it and do future shows."
"It was me and Strawberry Station’s idea, but Alexander Hall is the main organiser. We’re really grateful to him. So if you’re in Europe come along if you can make it."
It's booming news for the scene- a real watershed moment for Vaporwave. But what does it mean for a supposed Internet-Genre to move so decisively into the real world? Vaporwave has always been at home in the virtual, but when it gets physical…it gets complicated.
Music genres traditionally have a specific location they can be traced back to: Hip Hop and Punk were born from the grime of '70s New York. Metal forged in the molten furnaces of '60s Birmingham. City Pop synonymous with the glitz of '90s Shibuya. People meet up, get together and play music. Live shows and club-nights spring naturally from that. Yet Vaporwave was created by a music file on the internet. No one was ever meeting up in the first place. Chuck Person might be American, but Vaporwave only belongs to the web. This has been genre orthodoxy since its inception: as long as you have a computer, an internet connection and speakers- you can be part of the scene.
There's not supposed to be an 'in' club. All the music is free and available at the click of a mouse. Zero cost, zero profit. The only limiting factor is knowing which websites to browse.
Live shows change that. You have to be in New York, San Diego, London to be able to go to live events. They’re clustered in big, traditionally music focused cities. You need the cash to shell out for hotel rooms, travel, tickets. Some people won't even be able to get in the door if they missed out on snagging one. Suddenly Vaporwave starts to look a lot more like a regular music genre, one with physical limitations. Where it helps to know who is who, what's hot- what's not, and what’s happening downtown. An evolution, or a regression?
I put this dilemma to George Clanton, author of the Vaporwave classic virtual.zip, and the man behind 100% ElectroniCON.
“Vaporwave has changed forever. And has already changed forever several times. And will change forever again. Vaporwave, in my opinion, seems like it’s more defined by the people who discover and digest it than the actual content and style. There are so many different styles that two "Vaporwave" artists may have nothing in common sonically.”
“Naturally people want to see their favourite artists in the flesh and celebrate the music they like as a group. On Vaporwave YouTube a frequent comment is "I wish I had friends who liked this too.”
“There aren’t a lot of people doing [live shows] right now, I think a big reason is so much Vaporwave is difficult to perform live, and/or un-danceable. Future Funk is popping off right now because it's long established that you can put a bunch of people in a room, point them at the artist, and have the artist DJ their own music. Future Funk can and probably will go mainstream as a logical progression of EDM.”
The irony is that despite Vaporwave being so focused on individuals listening alone in their bedrooms, that desire for physical connection is still there. People really want to get together in one location to interact and connect. It’s very primal, and in that sense maybe Vaporwave, with its pretensions of being purely “for the Internet”, was just denying this basic impulse. Perhaps that contradiction is now breaking apart.
Which leads to ElectroniCON - and George’s ambitions for it:
“With ElectroniCON, there are a lot of strange, really vapory, really experimental artists. A lot of the artists have never performed live! And, their performance might not make sense in a typical bar or club where you are standing pointed at the artist. I think ElectroniCON is going to work so well because it’s going to have the feel of a convention, where a lot of likeminded people with a niche interest come together. Like Comic Con. And since we have 3 stages, we can showcase the diversity of Vaporwave without forcing someone who wants to dance to watch an ambient set or vice-versa.”
"I realize this article is about the recent explosion of live Vaporwave shows. But my perspective is there’s still a long way to go. Only a very small percentage of Vaporwave artists are giving it a shot, with a lot of the biggest acts only performing extremely rarely or not at all."
"Clearly 100% ElectroniCON has shown that there is a huge demand for Vaporwave events, which we knew all along. With the music being born online, the artists are spread out diffusely. Someone might be the only established Vaporwave artist in their state for example. 100% ElectroniCON solves that by creating a destination event worthy of making a pilgrimage to. There’s no established path on how to be a Vaporwave artist live. We are going to figure it out together."
George is pertinent with the Comic-Con comparison. It can’t be denied: Vaporwave is quite a nerdy genre. Most comfortable when speaking through Discord and Twitter. But with the rise of live shows maybe we can maintain the best of both worlds. Keeping the centre of gravity on the Internet which spawned it, with the same reach and accessibility as always. But also bringing in a more sophisticated aspect to the community. Giving people places to meet up, make friends and memories together. Memories which might inspire the next great Vaporwave album.
Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory.
Illustration by Romar de Boer