This week our case study was that of subcultures: minority groups which go against the beliefs and values/lifestyle of mainstream culture (i.e an organised society, a 'Dominant Culture'). In its most rudimentary form, the description of a subculture precurses the definition we know today as a subculture, which describes the sort of 'youth in revolt', post-1945 social groups. The original dates back to the 1800s, but was first studied by the sociology department of the Chicago School in the 1920s, who looked to how these 'deviant' groups evolved via societal problems (Grinnell College, 2019).
According to Hebdige (1979, p.17) when a subculture raises its head it means there is "break down of consensus" within mainstream culture. To understand this we looked at the Beat Generation of the 1950s/1960s, and the Punk movement of the late 1970s.
Despite this more common knowledge term to define a subculture, Doehst et al (2015, p.1) believe that studies conducted in the 60s and 70s on subcultures can easily be criticised. This is because they "romanticised elements like style, group identity and political resistance, and because it almost exclusively addressed the cultural practices of male western youth". Instead, they argue that the definition of subculture should be redefined for the 21st Century, and must look at "studying the cultures of various social groups, which are intertwined with one another and with global mass culture".
Because of this definition, I will be looking at a more modern subculture.
Vaporwave is subculture which was born on the internet in the 2010s, therefore accessible on a global scale. It was born out of a short-lived music genre called Chillwave which came to prominence around 2008/2009 (although, the two terms have been used interchangeably) which involved artists such as John Maus, Washed Out, Ariel Pink and Geneva Jacuzzi. Chillwave was full of retro-sounding, analog recordings and melodies. Both are a culture which embraces a nostalgia for the 1980s/1990s, but Vaporwave was able to create something entirely new out of it (Meme Music - An Abridged History of Vaporwave, 2019) - almost a parody, even.
A lot of Vaporwave music consists of tracks by popular musicians of the 1980s which have been slowed down and reconstructed to create a new piece of music (What Happened to Vaporwave?, 2016) In 2011 Macintosh Plus released their album Floral Shoppe, which almost immediately became a meme on the internet. The album cover for Floral Shoppe (Fig 1) has a bright pink background, a marble classical art greek bust, and a retro-looking cityscape with Japanese writing above it. If you are into your Vaporwave, you will know that everything I have just said is the most Vaporwave-sounding stereotype there is. The internet has not only managed to create a meme, but ironically gave way to a whole new genre of music which has now come full circle to being 'memed' once again.
Other parts of Vaporwave culture include: making grainy TV-like images (usually with tones of pink or purple), taking modern items and giving them the retro treatment (Holmes 2015 - see 80s style VHS tapes of modern shows) and also making merchandise with cultural icons which we relate with nostalgia (search Y2K fashion). Another aspect of Vaporwave is film (however this could be deemed as a kind of exploitation to some extent). In 2015, a Swedish filmmaker called David Sandberg created a hybrid of Miami Vice and the Karate kid (plus a whole lot more) to create KUNG FURY: an LA cop who has the gift of superhuman martial arts abilities and must travel through time to stop the ferocious Kung Führer (Adolf Hitler). The film pays homage to not only the two aforementioned iconic 1980s shows, but also Knight rider and Street Fighter/Mortal Combat/Tekkin. With the film being the first ever film to be made via kickstarter, it brought the attention of Vaporwave more to the mainstream - and with its countless nods to stereotypical 80s style, became a kind of exploitation film. Another film which has its roots in Vaporwave is Turbo Kid, which is less known but still has all the signs of a retro influence in it.
With Vaporwave now being taken into a mainstream habitat, its influence can be heard in the music of Mac Demarco, Alvvays, and has also spawned sub genres like 'Simpsonswave' and ' A E S T H E T I C' culture. Probably at the moment its biggest influence can be found on the Netflix series Stranger Things.
Below are some Vaporwave curios:
A Simpsonswave Playlist
a e s t h e t i c s (2015) MACINTOSH PLUS - FLORAL SHOPPE - 02 リサフランク420 - 現代のコンピュー (30 December) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAgmGZ9iQ2Y (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
Electronic Gems (2014) HOME - Resonance (16 July) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GW6sLrK40k (accessed 27 April 2020)
Epic Pictures Group (2015) TURBO KID - Official Release Trailer [HD] (16 June) Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFlZ6pVtnv0 (Accessed 27 April 2020)
Holmes, K. Modern Films and Tv Shows Get Recreated as Retro VHS Tapes (2015). Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/vvy34x/modern-films-and-tv-shows-get-recreated-as-retro-vhs-tapes (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
lafemmelily (2017) alvvays - not my baby (11 September) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5jW4LkfHTA (Accessed 27 April 2020)
LaserUnicorns (2015) KUNG FURY Official Movie [HD] (28 May) Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
Lucien Hughes (2016) S I M P S O N W A V E (8 February) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwXZJ72PzThfKWr3oajYaHId3GjF2XSh1 (Accessed 27 April 2020)
Fig 1 - Macintosh Plus (2011) [Record Cover] Available at: https://www.banquetrecords.com/macintosh-plus/floral-shoppe/OESB92 (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
Meme Music - An Abridged History of Vaporwave (2019). Available at: https://www.dailytargum.com/article/2019/10/the-history-of-vaporwave (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
newjerseyjustin (2014) Mac DeMarco - Chamber of Reflection (10 March) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY8IS0ssnXQ (Accessed: 27 April 2020)
Stranger Things (2016) Stranger Things | Title Sequence [HD] | Netflix (26 Nov) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LQD1OOb-Us (Accessed 27 April 2020)
theSUPREMEscene (2012) DIANNA ROSS it's your move (26 June) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uno7f5IGAPI (Accessed 27 April 2020)
What Happened to Vaporwave? (2016) Available at:https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/a47793/what-happened-to-vaporwave/ (Accessed: 25 April 2020)