By Devon Chodzin ’19
The stories of how we got to know the music genres we know and love, namely rock & roll and hip-hop, are often illustrious stories of scorned artists, often marginalized people, expressing themselves in ingenious ways which the dominant society around them originally hated and then came to love. The politics of music are weird, ridiculous, and utterly fascinating. And, weirdly enough, today, we’re living through the debates about the validity of new art right here on our computers when we uncover genres, styles, and micro-musical cultures which originated right here on the internet.
Over the past several years, young artists have fused together several corners of the internet to make new and, often, absurd art and music which have taken our culture by storm. Bizarre microgenres like “seapunk,” “witch house,” “cloud rap,” and “vaporwave” have become the aural traditions of what Tumblr user “inrealityadream” called a “neo-dadaism.” Young people are making absurd art to reflect their growing discontent with a world whose problems seem to be magnifying – why not make the most unconventional art possible to reflect the absurdity we live in?
So, here’s a WKCO guide to weird 21st century “internet music.”
Seapunk: Inspired by the same-named web art aesthetic which combines lo-quality ‘90s graphic art, intensely bright colors (lots of cyan), so many dolphins, water scenes, and other absurdisms, this genre of music borrows elements from house (as well as other EDM), funk, hip-hop, and pre-2000s pop in the form of heavy sampling and original music. It’s not uncommon to hear sounds of water flowing or even dolphin noises, too. The genre gained a small following from about 2011-2013 and seapunk imagery is still easy to find today. People still produce/listen to seapunk, but for the most part, the scene is stagnant. While most exclusively seapunk artists are very underground, notable artists like Azealia Banks and Miley Cyrus dabbled in the music and imagery. Personally, it’s not for me.
If you’re looking for a prime example of this short-lived microculture, here’s Azealia Banks’ small hit, “Atlantis:”
Witch House: This mixture of synthwave and shoegaze is also largely based on an artistic aesthetic which incorporates themes of witchcraft and the occult. Much of the visual inspiration comes from pop culture cult (pun intended) favorites like Twin Peaks and The Blair Witch Project. Most of the music in this genre is heavily sampled, meaning that artists often take previously released songs from other genres and heavily remake them to reflect the artist’s intentions. Plunderphonics, or musical art which uses sampling, has grown wildly popular in part due to the growth of internet music. Witch House saw mild popularity from about 2009-2011, with notable artists including Pictureplane, Crystal Castles, and Zola Jesus. Personally, I actually like the music a decent amount.
This 2009 Pictureplane track, entitled “Goth Star,” was a minor hit in the indie scene and is sampled from the Fleetwood Mac record “Seven Wonders:”
Cloud Rap: An ethereal blend of hip-hop and chillwave, Cloud Rap lends itself heavily to the “Sad Boy” aesthetic, which is comprised of ironic (?) bucket hats, Arizona tea products, and visual schemes from the 80’s and 90’s. Oddly enough, this aesthetic and style of music made a huge return in 2014 when Yung Lean and other Swedish rappers adopted the Sad Boy aesthetic and developed a crew of similar artists in a Sad Boy collective. Yung Lean and artists who paved the way for him and other Swedes like Lil B and A$AP Rocky often rapped over long, harmonic drones and spouted deliberately abstract, sometimes even meaningless, rhymes. Despite the lack of real “popularity” in this genre, the sad boy aesthetic definitely lives on. Personally, the music isn’t appealing to me.
“Motorola” is a prime example of Yung Lean at his best:
Vaporwave: Described as “chillwave for Marxists,” this genre/art movement is perhaps the largest online sensation of this decade. Like the other microgenres, vaporwave is based on an aesthetic. The aesthetic is very similar to seapunk, but subtract the water and add more glitch art, Japanese characters, and even more Roman busts. Most vaporwave is plunderphonic, with the earliest releases typically sampling old R&B, funk music, and even elevator music. Much of it is heavily slowed down, drawn out, and at times, a bit eerie. Within vaporwave itself, there are a handful of subgenres, like Future Funk (kind of like nu-disco), Mallsoft (very, very ambient samples of Muzak), and Vaportrap (adding trap beats to vaporwave). Vaporwave arguably has a larger following than the other genres and is unique from the others in that its following is growing and the art is evolving. Especially as of late, vaporwavers are trying to do almost exclusively original content that’s more ambient or cinematic in effect, which is even calmer than what vaporwave was in its 2011 inception. Notable artists include Vektroid (who has several aliases), Hong Kong Express, Blank Banshee, and MACROSS 82-99. Personally, I don’t think the genre is that bad, mostly just boring. I like Future Funk a lot.
This song, produced under one of Vektroid’s several aliases, put vaporwave on the map:
In reality, these four genres represent a drop in the bucket of new art forms being created and popularized on the internet. No matter how absurd they are, they exist for a reason, and they’re worth exploring. You never know what you might uncover.