- Movies, if they’re very good, aren’t a conversation; they’re an exaltation, a shuddering of one’s being, something deeply personal yet awesomely vast. That’s what criticism exists to capture. And it’s exactly what’s hard to talk about, what’s embarrassingly rhapsodic, what runs the risk of seeming odd, pretentious, or gaseous at a time of exacting intellectual discourse.
Somewhere, someone is thinking about you. They don’t have a face or a name for you, and they don’t know where you live, but they know what you’re like, and they miss you as if they had you already. They have been through it all — the bad dates, the unanswered texts, the coded messages you have to decipher because no one wants to say how they really feel anymore — and they’re tired. They feel the same way about love as they do after a long day spent walking around the city: worn out, aching, and ready to lie down and close their eyes. When they lie in bed at night, they think about you, without even knowing who you are: The person who is tired, too.
Because you’re tired, aren’t you? You have come so close to real love, real commitment, so many times that it’s almost laughable. You’ve put all of your hope into people who had one foot out the door, and found it powerfully attractive when someone didn’t care about you. You have been chasing people for so long that your whole body is sore. Even if you wanted to, you don’t have the energy to spend another weekend checking your phone every 30 seconds to see if you’ve gotten a text from the one person you want to hear from. You couldn’t spend hours agonizing with friends over “what this could possibly mean” when “this” is a belated, dashed-off Facebook message apologizing for forgetting your party. Everyone knows what that means. It means they don’t care.
And you can’t do it anymore. You can’t be part of the chase, or this weird culture of never wanting to seem vulnerable, even when you’re so vulnerable for someone that you feel you might burst into tears at their name. Where the hunt used to be so thrilling and intoxicating, it now just feels silly. If someone really cared about you — or was worth your time — would you have to spend so much of yourself convincing them to stay?
But this is what we’ve been taught. Love is only real when it hurts, when it drains you, when there is something that you’re unsure about. If it comes too easily, or feels too natural, you’re automatically suspicious of it. There has to be some fight in it, something that feels like cold water against your skin and is constantly pricking you, reminding you that you’re alive and that this is what passion feels like. It’s every romantic comedy where there’s a full thirty minutes of struggle before the brief happy ending — you’ve never seen a story where there wasn’t something painful to go through.
You haven’t looked for it.
You haven’t looked for the “boring” love that feels calm and safe and sure. You’ve written it off as something that you might find when you are older, but not when you are young and crazy and destined to make terrible decisions. You have chosen the life of analyzing texts and flicking through dating profiles and dancing with strangers at bars because you think that it’s the only way that love happens at this age. But there is good love — there is quiet, understated love where everyone says what they feel, and texts are answered on time. There are people who lie awake at night, wondering when they will be able to lie next to someone and not wonder if they’re going to disappear the next morning. There is someone who is ready to get off the merry-go-round of one-night stands and being too afraid to say “I love you.”
And they are thinking about you. Even if they don’t know your name yet.
"Although Nietzsche might have a passing interest in this, he was no cosmologist and wouldn’t claim to be one. His story about eternal recurrence was meant as a jab against metaphysicians, but it’s also to be taken seriously. He called it "The Greatest Weight". And the point the short, anti theological story he wrote (about a paragraph long) was to get you consider how you would FEEL if this were the case. Would you be upset thinking that you’d have to relive every petty "mistake" without anything being different? Or would you celebrate at the opportunity to embrace your WHOLE life, every little bit of it, over and over again (see Nietzsche on Amor Fati)? What he wrote about the concept is that most people would hate the idea, which demonstrates how we valuate parts of our lives over others (a great western error). He also created a story which, if you carry it with you, helps you remember that the focus is on THIS life, not some imaginary other world or plane of existence. It brings your focus back to the here and now and primes you (or some) to be able to consider your valuations of the different life experiences as actually anti-life, such as happiness over sadness. It’s a difficult concept for most, especially those raised in the history of western judeo-christian cultures."
Where were you when seapunk died? Let’s never forget how Twitter shuddered like a baby that just got its favorite toy yanked away, then exploded into a histrionic chorus of WAH WAH RIHANNA STOLE MY SEASHELLS WAAAH! That shit was ridiculous. But even though seapunk was the first Internet-fueled subculture to be thrust so awkwardly into the mainstream, it definitely won’t be the last.
credit: PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises Tumblr http://newdreamsltd.tumblr.com/
Already gearing up as seapunk’s bigger, flashier and coming-this-summer-with-10-times-more-explosions sequel is vaporwave—the next lucky hashtag that could end up on SNL. Like seapunk, vaporwave is another Tumblr-spawned micro-genre that’s obsessed with Geocities graphics and spacey electronic music… but with fewer dolphins this time.
credit: Marilyn Roxie RYM Box Set cover art http://marilynroxie.com/
What is vaporwave? According to commenters in various music forums, it’s “chillwave for Marxists,” “post-elevator music,” “corporate smooth jazz Windows 95 pop,” and (my personal favorite) “better than that witch house shit.”
credit: Macintosh Plus Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/modern.computing
To put it another way, imagine taking bits of 80’s Muzak, late-night infomercials, smooth jazz, and that tinny tune receptionists play when they put you on hold, then chopping that up, pitching it down, and scrambling it to the point where you’ve got saxophone goo dripping out of a cheap plastic valve. That’s vaporwave.
But even though sampling “cheesy” and “trashy” music is vaporwave’s M.O., parodying commercial taste isn’t exactly the goal. Vaporwave doesn’t just recreate corporate lounge music – it plumps it up into something sexier and more synthetic. Vaporwave makes the banal sound luscious, like the kind of beats you’d twerk to at the top of an empty skyscraper looking out across Dubai.
Everything about vaporwave is tied to capitalist sleaze; even its name is a spoof of the term “vaporware,” nonexistent products that companies announce and heavily promote as a corporate strategy to keep their competitors at bay. Vaporwave’s deliberate affiliation with techno-capitalism distinguishes it from seapunk’s pastel land full of prancing sea mammals. Unlike seapunk, vaporwave is actually “punk,” in that it’s driven by a subversive political objective: undermining the iron grip of global capitalism… by exposing the alienating emptiness underneath its uncanny sheen.
With these philosophical undertones, it makes sense that the poster children behind vaporwave’s newfangled sound skew towards the intellectual end of the electronic music spectrum—like the Kuwait-born, avant-garde beatmaker Fatima Al Qadiri, who scrambled the gyrating booties from hip-hop culture into oversaturated dreamscapes in her video for “Hip Hop Spa,” and the multitasking James Ferraro, whose Far Side Virtual from 2011 was one of the first albums to patch together digital detritus into a glossy, blank-eyed ode to capitalism. In two separate interviews, Ferraro called his album both an “opera for our consumption civilization” and “16 ringtones you can download.” To me, these two quotes perfectly capture how vaporwave works—by becoming a product of the techno-futurist commercialism that it is trying to be about.
Of course, there are many other lesser-known vaporwave artists than Al Qadiri and Ferraro—some are completely anonymous, like the Portland-based producer Vektroid, whose NEW DREAMS LTD. album was considered “scene-defining” when it dropped in 2011. NEW DREAMS LTD was actually released under one of Vektroid’s other aliases, Laserdisc Visions (he or she goes by many different names that all sound like extras from the Matrix: Macintosh Plus, esc 不在, and情報デスクVIRTUAL. (About those last two: Japanese characters are ubiquitous in the vaporwave world, partly because of an obsession with Japan as a cyberpunk wonderland, but also because these unreadable characters act as signifiers of a globalized and impenetrable future.
As for what vaporwave looks like, at first glance, its aesthetic looks pretty similar to seapunk’s: screensaver graphics, cloudy horizons, a giant David sculpture with his dick covered by a neon pink triangle, etcetera. But even though they share the same nostalgia for 90’s Internet culture, you won’t find a stray pastel seashell in the vaporwave universe. Instead, you’ll find virtual renderings of model homes, Shibuya billboards, and alien landscapes—exactly the kind of soulless imagery that pairs perfectly with vaporwave’s corporatized music. If seapunk’s visuals can be summed up as internet pirates wearing barnacle-studded track jackets, then varpowave is Japanese businessmen grinning like Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy video.
chris††† - quivering (Music Video) from John Zobele on Vimeo
But not all vaporwave imagery has to be virtually-rendered. I consider these photos of #HDBOYZ, a satirical boyband, in keeping with the vaporwave aesthetic—everything from Ryder Ripps’ techno-punk bondage gear to their deadpan aping of Mickey Mouse Club boyband culture smacks of vaporwave influences. The #HDBOYZ add an extra element to the picture: humor. The guys are smirkingly self-aware of their ridiculous corporate fetishism.
From DIS Magazine’s "The HD Boyz Defined"
I have to acknowledge that my prediction that vaporwave will be this summer’s seapunk runs against the prevailing opinion. (According to some publications, vaporwave is totally oooover before it began. As the Chicago Readernoted, a vaporwave festival called SPF420 that took place on Tinychat in January was supposed to be the genre’s “final eulogy,” at least according to the producer Metallic Ghosts.)
But judging from the fact that another SPF420 show took place in March, a new vaporwave collective launched in June, and the vaporwave subReddit is still alive and kicking, I think these prognostications of its impending demise are totally full of shit.
Vaporwave will keep on building steam, if only because it’s perfectly synchronized with the times we live in: our world is choking on the invasive omnipresence of corporate and government forces. Our financial system is being slowly disrupted by the increasing viability of Bitcoin. Our cultural appetite for high-definition imagery and stock photography knows no limits. Our technology is moving so quickly, the iPhone in your hand is already looking a little retro. Vaporwave’s deadpan embodiment of our hi-fi reality coudn’t be any more relevant. Seapunk started as a joke and ended that way. Vaporwave won’t.
For more on vaporwave’s guiding philosophy, I suggest reading Dummy Magazine’s excellent analysis here.
The Guardian, Thursday 20 March 2014 16.22 GMT
Down the phone, Helina is explaining what a haul girl is to me. “Basically, you go out shopping for clothes or beauty products,” she says, “then you make a haul video and show viewers on YouTube what you got. You go through the items of clothing one by one. I guess what people get out of them is not showing off, like, how much money you’ve got or anything, but lifestyle: you get to see how one person lives, what their taste is.”
If you’re minded to sneer at a youth cult that involves making videos about your shopping, then Helina has a pretty intriguing counter-argument. “It’s not just about showing what you’ve got,” she says. “It’s a whole creative process behind the videos as well, which is what I enjoy about it. Choosing the right music, going from the filming to the editing. Sometimes I even storyboard things, because I want certain shots, how I can present different items and things like that.” Besides, she says, it’s a genuine community. She thinks a lot of haul girls “turn the camera on because it’s a way to talk to people without having to go outside and face their fears. I know that was the case with me: I turned on my camera because I was at home, signed off work, sick, and really bored. And it helped with my confidence in a way. There’s this community where you can talk to like-minded people.”
I’ve ended up talking to Helina because haul girls and their videos arecurrently a remarkably big deal – there are scores of the things on YouTube – and I’m trying to investigate the state of youth subcultures in 2014. It seems a worthwhile thing to do. You hardly need a degree in sociology to realise that something fairly dramatic has happened to them over the past couple of decades; you just need a functioning pair of eyes. When I arrived at secondary school in the mid-80s, the fifth and sixth forms, where uniform requirements were relaxed, looked like a mass of different tribes, all of them defined by the music they liked, all of them more or less wearing their tastes on their sleeves. There were goths. There were metallers. There were punks. There were soulboys, at least one of whom had made the fateful decision to try and complete his look by growing a moustache, the bum fluff result pathetic in the extreme. There were Morrissey acolytes, and even a couple of ersatz hippies, one of whom had decorated his Adidas holdall with a drawing of the complex front cover of Gong’s 1971 album Camembert Electrique: a pretty ballsy move, given the derision that hippies had suffered during punk, and at the hands of the scriptwriters of The Young Ones.
And I seem to recall there were dozens of psychobillies, the dimly remembered 80s youth cult that opted for a cartoonish marriage of punk and rockabilly. That may be my memory suggesting they were more numerous than in reality, simply because they looked so striking, your average psychobilly having contrived to attain a look that was simultaneously utterly ridiculous and disquietingly hard and menacing. I definitely remember one of them turning up on non-uniform day wearing a giant banana costume and Doc Martens, presumably in tribute to psychobilly heroes King Kurt’s then-recent single Banana Banana. It was fairly obvious who was who and what was what. You didn’t have to be an expert in the finely nuanced semiotics of teenage dress codes to work out that the bloke with the vertiginous dyed quiff walking around dressed as a banana probably wasn’t cut from the same subcultural cloth as the bespectacled cardigan-wearer carrying a copy of the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. And that was just my school. Beyond its gates, style magazines were always reporting on weirder, more arcane youth cults: at one point in the 80s, the Face ran a slightly incredulous piece on “psychedelic scalls”, scouse casuals with a love of dope-smoking andFrank Zappa. In the late 80s and early 90s, the music weeklies were always being accused of trying to invent youth cults for their own nefarious ends: grebos, romos, fraggles, teen-C.
In 2014, however, the only real teenage cults visible to an outsider, displaying their allegiances by their manner of dress, seem to be metalheads and emos. The former feels like the most deathless youth movement of all, still recruiting new young converts long after being a mod or skinhead has become almost exclusively the province of the middle-aged. The latter seems to have co-opted elements of most of the other spectacular subcultures – goth, metal, punk and indie – under one catch-all term. In the mid-noughties, it even managed to provoke a flicker of old-fashioned folk devil outrage when the Daily Mail proclaimed it the Dangerous Cult Of Teen Suicide. But that’s about it.
Something has clearly changed, and over the past week, I’ve listened to a lot of hypotheses as to why, of varying degrees of plausibility. A sociologist at the University of Sussex, Dr Kevin White, tells me he thinks it has something to do with Britain’s changing class structure. Elswehere, there’s a rather grumpy “tsk-kids-today” theory that teenagers are now so satiated by the plethora of entertainment on offer that they don’t feel the need to rebel through dress or ritual – and a deeply depressing one that people are too worried about their futures in the current financial climate to be creative. And I’ve had a long and fascinating conversation with historian David Fowler, author of the acclaimed book Youth Culture in Modern Britain, who has an intriguing, if controversial, theory that subcultures such as hippy and punk had very little to do with the actual teenagers who participated in them – “They were consumers … they were sort of puppets” – and were instead informed and controlled by a slightly older, university-educated generation. “Youth culture as a kind of transformative, counter-cultural philosophy, it has to be shaped by older people and invariably it’s by students,” he says. Today, the lack of anything equivalent to the radical student movements of the 60s that fed into both the hippy movement and punk means a lack of ideas trickling down into pop culture.
Meanwhile, Dr Ruth Adams of King’s College London thinks it might be linked to the speed at which “the cycle of production and consumption” now moves. “Fashion and music, they’re much cheaper and they’re much faster today,” she says. “I think it’s a lot easier to be promiscuous, subculturally speaking. When I was a teenager, you had to make more commitment to music and fashion, because it took more of a financial investment. I had a pair of gothy stiletto boots, which lasted me for years: I had to make a sort of commitment to looking like that, because I wasn’t going to get another pair of alternative shoes any time soon, so I had to think about which ones I wanted. Now, it’s all a bit more blurry, the semiotic signs are not quite as hard-edged as they used to be.”
But the most straightforward, prosaic theory is that, as with virtually every area of popular culture, it’s been radically altered by the advent of the internet: that we now live in a world where teenagers are more interested in constructing an identity online than they are in making an outward show of their allegiances and interests.
"It’s not neccesarily happening on street corners any more, but it’s certainly happening online," says Adams. "It’s a lot easier to adopt personas online that cost you absolutely nothing apart from demonstrating certain types of arcane knowledge, what Sarah Thornton called subcultural capital. You don’t have to invest in a teddy boy’s drape suit or a T-shirt from Seditionaries.”
Once you start examining subcultures online, things become blurred and confusing, compounded by the fact that a lot of online subcultures seem to come cloaked in layers of knowing irony. In search of latterday youth subcultures, I’m pointed in various directions by various people, but I invariably can’t work out whether what I’m looking at is meant to be serious or a joke: never really a problem in the days when members of different youth cults were prepared to thump each other. There’s plenty of stuff that seems weird and striking and creative out there, but there’s something oddly self-conscious and non-committal about it: perhaps that’s the result of living in a world dominated by social media, where you’re under constant surveillance by your peers.
Either way, I have literally no idea whether a video by rappers Serious Thugs – YouTube comments: “THIS IS THE FUTURE”, “chavvy meets hipster is happening!” – is a genuine attempt to reclaim the reviled “chav” image that might end up having wider impact, or whether it’s just horrible tongue-in-cheek sneering at the way working-class kids dress. Is a Tumblr star such as Molly Soda – an American 24-year-old with dyed hair and a septum piercing, whose website is a curious mix of nostalgic imagery from the early days of the internet, glittery My Little Pony kitsch, softcore porn and photos of her pulling faces and occasionally exposing herself, and who recently seems to have translated her online fame into a visual-art career (an eight-hour video of her reading the contents of her email inbox was recently sold by Phillips in New York) – at the head of a subculture? On the one hand, it’s a little hard to put your finger on what she does or stands for. On the other, she certainly has acolytes, who dress like her and imitate her Tumblr’s aesthetic (indeed, she has them in such profusion, that they’re parodied on another Tumblr called Molly Soda Try-Hards). Furthermore, her influence appears to be affecting mainstream culture: the clothing chain Urban Outfitters recently ran a blogpost telling customers how to achieve a Molly Soda-inspired “Tumblr girl look”, albeit as – oh dear – a Halloween costume rather than an ongoing lifestyle.
And then there’s seapunk, a movement that started out as a joke on Twitter, turned into a Facebook page, then gained traction to the point where it became a real-life scene, with a seapunk “look” that involved dyeing your hair turquoise, seapunk club nights and seapunk music. “Seapunk is the name of a mid-western club movement created by a group of turquoise-haired twentysomethings who like to drown warehouse breakbeats in a flood of sub-bass and watery Wu-Tang samples,” ran one piece in style magazine Dazed And Confused. “The term was originally envisioned in a psychedelic GIF dream by Lil’ Internet, but producer Fire For Effect has been responsible for turning it into a fully fledged lifestyle.” Before you dismiss that as sounding like something made up by Charlie Brooker for a forthcoming series of Nathan Barley, it’s perhaps worth noting that seapunk genuinely appeared to make an impact on mainstream pop: the seapunk look was variously appropriated by rapper Azealia Banks, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. In any case, I’m too late. One of seapunk’s supposed core members, Zombelle, apparentlydeclared the movement dead when pop stars started cottoning on to it, which perhaps tells you something about subcultures in 2014. They catch people’s imagination, get appropriated by mainstream culture then die away: it was ever thus, but now it happens at warp-speed. Punk’s journey from the first sightings of the Ramones and Richard Hell in New York to the front pages of the British tabloids took a couple of years, over which time it changed and developed and mutated. Seapunk’s journey from internet gag to Rihanna using its imagery on Saturday Night Live took a matter of months.
It’s hard not to be struck by the sensation that, emos and metalheads aside, what you might call the 20th-century idea of a youth subculture is now just outmoded. The internet doesn’t spawn mass movements, bonded together by a shared taste in music, fashion and ownership of subcultural capital: it spawns brief, microcosmic ones. In fact, the closest thing to the old model of a subculture I’ve come across is Helena and the haul girls. Their videos are about conspicuous consumption: a public display of their good taste, carefully assembled with precise attention to detail. When you put it like that – and at the risk of incurring a fatwah from middle-aged Paul Weller fans – they sound remarkably like mods.