Cover image (c) shorkiedokey
Vaporwave. You might have seen it around if you’ve ever had a Tumblr, or frequent the underground music scene for the latest experimental trends. The name itself eludes a singular definition; it is instead stitched together from disparate parts of 80s and 90s pop, smooth jazz, funk, and chillwave — just to name a few. Album covers evoke aesthetics of diffuse, neon-lit malls; palm trees swaying against a technicolor sky; anime characters and the Japanese written language system; Greek statues; glitch art; and if one is daring, all of these things at once.
Vaporwave appeals to me as a millennial living in the aftermath of a globalist movement where both our planet and the economy are threatening to collapse. When I need a moment of escapism, I can open my Spotify and listen to some Com Truise, immediately comforted by the serenade of re-verbed pop singers and synth beats filtering through my headphones. I don’t need to have been alive in 1985 to get a sense of what it was like to believe in the dying promise of post-modern prosperity before I knew it was already over. The lush, resonate synth waves a song like Open cracks a window open into the past for those who didn’t experience it, while still structuring it in a way that echoes the current decay rampant consumerism has wrought.
And what would this blog post be without some astrological analysis as well? Vaporwave has the mark of the Uranus-Neptune conjunction written all over it. Consider: A decent swath of artists (i.e. Saint Pepsi, Vektroid) were born while the conjunction was within a 10° orb, infusing their impulse to look at things from a new perspective into the art they create. As for the “movement” itself, Vaporwave is post-music if there’s ever been such a thing as post-music, having been conceived exclusively on the internet (Uranus) and thus, enabling it to bleed into every corner of the globe with no boundaries (Neptune).
The Neptunian impulse to wax nostalgic over an era perceived as simpler clashes against the Uranian desire to critique the institutions that have gotten us here now, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. Vaporwave continues to evolve into the present day in its efforts to understand where we’re heading when nothing seems certain. But In order to see where it’s heading, we first need to visit where it began.
The “Birth” Of Vaporwave: Chuck Person’s Eccojams, Volume 1
Because Vaporwave is one of, if not, the first internet-exclusive genre of music, it’s hard to pin down a precise date that Vaporwave began. We could take into consideration the “forefathers” of the forefathers (think: chillwave), but having dug around, most Vaporwave fans agree that artist Daniel Lopatin’s (a.k.a Oneohtrix Point Never) release Chuck Person’s Eccojams, Volume 1 was the definitive starting point for this new genre.
Right away, you’ll notice the Moon is in Domicile (being in Cancer) AND is conjunct the Midheaven — very apt, considering the album uses reverb and distortion to create an “underwater” effect as you listen.
What’s interesting to note is the positions of Saturn and Mars. Both are in Libra — Saturn here is exalted and is hanging on to the edge of the 11th house, signifying to me that, while Saturn limited this album’s ability to spread widely between groups of people, its reception was received fairly at the time of its release. This also ensures the album’s longevity; to this day, Eccojams Vol. 1 serves as inspiration to Vaporwave artists both new and old, oft cited in Reddit forums and Youtube comments by fans as a timeless classic.
Another reason I think this album had a limited reach at the time of its release is due to Mars being off in 12th house Libra. Mars, the planet of forward movement and drive, hates both of these places quite deeply. In Libra, it is in its fall, and in the 12th house — the house of introspection and subconscious motives, of isolation and soul searching — Mars is trapped, stuck putting its aggressive energy back into itself. The result is an album that is subtle in its violence — yes, Eccojams Vol. 1 is soft and shapeless in nature, one song flowing into the next without boundary, but the layering of sampled music and distorted noises become erratic white noise that could have, at the time, washed over a listener in a way that disoriented them deeply!
Then there’s a matter of looking where the 12th house ruler is — Venus. Like the Moon, Venus is having a great time being here (its place of Domicile), but its conjunction to Saturn put stipulations and boundaries around this album receiving the love it deserved at its release. Experimental music fans and niche genre hunters were applauding this piece without hesitation, but were not able to convince the mainstream that it was worth its critical appraise (which could also be why it took so long before it got more widespread acclaim). Not to mention that Neptune, which shares some of its themes with the 12th house, is tucked away in the private 4th house, limiting its dissemination to that of unconventional methods. Considering this was out in 2010, an era where social media was still learning how to crawl, being able to hit the mainstream in the absence of major record labels was still a nigh-impossible feat.
There are other factors that might have limited Eccojams Vol. 1‘s ability to become a national sweetheart right away, but the astrological footprint this album has created a supportive energy that sets us up for the real “boom” of the Vaporwave movement: MacIntosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe.
Rising to Fame: Macintosh Plus and the Advent of Floral Shoppe
If Vaporwave was still a bit of a “joke” between its underground artists and ironic appreciators, then the laughing stopped when the artist Vektroid (known also by her one-time monkier, Macintosh Plus) dropped Floral Shoppe.
Before I even began thinking about tackling Vaporwave with an astrological bent, one of my first impulses was that this movement is drenched with Neptunian energy — and I have to admit, I’m pretty tickled to see I had the right idea. Right away, we note that at the time of release, Neptune was wrapping up its transit in Aquarius (where it was from 1998 to 2012) and sitting just behind the event’s ascendant, which cuts through the early degrees of Pisces. The fact that it trines an exalted Saturn in Libra means it was given an extra push to ground its seemingly “erratic” and “alien” sounds in a way that was more digestible. It was strange, yes, but it could now resonate with a larger audience because the audience could more readily contextualize the samples in the album. Diana Ross’ chopped up vocals over jazzy snares was some of the first music to really articulate that an era is dead and gone (Saturn in the 8th.) The oldest millennials were now old enough to grapple with the weight of nostalgia. Not bad for an artist who wasn’t even alive in the 80s.
Another big boost to helping get this album out into the world is the fact that Sagittarius rules the MC, helped along by a Sun/North Node conjunction. Furthermore, Sagittarius’ ruler, Jupiter, is off relaxing in the 2nd house, sextiling Neptune and trining an 11th house Pluto. These energies show that the album was able to truly go global — the Sun/NN conjunction makes this piece feel like it was “destined” to happen. Jupiter expands the album’s touch — the artist has proven her “worth” because she has permanently cemented herself in the conversation about Vaporwave. And Pluto came in and made sure that it mystified its audiences, compelling them to dig deeper and deeper for more works like this.
BONUS: For an added layer of analysis, I took a quick look at the synastry between the two albums. The fact that Eccojams‘ Jupiter is conjunct Floral Shoppe‘s Uranus at zero degrees Aries is a Hail Mary for sudden fame. Eccojams’ NN also sits snugly between Floral Shoppe’s Venus and Pluto, prompting a sense of “destined” love and long-lasting critical acclaim (as I stated before, Eccojams Volume 1 not having “mainstream” success doesn’t mean its astrological footprint didn’t lay down the foundation that Floral Shoppe needed to push this genre forward!)
Vaporwave is(n’t) Dead: A New Nostalgia for a New Decade
This is the part in my article where we take a huge leap forward, the reason being that there are so many other artists and albums to cover that I don’t think this “brief” overview can truly do it justice. OG artists like Blank Banshee, Luxury Elite, Windows 96, and Saint Pepsi push(ed) the narrative of what Vaporwave means in forward-thinking ways. Newly inspired artists come in and experiment, experiment, experiment, such to the point that “Vaporwave” is now really an amalgamation of multiple sub-genres. Is that release you’re listening to Future Funk, or Mall Soft? How do you feel about “Oceanpunk?”
But there’s always a shadow side to things, and this is no exception. In my hunt for “The History” of Vaporwave, I kept running into a cliff: as early as 2013, people were claiming that Vaporwave was “dead.” Yes, things were still being released, but whatever gems were in there were being overshadowed by a wash of repetitive, uninspired content. This is to say, there are other “hallmarks” in the genre to go back and listen to, but it seems none hit the same magnitude the same way Floral Shoppe did.
I may revisit this in the future by digging deeper, but for the sake of keeping this essay a manageable read, I decided to fast-forward to present day. Instead of Googling “the history,” I looked for “latest releases,” and one caught my eye that might indicate the way Vaporwave is choosing to go. Enter: Building a Better World.
While Vaporwave has been busy splintering off into multiple sub-genres, I’ve seen fans and critics alike referring to this piece as a “back to basics” with a fresh twist. Building a Better World is an album that opts to lean more into the “future” part of the “past-and-future” themes that often prevail. It uses real instruments and samples nature sounds to create a washed-out, dreamy feeling. Now that we’ve had more time to process the rapid changes in our world, the time to keep dwelling on how much better we had it in the past is coming to an end. We can’t keep waiting for the future because the future is here, and, as noted here by the grim Saturn-Pluto-South Node conjunction going in this chart, the future is a real dark place.
Don’t despair! The beauty of this album for fans (and even a more casual listener like myself) lies in the fact that it combines the grimdark reality of our today with a glimmer of hope for tomorrow. The fact that we hear rain means the planet still goes on. Technological glitches wrap around the sound of chimes, giving faith that civilization can be built anew.
The dire Saturn-Pluto-SN triple whammy in the chart’s 4th house — the house of ancestry, the past, and our childhood homes — promises there will be a breakdown in structures we once relied on. This is true even without the event chart, of course: look no further than outside, and you can see the rot settle in all of our institutions. Lord Hades and Lord Chronos shook hands back in January and now the world is trembling.
But we also look for the promise sitting in the 10th house, the fact that again, the NN is in the 10th house and this time it is in Cancer. This album and the story it paints is one that again feels like it’s “destined” to happen, that though there may be death, new life can be built from the ashes and we can be born again. Mercury and Venus are also here, indicating that this album is here to speak of compassion and spread the love.
And love it is. The Sun is Domicile in Leo, meaning Building a Better World is getting the attention it knows it deserves. Mars in Leo is off trining with Jupiter in 3rd house Sagittarius (who is also in its Domicile), promising that it will be disseminated widely. Last but not least, we can see Neptune (who surprise, is Domicile in Pisces) sextiling the gritty Saturn-Pluto-SN trio, suggesting that it’s okay to allow these barriers to dissolve. The past holds us back, but by tapping into our sense of the divine, we are imagining both a new sound of Vaporwave, AND a future that is better for the survivors. Considering it’s in the practical, hands-on 6th house, the idea that we can work this belief into our daily lives is of spiritual necessity.
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