Skip to main content Accessibility help

Vaporwave, or music optimised for abandoned malls

  • Laura Glitsos (a1)


In this article I focus on the genre of ‘vaporwave’, using the artist 18 Carat Affair as a case study, to explore the way the genre works as a project that produces, and takes pleasure in, a kind of ‘memory play’. As a genre, vaporwave is a style of music collaged together from a wide variety of largely background musics such as muzak®, 1980s elevator music and new age ambience. Vaporwave's ‘memory play’ is a project that takes remembering as its audio-visual aesthetic. The pleasure of vaporwave is therefore understood as a pleasure of remembering for the sake of the act of remembering itself. To explore this theme, I examine vaporwave's memory play using the terms of Chris Healy's ‘compensatory nostalgia’, as well as the idea of ‘ersatz nostalgia’ as discussed by Arjun Appadurai and Svetlana Boym.



Hide All
abridge27. 2015. ‘Creepy, weird, bizarre, dark vaporwave releases … and some reviews’ Reddit comment.
Adorno, T. 2006. ‘On popular music’, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. Storey, J. (Harlow, Pearson Education Press)
Alexander, J. et al. 2004. Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity (Berkeley, CA, University of California)
Appadurai, A. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota Press)
arleybob. 2015. ‘What vaporwave is to me’, Reddit comment.
Bellour, R. 1996. ‘The images of the world’, in Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices, ed Renov, M. and Sunderburg, E. (Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota Press), pp. 149–64
Berlatsky, E. 2003. ‘Memory as forgetting: the problem of the postmodern in Kundera's “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” and Spiegelman's “Maus”’, Cultural Critique, 55, pp. 101–51
BlogReddit. 2015. ‘Reddit In 2015’,
Boym, S. 2007. ‘Nostalgia and its discontents’, Hedgehog Review, Summer, pp. 718.
Calavita, M. 2007. ‘“MTV Aesthetics” at the movies: interrogating a film criticism fallacy’, Journal of Film and Video, 59/3, pp. 1531
Dickey, M. 2005. Aesthetics and Design for Game-based Learning (New York, Routledge)
DoFDcosthetatheta. 2015. ‘Why does Vaporwave seem so “lonely” to me?’, Reddit comment,
Driscoll, K., and Diaz, J. 2009. ‘Endless loop: a brief history of chiptunes’, Transformative Works and Cultures, 2.
Francisco, A. 2012. Why is Japanese web design so different. Tofugu, 15 May.
Freud, S. 1919. The Uncanny, trans. Strachy, A. (Albury Thame, Imago)
Galil, L. 2013. ‘Vaporwave and the observer effect’, Chicago Reader, 19 February.
Gregg, M., and Seigworth, G. 2010. The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC, DukeUniversityPress)
Guyer, P. 2005. Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics (New York, CambridgeUniversityPress)
Harper, A. 2015. ‘Pattern recognition vol. 8.5: the year in Vaporwave’, Electronic Beats.
Hatten, R. 1985. ‘The place of intertextuality in music studies’, The American Journal of Semiotics, 3/4, pp. 6977
Healy, C. 2006. ‘Dead man: film, colonialism, and memory’, in Memory, History, Nation: Contested Pasts , ed. Hodgkin, K. and Radstone, S. (New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction)
Huyssen, A. 2000. ‘Present pasts: media, politics, amnesia’, Public Culture, 12/1, pp. 2138
‘Jiri Kolar, 88, Czech Collage Artist and Poet’. 2002. The New York Times, 23 August.
Jones, S., and Schumacher, T. 1992. ‘Muzak: on functional music and power’, Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 9/2, pp. 156–69
joshuatx. 2015. ‘Has 2814 completely ruined vaporwave?’ Reddit comment.
Judovitz, D., and Duchamp, M. 2010. Drawing on Art: Duchamp and Company (Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota Press)
Kaplan, E. A. 1987. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture (New York, Methuen)
Keenan, D. 2009. ‘Childhood's end’, The Wire, 306, pp. 2631
Kirby, A. 2009. Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern And Reconfigure our Culture (New York, Continuum)
Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers of Horror: an Essay on Abjection (New York, Columbia University Press)
Kulka, T. 1996. Kitsch and Art (Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Press)
Latham, C. 2013. ‘Listening to the talking cure: Sprechstimme, hypnosis, and the sonic organisation of affect’, in Sound Music Affect, ed. Thompson, M. and Biddle, I. (New York, Bloomsbury), pp. 101–16
Lewis, G. H. 1989. ‘Rats and bunnies: core kids in an American mall’, Adolescence, 24/96, pp. 881–9
Lhooq, M. 2013. ‘Is vaporwave the next seapunk’, Thump Vice, 28 December.
Lyotard, J. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge (Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota Press)
Macintosh Plus. 2011. Floral Shoppe
Massanari, A. 2015. Participatory Culture, Community and Play: Learning from Reddit (New York, Peter Lang)
Meigh-Andrews, C. 2006. A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function (Oxford, Berg)
Oswald, J. 2008. ‘Le plunderphonique ou le piratage audio comme prérogative compositionnelle’, Circuit: Musiques contemporaine, 18/2, pp. 2738
padurdur. 2015. ‘Best software under $100 to make vaporwave beats?’ Reddit comment.
Pannell, S. 2007. Mothers and Daughters: The Creation and Contestation of Beauty and Femininity (Nashville, TN, Vanderbilt University)
Pinchevski, A. 2011. ‘Archive, media, trauma’, in On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age, ed. Neiger, M., Meyers, O. and Zandberg, E. (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 253–64
Prensky, M. 2001. ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, On the Horizon, 9/5, pp. 16
Priest, E. 2013. Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure (New York, Bloomsbury)
‘Promethazine HCl’. n.d. Rx List: The Internet Drug Index.
Reynolds, S. 2011. Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past (New York, NY, Faber & Faber)
RightError. 2015. ‘Has 2814 completely ruined vaporwave?’, Reddit comment,
Rothschild, B. 2000. The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment (New York, Norton)
‘Secrets of mixing: Resolving midrange conflicts’. 2013. Delicious Audio, Deli blog, 11 June.
Sinnreich, Aram. 2010. Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture (Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press)
SockMice. 2015. ‘Vaporwave represents a fogged window reflecting snippets of childhood memories’, Reddit comment.
Soundstation. 2015. ‘Assorted Vaporwave Mix/Compilation #2 2+Hours’, YouTube.,AssortedVaporwaveMix/Compilation#2|2+Hours
Taylor, B. 2004. Collage: The Making of Modern Art (London, Thames and Hudson)
Trainer, A. 2016. ‘From hypnagogia to distroid: postironic musical renderings of personal memory’, in The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality, ed. Whitely, S. and Rambarran, S. (New York, Oxford University Press), pp. 409–27
Wang, X., Tang, L ., Gao, H., Liu, H. 2010. ‘Discovering overlapping groups in social media’, IEEE International Conference on Data Mining, December, pp. 569–78
Ward, C. 2014. ‘Vaporwave: soundtrack to austerity’, Stylus, 29 January.
Woldt, A.L., and Toman, S.M. 2005. Gestalt Therapy: History, Theory, and Practice (Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage)
Wolfenstein. 2005. ‘Vaporwave: a brief history’. YouTube. 10 June.
Worldwide News Australia. 2016. ‘It's an unsolved mystery that has captivated America for decades’, SBS Television, 13 September.;dn=TSM201609130231;res=TVNEWS
18 Carat Affair, ‘ΔΔΔ (MV)’, YouTube. 2014.
18 Carat Affair, ‘Jon Benet’, YouTube. 2011.
18 Carat Affair, ‘Mirror Mirror’, YouTube. 2011.
18 Carat Affair, ‘New Jack City II’, YouTube. 2015.
18 Carat Affair, ‘Pretty Girls I Don't Know Anymore’, YouTube. 2011.
18 Carat Affair, ‘Promethazine’, YouTube. 2014.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Vaporwave, or music optimised for abandoned malls

  • Laura Glitsos (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.