Vaporwave and the Off-Modern

Dr Ross Cole - Research Fellow Homerton Collerge, University of Cambridge
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17:15 - 18:30
Faculty of Music
St Aldate's
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Denis Arnold Hall

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Lectures and seminars
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Vaporwave is a term that emerged during the early 2010s to describe a wraithlike nexus of imagery, memes, and experimental music on the Internet. Tracing its ambivalent obsession with the globalized consumer culture of the 1980s and ’90s––manifest in its toying with the aesthetics of empty shopping malls and what Adam Harper calls the ‘virtual plaza’––this paper situates the genre in relation to the concept of utopia. But vaporwave is utopian in strange ways. Indeed, the best way to approach it is through what Svetlana Boym has termed the ‘off-modern’––a feeling at once nostalgic and utopian lurking at the heart of the modern condition. Albums such as CYBERNET UTOPIA(2013) by ULTRA ウルトラ, megalopolis(2016) by new utopia, or永遠のD E C O R US(2017) by Con$umerist Utopia encapsulate this uncanny tension between the past and promised future. The answer? “STOP HOPING, START DREAMING” ULTRA ウルトラtells us. Vaporwave’s utopianism inheres in this dream state. Yet dreams, as Benjamin would remind us, are never purely escapist but contain the seeds of possibility: ‘every epoch, in fact, not only dreams the one to follow but, in dreaming, precipitates its awakening’.