The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

A Short Introduction to Dark Vaporwave

To the general listener, vaporwave is mostly known for its colourful reworkings of ‘80s smooth jazz, sprinkled with touches of retro-futurism and consumer-capitalist culture. Saint Pepsi’s seminal ‘Hit Vibes‘ encapsulates the most popular vaporwave form known as future-funk, which welds halcyon floor-fillers to the armoury of the modern dance producer. Another popular name is Blank Banshee, whose signature vaportrap is certainly darker on some tracks (listen to ‘Teenage Pregnancy’), but ultimately more danceable than it is atmospheric. Nevertheless, behind the smooth 808 beats there lies something more sinister and evil, lurking just beneath the surface.  

Indeed, there exists a darker form of vaporwave, constantly eclipsed by its more popular cousins and exiled to the catalogues of obscure internet labels. Under the nebulous umbrella of ‘post-vaporwave’ it has taken shape under many names, sliding itself into the DM’s of existing vaporwave subgenres such as hypnagogic drift, broken transmission, and mallsoft with nefarious ease. ‘Dark’ or ‘creepy’ vaporwave has become a sub-genre of its own, translating nightmares into sound that are as captivating as they are terrifying.

READ MORE: A Short Introduction to Vaporwave

Geometric Lullaby, which curates “a collection of songs about life and death”, is a great place to start. Just as Saint Pepsi reimagines smooth jazz as future-funk, runescape斯凱利 turns beloved video game music into the soundtrack of dislocation. Runescape​.​wav符文風景骨架 feels like playing runescape at 4am after a 24-hour binge as the body, weary and tired already, crashes from copious amounts of caffeine. Next, (new aura) – 新时代 befuddles the senses with abstract bleeps and dissociative voices, presenting an ominous netherworld presumably the home of the horrifying skeleton that adorns its cover. It’s the final part of a six-album series sent to the label from Azerbaijan by its mysterious creator, b e g o t t e n 自杀 .

The little known and discontinued label The Library has a few dusty blackened gems. ‘The Computer’ by Broken Light is an eerie dark ambient piece seemingly projecting the internal delusions of an insidious computer. Rogue bleeps and start-up jingles give an impression of maddened autonomy. Its last release, 異常 by midnight王朝 essentially captures the mournful sound of deserted suburbia, with serpentine cassette hisses sounding like the howling wind. According to its creator, it is “best if listened to alone on a long walk at night where you can wander with your thoughts.”

Elsewhere, early pioneers Chinese Hackers set the ball rolling with 2015’s nun-obsessed ░▒▓死▓▒░, marking the start of so-called ‘vapor-goth’ and a truly unnerving slab of dark vaporwave that remains ethereal yet unhinged. Each track is a different horrifying premonition narrated by spectral voices and demonic soundscapes. On ‘Empty Halls’, 神Odin takes a more minimalist approach, playing with the concept of an abandoned office nostalgically looking back on it glory days. Instead of terror, it conveys an overwhelming sense of emptiness and loss of purpose. 

But perhaps the most bizarre and unorthodox release is Internet Club’s▣世界から解放され▣, coherent only in its incoherence. Samples in foreign languages chop and change almost at random and each ‘song’, or rather movement, is abrasively erratic. Taken with the artwork and track names, including‘❤❤❤❤❤渋谷のハート❤❤❤❤❤ ‘ and ‘✭✰✭PRIMETIME今日のプログラミングLATENIGHT✭✰✭, this album is madness epitomized. 

Eschewing the limelight, these works of dark vaporwave are more at home nestled in the subterranean catacombs of Bandcamp. Yet, for the adventurous listener, they are untapped sources of dark experimentation that are strangely rewarding. (Jake Leigh-Howarth)

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