Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"What type of music do you like?" "Vaporwave"

The question always made me freeze.

I've been asked it many times, by many different people. Almost always, the situation has ended in disaster.


1. Upbringing

As a kid, my parents rarely listened to music. My dad blared talk radio all day in the car, while my mom would listen to NPR. My parents did own a few cassettes that they played, but the selection was very limited. As a result, I didn't get exposed to a lot beyond what was playing on the radio at the time. I wasn't a huge fan of what came on the radio (in fact, I remember being frustrated with it most of the time), so I just didn't listen to music. I remember spending endless summer nights at a silent computer, because I was sick of the local alternative rock station. I think alternative rock was what I was supposed to listen to.....

2. Insecurity

At 11 years old, I went to Classen SAS. It was a very eclectic mish-mash of rich and poor, from many different cultures. About half of the kids were in an arts program, and as a result had very defined music tastes. Everyone wore band t-shirts, listened to iPods, yadda yadda. It was as if everyone had an intimate knowledge of something that I didn't.


So I went through life listening to very little music. I'd maybe pick up on a song here or there, but I never felt totally comfortable associating myself with a particular song or band. Every type of music scene seemed to want to convey something about the person, and I wasn't comfortable defining myself.

Thus, when someone came up to me and asked, "What type of music do you like?", it felt more like, "What social group do you belong to? Are we going to get along?" Those questions terrified me, because I didn't belong to any social group, and I considered myself to be impossible to get along with.

As those teenage fears faded and I entered my early adulthood, I began to listen to music a bit more. But on some sort of elitist principle, I'd preclude myself from anything popular. The result was a mish-mash of music I had heard in video games as a kid. Here's my favorite track from NBA Live '98, which I bumped all the time back in 2009:

My music also included random bullshit from youtube and comedy TV shows that I liked. My library was pathetically small, as I insulated myself from the larger world of tunes.

One day in a Chicago apartment would change my life. It was the summer of 2010, and I had recklessly planned a two day drive from OKC to Chicago. I was going to try out for a gaming reality show, figuring that my shtick of driving for 12 hours would automatically get me in as a contestant. This was despite the fact that I spent more time watching videos about video games than actually playing them. In any case, I brought a few friends. One of them had another friend in the area, and we spent some time chilling out in her apartment. The place was lined with records and comics, two things that seemed completely inaccessible to me. In all honesty, I had very little to say to the person.

But the music this girl was listening to was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It had a slowed down female voice that sounded almost male. There were echoing tones in the background. To this day I can't remember what the song was. Still, when I asked the girl where I could find more of this music, she wrote an URL on a slip of paper and handed it to me. It read: "wayslower.tumblr.com".

There is where I found the musical duo of Games, later known as Ford and Lopatin. I had no idea about where they had come from, or what the chillwave movement was. At the time, my view of the world was very insulated. So I simply obsessed over Ford and Lopatin, not finding any other bands. For a solid 6 months, it was about all I listened to.

Eventually, my taste for Ford and Lopatin faded as they stopped producing new stuff. I couldn't find any more similar music, so I didn't listen to much music at all. That changed in the fall of 2012. I was chilling with the friend who had introduced me to the person in Chicago. He was playing some very similar music to Games on his iPod. I asked him what it was, and he told me about some genre named "vaporwave". He gave me a list of about 8 bands to look up. The best of them were Luxury Elite, Saint Pepsi, and MACINTOSH PLUS.

That night, I went on a soundcloud rampage. I knew I had found my new favorite genre of music.

Why vaporwave?

1. The music was easy to listen to. I had always despised how much stock other people put into the lyrics of songs. I almost never listened to the lyrics, and would often end up liking some song about something that I didn't like. Vaporwave music almost never has meaningful lyrics. Often, the lyrics will be very simple or entirely in another language. The emotion is communicated through the music itself.

2. The music was very abstractly feminine. It's true that a good number of Vaporwave producers are women, but there were also male producers who chose to represent themselves with female avatars. As such, many of the songs had feminine names or themes. However, since Vaporwave centers around ideas rather than individuals, the femininity is very faceless. A song might be named "high heels" and be designed to evoke what you might think a fashion boutique sounds like. Since there was no face behind the femininity, it was easy for me to accept that I liked the music. I suppose it was baby steps towards me eventually accepting myself as transsexual.

3. No one knew about it. At this point, I was less concerned with fitting in than I was with sticking out. There was some elitist part of me that wanted to hear something that no one else was hearing. I felt like it allowed me to define myself better, or something.

4. The music was taken from commercials. I always enjoyed the short, computer-like sounds that played between TV programs, while waiting on the phone, and in foreign train stations. Vaporwave utilizes things like that. Things most would consider soulless, corporate, and mundane. There's also lost of classic R&B samples and Japanese disco samples, but it all somehow fits in one genre.

Anyway, that was me back in 2012. Now, I'm knee deep into the genre, checking out new stuff every day. A few of my friends appreciate the music, but no one is into it on the level that I am. I really appreciate having it in my life.

I'm also a bit more open about listening to popular stuff. In my car, I listen to OKC's Heart and Soul (R&B) and V103 (Throwback hiphop/R&B). I'll even listen to the classical station once in a while. Really, for me, it's all about emotions and grooves. I feel like my disregard for lyrics leads to me being distant from people sometimes, but oh well.

Anyway, this is the hottest new shit. Made by a talentless hack spinning records at 115 bpm. Fuck yeah

Why I'm starting a blog (BORING)

It's pretty hard to be open on the internet. Representing your true self in front of a ruthless online community can have dire consequences. As a result, most people choose to hide themselves behind masks of anonymity.

Not me. I stand proudly behind my terrible web history. I've written about the Thunder publicly since I was 16 years old, and I have to live with my entire professional body of work. Sure, I could take the web history down, but why? Those old web addresses are perfect representations of who I was in that moment. And even if I don't like it, or might be afraid of someone else who might judge it....it's reality.

Still, I've never been able to represent myself in the form of a web blog. I've had social media accounts on different sites, but those are only accessible by a few. I want my thoughts to be publicly presentable, to whomever might want to see. 

Of course, I can't reveal everything about my life here. But no one truly can....In any case, I'll strive to be as honest as possible.