A couple of months ago, someone mentioned vapourwave to me, specifically wondering aloud whether it should be considered post-music in the sense of Lady Gaga and other ringtone artistes. Because I'm fat and fifty, and because I couldn't give a shit about computer games, incomprehensible Japanese cartoons, Instagram, most social media, or young people in general, I was embarrassed to admit I'd never heard of him, or it, or whatever gramophone records they may have recently sent scurrying to the top of the hit parade, there to dislodge Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. I was embarrassed because it turns out the thing had been around for at least five years without my having been aware of it even as a name.
Okay, so vapourwave was not only old news but also massive in context of its own self-contained microcosm of 4Chan types and people who post video clips of themselves talking about computer games on YouTube; so there's no reason why I should have heard of it, I suppose. Anyway, Wikipedia has this to say:
Vapourwave is a music genre and art movement that emerged in the early 2010s and spread over the next half of the decade among various internet communities. It is characterised by a nostalgic or surrealist fascination with retro cultural aesthetics (typically that of the late eighties and early nineties), entertainment technology, consumer culture and advertising, and styles of corporate and popular music such as lounge, smooth jazz and elevator music. Sampling is prevalent within the genre, with samples often pitched, layered or altered, sometimes in a classic chopped and screwed style. Central to the style is often a satirical but not necessarily critical preoccupation with consumer capitalism, popular culture, and new-age tropes.
I've also seen it claimed that vapourwave is over, and Blank Banshee is actually seapunk, but I don't care. I'm fifty. Fuck off.
Anyway, it's a file sharing, downloady thing, and I'm yet to sign up with the whole download culture because I much prefer physical objects and I've never owned an iPod - or equivalent device - that worked for longer than three months at a time; and like I say, I'm fat and fifty.
I had a root around on YouTube, it being a source of numerous vapourwave albums uploaded in their entirety. Most of what I heard sounded sort of interesting, if not startlingly unlike anything else I've ever encountered. As a genre it seemed to be making a virtue out of samples of unusually bland material - ringtones, game noises, television station idents, the little tune your computer plays when you boot it up. Some of it was kind of irritating, but some of it seemed to have something, and of all the stuff I browsed, Blank Banshee seemed to have enough of something to warrant a violation of my own personal code; so I threw dollars at the bandcamp page and bagged me some downloads, then immediately burned them to CDR so I could give them a proper listen.
Blank Banshee is supposedly a Canadian by name of Patrick Driscoll, beyond which I know nothing but for the music itself, which I guess is deliberate. It sounds very much like music composed entirely on audio editing software using samples of the general type described, so for the most part there's a weirdly smooth quality which actually makes me think of the blandly utopian seaside resort described by J.G. Ballard in Vermilion Sands. Some of it has the monged-out ambience of new-age motivational tapes, and is almost certainly sampled from something in that direction. Yet, as promised by the hype, there's something weirdly fascinating by this overpowering wash of airbrushed perfection, as though it's laid on so thick it becomes something new.
On the other hand, the music might not work so well were it purely as I've described, that also being more or less how Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus sounds to me, and which is why I didn't bother downloading it despite it apparently being the Never Mind the Bollocks of vapourwave. Blank Banshee works by taking the form somewhere else, bringing in material lifted from the crunkier end of southern rap - notably those crunchy handclaps and finger clicks - and this influence seems also to mold the music into something significantly funkier than whoever it was nicked from - possibly excepting Flash's The Message which is the only sample I've been able to identify. Regardless of sources, Blank Banshee 0 ends up as something new in its own right - nothing longer than your average television commercial and adding up to just over half an hour of what feels like a continuous piece, and one which definitely exerts a strange influence on the place you're in, cerebrally speaking. It invokes in passing certain quieter moments of Nine Inch Nails, Anne Dudley's Art of Noise, and Three-6-Mafia, but also a fairly substantial dose of Yellow Magic Orchestra.
I'm still not a fan of downloads, but this cost me a dollar and is pretty darned wonderful; and more than anything it's really nice to know that in terms of new things, music isn't quite over. This kind of thing may even be the first wave of whatever happens next.
Blank Banshee 1 from 2014 is also fucking great by the way, and apparently he has a new one out even as I write this.