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Vapor: the production of locality and the disputes of meaning in Vaporwave

Grant number: 19/15602-2
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Scientific Initiation
Effective date (Start): September 01, 2019
Effective date (End): July 31, 2021
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Anthropology
Principal Investigator:Rose Satiko Gitirana Hikiji
Grantee:Lucca Palmieri
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:16/05318-7 - Local musicking: new pathways for ethnomusicology, AP.TEM


The object of the research is Vaporwave. This emerged as a micro-genre of electronic music in the early 2010's, being created from online communities and forums such as Reddit, 4chan, Tumblr and YouTube. The entire Vaporwave musical and artistic production was and still is built in these spaces, being shared in the form of videos or albums, in Bandcamp, Soundcloud and on YouTube itself. The name Vaporwave derives from two notions: the expression Vaporware, and alludes to the famous passage of Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto "Everything that is solid spoils in the air", referring to the constant changes imposed by the capitalism. Both are related in the sense of a social critique, proposing reflections on technology, consumption and late capitalism. The first works that can be classified as Vaporwave works are the albums EccoJams Vol.1 (2010) by Daniel Lopatin (under the pseudonym of Chuck Person), Far Side Virtual (2011) by James Ferraro and Floral Shoppe (2011) by Ramona Xavier (under the pseudonym of Macintosh Plus).The experience proposed by the micro-genre permeates in a very intimate way its musical form and content. Using exaggerated distortions, low pitch sounds and repetitive chorus creates a sense of shifting reality. Adding this set of techniques to the musical references of the sound that is remixed - which evoke somewhat of a nostalgia for something that was and was not, a nostalgia for the dreams we once had, so to speak - we have that Vaporwave is something that constantly updated, based always on these notions of nostalgia and "decoupling" from reality. The experience of the enjoyment of these cultural objects is precisely to experience and transit in these spaces of remembrance, reverberation and temporal plasticity. In this way, this research activates the concept of locality, as proposed by Arjun Appadurai. That is, the notion of locality is contemplated as a structure of feelings, created and reproduced by a group, in order to guarantee a space where it can live, produce and reproduce itself in an environment of moral security. From the mobilization of nostalgia, through its musicking, it is possible to formulate the hypothesis that Vaporwave creates a locality of its own, made and reproduced by the natives of this specific group. The concept of musicking encompasses greater possibilities of analysis and understanding in the field of ethnomusicology, considering the performance as only one of a myriad of these forms. From Small, one can think about the musical discussion, the download and trade of songs or the mere listening as forms of music.A number of Vaporwave remixes are now verifiable across various social networks, linking them to political themes, cartoons, or literally anything. More importantly, there is the appropriation by right-wing and far-right associates of users, which converge Vaporwave sound and aesthetics with images of leaders or symbols of such ideology, such as Margaret Thatcher, Jair Bolsonaro or Donald Trump. The objective of this research, therefore, is to analyze and seek to understand how the nostalgic locality operates, and in what way it is / can be activated by discourses of the most diverse types.

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