Flowing Traffic Lines At Midnight
The description for the original (now defunct) vaporwave subreddit gives a more astute and poetic introduction to the genre than I could come up with myself. Proclaiming vaporwave as “music optimized for abandoned malls,” the subreddit goes on to espouse the following:
“Global capitalism is nearly there. At the end of the world there will only be liquid advertisement and gaseous desire. Sublimated from our bodies, our untethered senses will endlessly ride escalators through pristine artificial environments, more and less than human, drugged-up and drugged down, catalyzed, consuming and consumed by a relentlessly rich economy of sensory information, valued by the pixel. The Virtual Plaza welcomes you, and you will welcome it too.”
Characterized by the chopped up, amalgamated sounds of jazz, video game soundtracks, anime dialogue, and other virtual news clippings of the past, vaporwave is a subgenre of electronic music born of the modern cyber age and bearing its distinct, paradoxical quality of nostalgic futurism. Vaporwave listens like a strange scrapbook about the Internet, created by those who dwell within it and dream beyond it. Linearity is subverted, relevance dismissed. The experience we all share of existing at the threshold of a constant barrage of digital, visual, auditory, and sensory information is mirrored in the sonic landscape of vaporwave.
But while “Traffic Lines Flowing At Midnight” is billed as a vaporwave playlist, it could be more accurately described as a playlist that gathers numerous genres (including vaporwave, synthwave, synthpop, and house, among others), bringing them into one coherent space. Moving effortlessly from driving synthwave tracks like Kavinsky’s “ProtoVision” to down-tempo darkwave like Jakuzi’s “Ne Teselli Ne Avuntu,” this playlist listens like a literal dream, weaving between the lines of consciousness and subconsciousness to form a hypnotic, two-hour sonic experience.
Most of the tracks on this list fall pretty cleanly in the synthwave genre, including tracks like “Trash Pandas” by Judge Bitch and “Wild Ones” by FM-84 and Ollie Wride (two of my favorites on the list). The playlist even features numerous tracks from electronic music pioneers who far predate the advent of vaporwave, such as David Grellier (College) and Michael Glover (Miami Nights 1984). Miami Nights 1984 is one of the biggest names in the genre, having been instrumental in the creation of the outrun genre before it later became known as synthwave. Glover’s track “New Tomorrow” will make you feel like the undisputed master of your own reality. Every traffic light will turn green upon your arrival. Every conversation you have will play out flawlessly. Your crush will text you to confess their feelings, and your anxiety and depression will simultaneously disappear as you skip through the neon-colored terrain of your revitalized life (if only for the seven-and-a-half-minute duration of the song).
The true vaporwave hitters on this playlist include Gloomcvlt, Vektroid, and 회사AUTO (the latter two both hailing from my home state of Washington). You’ll also find a track by the well-known vaporwave band Luxury Elite, who embodies the throwback aesthetic of the genre perfectly. Their album cover for World Class is designed to look like a flattened-out cassette tape insert despite having been released in 2015. The band did, in fact, release a limited run of 200 copies of their album on cassette, which sold out fast to their retro-thirsty fans.
The finer points of what distinguishes vaporwave from synthwave don’t feel very important as you listen to “Traffic Lines” because of how well each song flows into the next. But to slake all possible curiosity, vaporwave tends to have a somewhat mellower and more experimental feel, while synthwave is more driving and energetic. Vaporwave is the soundtrack that plays while you’re wandering from one place to the next, drifting from consciousness into sleep, while synthwave is what you want blasting when you’re battling the final boss and you’re almost out of HP.
“Traffic Lines Flowing At Midnight” is one playlist that I will definitely be saving. The title says it all: this is exactly what you want flowing through your speakers on a late-night drive, keeping you energized as you barrel into the pseudo-apocalyptic future. Without a doubt, this playlist from Flowium is a beacon for the strangest of times.