If you are a person who spends any significant amount of time on the internet, you should know that at this point, you don't find memes—they find you. There’s something ingrained in the menagerie of algorithms that just plops random crap (bad and good) in your feeds at all hours, only to be replaced by new stuff the following week.
In the mass graveyard of memes, the micro-genre of music known as vaporwave was all but assigned its own headstone. It revolved around seapunk Tumblr aesthetics, ‘90s pop-culture nostalgia, and chopped and screwed elevator muzak, and it started around 2010 with James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual. Entries from the vaporwave canon, like Vektroid’s Floral Shoppe, continue to rank among the best-selling experimental albums on Bandcamp. Vaporwave’s critical height came in 2012, when writer Adam Harper painted the genre as the height of anti-capitalist gestures in music, a new “punk” so to speak. Since then, entire academic books have been dedicated to picking apart the nuances of vaporwave.
Like punk on a hyper-micro level, the question of whether vaporwave is dead seems to loom around the musicians most associated with the genre. Folks like James Ferraro, Skylar Spence (fka SAINT PEPSI), Vektroid, and Blank Banshee have, for the most part, moved on to other things. Some became entrenched with new trends like health goth (Vektroid), moved towards more mainstream pop sounds (Spence), or just grew weirder (James Ferraro). Which is why the recent emergence of a new sub-genre of vaporwave called Simpsonwave is all the more curious. Memes can have second winds, just look at Crying Jordan. But why vaporwave? You can thank a bored teenager for that one.
So what exactly is Simpsonwave? Basically, Simpsonwave constitutes a genre of YouTube videos that collage classic "Simpsons” moments with vaporwave tracks. The clips from “The Simpsons” are often heavily edited, given a codeine purple filter, a static-y VHS feel, and generally arranged with psychedelia in mind. Overlaid on these clips are the classic vaporwave sounds of John Carpenter synths, cheesy muzak saxophones, and skittering drum machines, making the otherwise strange edits feel complete. The mashup of the both is startlingly relaxing. Those early seasons of “The Simpsons” are reeking with ‘90s nostalgia and flashes of surrealism, while vaporwave accesses something deeper in that energy, tapping into a sort of dreamy ennui.
People started to take notice of Simpsonwave around April, when the YouTuber FrankJavCee posted a video titled “HOW TO ＳＩＭＰＳＯＮＷＡＶＥ.” In four minutes, he traces the roots of Simpsonwave and demonstrates, satirically, how to create such a video. At the end of May, the YouTube channel This Exists posted a video called “Is Simpsonwave A Joke,” a deep dive into whether the growing number of videos was some long-running ironic joke or earnest art-making. At the beginning of this month, Rough Trade declared via Twitter, “In case you needed a weird new music subgenre, I present to you Simpsonwave.” Afterwards, coverage of the subgenre spread quickly, leading The Verge to dub the nascent subgenre the “chill summer soundtrack you didn't know you needed”... meaning, what exactly? Vaporwave is back, but only when there are stray clips of Mr. Burns scattered throughout?
If there is a ur-moment for Simpsonwave, it comes from a very short Vine from the user Spicster, where a clip from the episode “Bart on the Road” (season 7, episode 20) is set to the tune of “Resonance” by the artist HOME. The vine has been looped more than 22 million times. While Spicster might have birthed the origin moment, the internet denizen who gave the genre its name—and became the most visible Simpsonwave artist working right now—is a 19-year-old physics student from Nottingham, England, named Lucien Hughes. Back in February, he started compiling what could be called, as absurd as this may sound, the most seminal Simpsonwave YouTube playlist in existence. Since then, there has been a rash of videos following suit. Who knows how long it’ll last, but for now, we caught up with Hughes to figure out why, exactly, Simpsonwave is a thing.
Pitchfork: How did you even start making these videos in the first place?
Lucien Hughes: I actually got into make these Simpsons-based videos when I was off university sick a few months ago. I was wasting a lot of time on the internet whilst recuperating, mostly on the Simpsons Shitposting Facebook group. It’s basically a meme-oriented group with a lot of in-jokes and mediocre content. I’m an admin there and we try to keep the humor relatively abstract and obscure rather than needlessly edgy, 4chan-style shitposting. I saw some similar videos and decided to go at it myself with my rudimentary knowledge of Adobe Premiere and After Effects. It started as a joke but as the videos started to gain traction on Facebook, I ended up putting more time into them. As far as I’m aware the first video in the vein was Spicster’s vine. It really struck a chord with me. A guy who goes by the name of midge on YouTube was the first person to start cutting up clips.
Can you tell more more about your relationship with vaporwave, and your relationship with “The Simpsons”?
A good friend of mine who I share a lot of my taste in music with first introduced me to vaporwave last summer. I was actually really late to the scene. I think this is probably why I’m not as quick to consider it a “dead” genre, which is the opinion of a lot of people who were listening to it five to six years ago. Vaporwave and its associated sub-genres go hand-in-hand with “The Simpsons” because of the combined hit of nostalgia. “The Simpsons” is pretty unique in that it's something that almost everyone born between the late ’80s and early ’00s grew up watching. Vaporwave is very much about creating an atmosphere of nostalgia, so I feel “The Simpsons” just perfectly fits the whole aesthetic.
Do you remember the first vaporwave song you listened to, or the first episode of “The Simpsons” you watched?
First vaporwave song I ever heard was rather predictably “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” by MACINTOSH PLUS. The view count on that video [8.5 million] is a testament to the impact it's had. Couldn't possibly tell you the first episode of “The Simpsons” I watched, though; grew up watching it on BBC2.
What’re your favorite vaporwave songs, and your favorite “Simpsons” episodes?
BLANK BANSHEE’s “Teen Pregnancy,” HOME’s “Decay,” Vektroid’s “Calm.” Ramona Xavier [aka Vektroid] is queen of the genre. Favorite “Simpsons” episodes: “22 Short Films About Springfield” (season 7, episode 21), “Last Exit to Springfield” (season 4, episode 17), “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” (season 10, episode 32), and “Bart vs. Australia” (season 6, episode 16). It’s hard to choose, all the classics sort of blur into one in my mind. I rarely watch the show these days. I honestly haven’t watched any of the last 5+ seasons. Any clips I have seen have just completely turned me off. Although I have used some reasonably recent clips from the mid ‘00s, they’re not really compatible because of the newer animation style and lack of nostalgia factor.
Are you working with producers to make original songs for videos in the future?
I am, actually. I’m currently working on a video with FrankJavCee for a really sweet original song by the one and only Vektroid. I also worked with King Coffee for my video “ＣＯＯＬ ＫＩＤＳ １９９６.” And I've played a couple of instruments on and off for years, but I’ve only recently started dabbling in production. A good friend of mine is an excellent composer so I’d like to think that some of his talent will rub off on me. I might release some tracks on SoundCloud at some point in the future if I'm happy with them. I occasionally post small projects to Glitch Artists Collective and N e w A e ѕ т н e т ι c on Facebook, as well as my Instagram.
Do you think there’s a lifespan to Simpsonwave?
I’m surprised by how long Simpsonwave has lasted already. I think it’s mostly down to a lot of talented people doing their own thing with it, Frank[JavCee] brought a lot of attention to the concept. I get a lot of requests to make videos for people, but I think for now I will finish my current project and just see where it takes me. I’d like to work on something in a similar vein, but maybe produce some of my own music and get more creative with the visuals. I feel like the whole vaporwave movement is definitely starting to make some sort of waves in the mainstream—Yung Lean has a big part in that. A$AP Mob’s recent video has a very vapor-ish new aesthetic.