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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: Krewe of Vaporwave's virtual Mardi Gras parade

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 1:47 PM

click to enlarge A snapshot of "A Tribute to War Not Being the Answer," one of the vkv floats.
  • A snapshot of "A Tribute to War Not Being the Answer," one of the vkv floats.
Last night the first annual Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave rolled. Theirs was a virtual parade, viewed via popular streaming service Twitch. To be clear, the parade, a series of video/music collaborations by pseudonymous artists, was entirely online.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a symptom of alienation, but watching it was the opposite of alienating. So many of us do already consume so much of life through screens, whether we're streaming ParadeCam, a small bright rectangle of noise and spectacle in the corner of our workstation at some geographically remote office, or scrolling numbly through Carnival-soaked social media, the documentation of other people's good times. The Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave positioned itself as a joke about this tendency — “This is something to be experienced alone on your computer in the dark,” the Krewe's founder, Merely Synecdoche, told Michael Patrick Welch — but functioned as both a critical commentary on it and, by bringing viewers together at a set time to watch it, even a partial remedy.

Whereas some react to the malign influences of digital technology on our daily lives by mindlessly celebrating technology, fetishizing it, or hailing it as a magical force that can rescue us from our problems, Synecdoche says Vaporwave is about "the loneliness and pointlessness of the Internet."

Vaporwave as a genre is internationally influenced, built of broken pieces of the past, born of a sense of loss, and according to Synecdoche, "on the Internet it’s already been declared dead many times over,” making it a good genre fit for 2016 New Orleans. This first year's theme was "Vaporwave is Dead: Long Live Vaporwave." So: elegiac, fatalistic and unshakably fixated on itself... any of these characteristics sound familiar?

Proving that even virtual parades can't escape the recent trend of route consolidation, the parade rolled along the standard Uptown route; its three online screenings were interspersed with grainy photos and maps of the locations it was passing.

At the risk of overburdening the metaphor, I do think it's appropriate to call the individual music and video collages that made up the parade "floats." They were float-y and ethereal. Images and sound floated through them. In this case, the floats were diverse enough in pace and approach to be interesting, but shared a sufficiently unified aesthetic to cohere as a parade. The throws were a highlight: links, posted in the mostly chill channel chatbox, to GIFs hosted at the enviable URL Tending towards the snarky or existential, the throws had on average a more local focus than did the videos.

click to enlarge A still from one of the animated GIF "throws."
  • A still from one of the animated GIF "throws."
The viewer count hovered in the low dozens, giving a feeling of cozy exclusivity.

The floats were a mix of pop culture, retro, regional and political. A tribute to Allen Toussaint was genuinely poignant, evoking for this viewer the distorting mists of time, the veils of second- and third-hand impression through which we must struggle to understand or connect with icons of the past. A syrup-slowed de-mix by Fairlight XV of the morbidly fascinating "Deal From Strength or Get Crushed" Donald Trump theme song at first seemed a clumsily obvious choice, but in practice worked superbly, providing a thought-provoking new avenue into a video I'd seen dozens of times in its native state. It felt like a brave attempt at digesting the conceptually indigestible — like watching maggots try and eat a TV set.

Much of the visual mildew affecting the overlaid videos simulated or suggested VHS and other older forms of media. Vaporware has a strong nostalgic current; its frequent recourse to snippets of harmlessly corny advertising from past decades seems as much a mourning of lost commercial innocence as commentary or deconstruction. Remember when ads weren't so insidious, embedded and meme-ishly ubiquitous? Vaporwave remembers.

If I had to pick a favorite float, it'd be "Guns Don't Kill Vaporwave, Vaporware kills Vaporwave," a video by Mercurious & Met Metonymy set to energetic hip-hop audio by Synedoche. The major strand of the visuals was video game footage from a First Person Shooter set in and around downtown Canal Street. While it's hard not to read this as a commentary on gun violence, there was something hauntingly vibe-y about the cumulative effect — the hyper-individualism of the FPS genre re-rendered as honest loneliness.

Late in that piece, we heard a sampled Ronald Reagan quote: "They've got a great sense of humor, but they've also got a pretty cynical attitude toward their system." Although Ronnie was speaking of Soviet citizens under state communism, this also nicely sums up the approach of the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave.

Altogether an excellent debut, in this reviewer's opinion.

If you want the supremely sad experience of watching footage of a past parade, you can inspect the 2016 Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave floats here.

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