Ramona Andra Xavier / Vaporwave

For the next edition of Graphic Design: A New History, I propose that an area of graphic design be dedicated to the subculture music genre Vaporwave and also highlighting an artist named Ramona Andra Xavier who contributed to creating and popularizing the music and visual trend. The Oregon graphic artist and producer’s first album was called, “Floral Shoppe” (2011) and it heavily sampled on elevator muzak and smooth jazz reminiscent of music that would be heard in old shopping malls.

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Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus, 2011 (one of Ramona Andra Xavier’s many aliases)

Much of the music genre and its producers continued to follow up from the previous genre of “chillwave”, using trance-like synth-based elevator music that was usually never taking itself too seriously. The graphics that would display this genre were nothing short of a parody of 80s pop music, often referred to as meme music. (Mikhaylova) Also often distributed on free websites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp as its intention was for easy listening background music. The music and appeal were in the subculture were also in the attention to detail in the graphic art for album covers. Usually using 80s and 90s technology, glitch art and Japanese aesthetic for nostalgic appeal. The art heavily used renaissance-era statues and cyberpunk imagery, and the Japanese language as an appropriative aesthetic choice. To have statuesque figures next to computer graphics challenges the viewer to think: what is art? In this context but sets the tone of the genre as a whole. 

Xavier and anonymous vaporwave contributors present these visual parodies of what they believe blissful nostalgia looked like within the early 2010s, using visual references that would become key signifiers of the genre such as Arizona ice tea, palm trees, old VHS tapes and fuji bottled water became a humourous staple of the genres playing on the aesthetic of consumerist culture. (esquire) 

 

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Later on, MTV would adopt the years old visual trend to look refreshing and new. Claiming its self-awareness to the generation’s movement toward self-examination, identity politics and apparent narcissism. (Nguyen) Perhaps many saw this as the death to vaporwave during 2013 as the visuals began to echo in Drake’s video “Hotline Bling” and other musically popular ventures, it began to become mainstream.

Ultimately, its purpose of engaging with listeners is to enjoy the music and art as a reaction against the irony and nihilism of postmodernism. (Jurgens) Vaporwave is innovative and unique as a subculture of trying to create sincere and joyful renditions of forgotten corporate videos and advertisements into soulful manipulations. This genre becomes relevant for a “failed consumer paradise” where we will often see economic and cultural decline cycle once again. (esquire)

Music critic Adam Harper described vaporwave artists’ work as a reaction to late capitalism thusly: “These musicians can be read as sarcastic anti-capitalists revealing the lies and slippages of modern techno-culture and its representations, or as its willing facilitators, shivering with delight upon each new wave of delicious sound.” (Pearson)

 

Bibliography:

“How Vaporwave Was Created Then Destroyed by the Internet.” Esquire, 11 Oct. 2017, www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/a47793/what-happened-to-vaporwave/.

Evans, Sidney, et al. “I Am My MTV: MTV Gets Personal With The Viewer In Its Rebrand.” Brandingmag, Brandingmag | Narrating the Discussion, 8 May 2019, www.brandingmag.com/2015/06/26/i-am-my-mtv-mtv-gets-personal-with-the-viewer-in-its-rebrand/.

Jurgens, Genista. “Why Won’t Vaporwave Die?” Format, www.format.com/magazine/features/art/vaporwave.

Lyons, Patrick. “Vaporwave Pioneer Vektroid Can Do So Much More Than Music.” Willamette Week, www.wweek.com/music/2018/10/18/vaporwave-pioneer-vektroid-can-do-so-much-more-than-music/.

Pearson, Jordan. “How Tumblr and MTV Killed the Neon Anti-Corporate Aesthetic of Vaporwave.” Vice, 26 June 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/539v9a/tumblr-and-mtv-killed-vaporwave.

Scaruffi, Piero. A History of Chillwave and Vaporwave, www.scaruffi.com/history/vaporwav.html.

 

 

Eizin Suzuki’s “For You”

 

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Figure 1. “For You” Tatsuro Yamashita’s album, Air Records, 1982.

The following album art was created by graphic designer and art director, Eizin Suzuki. He was born in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture in 1948 and moved to a seaside city south of Tokyo when he was ten. Although he did not enjoy drawing as a child, he had an innate talent in drawing objects in great detail. Throughout his growth as an artist, he began cultivating a distinctive style that focused on the process of eliminating various details in work. For example, focusing on using simple linework and flat planes in his sceneries and vivid colours became a very recognizable theme for him as an artist. His work began as an illustrator during the 1980s when his illustrations of the seaside beaches, luxurious storefronts, and material goods were used to advertise for Japanese companies including Nikon, Suntory, Nissan, and Nippon Oil. (Arcand, para. 10)

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Figure 2. “TOPBOY SHAMPOO & SPRAY RINSE” lithograph by Eizin Suzuki, Lion Corporation, 1984

The flashy bold colours create a sense of glamour and appeal to the booming economy in Japan, depicting a sense of hope and celebration to the excess of wealth.  After World War II, Japan was entering a post-war economic growth through its technological innovations in automated vehicle manufacturing and consumer electronics. The excess of the 80s ultimately surfaced into music and design, allowing the public to lavishly enjoy themselves in the nightlife scene by partying in discotheques and buying luxury goods. Tatsuro Yamashita was one of the largest influencers of creating the genre ‘Citypop’, a genre that was heavily influenced by new wave and jazz fusion from American styles. (Arcand, para. 5) It was known within mainstream culture and the pop scene as “urban music made by the people in the cities.” (Ryotaro, para. 10) It carried a distinctive sound of living carefree or having fun especially based on the artwork on the album covers. The bright colour aesthetic also reminds me of American pop-art from the 1950s that also would depict consumerism and material goods within the work. 

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Figure 3. 60 OCEAN DRIVE, lithographic, 1988

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Figure 4.  FORD,  lithographic, 1985

There are signs that seem to be dragging a complex relationship that would seem to disappear in a single step if the corporate identity and the corporate image of the present age are unified. This Ford is one of them.” (translated from eizin.co.jp)

Suzuki would often visit sea-side areas in America like Miami Beach City in Florida to capture scenes that showcased a lavish lifestyle of the American dream. Capturing signs like “Ford” and “Chevrolet” because Suzuki believed they were the sign of a “free country”. (eizin.co.jp) There is an interesting correlation during the 1980s, seeing Japanese music being influenced by American music as seen from Tatsuro Yamashita who was greatly influenced by the American band The Beach Boys. (Arcand, para. 15) Since Citypop’s recent popularization in the Western market, these illustrations depict an effective sense of nostalgia for the viewer. Wishing to go back before the Japanese stock market economy crashed which ultimately buried city pop with it. Ultimately, the album work creates a personal identity the Japanese economic market depicted of what hope and celebration looked like in the future through music and illustration.

 

Work Cited:

Arcand, Rob and Goldner, Sam. “The Guide to Getting Into City Pop, Tokyo’s Lush 80s Nightlife Soundtrack.” Vice, 24 Jan. 2019, www.vice.com/en_ca/article/mbzabv/city-pop-guide-history-interview.

Aoki, Ryotaro. “City Pop Revival Is Literally a Trend in Name Only.” The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/07/05/music/city-pop-revival-literally-trend-name/#.XkWeLi0ZN-V.

“鈴木英人公式サイト.” EIZIN SUZUKI, eizin.co.jp/.

“Eizin Suzuki.” Artnet, www.artnet.com/artists/eizin-suzuki/.