The Politics of Nostalgia
I’ve written previously about the phenomenon of music made to sound like it’s playing in a mall and the evocation of fake nostalgia. A recent piece in MEL Magazine examines this oddball subgenre and attempts to make sense of it all:
… Tills’ life at the mall is imaginary. He’s nostalgic for the 1990s, which he thinks was a better time to live. At the core of this mental construction is “mallwave,” a lo-fi subgenre of vaporwave that listeners refer to as “music optimized for abandoned malls.” Like Vaporwave creators, Mallwave musicians use soft drum tracks, ambient sounds and low-quality synthesizers to create soft, calming electronic music. But they also mix in pop music associated with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with the purpose of creating a holistic “nostalgic” experience, one that recreates the experience you would have had when visiting the mall. Or, in Tills’ case, what that experience might have been like, for people who lived it. […]
To Grafton Tanner, author of Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts, the turn to nostalgia in vaporwave is all about this reflection of contemporary societal trends — whether it’s grappling with late capitalism or dreaming of an allegedly sunnier bygone era. Speaking over Skype, he tells me, “Nostalgia is a popular tool in marketing, and it’s probably the most defining cultural product of our time. You see it in movies and TV with reboot trends, and of course, apps like Spotify use algorithms that recommend music that you’ve probably listened to in the past.”
Simon Chandler, writing for Bandcamp Daily, dares to dig even deeper:
… society for decades has been pursuing consumerism and neoliberal capitalism when it’s often accepted that neither
areperfect, and the way some of us have coped with this is through adopting a position or attitude of irony (cf. David Foster Wallace). We’ve mocked politicians on both sides while continuing to elect them and we’ve ridiculed McDonald’s while continuing to buy Big Macs, and vaporwave has masterfully symbolized this social phenomenaby subverting clichéd samples while relying on them to a massive extent. […]
Nonetheless, it can be argued in vaporwave’s defense that, like much uncompromising music and art, the genre’s ‘mission’ appears to be focused more on mirroring our imperfect world than on reforming it. It may not offer any solutions, but it almost perfectly depicts a political domain in which media-generated images have alienated us from reality, and in which a minority of us have drifted into self-conscious irony as a way of coping with an imperfect environment (we think) we can’t change.
There’s an interview with Brian Eno (that I can’t find) where he says that he often makes music as a soundtrack to his hopes for a better world. This is like the opposite of that.