Agony and Irony: The Puzzle of Floral Shoppe

  • 5 Comments


Sipping from the poisoned chalice of Vaporwave's best-known album

Floral Shoppe has always been a catch-22 for Vaporwave. The album that defined the aesthetic of Vaporwave more than any other, is also the genre’s biggest joke. So successful was Macintosh Plus in arresting the style’s look and sound that Shoppe's form constricts and inspires in equal measure. As a consequence of this, it can be surprisingly difficult to voice sincere approval or interest in the album, without being met by a sea of raised eyebrows. Yes, of course the album is important, we think. But it just seems so gauche, so embarrassing, to bring up in public. Vaporwave polite society has moved on.

It’s a sad fate for an album which has earned its place in the Vaporwave hall of fame several times over. Arguably the album which brought more new converts to the style than any other. Eccojams may have written the blueprint, Birth of a New Day might have perfected it, but Floral Shoppe codified it. It took its forbear’s sketches and painted pictures. Gave rough ideas form and substance. Turning the genre's grimy early stylings into something fun, that could be shared, spread, and memed.

Even this positive description highlights why the album is so controversial. It took the genre away from the purists and into the hands of the general public. And what the public chose to do with it wasn’t always artistic. It was rarely even tasteful. The expertly warped リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー became the genre’s iconic song, and a punchline for the supposedly vapid, ironic limits of Vaporwave. Its Helios statue, pastel pink colour and New York Skyline have been warped and morphed a thousand times over. DogeSeinfeldMC Ride, even your own face. From playful homage to brutal parody, nothing was, and is, off limits.  

In the midst of this chaos, the mixed feelings many hardcore Vaporwave fans have for the album can be, understandable. While this plethora of jokes may amuse, it’s unclear what exactly is being constructed from them. Other than the internet’s love of culture jamming for jamming’s sake. Memes are supposed to be absurd, and the more irreverent or abstract the combination, the better.

To be fair, it might be possible to construct a very turgid thesis about how “Vaporwave never really existed and so people just throwing whatever together using its style is actually what the genre is supposed to be about.” But it just seems like people playing with, and re-purposing recognisable, exploitable images. Regardless of their context or origins. It could just as easily be a Kanye West or a Swans album being used. Whatever gets a laugh. Yet regardless of intent, the damage is still being done; and still eating away at the image of the genre. As someone who actively resents the “Vaporwave was always ironic, it doesn't mean anything” shibboleth. I can understand the appeal of wanting to jettison the album that contributed most to that canard.

Yet I also don’t buy that a fanbase can ruin a work of art. That the quality of an album is somehow tied to the savviness of its fans. Or that, if an album is used in a naff way, we should put it back on the shelf - embarrassed that we ever took it out. If we waft away the heat and smoke surrounding it, Floral Shoppe is still an expertly produced, high-quality album. The artistic vision Vektroid displays on it are jaw-dropping. Managing to create something totemic, and justifying all of the hype. Has the ubiquity of Floral Shoppe’s pretenders restricted what Vaporwave could be? Maybe. Did it demarcate the genre’s limits too early? Perhaps. Yet without the album, and without Vaporwave’s boom in popularity from it, the very institutions the genre now boasts would be lacking.

From the subreddits and YouTubes to the record labels and album clubs. The genre needs passionate people. It needs punters to fund record pressings, live shows, beer and t-shirts. All of which usually sell to the most niche, committed elements of the scene. For sure, most meme-spammers are unlikely to part with their dollars in this way. But of the millions of people, Floral Shoppe has touched - maybe 0.05% will. Maybe they’ll dive deep into Bandcamp, maybe they’ll pick up FL Studio. And that’s a lot more people than the genre could hook in through being a shifty, slightly miserable, nerd fad. Even if it's awkward, even if it's a contradiction. Floral Shoppe did right by us.

But I want to explore this issue deeper. So I’m turning this over to you.

What do you think of Floral Shoppe’s legacy? Are you a sceptic of the work? Has its time come and gone? Was it always overrated to begin with? Or is it an unfairly maligned masterpiece - a victim of its own zeitgeist? Start a conversation and let me know.

 

Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory. 

Illustration by VHS MIDNIGHT STYLE.

Tagged with: Far Side Virtual

Older Post Newer Post

5 Comments

  • I like your analysis and largely agree with it. I do think dividing the Floral Shoppe “fans” in two camps is an oversimplification. Not all memes are for just the lolz, not all tributes are sincere. There is a lot of room for ambiguity and layers of meaning in vaporwave, more than in any other artform as far as I know. Despite adoring this album, I personally wouldn’t be able to put my own remix of リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー in either the “meme” or “tribute” category: https://eis-t.bandcamp.com/track/04-y0ur-m0ve-eurogressive-94-mix
    Another aspect that is left out in your assessment is the debacle/scam of the vinyl print. I think that this negatively (and needlessly) affects the image of the album and the more commercial side of Vaporwave until this day.
    To chime in on the “vaporwave is dead” mantra in relation to floral shoppe: I always interpret the phrase as “vaporwave has no future”. Everything in vaporwave is a re-iteration of a lived or imagined past, even the futures in vaporwave are retro-futurist. there is no future in vaporwave in the contemporary sense. There is only a “stolen future”. In this context the vaporwave functions as a memorial service for the VAPORWAVE we’ve never got to hear, as history abruptly took a sideturn and left us in today’s non-place.
    Let me try another metaphor: Game Of Thrones is dead. We fondly remember the older seasons and are appalled by the shitshow it turned out to be in the later seasons (esp. this one). the soul of it is no longer there, despite everyone giving their best efforts. Vaporwave in this context would be fans re-creating segments and storylines from the show from back when it made sense and telling new stories, alternate histories, of Westeros to better suit what they think Game Of Thrones is about.
    Vaporwave in a sense is revisionist history: Corp’s News at 11 is an “as if” scenario pretending that aformentioned sideturn didn’t take place.
    To bring my point home: Vaporwave is death is not (necessarily) a condemnation of the genre or its community. It is a way of expressing grief for a future that we can never go back to. Vaporwave sorta died in childbirth. All we can do as a community is keep its memory alive and try to imagine as vividly as we can what a wonderful life it could have had. I believe the vaporwave scene is doing that better today than ever before.

    Eis-T on
  • Vaporwave isn’t dead. Vaporwave has only gotten bigger and we should be happy about that. Without Floral Shoppe, I would have never discovered this wonderful community.

    Cameron on
  • Derek Power’s comment is spot on.

    The proclamation ‘Vaporwave is dead’ is a blind eye to the fact that the scene, still small, attracts and inspires new listeners and creators every day. It’s an inclusive experience, encouraging musicians to try their hand at it, and grow. As a reference point, Floral Shoppe plays a principal role in all of this.

    Ironically, those that have enjoyed the greatest success from Vaporwave are also loudest about its demise. Perhaps this is because they’ve ‘outgrown’ the constrictions of the sound, which is kind of ironic as the point of creativity is growth. Why disparage a sound and a scene which are the roots of your own success? Why burn the bridge after you’ve crossed it? Strange.

    Anyway, it’s too late in the game to refer to Floral Shoppe as anything other than iconic. It captured a sound and image which continues to inspire artists to keep it old school or take it in new directions. As for what you decide, Floral Shoppe doesn’t care: the future is empty.

    Marcel Chenier on
  • I stumbled across vapor 2 weeks ago as I was searching for lo fi chill hop on vinyl. I’ve Never heard of it before, had no opinions, biases, influences, or anything to sway me to like it one way or another. Floral shoppe was literally the first album I listened to. I enjoyed it a lot, I thought it sounded really awesome. After listening to the album I then researched vapor wave. I then realized the way people describe this music is just a huge echo chamber with words like haunting, consumerism, post internet. Like seriously wtf is everyone talking about.

    Eddie on
  • I’ll start this conversation =]

    When thinking about Floral Shoppe, I cannot help but think of Brian Eno’s famous observation about The Velvet Underground and Nico: only so many people bought it on first issue but they all started bands. By extension, it reminds me of The Sex Pistols’s Never Mind the Bollocks and Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express where it really provide the catalyst upon which a whole scene can be realised.

    Floral Shoppe is no different here. In fact, as well as in hindsight, I notice each time how it really did provide the seeds for the entirety of the scene. The first side is your “eccojams” but you also get hints of what would become future funk and some of the other “poppier” styles of vapour. But in the second side is where you have hints of that hypnagogic ambient and the more “atmospheric” side of vapour. It did come to pass. And yet it still feels like more possibilities could be unearthed. Vaporwave is far from dead ;) =].

    Derek Power // 「キラヨシ」 on

Leave a comment