Hello there friends. “Far Side Virtual” is a new column which will be running on the Æ² website each week. We hope to bring you some interesting observations from the world of vaporwave and beyond. So I hope you’ll look forward to it!
In this first column, I’ll start by explaining how I personally became involved with Æ², and then move on to a discussion with Juan, the project’s founder. We’ll discuss his goals for Æ² and the place he sees for it within the vaporwave community.
My introduction to Æ² was without me even realising it. Back in 2018 Æ² placed an advert within a magazine I write for named Private Suite (Issue 4 page 2). These cryptic ads featured a highly filtered image of a plane flying through the sky with the phrase “What is Æ²” hovering above it. I certainly noticed the ad, and the image of the plane tail stuck with me, it’s exactly the kind of abstract photograph I would take before jetting off on holiday. But I was none the wiser about what the logo meant.
So when Juan approached me, and it became apparent that it was he who was behind the mysterious commercial, it was a pleasant surprise. I definitely appreciate that level of predictive programming in a businessman.
Naturally, I wanted to learn more about Æ², and especially Juan’s reasons for founding it. Why start a vinyl club for vaporwave of all genres? It seems a fairly big undertaking, so what’s the motivation here?
“Why? Because I was fed up with refreshing my browser every two seconds as soon as something I wanted going up online for sale (laughs). Also part of the frustration was seeing flippers selling those same albums two days later for triple the price.”
“I thought, maybe a subscription service is the answer here, so you KNOW, that next month you don’t have to stress over the fact you’ll be too late/not fast enough refreshing.”
Juan tells me that current structures of vaporwave distribution just aren’t working, and he sees Æ² as a response and solution to them. It’s about creating a fairer platform for artists and fans to buy and sell records on.
“I’m not a fan of Bandcamp, it’s a slow website and they charge commission on the stuff you’re selling as an artist. So I decided alongside the vinyl club to have an online store where people can buy releases.
There’s a fun irony in vaporwave being an almost entirely online genre, built out of the ruins of the music industry, yet still being obsessed with scarcity. Popular releases, especially on physical mediums like vinyl, are notorious for selling out hot and quick. But Juan has ambitions to soothe this, by releasing rare and famous albums on vinyl, exclusively through Æ².
“Most of the titles I’m working on releasing have never been on vinyl before. So this is a really great opportunity for both us and the artists involved.”
Juan reels off a list of top-secret releases he has in the works, some surprising, all influential. But despite all these impressive names floating around surely Æ² is going to want to cultivate the next generation of vaporwave artists? Not just prop-up the greats.
“Yes, I don’t want to get stuck in the past all the time. I think a healthy dose of classics and new releases, reflecting how the scene is at this moment, would be necessary to stay relevant.”
The goal here is a blend, giving artists a path to reaching a new audience while curating a library of classic albums.
Actually, that word curation is part of my next question to Juan - how are all these releases decided?
“I work with a number of curators advising on what’s happening. They have helped me a lot in deciding which way to go and what should be the next release.”
We concluded the conversation by agreeing that curation seems to be something a lot of music fans are craving these days. In a sea of algorithms and ‘suggestions’ another human-being putting a record into your hand and saying “hey you’ll dig this” is a big deal.
This is a debate which has been taking place on music forums for years, edging into over a decade. How do you keep the organic culture of music discovery alive in an era where machines are constantly trying to shunt songs in your face? Dryly calculating your % chance to ‘favourite’ or ‘like’ a track based on the songs that you already like and the melodies you’ve listened to a thousand times before. Sure, music is more accessible than ever, and we’ve all discovered great artists through a YouTube recommendation, but is there a place for both? Most definitely. And does that human connection deserve a concerted effort to keep it alive? Absolutely.
That’s why Æ² is ultimately an exciting idea, and why I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey goes with you all.
Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory.
On the left: sketches from graphic designer Ricardo Leite made during the development of the Æ² logo