Exploring Vaporwave radio's best kept secret.
I’ve never actually listened to the radio much. Sometimes I almost regret it. Here in the UK the most influential radio station for music is BBC Radio 1, and I have tried it occasionally. Part of my irregular attempts to plug myself more into the musical mainstream. But I’m too much a product of my environment. I don’t want to hear hosts babbling away between songs, making endless jokes and occasionally stopping the music altogether to run competitions or news segments. After 15+ years of unlimited internet streaming, with everything available at my fingertips all the time, it’s hard to break the habit. And that’s not even counting the equal number of years where I’ve had an iPod, Android or Walkman at my fingertips. I’ve never been without music, and that music has always been mine to dictate.
However, I can appreciate that this level of control over the sounds I want to listen to isn’t necessarily a positive trait: and there’s a little Vaporwave gem that makes me reflect on that. CiTR- Nightdrive95 is a discovery I made some years ago while searching for Vaporwave podcasts. There’s not too many of them, and especially back in 2016 there wasn’t. So Nightdrive95 popped up pretty quickly during my search. Despite that rather clunky name I decided to give it a go. (One of the other podcasts I found was the 3D Cast- which probably needs no introduction.)
Despite coming in podcast format Nightdrive95 is actually a college radio program, hosted by John Connell out of the University of British Columbia. Hence the CiTR preface. The show bills itself as playing “Vaporwave, Future Funk, Synthwave and Indie Pop: Music from the Future”.
Ideal music for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in your Geo Tracker, sipping a Crystal Pepsi by the pool, or shopping for bootleg Sega Saturn games at a Hong Kong night market. Experience yesterday’s tomorrow, today!
And yes, before you say it, you’re right- there’s actually lots of supposed Vaporwave ‘radio’ options out there. Many of them are very good. But they function more like a shuffle service, a way to randomly discover new music. Less like the throwback drive time program offered by CiTR, replete with a DJ, segments, competitions and viewer mail. In fact, given how influential college radio has historically been in North America, it’s rad to have a Vaporwave themed broadcast.
Nightdrive95 is above all a relaxing show, John Connell’s demeanour is pleasant and his voice warm. He shows a depth and respect for the genres he covers- especially genres which are so often mocked and maligned. But despite the diversity of music covered by Nightdrive, John still manages to choose tracks that feels cohesive within each show.
I’d recommend checking out the Nightdrive95 website, as John lists the playlist of each episode in impressive detail. A large part of this success is John’s bias towards choosing tracks for their vibe and feel, rather than respecting established genre strictures. Shifting from Allie X, to Saint Pepsi by way of fluence. Nightdrive95 blends the dilettante of the internet age, with a solid, almost traditional, Boomer format. Nightdrive’s website openly states that the show plays tunes “fresh from the web”. And this attention to detail really hammers home Nightdrive as an enthusiast operation. But its frequent deep cuts might even be a good way for curious listeners to learn more about the array of genres on offer.
Just on a personal vignette, I remember listening to CiTR while taking a flight from Tokyo to Osaka. One of the ironies of Japan is that despite having a gold-plated train system, those trains- especially the prized Shinkansen, are pretty expensive. If you’re a tourist you can get a JR Pass and make a saving, but since I was living in the country at the time, I had to pay full price. So I ended up on a cheap internal flight. While I was on the plane, just before take off, I loaded up a CiTR episode I’d been saving called Enjoy Your Flight. I spent the short 1-hour journey listening to the episode. Floating through the sky with no Wi-Fi, no distractions, just a pleasant Vaporwave mix. Good memory.
One of the ideas that occurred to me while writing this column is that if you have trouble sleeping, or find it hard to switch off, Nightdrive95 might help. It's a nice way to clam down from a tough day. One of the problems a lot of modern music fans have is that the internet is an active medium. It demands attention, clicks, and movement from the browser. It rewards you for engaging with it, and the quicker the better. Television has long been derided for its ability to make viewers ‘veg out’. Switching their brains off and just slumping on the sofa, being fed amusements. But honestly, in 2019 I feel we’ve gone too far the other way, and the constant checking, scrolling, liking and faving of content has left us with shattered attention spans. Maybe Nightdrive could be a good remedy.
You might notice that Nightdrive95's uploads have been inactive since November of last year. Which would have been a deflating note to end on. But there’s good news. I reached out to CiTR about the fate of the show, and they confirmed that John is, “just on a hiatus right now.” Hopefully we can look forward to more releases in the future.
So if you find yourself pointlessly scrolling SoundCloud, Bandcamp or YouTube this evening, looking for that next dopamine hit. Try downloading an episode of Nightdrive95. Switch your phone to flight mode, and give the program, just the program, your full attention. Let John’s voice glimmer you, let the beats of skeleton or Eco Virtual massage you. I think you’ll find it calming.
Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory.
Illustration by Δελφοί -黄金世界