2814 and the Transcendence of Capitalism

An article  by Maximus Meyer

I

In our consumer capitalist world, we are not only sold fashionable cars, electronic devices, name-brand clothing, junk food, and vacation packages; we are sold hope, dreams, illusions of independence, immortality, and a boundless, deathless utopia. We are not only sold things and objects; we are sold ideals and identities. We are told about a fantastic reality in which we are kings, lords, masters, models, celebrities; we are told about a reality in which we are free, powerful, loved, and adored. We are told about a reality in which we can be anything we want — and then it is sold to us. We are led into believing that we want something and then it is offered to us, unwitting that the price paid for it is a piece of our soul.

rsz_nyc-at-night-bus-tour-in-new-york-city-170665

In the real world, that is, not in the ‘reality’ shown to us on television and highway billboards, people are grubby, selfish, mean, and unhappy. This is first of all human nature, but more importantly it is human nature that has been persuaded to obey the basest parts of itself. This world represents the victory of utilitarianism, which supposes human ethics to be a matter of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, and of consumer capitalism, which makes a virtue of man’s selfishness and a vice of his selflessness. Everything is oriented around money, the emblem of materialism, which signifies both pleasure and the profit motive; it is ‘what makes the world go round.’

Capitalism [1] and communism share two fundamental facts: (1) they are both thoroughly materialistic in their conception of man, who no longer has a soul but only a body, and (2) they are both thoroughly utopian in their conception of society, which likewise no longer has a soul, but which also is no longer limited by natural law. These politico-economic systems are differentiated merely in the forms these two facts take in their respective worldviews. Communism wants to change the nature of man; he wants to create the ‘New Soviet Man’, the totally free ethical being who, liberated from his former social constraints by a more ‘humane’ economic order, has mastered the crimes and vices and attitudes of the former ‘bourgeois’ man; having fatally followed the to and fro of the historical dialectic, he is at last Adam redeemed.

Capitalism, on the other hand, exploits the nature of man to create the illusion of worldly paradise, feeding him the fruits of the earth and the Whig conception of history which teaches him that this progress is unending, and will lead more and more into civilization perfected; man just has to keep working and buying, spurred onwards by the carrot just beyond his reach. In telling man that his cares and woes can be salved by material means, it obliquely wishes to change human nature as well, effectively removing from him the imago Dei by pretending it does not exist. The themes of utopia, of wishing away the evils of this fallen world and inheriting heaven on earth by means of social progress, are never far away from the propaganda of either doctrine.

So it is with the ongoing globalization by capitalist elites. The dreams of unlimited modernity and a never-ending accumulation of wealth give rise to new dreams of happiness that lesser amounts never quite satisfied in the past; a smaller, more intimate global community coupled with the inexorable growth of technology and entertainment inspire an optimism that paradise really is imminent. As these new dreams crumble with economic recession, however, and as the startling realization that material success is a hollow one short-circuits one’s former way of thinking, an undercurrent forms in parallel to this which wonders whether all those dreams really were just dreams after all, that is, whether they were not real. Utopia is bursting, and reality is rushing in.

That original optimism corresponds to the boundless hopes of the ’90s, during which time that old spectre of the USSR was finally exorcised and large parts of humanity could again join the free world; the millennium was right around the corner, and everything pointed to the universal happiness that was promised for so long. The dashing of those hopes started with the Jihadi terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, which initiated a fresh chain of wars in the Muslim regions that has still not found its end. This attack signified more meaningfully the rise of a new cosmic enemy to the liberal world order in the shape of Islamic terrorism. Moreover, the buildings themselves symbolized the whole globalist endeavour by the internationalist nature of the World Trade Center’s tenants, not to mention its very name. The economic recession kick-started by the 2008 housing crisis was another massive contribution to this growing sense of unrest, to the feeling that there was trouble in paradise.

rsz_20-haunting-photos-from-the-september-11-attacks-that-americans-will-always-remember

II

It is at this point when the vaporwave story begins. It started, as you might expect, as a kind of joke on the internet, with the electronic artist Daniel Lopatin experimenting with pop songs from the last few decades, of which he dissected and cannibalized and ultimately made a record (Eccojams Vol. I). This was received much more favourably than he expected (especially since it was not meant to be taken seriously), and it led the way for arguably the principal founder of vaporwave, James Ferraro. His album Far Side Virtual not only initiated the vaporwave aesthetic, with its ‘themes of globalization and internet culture,’[2] but incorporated elements of these things into the music. With its sampling of ’90s pop songs and the use of friendly, relaxing tones, it has been called ‘corporate elevator music,’ which is supposed to manipulate the mind and feelings of office workers:

‘The typical vaporwave zip file (album, if you like) presents itself as a collection of inspiringly modern, motivational and mood-regulating settings – perfect for that infomercial, that menu screen, that in-flight safety video, that business park promotional video, that drinks reception in the lobby.’[3]

Other artists like Macintosh Plus and Internet Club built on this, expanding their vision to include the commercial anthems of the mall and the department store, incorporating sentiments of suburban America and internet imagery (particularly of Japanese cultural miscellany) into a wistful, dreamy, and altogether cheerful soundscape. The result is an eerie clash between nostalgia and thirsting for the future, between the calming tones of Sears and the facile happiness they hope to sell us. Ferraro said that, ‘Nostalgia to me is the wealth of an advanced civilization, a luxury. And in our 21st century world we find that we are over-abundantly rich with a collection of documentation of the preceding years, it seems very obvious to me that these things would be gathered as a kind of hyperreal material for artistic expression just like early humans gathered clay for their primitive creations.’ Vaporwave dives headlong into that nostalgia, harvesting its ‘hyperreal material’ for its artistic purposes, which are to broadcast the great wealth of our civilization and its history, but also its absurdities; the clash is therefore also between the dreams of social progress and the villains and victims it creates.

Much like the capitalist reality it wishes to reflect, early vaporwave music is full of light, promise, neon splendour; but it is ultimately hollow, its empty substance hidden beneath an interesting and catchy veneer. It is at the same time, however, reflective of that kind of post-2008 hangover when people started to wake up to the lie of materialism, that the satisfaction it claims to offer is undermined by the realization that our livelihoods are dependent merely on the abstractions of world finance, as well as by the growing existential consciousness that money cannot solve everything; there is this ‘dreamy’ quality in vaporwave because it is constantly reminding us of the intangible and transient nature of everything marketed to us, including the dream of salvation through success. Artist names such as Macintosh Plus, Saint Pepsi, Windows 98, and PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises signify this deeply ironical celebration of corporate and consumerist reality, insinuating a quiet, mocking attitude towards the society we have made for ourselves.

rsz_saint_pepsi

The name for the genre itself is also highly meaningful. First of all, ‘vaporwave’ is a play off of the term ‘vaporware,’ which is an insider reference to products that businesses advertise to the public but never actually release. It is merchandise that is sold purely as a lure, something that does not exist in reality. This connection, then, refers again to the capitalistic tendency to manipulate man, to sway his subconscious self towards a specific aim, which might be simply to sell something to him or, more nefariously, to twist his mentality towards accepting or rejecting something more general. This could be accepting a hitherto socially prohibited taboo (homosexuality, transgenderism, etc.) or rejecting a foreign power as invasive and dangerous to human rights (the continuing saga of the mainstream media witch hunt against Putin’s Russia). In any case, the liberal capitalist superstructure, including the media which serves it, is deeply invested in manipulating its subjects into believing what it wants them to believe, and it is this reference to ‘vaporware’ that shows how vaporwave is conscious of how this manipulation plays out in the commercial arena.

The name ‘vaporwave’ is meaningful also due to its connection with one of Karl Marx’s famous phrases, specifically his statement that, as the capitalist schema grows and develops, ‘all that is solid melts into air.’[4] Big business has known for centuries that novelty sells best; things that are old, tired, and familiar can never match the appeal of something brand new, fresh off the designer’s notebook, and in vogue with the currents of the day. This is especially true in a social matrix in which all ideological organs are directed towards cultivating a cult of progress, a utopian atmosphere in which the best and brightest are always at the head of the curve. Naturally everyone will want to prove that that’s exactly where they are – why else would we buy millions of new iPhones every year when we already have essentially the same device?

So vaporwave’s transfixion with things that are past, bizarre little gimmicks that embody perhaps a couple years of the cultural landscape and then are gone, is an example of its awareness of how the consumer capitalist plan devises an infinite number of novelties and distractions to keep the demand up[5]; or, a practise which is actually more prevalent, if some cultural phenomenon is not its own creation, it absorbs it into itself and profits anyway.[6] If all that is solid melts into air, what happens to things that are less than solid? Vaporwave’s long list of recollections of things from the ’70s, ’80s, and especially the ’90s shows just that, that they become merely fragments of a cultural history that has an identity for two or three years before an utterly new one is manufactured for it.[7]

This is not to say, however, that vaporwave is a ‘communist movement’ or what have you, nor that it is even comprehensively and explicitly anti-capitalistic.[8] There is in fact a lot of room in our genre hermeneutics for interpreting vaporwave’s nostalgia and memorializing of internet and TV artifacts as something very positive, as though its remembrance of a prior period brought to mind a certain fondness of the kind that is awakened when we might think of memories from our childhood – all the bad is wiped clean, and all that is left are the playful experiences and happy memories of loved ones doting on us. The ’90s represented a capitalistic triumph, after all, with the disintegration of the USSR and the United States finding itself being virtually the sole possessor of the ‘new world order.’ In this sense, the tropes of that era come to mind not as ironical polemics against the capitalist system, but as light-hearted icons of a time when there seemed to be less worry and the promise of a better future was still intact.

It is in this spirit that Hong Kong Express was born, whose debut Romantic Dream (transliterated from Chinese) was described by the artist himself as ‘a mysterious and romantic trip through the neon haze of a night in Hong Kong. A journey of subway carriages and fast cars, a love both lost and found, and a connection between souls.’ The emphasis is no longer nostalgic, but something beyond time; thematically it is no longer pop culture mixed with discrete satirical jabs at capitalism, but the revelling in a modern world with all its cosmopolitan idiosyncrasies and technological wonders. It is still dreamy, fantastical, airy music, but for different reasons, namely to present a form of ‘escapism,’ or more accurately a kind of ‘mythologizing’ of modernity, something which is profoundly paradoxical given the modern antithesis to any kind of enchantment. The artist himself says that, ‘the most important thing to aim for in vaporwave as a producer is to make something cinematic in effect. Make the listener feel inexplainable feelings which is helped by the surreality of the music.’ The mysteries of the music create new depths of meaning for the listener to decipher, which allow him vast imaginative freedom to picture his own present, to mythologize his world.

Hong Kong Express therefore offer the perfect transition into 2814, especially since the artist behind it is also half of 2814 (the other member being the artist behind t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者). Given vaporwave’s intellectual and musical traditions already outlined, 2814 emerge as a kind of new spirit, a fresh entity that, while sounding very different from previous vaporwave acts with its lack of sampling and more orthodox compositions, nevertheless needed them to exist. With capitalism already being sufficiently parodied and subjected to a monster of meta-critique by vaporwave artists that seemed to have an irredeemable love-hate relationship with it, the path was laid for music that made sense and that integrated more subtly with its conceptual and thematic meaning. No more hacked-up twenty-year-old pop songs, no more anime memes looped a dozen times, and no more distractive sampling that overwhelms and suffocates whichever track; in 2814 there is a purpose now, a purpose that dictates songwriting to achieve a distinct effect.

rsz_hong_kong_express

III

That purpose is the purpose of all electronic ambient music: to create an atmosphere, and through that atmosphere to stimulate imagination. In contrast to the pulsing beats of dancefloor EDM and hardstyle trance music, which unlock vibrant rhythmic impulses to move the body, ambient aims include the revelation of a vision that lead the listener into a more meditative state. Soaring melodic synth lines trace through wide open spaces, creating images of comets firing through the sky and mazes of bright white stars; song structures that construct progressively, layer upon layer, inspire themes of galactic exploration. The real adventure, though, is taking place mentally, imaginatively, as the listener’s mind is stimulated by powerfully evocative timbres and compelling sonic narratives that let him write their story.

Ambient music is where ideas have the greatest freedom to express themselves because, unburdened by the kinetic joys of rhythm and the profundity of lyrical meaning, the music is alone with those ideas, and can convey them unadulterated, as it were, as though they were straight from one mind into another.[9] Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream mentioned long ago that, ‘in our music it was a special kind of time-feeling, and we tried to be very cool inside, in our music of feeling, and a lot of jazz musicians were a bit too hasty for us.’[10] Froese thereby illustrates the marked difference between ambient and the particularly rhythmic music of jazz, which is ‘too hasty’ to induce that same tranquility of ‘feeling’ that is essential for what they were doing. Moreover, detached from explicit identities that are created by vocal music, the atmosphere can be understood in manifold ways, making it more interpretive, subjective; this allows the listener to insert himself more into the music, making his own experiences meld and interact with what the atmosphere shows him.

rsz_tangerine-dream

In the liner notes to Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports you can read that ‘Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.’ The atmosphere of ambient music is approaching the aims of sacred art, which are, on the listener’s level, to make for him a medium through which he can concentrate on something divine, on something transcendent; the purely compositional quality of a work of sacred music becomes secondary vis-à-vis its capability to transform the devotee’s spiritual and mental state into a place where he is more receptive to higher truths. While refraining from saying that ambient music achieves this effect, it certainly does resemble it on an artistic level, only substituting for meditation on a specific sacred truth as part of a specific religious tradition a more general philosophizing or wondering, as it were. It is then a kind of secular equivalent, so to speak, a kind of art that has no devotional means of attaining the same spiritual effect, but which nevertheless involves many of the same tools, and therefore offers the listener the opportunity to expand his mind in all sorts of different directions.

In Rain Temple, 2814’s third and by far most complete recording, we can state without doubt that the duo have been initiated into the formidable tradition of ambient music. This is firstly because of how the album reminds us of legendary acts in that tradition: Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre, the more eccentric moments of Ash Ra Tempel, and so forth. We can hear elements of all these artists influencing the sound of Rain Temple. The effect seems at first to be jarring, as 2814 are an ostensibly vaporwave band, which means that, while looking back at cultural fragments and memories from the past few decades, it does so nostalgically and revisionistically, and so from the point of view of the present. To look back at the 70s and 80s for musical, compositional inspiration does not fit the vaporwave mould – which makes us wonder whether it is vaporwave at all.

To get to the bottom of this we will look more closely at Rain Temple. First of all, in terms of songwriting, it really is leagues beyond its ‘peers’ in the vaporwave community. This becomes evident immediately after hearing this album all the way through, after noticing how smoothly the narrative develops, the rich, interesting places it travels, and how the sampling is there only to enhance a growing atmosphere which will not be diverted. In each song there are strong ideas that gradually show themselves through patient structuring and interconnecting motifs; long, unvarying synth lines induce an airy, spectral background which harmonizes with the basic melodies playing in the foreground. Percussive tremors dance weirdly beneath the ambience, helping it move forward by keeping the measure, however vague and distorted it may be.

rsz_yqx4ssj-imgur

This is not complex music, as there is no great deal of technical wizardry nor deep, sophisticated songwriting; but it is intelligent music, namely in its understanding of presence and how to produce it. This is of course achieved by atmosphere, by which we mean not merely abstract waves of synthesizers conspiring to effect a nebulous blanket of sound, but a precise and distinct envelopment that is comprised of so many essential pieces; it is naturally a whole greater than the sum of its parts, but it is also a whole which is so intricately detailed in its parts. Atmosphere does not simply materialize from the mixing of spacey and obscure effects into a long, confused narrative; it emerges from disparate elements that are meaningfully integrated into a structure that is balanced and purposeful, a structure that is driven by a creative idea that yearns for expression. The intelligence of 2814’s Rain Temple is seen in the intelligence of these ideas and how they are expressed.

Those ideas are germinated in the album’s crucible, in its formal nature, where the music can be really known. It is here that the essence of Rain Temple shows itself to be something visionary, painting luminous, surreal pictures of a different world. Perhaps instead we should say that it is filming its vision, showing us scene by lucid scene a new age wilderness where time moves slower, the stars seem closer, and everything we look at takes on a misty haze. This is music, of course, but it can easily be likened (as Hong Kong Express already did) to cinematic sequences that awaken the mind to a myriad of fascinating stories. That is what Rain Temple is, a passage to a ‘transtemporal’ ecosystem which we try translating to our own experiences, to watching 2001 for the first time, to experimenting with mushrooms, to learning about astronomy as a child. Perhaps there is no translation, perhaps we simply drift with the music, allowing it to inform our imaginations with fresh imagery, like how we would try to conceive of alien beings when we have no concrete references to such.

The dominating themes, however, and the most intelligible patterns of Rain Temple’s identity, all have to do with the exploration of something beyond ordinary and familiar reality. The atmosphere is alive with electric motion; grandiose spaces open up brilliant vistas of phenomena never before assayed. Soft, encouraging tones elevate an energy of discovery, and the universe assumes a new importance as its furthest reaches capture our interest. The general narrative coursing through this album alleviates tension wherever it goes; it assures like a father’s promise, uplifting spirits and inspiring hope. All the passions of the present fight for the future, creating effigies of what comes ahead of us, and what will come is good.

It is this exploratory spirit that makes Rain Temple, musically speaking, more closely related to Stratosfear or Oxygene than to its vaporwave forebears. It belongs to an ambient tradition that uses both traditional and innovative techniques to tell sonic stories; its connection to Classical songwriting gives the music its immovable base from which it has the opportunity to move in so many directions while its inventive streak allows the music to retain its relevance and to tell modern stories. Starships, lazers, strange alien races, new civilizations, and the unlimited reach of an enlightened humanity make up the great dramas of electronic ambient. Man’s ignorance of the time ahead of time is no obstacle to his imaginative symphonies, which can envision whatever he wants the future to be.

rsz_61

IV

Given who their members are and their stylistic inheritance, 2814 are nevertheless a part of the vaporwave tradition, and it is this conceptual context that adds further depth to the music. If this is true, and knowing what we now know about vaporwave, where do they fit into its morphology? We will approach this question from the perspective of its critique on capitalism, which is indeed impossible to avoid in regard to this genre which is so bound up with it.

Vaporwave artists like James Ferraro, Macintosh Plus, and all the other band names spelled with Japanese and Mandarin characters had something to say on the phenomena of ‘late capitalism,’ or at least on ‘capitalistically-created’ modern existence; its being the first style of music conceived entirely on the internet cannot help but determine that part of it. Most (particularly ‘Vektroid,’ the leftist artist behind Macintosh Plus and a litany of similar projects) seemed to caricature it, others romanticized it, while still others tried simply to illustrate it objectively, using the motifs of the city and a virtually connected world to reveal something more existential. Consumer capitalism and the tenets of Western civilization as we know it are, in one way or another, nevertheless a more or less unavoidable subject, because this is pop music that was created in response to them, and is defined by them.

Another theme in the vaporwave canon is ‘accelerationism,’ the Marxist [11] and ‘postcapitalist’ theory that strives to ‘accelerate’ the capitalist process in order to bring about the next stage in the economic evolution: ‘[A]s with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being.’[12] By urging every social phenomenon that appears to be a malignant symptom of capitalism, it is supposed that it will hasten the end of capitalism and usher in a new age. So the capitalist caricatures made by the vaporwave lexicon attain another meaning, namely their being additional weight on the cultural fabric. It is of course not the music itself that aims to ‘accelerate’ capitalist society; it only glorifies that which does, finding and showcasing all the little absurdities formed by commercialization and consumerism, bathetically praising the trivial in order to show how vapid it really is.

This is where 2814 return to the fold. Escaping the miasma of the herd using music as social critique, surpassing music belittled into a ‘cultural statement,’ their album Rain Temple transmutes that vapidity into profundity; the skin of vaporwave has been shed, revealing a creature born of its essence and yet utterly new in kind. The aural vaporwave rhetoric emitting from internet DJs that paints such vivid and ironical pictures about ‘late capitalism’ (or merely living in the society it helped create) accelerated its own evolution, breaking through whimsical, aimless images of decay and nostalgia to an advanced vision of itself as something with its own identity, its own nature.

rsz_zdzislaw_beksinski_73_1920x1080

Whereas the original vaporwave was enslaved to the idea of being a ‘product of time,’ making music fully conscious of its own transience in the rapidly shifting contours of popular culture[13], 2814 seem to have finally broken free of this intellectually myopic and anti-artistic modus operandi by making music that will simply stand the test of time. The works of Beethoven, Brahms, Elgar, Respighi, and Tangerine Dream all may have reflected something to do with the respective times in which their composers lived, but their ultimate value consists in something that goes beyond time altogether, which is simply great music. It is great music that endures, that survives the ravages of an unforgiving social milieu in which what was fashionable last week is out of date today. It is able to do so because of its access to the higher languages of art, where what was made when becomes totally subordinate to what it is in itself and what it is used for; the knowledge it speaks informs us of something intrinsic to humanity, not a passing trend or social circumstance.

Without supposing that 2814 can so much as approach the aforementioned artists in terms of quality, it is their approach to composing music that distinguishes them from the bulk of vaporwave artists. By returning to the original aims of profane art [14], for which the content is merely ‘a pretext for the joys of creation,[15]’ 2814 show that they are serious about their music, and can therefore create serious music. The orientation is radically altered from a focus on something external to something interior; the individual engaged with the art is again made the fulcrum of the experience. The aesthetic gimmickry and pretentious techniques and social satires give way to a presentation of reality more congruent with the listener’s inherent sensibilities and understandings. By making meaningful music convey a message the world itself appears to be more meaningful. This proves to us that 2814 are aware that intelligent music says more about reality by establishing a rapport with the listener on the basis of that connection that all good art provides than any amount of soapbox hollering or ironic gestures can do.

Rain Temple itself creates an atmosphere of ‘futurism,’ of ‘accelerationism,’ of a ‘post-apocalyptic’, ‘post-capitalistic world,’ and whatever else. Opening with tones hinting of the Orient clashing with dissonant chords, which altogether perhaps hint at the album’s evolution out of the largely Japanophile vaporwave[16], the album shortly assumes a more cosmopolitan, homeless character; thematically it becomes a sci-fi vision into an obscure future whose identity we can yet only guess at. The soundscapes create hazy, mystical scenarios, inspiring images of clouds mutating in the night, of waves crashing inexhaustibly into great, solid cliffs, of things more intuited than known. The soundscapes are embodied dreams.

As we said in the beginning, the optimism of modernity is built on the dreams of men who believe that they can change reality into something more amenable to their ideas of ‘perfection’ – unlimited happiness, endless peace, the eradication of war, poverty, disease, greed, and death, this is the world we are supposed to believe in, or at least dream of. When this world fails to take shape, when nature fails to obey the commands of hubris, the Terror occurs: what will not adhere to the dream will be destroyed by the guillotine. If consumer capitalism conjoined with cultural Marxism continues down the same path which it has traveled for the past several decades the dream might turn into the dystopia of Blade Runner, where society has lost every trace of its freedom and its humanity in the paradox of humanity’s ‘victory’ over nature.

Another review of this album supposed that it could infact be a soundtrack for Blade Runner. That might be true in the sense that the music seems dark, complex, futuristic, and structured similarly in terms of slow, introspective pacing, but in another sense there is a very different spirit animating Rain Temple than Ridley Scott’s opus. The world that Rain Temple creates is more mysterious than ‘dark’; it is interested, it is curious, it hints at things. It is this way because the world that it creates is something other than both the world we currently know and the one that Blade Runner suggests is in our current trajectory. Every track on this album is edified with an intensely metaphorical poetry, and they all indicate something oddly new and refreshing, like the peace after a storm in which we survey what survived it with an unprecedented gratitude.

blade_runner_background1

Apply that last metaphor to our narrative on capitalism and modernity and we will have encapsulated what we understand to be this album’s highest quality. The liberal capitalist endeavor, like its communist counterpart, seeks to change man’s nature by making it something purely economic, material, and thus capable of being satisfied by the fruits of the earth: his dreams can be fulfilled; they will be fulfilled. It forgets that man does not live by bread alone, and is made of much stronger stuff than his appetite for it. While man’s nature has hardly changed under these illusions, the nature of civilization has. This rationalization of reality is the storm; this kind of capitalism that subverts men into consumers is the storm. What survives the storm is man; what we are grateful for is man’s nature, which was always there but never understood or appreciated as we do now that the violence against it has passed.

Rain Temple is not mocking capitalism; it has transcended that aspect of vaporwave. 2814 have gone so far as to show us a vision that has transcended capitalism itself, and they do this in two ways. First, 2814 broke through the vaporwave cult of critique that did not know whether it loved or hated capitalism, and in any case was thoroughly conditioned by it. This success resides in the fact that 2814 put the music first, making a work of art that compositionally is more closely related to electronic ambient acts like Jean-Michel Jarre than most of the vaporwave circus. By elevating their work to something above the nebulous fabric of time, above the ebb and flow of social dynamics and the transience of genres, 2814 make something that escapes labels that come and go and instead assumes a definite style. The nostalgia that we might have for certain pop songs of a bygone period is no longer possible, because the quality of the music outlasts the vacillations of pop culture.

The second reason why we say 2814 has ‘transcended’ capitalism is an artistic judgment, particularly concerning the manner in which Rain Temple expresses itself. New retro wave acts like Arcade High and Miami Nights 1984 nostalgically imitate the ’80s, and vaporwave acts like Macintosh Plus and Blank Banshee do the same with the ’90s. Both genres are nevertheless self-conscious about their being part of the present, which to the cultural periods they insert themselves into would consider the future. This manifests in a very futuristic slant of ideas and themes and sounds, where the adventurous unknown or the mysteries of unlimited technological expansion are explored side by side with classic cars, idyllic days on the beach, or the suburban consumer wonderland.

2814, on the other hand, do not ironically delve into what the past thought that the future would be; Rain Temple is its own vision of what the future is. Without making definite statements about the world that awaits us, this album portrays it in strong tonal colours indicating innocence, naïveté, wonder, awe, hope, and discovery. Possessing an atmosphere signifying at once primeval mysticism and optimistic dialogue with outer space (and its possible inhabitants), this is clearly not a world that shares settings with Blade Runner; it is a better world, a more enchanted world, and, given the samples of falling rain at various points during the album, a greener world. This is not the planet earth overrun by industry and concrete and neon, but a planet earth overrun by seeds and saplings and great, noble oaks. It is a home made to feel like home again. The very name of the album hints at its own meaning: a temple, either newly constructed or recently recovered, hidden in a forest or a jungle, symbolizes our link to eternity, to the meaning we make of our universe; a temple is a reconnection to meaning. The rain symbolizes growth, vitality, a new beginning; the survivors of Winter renew their lease on life in the Spring.

If Blade Runner is a dystopian film, Rain Temple is a post-apocalyptic album. It is situated after the cataclysm that finally erases the industrial capitalist imprint from Western civilization; it is a reality situated after the reality of Blade Runner has mortally abated. The reality that vaporwave describes no longer exists in the vision of 2814, who see beyond nostalgia and the traps of time to form a sincere insight into the future – which is immediately transferable to the present. This thematic discontinuity is joined and made meaningful by an artistic discontinuity which is similarly independent in its aims simply to create good music, free from any imitative lures. 2814 have exhausted the possibilities of vaporwave; 2814 have transcended vaporwave.

If consumer capitalism can be said to be (1) the sale of anything and everything, (2) the cult of instant gratification, and (3) the dehumanizing compartmentalization of time into miniscule cultural epochs, great art is the reverse of consumer capitalism, for great art is oriented around eternal truth. 2814 have surpassed their vaporwave origins, but, in inheriting its history of capitalist critique, they possess an added dimension to their music that gives it still more meaning. Their development out of vaporwave imbues their music with intellectual potential, inseminating it with ideas and images that are easily referable to extra-musical content, as we have shown. Above all this, however, it is simply the fact that Rain Temple is a superb work of electronic ambient that makes our message true. Unworried by the vacuities of time’s passage, uninvolved in abstracting the past, its emphasis on what is good is what makes Rain Temple great, and there is no stronger statement against consumer capitalist culture than great art.

The Plains of Heaven 1851-3 by John Martin 1789-1854

[1] By ‘capitalism’ in this essay we refer not so much to the economic theory behind it but to its ethical associations, namely the ‘profit motive,’ usurious money-lending, and political liberalism. We by no means aim to attack free enterprise, private property, personal initiative, and lucrative, usury-free investing, but merely the corrupt corpus that has grown into the market which makes it the exclusive good, entirely sidelining the bonum commune.
[2] Vaporwave producer Wolfenstein OS X’s description of Far Side Virtual said that it ‘used themes of globalization and internet culture [to create] a digitalized ode to a rapidly changing world.’ Watch his short ‘documentary’ on the history of vaporwave here.
[3] We are indebted to Adam Harper at Dummymag.com for his excellent insight into the history and meaning of vaporwave, from whose article this quote derives.
[4] The full quote, from The Communist Manifesto, reads as follows: ‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.’[5] This ‘fetishization’ of art is something that persisted almost throughout the 20th century. Whereas in healthier periods a thing was lauded for its objective worth, and therefore had an enduring value, today it’s only the monetary worth of a thing that matters, which means it only lasts as long as the market wants it to. This results in the inversion of standards to the extent that what was once prized as a great composition is today prized only as a marketable one; the objective value of the composition becomes secondary or non-existent while its superficial value becomes its raison d’être. This leads to the promotion of art as entertainment, as something for consumption, which is why new stylistic trends are constantly created – because bad art doesn’t endure. While the symphonies of Beethoven have an objective quality, meaning that they never ‘get old,’ the one hit wonders of so many forgotten singers always needs to be replaced by the next month’s Top 40 since you can only listen to a catchy yet fundamentally empty pop ditty before its vacuity becomes overbearing.[6] It is telling that vaporwave itself has undergone this sort of commercialization, with MTV and Tumblr adopting vaporwave motifs in their website designs in the Summer of 2015. In this way vaporwave presents an interesting parallel to black metal, a far more radically anti-modern and polemical artistic movement, and its fall from grace in the late 90’s as it became increasingly commercialized with its emergence into the mainstream.[7] The invocation of dead and buried styles for a nostalgic effect is an intrinsic part of the ‘capitalist’ production of art, as Theodor Adorno long ago noticed: ‘Because music had been invaded by the capitalist ethos, its fetishization was almost total. On one level, that of production, it appeared in the inordinate focus on arrangements rather than composition, in the frequent introduction of coloristic effects, and in the nostalgic resurrection of outdated musical styles for their evocative value.’ Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination (Jay is paraphrasing Adorno here). Since pop trends pass so quickly, it’s natural that we identify parts of our lives or parallel world events with the pop trend in vogue at the time. This offers an easy way to romanticize some time we vaguely remember since we can simply connect it to the music or Hollywood films that were popular then.[8] James Ferraro, the composer of Far Side Virtual, gives this interestingly positive account of the present, of capitalism’s ‘children’ in an unpublished interview: ‘I’m at a coffee shop, co-oping in the shared pleasantness of other MacBook users via our united wi-fi provider. This safety zone is a glimpse into the future, a look into a small group of espresso drinkers who believe in a digital Utopia. We have crocs on, Alpha Generational babies in slick ethno slings. Human-like domesticated pets. Eco-friendly plastic cups. These people represent a determinism that is informed by commodities. But there is room to dream somehow. I definitely don’t fear them. I’m applauding them.’[9] This corresponds to the argument for the Romanticist ‘absolute music,’ which contends that music is superior for its lack of an extra-musical narrative. E.T.A. Hoffmann said the following in his famous review on Beethoven’s Fifth: ‘[Music] is the most romantic of all arts, and we could almost say the only truly romantic one because its only subject is the infinite. Just as Orpheus’ lyre opened the gates of the underworld, music unlocks for mankind an unknown realm—a world with nothing in common with the surrounding outer world of the senses. Here we abandon definite feelings and surrender to an inexpressible longing….’ Ambient music can in this sense be considered an heir to 19th century absolute music, which stressed the power of the music to aesthetically delight the listener rather than what it might convey lyrically or programmatically, and ipso facto believed that instrumental music is superior to lyrical or program music. It is obvious, however, that this present review would look a lot different if we approached this album purely as absolute music!

[10] From Froese’s 1974 radio interview with WSHU

[11] ‘But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.’ Karl Marx, ‘On the question of free trade,’ Speech to the Democratic Association of Brussels, 9 January 1848. While Marxists have been the main adherents of the accelerationist idea, they are not alone, as ‘Dark Enlightenment’ thinkers like Nick Land have shown. The roots of this idea can be traced back not only to Marx, but also to Nietzsche, who, in a more philosophical sense, said, ‘that which is falling, deserves to be pushed.’

[12] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2015)

[13] In the article linked above (note 3), Adam Harper observed this early vaporwave ironic indulgence in creating music that would be part of a cultural phenomenon looked at much later with the same feelings of obsolescence and nostalgia that we feel about other antiquated styles of music: ‘Up until “Far Side Virtual,” many of James Ferraro’s albums were impressionistic lo-fi portraits of bygone eras – perhaps on “Far Side Virtual” he decided to represent the present as is and then let nature take its course, over time, and do the aging for him. Returning to it in ten or twenty years time, we might discover that it was ironically a victim of its own futurist acceleration, and is now about as up-to-date as a ten-year-old carton of milk.’

[14] ‘Profane’ in the sense that it is not ‘sacred art.’ For an introduction to sacred and profane art, see here.

[15] The full quote, from Frithjof Schuon’s essential essay ‘Principles and Criteria of Art’, reads as follows: ‘[I]n sacred art what takes precedence over everything else is the content and use of the work; whereas in profane art these are but a pretext for the joys of creation.’ Schiller said as much for Romanticist aesthetics in The Aesthetic Education of Man, where we read: ‘In a truly successful work of Art the contents should affect nothing, the form everything, for only through form is the whole man affected….’

[16] The obvious response to this, of course, is to recall the background of 2814, which is the project of the man behind Hong Kong Express, whose albums were highly illustrative of the city the artist is named after.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s