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Moodboard Series: Vaporwave

By on Apr 29, 2021 in Inspiration
Moodboard Series: Vaporwave

Vaporwave is an art style that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The movement originated almost as a way to poke fun at consumerism in modern culture and the glorification of all things the ’80s. Vaporwave first appeared as a sub-genre of electronic music in the early 2010s, where producers looked to slow down and heavily process samples of soul, funk, and pop music from the ’80s, 90’s and sometimes early 2000’s and then layer in various retro-futuristic synths as well as glitchy, lo-fi and trippy beats over the top of those samples create a sort of surreal, dreamy and nostalgic vibe that is kind of tongue in cheek at the same time.

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The music style also tends to feature sounds and samples from early internet culture and computer interfaces from the ’80s and ’90s, with sounds from popular games consoles and Windows operating systems often making their way into Vaporwave tracks. While Vaporwave songs largely play on the nostalgia of better times gone by, there is also a melancholy undertone that exists across the whole genre too.

How Does Vaporwave Music Sound?

A number of other music styles followed in the footsteps of Vaporwave, so even if Vaporwave started as a sort of social commentary or meme, it still inspired a fun visual style and led to some popular music genres such as Lo-fi, Synthwave, Future Funk, and VHS Pop.

As the sounds of Vaporwave started to ring around the internet, the visuals that accompany the music started to have a common style too, often using brightly colored pinks and blues, and exaggerated 80’s and 90’s style graphical elements. Vaporwave music videos often featured advertisements from the ’80s and 90’s or popular TV programs and kids' cartoons from the time and elements from old computers, early CG, and retro operating systems.

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This style then broke out into the wider internet meme culture, particularly across sites such as YouTube and Tumblr. This was when the Vaporwave visual aesthetic started to outgrow its musical roots. The visual style of Vaporwave proved more popular than the music itself, and it remains a much-used art style today.

The Vaporwave Aesthetic

It's hard to explain the Vaporwave aesthetic without seeing it in action. It undoubtedly captures a kind of retro vibe that is a lot more exaggerated and over-the-top surreal than art styles of that time period actually were. Similar to how the music of Vaporwave took samples from the ’80s etc. and molded them into something new and glitchy via heavy processing, we can see similar themes going on in the visual aesthetic.

We see lots of familiar elements, images, colors, and assets that evoke some nostalgia. Still, they are combined in a way that makes them feel a little bit out of this world or an almost futuristic representation of the past.

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Vaporwave Characteristics & Inspirations

People sometimes confuse Vaporwave with other styles such as Cyberpunk and Synthwave. Still, Vaporwave is a little more unique in its appearance and vibe in that it can have intentionally low quality, glitchy and distorted feel to it. In contrast, something like Synthwave feels a little more glossy and polished representations of 80’s style graphics.

Vaporwave might have overlapping styles, but there are a few key characteristics of the Vaporwave aesthetic that come together in the right way to give this art style its recognizable look. Let’s explore some of the key themes and inspirations that run through the Vaporwave style…

Retro Surrealism

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A common theme amongst most Vaporwave pieces is a sense of surrealism, bending reality just enough to twist something familiar and recognizable into something a little more eye-catching and bizarre. We often see things like clouds, 3D wireframes, glitches, cutout graphics, and collages used within Vaporwave, which helps to build this surreal and dreamy characteristic.

Old Computer Graphics & Interfaces

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Another characteristic of Vaporwave is the frequent use and reference to retro computer-generated graphics and early 3D models alongside old computer UI elements. The Old Computer Aesthetic is something that I have written about before, and it’s safe to say that it plays a big part in a lot of Vaporwave art. Most commonly, we see elements such as window boxes that mimic early versions of Windows 95, for example, or you might see many wireframes and geometric abstract shapes that mimic the kind of visuals you might see in very early video games or movies.

Vibrant Pinks, Blues, and Rainbow Colors

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Perhaps one of the most recognizable traits of a Vaporwave art piece would be the heavy use of vibrant pinks and blues that tend to make their way into a lot of Vaporwave works. Solid pink backgrounds are commonplace, as well as some more vivid rainbow-inspired gradients and holographic-like color combinations, and of course, some neon style elements and colors can make a great fit too.

Digital Glitches and Distortions

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Much like with the Vaporwave music style, the Vaporwave aesthetic doesn’t why away from imperfections and heavily processing elements from the old, so it’s not unusual to find digital distortion and glitches used in Vaporwave inspired graphics. These distortions often mimic what you might find on old video recording equipment (VHS’s) or even imperfections that you might find on a screen or digital render.

80’s & 90’s

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While simply using 80’s or 90’s style graphics on their own doesn’t make something Vaporwave by default, the use and re-use of elements from that era is an important part of the Vaporwave aesthetic. Photos, Patterns, Textures, and Graphics from the ’80s and 90’s all make great additions to the Vaporwave vibe.

Vaporwave Design Resources

Researching this topic and curating products in this style has been a lot of fun; along the way, I collected almost 100 products available here on Creative Market that fit or overlapped the Vaporwave aesthetic, so if you are looking for more awesome design resources and templates in this style you might find my Vaporwave Collection useful. If you enjoyed this creative roundup and want to explore similar inspirational posts in this same format, please check out more content from our Moodboard Series.

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