Imagine: an endless plaza filled with towering pillars of light. A vast, gridded expanse of escalators criss-cross the atmosphere, ascending ever upward into a vaporous haze of glowing advertisements and shimmering glass. An infinity sponsored by multi-billion-dollar corporations and dripping with the stimulating lubricant of commerce, this monument to capitalism as artificially engineered heaven is the eerie endpoint at which our world becomes comprehensively commercialized.
That's our best guess for the future, a utopian dystopia that wants for nothing, and where the human spirit goes to die. This is where a genre called vaporwave draws its inspiration, and in North Texas Michael Cole Young is perhaps its lone practitioner.
Vaporwave acts as a critique of the aforementioned capitalist nightmare. Sampling, repurposing and then looping the banal sounds of bygone commercial stock music (elevators, infomercials -- all iterations of listen-while-you-wait ambient fodder), vaporwave tracks consist almost entirely of these slowed-down, or otherwise heavily warped, fragments.
Existing entirely in the cloud, vaporwave has always been a non-regional music. As far as we know, apart from certain sketches from electro producer Cygnus and rumors that place Internet Club, a recognized giant in the formation of the genre, somewhere in the vicinity of North Texas, Young represents DFW's sole vaporware representative.
In truth, 2015 isn't exactly the time to be waxing informative on vaporwave (that window closed somewhere late in 2013). And if that was all there was to this story, you'd be forgiven for checking out. But with two separate recording projects under his belt, apart from the music released under his own name, Young has used vaporwave as a jumping-off point to explore several strains of strange electronic music, and in the process has made some of the most modern and culturally viable art North Texas has to offer.
His early interests centered on guitar-driven music like metal and other similarly hard-edged rock genres. But in 2012, five years after learning how to record and mix his own songs, Young discovered the emerging sounds of the online underground, particularly the unusual pull of Oneohtrix Point Never and the grainy vaporware vignettes of anonymous producer Infinity Frequencies.
"I'd never heard anything like it. It was like a whole world had been opened up to me," Young recalls. Fascination became romance, which blossomed into a legitimate fit of serious inquiry; Young soon found himself trying his hand at these weird, new sounds. "I began by just practicing chopping up songs," he explains. Using the software program Ableton, he finally completed his initial foray into vaporwave: "The first track I finished was the title track off my album Dreamer."
Dreamer, stylized 夢想家 and self-released under the name Dreamcoat Fantasies, represented Young's vaporwave debut. Shortly after completing Dreamer, Young stumbled upon widely known vaporwave/future beats label Dream Catalogue. Serendipitously, the label was welcoming demo submissions at the time, so Young threw his hat into the ring by submitting Dreamer in full. The label responded in the positive, and Young's track "Careless Vibes" would feature on Dream Catalogue's next compilation release, DREAM_31.
While Dreamer was an immersive experience in its own right, slithering with a certain cool, bloodless detachment, Dreamcoat Fantasies' forthcoming Dream Catalogue debut, Harmonious, is something different altogether. At turns blissful and alienating, it ensnares listeners with hypnotic, angelic choirs and brooding, technocratic beats.
While working through his Dreamcoat Fantasies music, Young was concurrently self-releasing under the title Mobius Trail. Embodying a more time-worn, dusky feel, Mobius Trail's material is an outlet for probing the darker regions of Young's musical appetites. As Mobius Trail, Young twists elements like occult imagery and horror film soundbites to his own means, railing against all manner of contemporary oppression, from the unblinking eye of the government and its police state to social demons like narcotic addiction.
Take for instance "Poison Seed," an especially disturbing Mobius Trail track that serves to emulate the nightmare of addiction. Sampling a line from the film IT, Young transforms a frightening quote from Pennywise the Clown into a snarling invitation for chemical dependence: "Don't you want it!" Or there's "Far From the Truth/Close to the Lie," which features an inverted black-and-green photo of the Pentagon on its cover, its beeps and chirps conjuring sound-images of our impending surveillance state.
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From dance patterns and hauntological textures to pristine, future-seeking art-pop and ethereal beat instrumentals (even metal and acoustic singer-songwriter under his own name), Young's music speaks to an artful command of mood and concept. Whether it's for satire or genuine expression, it affords him the capacity to comment sharply on contemporary issues without needing to utter a word. His aspirations and motivations have always been, and remain, simple and admirable: "To connect with people and to change the way they think."
It's a comfort to know that with Young in the mix, Dallas' legion of adventurous local listeners eager for future sounds will never go wanting. They have a new aesthete to plug into.
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