Lost Albums: Various Artists – BritneyWave (Sunbeam Records)

Lost Albums is a way of documenting records that exist in some manner, but don’t exist in the public realm — records that were recorded but shelved, records that almost-happened, records that never were.

In late 2018, a vaporwave label called Sunbeam Records, responsible primarily for digital releases, put out a call for submissions for a new tribute album. Run by two vaporwave producers named Opal and 氷河, Sunbeam was not new to tribute albums. They had put out two tributes already, one dedicated to the enigmatic Luxury Elite (who has since disappeared entirely), one focused on the producer Waterfront Dining, and the other an homage to 猫 シ Corp., a Dutch performer named Jornt Elzinga responsible for one of the seminal mallsoft records, Palm Mall.

But this tribute was different. They were pitching a vaporwave tribute to a very non-vaporwave artist, Britney Spears. The Oct 29, 2018 tweet came with the following image:

I connected with Opal via email to learn the background behind this proposed compilation, which had some submissions but never panned out. “Sunbeam has not been active for some time, due to me owing some people a few physical orders, and BritneyWave did in fact never come out,” Opal explained. 

Opal, who is in his early twenties and lives in “Amish country, Pennsylvania,” works full-time at Subway and produces music, plays video games, watches movies, and enjoys the outdoors. He is saving money now, possibly to go to at school. “I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I’m excited to see,” he tells me.

He explained how he caught the vaporwave bug. “I got interested in vaporwave a couple years ago, probably about 2015-16, when a friend kept playing a lot of it for me.” He, by then, had been exposed to Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe, a seminal vaporwave record known for its post-modern mash of diverse sources, ranging from the now-forgotten seventies soft-rock band Pages to the soundtrack to the Nintendo 64 game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. But it was the experience of completing schoolwork and listening to Canadian producer Blank Banshee’s 2013 album, Blank Banshee 1, that sealed the deal, inspiring him to download the sound editing program Audacity and to start experimenting with his own productions.

He then discovered a subgenre of vaporwave called late night lo-fi, which uses smooth jazz samples to evoke the experience of being up at night, circa 1993, watching TV and staring out the window of one’s luxury condo. It was Late Night Delight, a split release between Luxury Elite and Saint Pepsi, that did it for Opal. “I fell in love with it and spent probably a good month listening to many artists, like Saint Pepsi, Luxury Elite, Waterfront Dining, and tons more.

“Part of the reason that vaporwave appeals to me so much is because I grew up on classic rock and that blended into me discovering eighties pop. Vaporwave combines the internet era, which I am very acquainted with, and eighties pop. It’s a way to take an already created piece and make it your own. It also opens doors for me to explore new music that has been out for years that I’ve never heard before. It kind of symbolizes the known and unknown for me. It’s a blend of future, present, and past.”

Sunbeam Records occurred when Opal met 氷河 over Twitter. “I had wanted to do a collaboration project, and we met based on a tweet I had put out asking if anyone would like to either collaborate or make a split album,” he recalls. “氷河 messaged me and said he was interested. And so, our collab project ゴールデンアイ1997 was born. Shortly after our first album came out on Flamingo Vapor, I decided I wanted to start my own netlabel. And so, I figured who better to help me than my collaboration partner? I asked if he was interested and he said yes. And so we started Sunbeam Records. Most of the music in the beginning, and throughout the span of it, was made by us, with the occasional release by an artist or friend.”

Eventually came Sunbeam’s tribute compilations, which remain among their most popular releases. “The tribute albums were an idea I had while thinking about artists I personally liked, and realizing a lot of them, while similar, have a signature sound. I thought it might be a fun and interesting experience to invite artists to try to mimic their favorite artists’ sounds, while staying true to themselves. And as it turns out, a lot of other people liked the idea as well. Our first tribute, an album dedicated to Waterfront Dining, was by far the most popular album we released at the time. And so I decided to continue with them. We released a Luxury Elite tribute and a Cat System Corp. tribute. To this day, people still ask about them. The artists who were featured talk about them. A few have approached me about doing tributes to other artists. I think what appeals to me about this format is the sense of community. Many people were inspired by these artists to make their own music, and it’s a fun way to see how each person interprets the music and makes it their own, while still having the umbrella of us all having the same influence.

BritneyWave came about from a friend who really likes Britney Spears. An artist known as Valet Girls. He made a joking comment about making a Britney tribute, and I actually liked the idea. I thought it was a little more out there, but I knew a lot of people who liked her as well. Unfortunately, it marked the end of the tributes thus far, because we only got a handful of scattered submissions. At this point in time, I’m not planning on ever releasing it, but maybe sometime in the future if it becomes a popular idea again…

“We only received about four submissions. One was a male vocal cover of a slowed down ‘Toxic.’ The other three were original vapor pop pieces.”

As of late, Sunbeam has seemed to close up shop. “Sunbeam has petered out right now because of one simple problem. I got in over my head. I offered a CD set for a group of albums, and once a few people ordered, I realized I didn’t have experience shipping things out of the US. I decided to take hiatus with the label until I fulfilled people’s orders. Once I do so, we will be back up and running. The other reason we stopped is because I felt like most people didn’t really care to listen other than the tribute albums, and so we didn’t get many submissions.”

Sunbeam is an online endeavour primarily, but Opal mentions that he had made connections with people IRL. “There’s a handful of people locally interested, namely a man who fronts a local dream-pop band called Vicious Blossom. He contacted me through my Bandcamp and asked if I’d be interested in remixing their music. He also has proposed a music project mixing vapor and dreampop. We’ve grown to be pretty decent friends I feel.”

And he’s managed to intrigue a few associates. “My family and friends and girlfriend all know about vaporwave. I practically never shut up about it. They’re all proud, and a few are curious about vaporwave. Most of them never knew about it before me.”

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