Unsolved Mysteries: Kodak Cameo – Riviera (Fortune 500, 2013)

I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but when I imagine it, I visualize the Strip as a single conglomerate of casinos and hotels, all interconnected such that you can walk from one building to the next without ever stepping outside. The rooms are jumbo-sized yet windowless, and mercifully air conditioned. A glitzy neon fortress set to twilight twenty-four hours per day.

Riviera, a vaporwave concept album designed to simulate the Vegas experience, is the soundtrack to that fantasy. It is named after a Vegas hotel that closed down in 2015, and each song evokes a specific context, thanks to the unambiguous titles: “Rainforest Cafe,” “Treasure Island,” “Mandalay Bay,” “Hotel Lobby,” “Red Leather.” The songs themselves use obscure samples from neglected corners of pop culture, then coat them in reverb to impart a vaguely dizzying effect. It truly is amazing how the album can evokle the the site-specific feeling of Las Vegas with little more than looped samples of pop music.

Vaporwave is a genre that is said to conjure nostalgia for an imagined past, and Riviera, a casino-themed album, does this with expert precision. It’s part of a group of vaporwave recordings that evoke specific situations. There is an entire vaporwave subgenre called mallsoft, which aims to evoke the experience of wandering through a mall. Climatewave is a subgenre focused on evoking the Weather Channel, circa 1987 or so. And there have been vaporwave concept albums about office buildings and phantom radio broadcasts.

Riviera evokes its casino feel through careful sound production and the power of suggestion, making use of pithy song titles and excellent cover art. As a result, it has become a cult album among vaporwave enthusiasts.

One element of Riviera remains a mystery, however: its creator. Like many a vaporwave name, Kodak Cameo is inscrutable by design. The name is borrowed from a 1996 point-and-shoot camera, making it somewhat Google resistant. We don’t know anything about the producer themselves — where they call home, what they do for a living, their gender. I imagine Kodak Cameo as one person, mainly because vaporwave tends to be produced by solitary producers working on their laptops. Many vaporwave producers adopt these sorts of cryptic monikers, and some degree of anonymity is fairly common.

The enigma quotient was increased when, some time after Riviera came out, Kodak Cameo fell off the face of the earth. Their Bandcamp website evaporated, and no contact info persisted. Nobody publicly got close to identifying who they were. Yet the album was embraced by fans.

Riviera came out as a digital release on a fascinating record label called Fortune 500, which was run by a producer named Luxury Elite, often shortened to Lux. She was prone to disappearing for periods of time, only to abruptly reappear with new music. But a few years ago she evaporated into the digital ether seemingly for good, her social media feeds running dry since then.

Fortunately, the Fortune 500 Bandcamp remains online, which is fortunate, because there are many gems to be enjoyed there. (Messages sent through Bandcamp to Lux went unanswered, sadly.) The Fortune 500 discography is an archive of whimsically-titled albums with enticing covers, each with a distinct visual aesthetic. Many of them belong to a subcategory of vaporwave called late night lo-fi, which evokes the experience of looking down on the city from a luxury apartment at 2am, circa 1992.

Given aesthetic similarities, some have suspected that Kodak Cameo was a pseudonym of Luxury Elite, but she has denied that. Kodak’s use of samples is polished, which suggests that this isn’t their first kick at the vaporwave can, so it is possible that they have also recorded music under other pseudonyms. (There are more than enough faceless vaporwave monikers out there that one or more could be Kodak under a different name.) But despite many question marks, Riviera has been embraced by fans, garnering effusive praise in reviews on Rate Your Music, including a 1462-word essay that reads like hypnagogic casino fanfic:

“It’s 2:38 AM. It’s 53 degrees. You’re riding in a Convertible from the 1950’s that your father got from his father from an Indian Reservation not far from Southern Nevada…”

latechrysanthemums, RYM

What little we know about Kodak we can derive from his choice of samples on Riviera. Many of the selections are Japanese music from the eighties, particularly songs with synthesizers. Samples are taken from ballads by actress/singer Yuki Saito and idol singer Risa Honda, from 1987 and 1989 respectively; Kodak has taken their instrumental bits, slowed them down and looped them. Other picks from earlier in the 80s, including tracks by Toshiki Kadomatsu and Yuko Ohtaki, showcase a Japanese light-funk scene heavily inspired by American R&B trends of the day — a sound that came to be known as “city pop.” Only one of the identified samples on Riviera comes from outside of Japan: a 1983 b-side called “Never Too Late Your Lovin’,” by a short-lived New York funk group called Sunfire. Clearly, Kodak’s proclivities run towards the obscure. Perhaps he is from Japan, or simply infatuated with Japanese culture.

One fascinating postscript to the Riviera story is that Kodak released a sequel at one point. Riviera 2 apparently came out on Kodak’s very own Bandcamp page but then disappeared. For a couple years, people were hunting for a copy and coming up dry. In September 2016, someone found a high-quality version by “signing up for a Chinese streaming service to get it in 320kbps,” providing a life-line to those obsessed with the original Riviera. I believe this to be the cover artwork; it is the image for on a YouTube video that contains the album, and is also the image that comes up in the mp3 metadata:

There is also a SoundCloud account attributed to Kodak Cameo that includes some Riviera tracks as well as some new, stylistically different selections. The last track was uploaded a year ago. The location is listed as Tahiti, French Polynesia. Is this Kodak, or someone pretending to be them? I sent the account a message awhile back, but didn’t hear back. Like many things Kodak-related, it’s a series of dead ends…

Do you know who Kodak Cameo is? Are you Kodak Cameo? Do you have any more information about Kodak, Riviera, or Riviera 2? If so, leave a comment or email me!

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