Costanza – George (2017)

“He is truly the embodiment of the insecurity, shallowness, and self-deprecation that we all feel at one time or another.”

How did we end up here? George is an entire album dedicated to Seinfeld, part of a genre called seinwave, which is also dedicated to the show.

George compiles tracks from three previously released mixtapes that were recorded between 2015 and 2017. Its producer is a somewhat mysterious figure named Costanza, who took nearly four months to respond to my pestering emails, but who then readily agreed to tell me about this perplexing artifact. It was my opportunity to try to understand this highly specific digital release, which has become so legendary that it spawned an LP edition pressed on 160-gram, clear vinyl, along with a deluxe cassette boxset edition.

A novelty to some, George comes off as more than that when chatting with Costanza. “Seinfeld has always been a part of my life; in a way, it’s the epitome of nostalgia for me, personally,” he says. “The home video footage of my first steps as a child takes place amid the glow of a rerun episode of Seinfeld.

“Growing up watching the show, I found humor in the slapstick moments with Kramer, but it wasn’t until later on that I (like many) found myself relating to the character of George Costanza. He is truly the embodiment of the insecurity, shallowness, and self-deprecation that we all feel at one time or another; at the same time, there is an air of hope surrounding him, oftentimes seen in small victories in unexpected places.”

Costanza explains that he became interested in vaporwave in 2014, when he was only fifteen years old, a freshman in high school. His interest in convention-breaking music dates back further than that, though. “As early as middle school I was constantly searching for the ‘next big thing’ in music,” he tells me. “I have always been interested in the evolution of music as a whole and found myself growing tired of the same conventions that made up 95% of music that I came across. I got excited when dubstep started to become popular, because I had never heard anything like it before. I participated in that scene for a couple years before eventually growing tired of it and continuing my search, which eventually led me to vaporwave.”

His enthusiasm for vaporwave was catalyzed by artists like 18 Carat Affair (an early vaporwave and hypnagogic pop producer) and bbrainz. Very soon after, he started producing his own music. In junior high, after his family moved to Chicago for his dad’s job, he conceived Costanza.

“Costanza was developed in an afternoon with little to no planning prior to its conception,” he says. “That afternoon in particular, I thought it would be funny to make a vaporwave song based on Seinfeld that utilized a quote from the show. I had put together the debut song in a little under a half hour and threw together a sloppily photoshopped ‘album cover’ to accompany it. After uploading the song to SoundCloud and posting a quick self-promo on Reddit, I went to sleep. I woke up to more than 50 upvotes in just a few short hours followed by an entire day of my track being in the #1 spot on the subreddit.”

That Reddit post is now long gone, along with his Reddit username at the time, which was notvandelay, a reference to George’s fictional company, Vandelay Industries. But Costanza’s music has lived on, albeit not without hiccups. “I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which oftentimes shows itself through the music,” he explains. “There is a lot of perfectionism surrounding the metadata of the songs, in addition to the layout and timing of many of my releases. In the first couple years of Costanza, I would sporadically delete and reupload songs, much to the dismay of my listeners; this is the reason why.” Indeed, a few years ago, several Reddit users feared Costanza was gone for good when after his Bandcamp disappeared — though he subsequently reappeared.

Part of growing artistically has involved accepting imperfection. “Thankfully I have learned to cope with it effectively over the past several years and continue to work through it with regard to how it affects my creativity.”

Costanza assembles his tracks in Ableton Live. He tells me he will typically begin his process with a “sample hunt,” seeking a clip that will serve as a good base for a track. “I oftentimes opt for ‘proven’ samples that I know were used in other well-known tracks, but I challenge myself to approach them from a unique standpoint.”

He often draws from his favourite vaporwave artists. As an example, he cites his debut track, “Costanza,” in which he used a sample from a song called “Daylight” by the band Ramp. “Daylight” is an album track from the lone LP by this jazzy funk group, which was founded by the legendary vibraphonist Roy Ayers. Costanza tells me he chose this sample after hearing it used by 18 Carat Affair on the track “Sunrise,” off the 2009 EP N. Cruise Blvd. To make it his own, Costanza altered the way the sample was used. “I opted to take a unique, more upbeat approach than the 18 Carat Affair track by adding a drum track and chopping it up, which eventually became standard for most of my future tracks.”

The hyperspecific realm of Seinfeld-related vaporwave actually dates back to January 2015, when the vaporwave producer Abelard put out a single entitled “☆SEINWAVE☆2000☆,” which transformed the TV show’s slap bass theme song into a funky vaporwave epic. Costanza points out that simpsonswave, another pop-culture-specific genre of vaporwave – usually involving discoloured, slowed-down, and hazy Simpsons clips set to vaporwave music – actually came after seinwave.

I ask Costanza about these source-specific varieties of vaporwave, wondering why the genre serves as such fertile ground for these hyperspecific strains of recycled pop-culture. He explains that vaporwave is “innately nostalgic,” linking in with memories of “early experiences, typically rather insignificant ones like a certain commercial or jingle that has been pushed to one’s subconscious until it rushes back as the result of a certain trigger years later. I believe vaporwave is all about triggering that feeling.”

While nostalgia is often person-specific, he notes that phenomena like Seinfeld and The Simpsons have impacted many people. For Costanza, tapping into that “collective nostalgia” is the key to the wide appeal of these highly-specific genres.

Costanza has recorded under a variety of other monikers, including producing less-specific vaporwave/future funk music under the name Color Television. But today, his sound production impulses are evolving. He is dabbling in industrial music and dream pop, and is currently working on a noise project that he considers entirely separate from his vaporwave exploits.

A photograph of Costanza’s noise rig. (Source: Costanza)

“I believe that noise is the final frontier in terms of music,” he tells me. “The music that comes out of that scene is jarring, extreme, and completely independent of the conventions of music. The performance aspect is also by far the most entertaining you can find across any genre.”

Miles away from the funky and melodic tones of seinwave, noise seems to offer a rawer emotional outlet for Costanza, something less self-consciously post-modern and more purgative. “Noise appeals to me personally because it functions as the most cathartic genre possible in my opinion,” he says. “Many noise pieces are built on the rawest form of human emotions, frequently sidestepping established conventions of music in service of emotional expression.”


Thanks to Costanza for the interview. His Bandcamp page is here.

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!

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.”