Far Side Virtual 4: Chuck Person creates Vaporwave
Vaporwave has always been blessed with Eccojams. Not many albums can claim to have created an entire genre, and even fewer can hold up as well as Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1. Springing seemingly from nowhere, fully formed, warbling 80s synths under an Ecco The Dolphin cover. Once Eccojams dropped on the 8th of August 2010, Vaporwave was born. Chuck Person’s tribute to music, nostalgia, and memory continues to provoke and inspire nearly 10 years after its release. And while many albums can claim to have influenced the growth of Vaporwave, from Floral Shoppe, to Far Side Virtual, to Skeleton, only one head can wear the crown.
Eccojams is even more compelling once its backstory is unfurled. Far from being created by a nobody, the man behind the music is actually very experienced indeed. Chuck Person is a moniker of Electronic music producer Daniel Lopatin. Lopatin’s main project Oneohtrix Point Never has created a vast, sprawling, discography. Beginning in 2007 with Betrayed in the Octagon and continuing on through last year’s acclaimed Age Of. The diversity of his output and his willingness to constantly curveball himself has led to Oneohtrix being labelled as ‘Progressive Electronic’. A rather grand title but, in the case of Lopatin, richly deserved. His creation of Vaporwave is merely the crown jewel in an already impressive career.
0PN’s albums often deal with themes of technology, decay and alienation. All concepts which Lopatin would skewer, and then roast perfectly, with Eccojams. 2009’s Zones Without People predicts Ecco’s use of retro imagery and cynicism about technology. Russian Mind adds an abstract, dreamy vibe- and an autobiographical one, drawing inspiration from Lopatin’s Russian émigré parents. While the combination of pummelling noise and rising synths on Returnal – combined with its glitchy VHS cover, bring the same dislocated feeling which would come to define Vaporwave. While Lopatin never explicitly returned to Vaporwave stylings after Eccojams, he did work its spirit into his artistic palette. 0PN’s post-Eccojams work, R Plus Seven from 2013 being a brilliant example of this.
It was a stroke of genius for Lopatin to release Eccojams not under his established Oneohtrix title, but as a throwaway pseudonym. It gives Ecco the lineage and richness of a veteran producer, yet allows the album to be untethered from Lopatin’s broader discography. Leaving it free for future generations to discover, and mythologise as their own.
While 0PN had previously worked with samples on Betrayed in the Octagon, Eccojams engages with them heavy and thick. Drawing especially from the superstars of the 1980s. Toto’s ubiquitous Africa, Fleetwood Mac, Phil Collins, Kate Bush and even Janet Jackson. Eccojams is not what I’d describe as a crate-diving album. It’s not trying to impress you with the obscurity of its samples- it’s aiming directly for your musical memories. Ecco also dashes in several 90s cuts, most notably JoJo’s Too Little Too Late, and Me Against the World by Tupac. Perhaps the 60s-80s songs are tracks Lopatin heard through the radio, or via his parents, while these 90s samples are songs that Lopatin discovered for himself while growing up?
These tunes are warbled and stretched to create the kind of funky mutations later perfected on Floral Shoppe. A1, the album’s opener and a sample of aforementioned Africa, is totemic Vaporwave. Dueling it out with リサフランク420 for the genre’s definitive performance. The fact that Eccojams also predated Africa’s recent resurgence as an anthem of 80s nostalgia, makes it all the more impressive.
Yet for all his earworms, you can’t take the scientist out of Lopatin. Other tracks, like B2 find themselves crushed up into an unbearable cacophony- so much so that they’re hard to listen to. This harsh-noise effect stands out like a strand of Eccojams which hasn’t really been carried forward by many other Vaporwave producers. There are exceptions to be sure, Internet Club also plays with similar dashes of brutal sound. But the technique has had less impact on the genre than the chilled-out ethereal vibe of tracks like the Fleetwood Mac tinged A2 or the haunting repetitions of B7.
Lopatin really was experimenting with Eccojams, and the fact that some of those experiments were more popular than others, doesn’t detract from that spirit of adventure. These more polarising moments are a reminder that Eccojams was never an attempt to play it safe. It was a challenge- both to Lopatin and his audience, to engage with something new and original. And it’s these rough- untameable edges that keep the album a crucial listen even to this day.
Also of note is the fact that Eccojams was first released as a cassette tape. A feat which has now become something of a rite of passage for aspiring Vaporwave artists. A chunk of the community has even made it their mission to release the genre on as many obscure and varied formats as possible.
There’s a historical strand missing from this discussion though- one which is often overlooked when discussing Eccojams. The evidence that Lopatin created not just the sound of Vaporwave, but also the imagery, the aesthetic, of the genre. The release of Eccojams was preceded by a series of YouTube videos on Lopatin’s personal YouTube channel, Sunsetcorp.
Several of these are essentially demos for tracks which would later appear on Eccojams. Angel, which became A2, Nobody Here, which was released as B4 and Demerol aka A4 were all released on July 19th of 2009. The video for Computer Vision also uploaded on the same day, would become the opening track on Zones Without People mere weeks later. Time Stand StillandEnd of Life Entertainment Scenerio #1, while not appearing on the album, could almost be seen as Eccojams B-Sides.
These videos are fascinating, not just for highlighting the lack of dividing line between Lopatin’s Chuck Person and Oneohtrix Point Never projects, but because they so perfectly captured the ideal of aesthetic. Angel’s use of retro Japanese commercials, full of pretty, smiling models, would become a staple of Future Funk. Happy, cute and joyous. While Nobody Here’s abstract, sparse rainbow bridge, flanked by Computer Vision and Demerol, with their unsettling, grainy collage of light, humans and colour, would echo through the darker sides of the genre. Again, this is from 2009. History in the making.
It’s fitting that the genesis of Vaporwave should contain a unity of its sound and image. Birthed as twins. We might hear aesthetic with our ears, but we appreciate it with our eyes.
Bonus round: notice the wistful, business-like, ‘Sunsetcorp’ name for Lopatin’s channel, and the ‘90s anime girl slumped at the computer’ avatar he uses. Two vignettes which have also become integral to Vaporwave.
Lopatin has since moved away from the genre he helped birth. He said his piece with Eccojams and seems to have nothing more to add. In a Reddit AMA in 2013 Lopatin answered several questions relating to Eccojams and Vaporwave. And his responses are cool to read. On whether he wants to “distance” himself from Vaporwave entirely, or is happy to “embrace it”, he states, “of course I’m into it. I don’t see any reason for antagonism.” In response to a fan asking about his view on the continued rise the genre, Lopatin continues, “I don’t know much about it.” But, “I’m glad people like the eccojams stuff, I always hoped it would be something people would just do — it’s kinda folky by nature.” Ruminating on his position as a supposed “icon”, “I have a hard time dealing w/ the me vs audience dynamic.” “I mostly just do my thing and lucky that it culturally latches. if it didn’t I’d still do it though. I love the work.”
If further proof was needed for Lopatin’s affection for the album, it came in 2016. Chuck Person came out of retirement to release official remasters of all the tracks on Eccojams. Leading to a definitive edition of the album- known as the “official master tape cassette rip”.
I appreciate how gung-ho and positive Lopatin is about the legacy of Eccojams. And his comment about, “hoping it would be something people would just do” really struck a nerve. It’s like Lopatin wanted other artists to replicate his blueprint. And in creating an album so vital that he inspired a whole generation to download FL Studio, Lopatin seems to have met this ambition.
In the same AMA Lopatin made a comment that may be a joke, or might be sincere. His deadpan mannerism makes it hard to tell. A commenter asked the obvious question, “Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 2?” and Lopatin responded, “I have multiple volumes of eccojams in the cryotank set to defrost in the distant future”. In a flash of wit, one poster took the words straight out my mouth.
“Be real, it doesn’t matter anyway.”
Originally published at ae2.online