Vaporwave, Outrun & Cyberpunk – how to tell the difference?

They all love neons. They all attract our retrofuturistic attention. They all bring us a variety of emotions. And yet… They are 3 different genres. Who love Michaelangelo’s sculptures the most? Where does the Ferrari Testarossa drive through the night? What robot sits in polluted future LA Chinatown eating noodles? How to tell which one is which? Sit comfortably and make yourself an aesthetic cup of tea, because we bring you the answer!

Innocent baby pastel vaporwave

This pastel palette is well known to all who have seen Emotional Apparel stock even once – now one can say without any doubt that vaporwave carries a very special place in our hearts. We have already created for you a beginners guide (here you can put the clickable link) which is a very good place to start. 

Basically vaporwave is a hyper-specific subgenre that is both a form of chillwave-based, slowed electronic music and a visual art style. It bases on the aesthetically pleasing heritage of 90s – the time of high technology being in its infancy, newborn capitalism & consumerism as well as flamboyant pop culture full of tinsel spread via VHS cassettes. Vaporwave’s purpose of existence is to cause the strong feeling of nostalgia toward the 90s. 

Visually, it incorporates glitch art and 3D-rendered objects, very humanistic at its envoy ancient greek sculptures and, what’s definitely the most important, early Internet website designs. That’s essential when it comes to the fonts – early computers didn’t give much opportunities to this field – and that’s why the most vaporwave font of them all is… Times New Roman! Early 90s aesthetic at it’s finest. What’s also widely spread among vaporwavers from all over the world are japanese letters – sometimes creating a ‘deep’ quote and sometimes (unfortunately) being an actual gibberish which sense got lost in translation. But hey, let’s admire how cool it looks! 😉

Outrun – this cool guy on bike

Driving late at night through a neon city with your DeLorean, Ferrari Testarossa or Lamborghini Countach – of course in the pouring heavy rain which turns their car light into a blurry trail. If you can see this – you’re most definitely looking at outran edit. You can be even more sure when instead of the city skyscrapers there’s a characteristic grid and the giant, striped sun at down just above the horizon. The darker the better – what outrun loves the most are dark purple, pink and violet tones which create a tenebrous but surely cool palette you can see above. When it comes to coloristics it’s surely a bad-boy twin brother with a mysterious and unclear past to innocent, pastel light vaporwave.

If you ever wondered what name ‘outrun’ stands for you have to travel back in time to ‘86, because this year Sega released a game-changing (pun intended) arcade driving video game ‘Out Run’ in which the player controlled a Ferrari Testarossa Spider from a third-person rear perspective. The camera was placed near the ground (simulating a Ferrari driver’s position) limiting the player’s view into the distance. Sounds similar? Yes, we talked about it just a minute ago! This is the exact moment when the most characteristic outran’s feature is being born.

Whole genre took a lot of inspiration from a variety of 80s movies & other video games – especially those available on Atari ST, Commodore 64, Sega Saturn or Nintendo Switch. We bet you can recognize some of the fonts right now – if not, take a look at the old NASA logo or at the old Blade Runner title on the poster and you’ll immediately know what we are talking about here. According to the music outran closest cousin is definitely synthwave (also sometimes called outran, retrowave or futuresynth). Now that you all are well aware about what this genre is it will come as no surprise that this kind of music bases mostly on the 80s movies & games soundtracks. This aesthetic-music marriage was blessed with one of the most famous synthwave musicians – Kavinsky by releasing an album titled, no surprises here, ‘OutRun’. The concept follows Kavinsky’s backstory of a young man who crashed his Testarossa in 1986 and resurrected in 2006 as a zombie who produces electronic music. Now it is all coming together, as Kronk would say. 

So – while vaporwave wants to cause nostalgia connected with 90s, the outran and futuresynth feed on the 80s nostalgia – that’s why it attempts to capture the era’s atmosphere in various ways.

Dystopian Cyberpunk – robotic nerd guy

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few years or so the first thing that comes to your mind now is probably the Cyberpunk 2077 game by CD Projekt Red. Well, yes, this piece was pretty hyped (some may say that even overhyped), but cyberpunk itself isn’t just that. It is a dystopian subgenre of science fiction focusing on a specific combination of lowlife and high tech. On  the one hand it features hyper-advanced scientific achievements (artificial intelligence, robots, cybernetics, high-functioning prosthetics, DNA modifications, etc.), on the other – a breakdown or radical change in the social order (for bad, of course, that’s what dystopia does) including sky-rocketing criminal statistics, spreading drug culture and sexual revolutions. As outrun and vaporwave tend to focus on the past, cyberpunk looks to the future (sometimes retro-future, but still). It brings the paradox, dissonance – we’re fascinated by the high tech possibilities, but terrified with the cost of them.

No wonder cyberpunk has such a broad palette of available colors, shapes and textures. Thanks to that it’s definitely the easiest one to spot and distinct from two others. You can often find artworks full of dust, pollution, fog or unexpected weather breakdowns. The world on those edits is usually hyper-modern, but somehow kinda depressive at the same time. You see an extremely modified person and keep asking yourself – is it a person still? Cyberpunk makes you think about the future and brings out a variety of emotions – not only pleasant ones…

When in all of this is future funk, chillwave and all other ‘waves’ that you’ve happened to hear about on your aesthetic journey? They’re among us, no doubt, but we’ll go down this rabbit hole next time. Stay tuned & stay aesthetic, homies!

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