I Have Seen the Future, And It Is Funky

If it ever makes it out of its small corner of the Internet, future funk could become “the next big thing.”

Hello all! Welcome to the first official blog post of The Nerdy Millennial (tentative title), oooh how exciting. Let’s cut right to the chase:

If you’re like me, you try to give a little flow to the workday by listening to music while at work. Your source for workplace music may or may not be YouTube, and if so, maybe you noticed a recommended video or two depicting an anime character that looks like they’re from the Eighties or Nineties…something like this:

If I’ve gotten all of this right so far, what you have stumbled on, my friend, is future funk, a melodic electronic niche genre hiding on YouTube, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and wherever else independent music is made and distributed. If you’re more well-versed in the genre, you might recognize such names as Yung Bae, Desired, and Macross 82-99, among others.

In order to properly explain what future funk is as a genre, I need to explain what it isn’t, and in order to explain that properly, a little bit of historical background is in order.

The Rise and Fall of Vaporwave

In the early part of this decade, as electronic music was rapidly becoming the definitive sound of the time, the means for producing professional quality music was also quickly finding itself in the hands of independent – and often amateur – musicians. These musicians were often younger, in the range of their teens and twenties (in other words, Millennials), who had grown up in a time when the entire world had been stricken by the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression. At the same time, a lot of commercially-produced popular music appeared to be derivative, lacking in substance, formulaic, even soulless.

Given such an environment, it should not be all that surprising that these amateur creators would express their bleak vision of a sterile corporatized culture in the music they make. The result was vaporwave:

Vaporwave was meant to be enjoyed ironically, as part of the dark humor of living under what appeared to be a self-destructive, terminal-stage capitalism (you might also see the term “late-stage capitalism” used, in varying degrees of facetiousness). As you can hear above, the genre mostly consists of retro music (especially R&B and pop from the ’70s and ’80s) and corporate muzak of the sort you’d usually find in ’80s instructional videos, slowed waaaaay down and pitched down with it, to the point where you get something that sounds like your world on drugs (not you on drugs, but the world on drugs – I mean, you can hear the song, you get the idea). For comparison, check out the original song the above vaporwave track originated from.

There is a sort of palpable discomfort that comes from listening to these soulless, corporate-sounding songs and melodies that have been so heavily distorted (the album art especially creeps me out), and I believe that’s exactly the point – the “joke,” if you want to think of it that way. These ’70s and ’80s tracks that are being chopped and screwed already sound pretty soulless on their own, but by distorting them further, the final product only sounds that much more synthetic and artificial, even grotesque. In a hypernormalized, late-stage capitalistic society, everything feels fake.

However, vaporwave has faded into obscurity somewhat since its heyday. I’m not really sure how or when it happened, but it has mostly been replaced by such offshoots as mallsoft, the equally satirical hardvapour, Simpsonwave (yes, you did read that right), and of course, future funk (there is also Trumpwave, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that).

So What is Future Funk?

Future funk is not vaporwave, and that’s the best reference point for describing what it is. Future funk can be enjoyed sincerely, though there is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek punk rock air to it (I’ll get to that later). Many of its listeners compare the musical characteristics of the genre itself to those of French house, for which at least one artist should ring a bell with most readers: Daft Punk. However, whereas French house emphasized loops that focused on rhythm, the focus in future funk is on loops revolving around melody.

There’s also the philosophical underpinnings of the genre, which I tend to think has less baggage than vaporwave (even saying there’s “philosophical underpinnings” to future funk feels kind of like I’m overthinking it). Simply put, future funk comes from a place where it feels like pop culture – and our culture in general – has simply run out of ideas. Think about it: most pop music, whether hip-hop, pop punk, or just about anything else, sounds mostly the same as it would have at the turn of the millennium. There’s nothing new under the sun, and it seems there’s nowhere to turn to for originality and innovation. But future funk turns this idea on its head by repurposing and expanding on disco and funk songs, especially (but not exclusively) Japanese pop songs, from the ’70s and ’80s, and basically breathing new life into them by expanding the sonic experience from these tracks. Observe:

You see, the idea here is that while we seem to have run out of ideas as a culture, and we may feel like we’re running on empty, future funk stands for the notion that all innovation does build on something. The next fresh, original thing will be built upon the foundations of something rather than just springing into existence out of nowhere.

You’ll also notice from the future funk videos I have posted another defining feature, which touches all aspects of the genre, even going beyond the strict musical characteristics themselves: the ubiquitousness of Japaneseness, and especially of retro Japanese culture from the ’80s and ’90s. Whether that’s the use of the underlying Japanese pop and disco songs, the anime video clips, or even Japanese cityscapes on album art, the musical and visual aesthetic alike harken to a parallel but somewhat different vision from that expressed in vaporwave.

Whereas vaporware’s general aesthetic hints at the false utopian promises of the commoditized capitalist society we were raised on in the ’80s and ’90s (i.e., Millennials) that ultimately let us down, future funk almost appears to celebrate anime, the metropolitan vibe, and the idea of the economic and capitalistic opulence that prevailed in that country in the ’80s, before they had their big economic crash known as the Lost Decade. There is still an element of chopping up, slowing down, and changing the pitch to retro pop songs, but it feels more like the end result pumps more life into the final product. The sound is nostalgic, and calls back to the sincere optimism our generation might associate with that unbridled metropolitanism.

Why It Could Get Big

That nostalgic vibe is part of the key to why I think future funk could become the next big thing, given the right set of circumstances. If you just listen to the music itself, it’s easy enough to see how the right radio-friendly voice could pick this up and make the first future funk radio hit. It’s upbeat (mostly), it’s adaptable, and as I noted before, future funk is very melody-focused for an electronic music subgenre. With those ingredients, I could easily imagine Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams, or even some unknown waiting in the wings who chops up some old Japanese disco song, lays a smooth R&B voice on top of it, and leads the meteoric rise of future funk-inspired pop songs to the top of the charts.

But there’s more to it than that. The Millennial generation is a nostalgic one, and one that is particularly fond of the ’90s, which the future funk aesthetic frequently fetishizes, and does so in a way that is overtly optimistic. For all the Millennial generation has been through, we still tend to be pretty optimistic and hopeful overall and we tend to gravitate toward things that foster those feelings (you might say we’re just dogged idealists, perhaps because our tough upbringing has forced us to be that way). It’s a match made in heaven.

But even more than that, future funk solves a huge problem for both Millennials and the rising Generation Z. You will probably see me write at length at some point in the future about the rich cultural pool Generation X has to draw from: they had punk rock, they had hardcore punk, alternative rock, grunge, post-grunge, the golden age of hip-hop, the first indie bands, lo-fi, ska, they basically invented indietronic (indie electronica, in case that wasn’t obvious)…you get the idea. Even though the Baby Boomers pioneered punk rock, Gen X owns the punk sensibility: non-conformity, the DIY lifestyle, anti-authoritarianism, and individual expression.

Millennials never had that, and we also had the misfortune of having rock and punk basically die on us early on in the 2010s, just as the Great Recession hit, when half of us were entering adulthood and the other half were entering high school and college. Throughout the past decade, rock and punk remained largely underground, never rising to its former dominance like in the heyday of Rage Against the Machine and Green Day – we had to satisfy ourselves mainly with EDM and mumble rap. We never really had the means to make a statement…until now.

Although vaporwave is a bit more on the nose about it, as suggested in this song (I apologize for the spoken word often being hard to hear over the music), future funk has all the makings of becoming the punk rock of the Millennial generation and Gen Z. As it exists now, it is entirely (and by necessity) DIY, it is largely a matter of individual expression in the way musicians remix the underlying works, and most importantly, it is anti-authoritarian. Future funk, like vaporwave, takes manufactured, focus group-created corporate music and distorts it into something else entirely.

Where in the past, record labels brought artists out of obscurity, sterilized them for mass appeal, and basically corporatized the final product – causing the band or the genre to “sell out” – future funk effectively reverses the process, taking what was a calculated product and injecting life into it, brought to you by that independent, amateur music maker who sits next to you in Chem 101, or who pays his rent by delivering you pizzas in thirty minutes or less. That’s just about as punk as it gets. And with platforms such as Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, and others, future funk can be the next big thing and continue to place the music-making power back in the hands of the people who toil for it.

Conclusion

That should do it for the first post of the blog. Sorry if it ran a bit long, but I hope you enjoyed it all the same. Thanks for reading. See you next week!

Who is your favorite future funk artist? Do you think future funk could become popular? Do you want it to? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

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Published by

Zach

Rabid Nintendo nerd, music lover, and film buff. I also like to write, hence why I'm here. I hope you enjoy my work.

3 thoughts on “I Have Seen the Future, And It Is Funky”

  1. Good start! Since you mention Hyperreality, check out Adam Curtis’ documentary ‘Hypernormalisation’, some interesting themes in there

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