List: The Best Vaporwave and Future Funk of 2023

Welcome to the VNN Best of 2023, we're listing the top releases and standout artists of the year from the Vaporwave and Future Funk scene...

List: The Best Vaporwave and Future Funk of 2023

Welcome to the Vaporwave News Network Best of 2023 recap! I’m gonna be listing the top releases and standout artists of year based on the results of our Best of 2023 Poll and responses from curators in the scene! Now keep in mind, we launched the poll in September and people continued responding into November, so in total there was over 150 votes, including our guests from Episode 10. Each response to our Google Form had 5 votes and they were in no particular order.

So to begin with, here’s how I approached making our end of the year lists and how I'm gonna present them:

I collected all the votes from the Google Form and entered them all into a spreadsheet- from there I made some graphs to determine which artists had multiple votes and then determined if those votes were for the same release. Since I got a lot of votes from the Future Funk community, I separated out the Future Funk releases/artists into their own section. That leaves Vaporwave and all the subgenres like Slushwave, Barber Beats, etc.. in the same general category.

Overall, there was such a wide diversity in the votes- so many albums I had never heard of or hadn't even crossed my radar (or release rundowns). While there were a few picks that kept coming up again and again, I was continually surprised by how deep the Vaporwave scene digs and what a wide array of responses I got from listeners in the scene!

All artists who received at least 1 vote in our poll

I should, of course, caveat this whole article with this: While I am gonna call this a Best of 2023 List, it is not representative of the whole community nor the immense streaming numbers and sales of physical media across all the different platforms.

In fact, if I had to drop a hot take it would be that the most streamed subgenre this year was Barber Beats, hands down. Considering the number of views some of these 2023 barber beats albums have on YouTube (for full albums none-the-less), I think 2nd wave Barber Beats producers were streamed more than longtime vapor stalwarts (including those who released new music this year- DDS, Blank Banshee, eyeliner, etc). However, it is insanely hard to quantify YouTube streams vs other platforms. Another hot take would be that Spotify Wrapped isn't much of an indicator of popularity, especially when we have dead editorial playlists racking up streams on artist's old songs. Taking a more macro look at the scene might reveal that quickfire sales of limited tapes might actually mean a lot less in the wider scope of vaporwave on the internet and its always-creeping influence on contemporary (internet/music) culture.

No doubt we could go back and forth about how to quantify the popularity of the releases we heard this year and their impact in the scene. But one thing we can agree on is that vaporwave is certainly not dead and the depths of its nostalgia continues to know no bounds. Frutiger Aero anyone?

Top (R-L): The City Reviewer - Un futuro possible 2008 (Bogus Collective 2023), Prismcorp Virtual Enterprises - ClearSkies (Vektroid 2013). Bottom(R-L): Ahero - Fire and Rain (Stratford Ct 2023), Cobalt Road & Staqq Overflo - Biosphere (Bedlam Tapes 2015)

And now, what you've been waiting for- the Best Releases and Standout Artists of 2023 in the Vaporwave and Future Funk scene according to votes from our listeners and fans in the online community! We’re gonna start off with the Future Funk favorites of 2023...

Future Funk: Best Albums and Artists of the Year

CyanBlue & Happy Cola 赤ちゃん

Our first two artists had a stand out year and got many votes for their releases!

CyanBlue released his album Cyanotype on Business Casual and had a remix album Cyantology Reborn plus a single on Montaime Records with SDR and Seth Nova. He also got shout outs from DJs like YungShiro白, FIBRE, and even I played some of his songs and remixes in my live sets this year!

Happy Cola 赤ちゃん also had a great year and got a lot of respect from their peers. They may have flown under your radar since they didn’t land any songs on the (one update to the) Spotify Editorial Playlist. However, they did release an awesome 6-track album called ソ​ー​ダ PRIX 1998 and had some great singles that we added to our Fresh Future Funk playlist. Hopefully we will be seeing a full length album from them in 2024!

Best Album of 2023: BarbWalters - Love (My Pet Flamingo)

I’m gonna get straight to the overwhelming favorite for Future Funk album of the year, based on our poll: Love by BarbWalters, which came out July 14th, 2023 on My Pet Flamingo!

The album masterfully blends Future Funk and French House, reaching perhaps the pinnacle of the hard hitting style that eschews anime-aesthetics and opts for a more retro-futuristic style. BarbWalters continues to make rousing club-ready bangers and sets a high bar for other Future Funk producers trying to ape their style. The closing vaporfunk track, a tribute called "CASTING. is Playing at My House", intertextually weaves this album into a lineage of dance music that stretches from sample flip OGs Daft Punk to dancepunkers LCD Soundsystem to future funk peers like CASTING., Saint Pepsi and CHANCE デラソウル. (F Y I)

You can check this album out on the My Pet Flamingo Bandcamp or on Spotify:

This year has also been big for some up-and-coming producers that have earned the respect of their peers and album placements from beloved labels like Coraspect, Neoncity and Business Casual. Here are three more albums that people voted for as the top releases of the year. Each producer had a number of great singles and albums as well as deluxe editions and remixes that made them stand out amongst the crop of new producers in the Future Funk scene:

Hot Singles - Butter (Coraspect Records)

Butter by Hot Singles got a cassette release from Coraspect, saw placements on our Fresh Future Funk Playlist, and a dropped remix album called Butter Remelted!

Kouek - Downtown (Business Casual)

Next we had Kouek, a Future Funk producer from France, with his breakout album Downtown that came out on Business Casual back in early July! It is a strong debut album that has a nice mix of dancefloor bangers and groovy vaporfunk that keeps the tempo pumping throughout the record! (Kouek also curates a great Spotify playlist)

Party Night 天の川 - Blooming Love (Business Casual)

And finally, our last future funk album of the year is one of my favorites especially from this crop of new producers... and that album is Blooming Love by Party Night天の川!

The album came out in April on Business Casual. It collected a number of singles and superb tracks that had appeared on previous releases but it also added a bunch of new songs that had collaborations with other up-and-coming producers like Jingoro, Zai Kowen, and 펑​키​한 Cadet! The Deluxe Version added some great remixes from Hot Singles and Maquina CL, plus more reworked versions of the tracks in collaboration with even more producers in the scene.

If you check out the Deluxe Version, you’ll be able to find at least 10 different Future Funk artists- and their respective albums- that you can check out! This album shows the incestuous nature of the new generation of Future Funk producers who largely seem to hail from Central America, South America and Europe in contrast to the North American and UK-focused Vaporwave scene.

If you'd like to listen to more tracks from our Best of Future Funk 2023, head over to Spotify...

Vaporwave: Best Albums and Artists of the Year

One of the big narratives and trends we saw in Vaporwave this year was the resurgence of breakbeats- whether they were slow or fast, sped up or slowed down, sampled or programed. Vaporwave mirrored some of the trends we saw in the wider electronic music space and took in influences from British dance music, led by genre OGs as well as up-and comers. The first two albums on our Best of 2023 list are great examples of breaks and nostalgia for the 90s: George Clanton with his album Ooh Rap I Ya and Simple Syrup with his sophomore album Bloom.

George Clanton - Ooh Rap I Ya (100% Electronica)

George Clanton received a lot of votes for his album Ooh Rap I Ya which taps into that Madchester sound. He's been notorious for using breakbeats throughout his career, all the way back to his days with the ESPRIT空想 project.

Simple Syrup - Bloom (Business Casual)

Simple Syrup's album Bloom was one of my favorite releases of the year and I was glad to see a lot of votes for this album. While there is a lot I could say about the it, I'm gonna direct you to my review that I did back in Episode 6 of the Podcast.

Although there will be more heavy hitters in the Slushwave genre further down the list, there was a number of votes for an artist that's also been on my radar this year...

days of blue - Lower East Empire

Their album Lower East Empire was well received in 2023 and they played a mesmerizing set at Summer Slushy Fest in New York City this summer. We also had some of their tracks on the Contemporary Vaporwave playlist, holding down the slushy and experimental section nestled at the end of the playlist.

Lower East Empire is grand work of slushwave that starts off with a phased horn fanfare and gently builds into an epic ode to the metropolis they call home- New York City. One of the great things about this album is that it starts off with shorter tracks and memorable melodies but as it approaches the end we get into the territory of deep slush with longer tracks and swirling beats. It takes you to a meditative zone where the city blocks start to feel like an endless expanse.

You can check out the album on their Bandcamp or on Spotify.

Barber Beats in 2023:

The votes for Barber Beats albums showed a new generation of producers taking center stage as controversy plagues some of the biggest names in the genre. Voters, and myself, saw the rise of two producers who each had multiple votes for multiple albums they released this year...


Our first artist, who got the most votes when compiling all the different albums chosen, was 𝐺𝑂𝑅𝐸. They had a banner year with a ton of their albums coming out on physical media. Some of those releases were even released the same day as the physical media which was rare in Barber Beats up until this year.

𝐺𝑂𝑅𝐸 has that classic dark Barber Beats sound on lock but isn't afraid to shake it up with some bright horn melodies and uncommon sample sources like dubstep. The sonic processing is cohesive across all their tracks, still bringing that compressed and saturated bass sound barber beats is known for without pummeling and fatiguing your ears.

Their visual aesthetic has a touch of class and professionalism with plenty of nods to other barber beats artists as well as wholly unique concepts that buck the duotone-and-statues signifiers most commonly found in the genre. Their artwork sets a tone without being too in-your-face or campy, giving this curator a distinct aura of mystery that the vaporwave scene craves.

A sampler of albums released by 𝐺𝑂𝑅𝐸 in 2023

slowerpace 音楽

Our second barber beats artist who has been on the rise in 2023 is slowerpace 音楽. This is another artist with a deep catalog who received multiple votes for different releases this year and has seen continued growth on YouTube across multiple albums with view counts reaching into the hundreds of thousands, potentially totalling up to millions of plays on their full albums videos.

slowerpace 音楽 has taken the conceptual side of barber beats and pushed it beyond the dark and brooding atmosphere cultivated by many of the scene’s first wave producers. They have taken deep dives into the sands of the middle east, gotten lost in space, chilled out at the barbershop and competed in the metaverse sports resort tournament.

Their work is a great example of the curatorial side of barber beats and vaporwave as a whole- recontextualizing music, images, words and signifiers to evoke nostalgia for different times and places that most of us may never truly understand. Slowerpace truly transports listeners to different worlds.

slowerpace 音楽 also made a Barber Beats Essentials mix this year which is a great starting point for folks trying to discover artists and albums in the genre. You can find it on their Bandcamp or YouTube Channel.

A sampler of art by slowerpace音楽 from 2023

Top Vaporwave Albums of 2023

Here are the four albums that got the most votes! We saved the top two albums of the year for last...

Fake Fever - Inside The Well (My Pet Flamingo)

Fake Fever is the solo project of Andrew Barnes, a millennial musician who has spent time in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and is now located in New York City. Over the past 4 years he has showcased his nostalgic brand of vapor pop (or Vaporwave 2 as some jokingly call it) that leans heavily on indie songwriting and dynamic musical performances. His soaring vocals and instrumental melodies have landed his previous album Surrogate, and this years Inside The Well on year end lists within the vaporwave and internet music communities.

His music also translates to impressive live performances which have been seen on green screen during the pandemic, but most impressively at multiple festivals and shows this year in New York and Los Angeles.

This artist not only received accolades from curators within the scene, and the stamp of approval from Pad Chennington, but fans of the podcast also cast a significant amount of votes for this album compared to the myriad of Vapor Pop (or Vaporwave 2) style music released in 2023.

You can listen to the album on his Bandcamp or on Spotify

y o u r d i s c o v e r y - MISERY

Another artist who received a lot of votes this year was y o u r d i s c o v e r y and their album MISERY. They also received votes for other projects of theirs in 2023 and got praise for their set at the online fest Slushwave 2023- which was released on VHS by Global Pattern.

MISERY is an interesting album that sits somewhere between motorik longform synthwave, slushwave and vaporfunk. The songs stretch out, never resting on singular loops for too long, while the compressed synth sounds are treated like samples- layered together in a plunderphonic manner. Slapping synth funk drums undergird enveloping synths that interlock across different divisions of time, with some melodies stretching out into cavernous echoes that are contrasted with staccato arpeggios.

The prog-length songs move in sections with detailed sound design throughout the record. Sections of songs will modulate pitch and tempo akin early vaporwave but progress in movements that give this record a symphonic quality. While such lengthy songs with the propulsive heft of prog rock might get weary, there are gentle diversions like “miracle”, a collaboration with Cyber Surfer 3D.

Even though the album art doesn't quite tell you what subgenre of vaporwave this is going to be, it's maximalist aesthetics and technicolor sprawl do this unique album justice and prime the mind for unknown adventures inside…

You can listen to the album on their Bandcamp or on Spotify.

desert sand feels warm at night & MindSpring Memories - 𝓓​𝑒​𝓈​𝑒​𝓇​𝓉 𝓜​𝑒​𝓂​𝑜​𝓇​𝒾​𝑒​𝓈 (Geometric Lullaby)

This one was a clear favorite this year, racking up the most votes for a single album alongside our other Best Album from 2023. Two giants of slushwave and the experimental vaporwave scene teamed up to apply their effects chains to each others music and the final product is a groundbreaking album of originally composed but still sampled/processed vaporwave.

As many people know, slushwave is not my forte and I don't think a review from me could do it justice. But you can listen to a great interview with desert sand feels warm at night on the FutureSounds podcast where he describes the collaboration on this album. As mentioned earlier, each artist composed and recorded their own songs, with their own vocals, and sent them to the other artist. These “Pre-Slushes”, as dsfwan called, them were then chopped and treated through the effects chains each artist has built up over the years to produce the final epic length tracks.

It was put out on double LP by Geometric Lullaby in two gorgeous colorways but only one is still available! Cheers to both artists for making such a great album and maybe we will see them perform it together in 2024- that would be unreal!

You can listen to it on Bandcamp or on Spotify.

luxury elite - fashion pop

And finally we are getting to the other best vaporwave album of 2023 according to the votes, online sentiment, and my personal professional opinion. It’s luxury elite’s 2023 album fashion pop which was a surprise self-release back in May!

This release was beloved by luxury elite fans, which is evident from the copious reviews on her Bandcamp. Ultimately, I think that's the strongest praise you can receive in the vaporsphere. While there wasn't any significant reviews or press attention in the indie media or old vaporwave media haunts, people from across the community showed their support for this album in a variety of ways.

At Electronicon 2023, there was uproarious cheers for tracks of fashion pop such as "last summer". The two editions of the cassette sold out as if it was the thick of the pandemic. The songs appeared in live sets and URL sets throughout the year, with people always recognizing the new bangers like “dancefloor melodrama”.

Quoting my own review:

It's got the classic luxury elite style, with italo-disco and synth pop samples chopped up into new compositions with seamless edits. The production level is as high as ever with a full bandwidth audio spectrum rocking the speakers. As YungShiro from Hot Takes said, “Lux has upped her game- its very clean sounding” and I agree. People on bandcamp seemed to be referencing the early 90s as a touchpoint for this record such as this review by Zach W on the bandcamp release page says: “I know most associate vaporwave with the 80s, but to me this album has a very early 90s feel. Those years had their own vibe compared to the rest of the decade”. I particularly liked the big synths come in in the second half of “Last Summer”...

You can check out the album on luxury elite’s Bandcamp page and leave your own review of this contemporary vaporwave classic!

Thanks for reading our Best of 2023! You can listen to the audio version on Episode 12 of the Podcast and subscribe to get the latest updates from the Vaporwave and Future Funk scenes.

While it may not have our #1 album of the year, you can listen to some of the music from the article plus favorites from our Contemporary Vaporwave playlist on Spotify: