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Digital consumers as cultural curators: the irony of Vaporwave

Sharon Schembri (Department of Marketing, Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, Texas, USA)
Jac Tichbon (Department of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

Arts and the Market

ISSN: 2056-4945

Article publication date: 2 October 2017




The purpose of this paper is to address the question of cultural production, consumption and intermediation in the context of digital music.


This research adopts an interpretivist, ethnoconsumerist epistemology along with a netnographic research design combined with hermeneutic analysis. Interpreting both the text view and field view of an ethnoconsumerist approach, the netnographic research design includes participant observation across multiple social media platforms as well as virtual interviews and analysis of media material. The context of application is a digital music subculture known as Vaporwave. Vaporwave participants deliberately distort fundamental aspects of modern and postmodern culture in a digital, musical, artistic and storied manner.


Hermeneutic analysis has identified a critical and nostalgic narrative of consumerism and hyper-reality, evident as symbolic parallels, intertextual relationships, existential themes and cultural codes. As a techno savvy community embracing lo-fi production, self-releasing promotion and anonymity from within a complexity of aliases and myriad collaborations, the vaporous existentialism of Vaporwave participants skirts copyright liability in the process. Accordingly, Vaporwave is documented as blurring reality and fantasy, material and symbolic, production and consumption. Essentially, Vaporwave participants are shown to be digital natives turned digital rebels and heretical consumers, better described as cultural curators.

Research limitations/implications

This research demonstrates a more complex notion of cultural production, consumption and intermediation, argued to be more accurately described as cultural curation.

Practical implications

As digital heretics, Vaporwave participants challenge traditional notions of modernity, such as copyright law, and postmodern notions such as working consumers and consuming producers.

Social implications

Vaporwave participants present a case of digital natives turned digital rebels and consumer heretics, who are actively curating culture.


This interpretive ethnoconusmerist study combining netnography and hermeneutic analysis of an online underground music subculture known as Vaporwave shows digital music artists as cultural curators.



Schembri, S. and Tichbon, J. (2017), "Digital consumers as cultural curators: the irony of Vaporwave", Arts and the Market, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 191-212.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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