Way before MTV started showing videos around the clock in the early 1980s music was primarily an aural medium. There was always the visual element of magazines, posters, and sparse television programs, but for the most part unless you attended a concert the only visual element you had of your favorite band was their album cover and if you were lucky maybe a few page spread in Rolling Stone. MTV completely changed this concept and from there on the visual aspect became just as or even more important then what the music sounds like. In the new web era of unlimited bandwidth and non-stop visuals from YouTube, Tumblr, and every other media platform (twit pics I’m lookin’ at you buddy) music has become just as visual as movies or television. So much so that there’s been micro-genres sprouting up where the visual element is almost more concrete and substantial then an actual unified musical aesthetic.
The extremely recent Tumblr incubated micro-genre of Seapunk is definitely the best example of this concept. Witch House, the micro-famous / micro-infamous genre that had some critical fanfare in 2010 has a real definitive visual aesthetic that accompanies the sound, but the sound itself is also really specific and pretty easy to nail down. Seapunk honestly seems like the first musical sub-genre that’s invented for and by the Internet where the visual element is more concrete then the sound itself.
Seapunk is kind of an inside joke of a joke which isn’t too surprising considering it’s fiber optic origins. Web celebrity and all around digital hooligan Lil Internet said he came up with the term from a dream he had and from then on, as most Internet concepts seem to do, it became viral in a matter of months. Seapunk can be loosely described as the 90s early Internet cyberpunk culture filtered through a utopian glossy gif aesthetic of dolphins, yin yangs, CGI rendered dreamscapes, and everything aquamarine you could possibly cram into an animated gif. It’s kind of like if that Kevin Costner box office bomb Waterworld was shot on the Internet with a 4D camera and then turned into a elaborate Tumblr theme.
Actually the visual element is easier to describe then the musical aesthetic if that even seems possible. Part of that is due to the extremely short time span it’s been around for. Only a handful of artists are producing music under the Seapunk umbrella, and out of those there’s only been a handful of label releases besides for the abundance of web only Seapunk mixes, which is definitely a parallel to the witch house movement. The first official release was the Coral Records compilation Seapunk Volume 1. There’s definitely a similarity in the sound across the whole compilation, but more then anything it’s a genre where the visual element is a much more concrete tangible concept.
The sound on the compilation spans everything from old school jungle, rave, and breakbeats you might have found in London in 1995. There’s also some aspects of the lo-fi chillwave sound, but with an overall aquatic kind of shimmery vibe. If you sat down and listened to the whole compilation you could probably pick out 15 – 20 genre elements which are then rearranged and put back together in a familiar but decidedly off kilter fashion. As with so much other new web culture, Seapunk takes the last 20 or 30 years of electronic music history and even visuals and completely Cuisnarts them into an entirely new sound and visual aesthetic.
That’s one of the most interesting aspects of Seapunk which is definitely become a common theme for new web culture in general. It’s a musical genre that’s based more on the visual then actually how it sounds, which is something you can really only pull off on the Internet. It’s like when a new brand launches or an esteemed company releases a new product. Before you even use it or have a chance to buy it you’re introduced to it through the visual element; the type of the package, the logo, the actors in the commercial representative of the potential audience’s demographic. Before you actually make a purchase the visual element is the first thing that gets you to the store to even contemplate buying it.
That’s kind of what Seapunk has done. In the last few months there’s been so many Seapunk Tumblrs popping up, Seapunk photos where everyone’s hair is turquoise, Ecco the Dolphin screen captures, and enough yin yang animated gifs to fill an aquarium. Before you even have a chance to listen to the music you’re already so familiar with how the music looks that it changes and affects your perception of how the music sounds.
That’s one of the concepts the new web culture has accomplished that’s extremely hard to pull off in other mediums. It’s the visual abstraction of the genre that personifies the music, instead of people’s perception of it being defined by it how it sounds. It literally sounds like how it looks, but unless you’re online or familiar with new web culture, that concept is extremely confusing. That’s what the Internet has accomplished over time almost by accident. No matter what creative endeavor someone is working with, the Internet has the capability of merging all the preexisting mediums into an entirely new blurry amalgam that’s made from the parts of the old model but looks nothing like the history it was conceived from. Seapunk may be only the beginning of a cultural evolution where all of our senses could potentially be engaged in a medium instead of the conventional aspects we’re used to. In a few years people might be talking about how a new song tastes or smells instead of how it sounds, and considering what’s happening now, that really doesn’t seem too surprising.
Note: We want to credit the seapunk graphics and images to artist Kevin Heckart who is the main artist behind the Seapunk aesthetic. We’re sorry that we didn’t give credit earlier to Kevin Heckart for his artwork. Thanks.