- Courtesy of Alex Bienaime
- George Clanton
New York City-based electronic pop artist George Clanton has become one of the most prominent figures in the niche genre vaporwave, despite his complicated relationship with the descriptor. The cultish style was born on the internet in the early 2010s. Sonically, its hallmarks include '80s-inspired, day-glow synths and spacey, down-tempo beats. Tracks are typically paired with tripped-out, remixed visuals that draw upon '80s and '90s pop and consumer cultures.
Clanton took a risk with his newly formed record label, 100% Electronica. The imprint was originally conceived as a launch pad for his own work and that of his girlfriend and label cofounder Lindsey French, who performs as Negative Gemini. But, shortly after its inception in 2015, Clanton decided to begin reissuing obscure albums that had either never been released on vinyl or were out of print and prohibitively expensive. His reissues of Australian duo Surfing's 2012 album Deep Fantasy and German duo Software's 1988 album Digital-Dance sold out almost instantly.
Clanton recently dropped his previous moniker, Mirror Kisses, in favor of his own name. While his music may have commonality with vaporwave's instrumentation, Clanton's only conscious attempt at the genre was his former side project, ESPRIT. Vaporwave is almost exclusively an instrumental genre, which Clanton defies with robust, syrupy vocals.
He co-headlines a show with Negative Gemini on Wednesday, April 5, at ArtsRiot in Burlington. Seven Days caught up with Clanton by phone and discovered that, while he has the fashion sense and business acumen of a city slicker, Clanton speaks with a mild southern accent that betrays his Virginian country roots.
SEVEN DAYS: Tell me about the process of getting something reissued.
GEORGE CLANTON: It's kind of different every time. You just have to figure out who owns the music. At that point, you just draw up a simple contract and tell them how much — or, [the owner] tells me how much [they] want to get paid. And then I run the numbers, and if we can do it, then we do it. It's not as complicated as you might think.
SD: What are some holdups you've experienced trying to reissue something?
GC: There's some Japanese pop that I really want to put out. These records are just so hard to find. That's kind of how I come up with what I would want to put out. If I want the record, and I can't get it, then that seems like it's a good reason to try to put it out.
The Japanese labels, big and small, seem to be really hesitant to deal with me. It's probably because I don't have a very professional system set up to handle that kind of thing.
SD: Do you have any contacts in Japan who could assist you?
GC: I do, but [it's] also a record label. And I don't want to give them my brilliant ideas.
SD: Your label is still pretty young. Have you been able to pick up any tips and pointers from similar labels?
GC: It's hard to say. I think most people would say that what we're doing is kind of stupid and doesn't really make sense. And it's not a good way to build a label or get any excitement. Typical labels are interested in releasing as much as possible and having brand-new, unheard-of artists. Their passion is to find an artist that no one's heard of yet and say, "Hey, I found this." Which is cool, but that's not my interest.
SD: Do you have any upcoming reissues?
GC: My next record that's coming out — I'm just going to arbitrarily choose April 7 — you can get on the used market for $10. I can't afford to sell a record that cheap. I'm just printing it because it's one of my favorite — if not my very favorite — albums of all time. And I'm just going to put it out. We'll see what happens. That's the kind of thing my friends tell me is kind of a bad idea.
SD: What is it?
GC: I can't say.
SD: You can't tell me?
GC: No. I love the surprise of the day-one announcement.
SD: In an interview with NSS Magazine, you referred to your earlier projects as being "specific and limiting." Can you elaborate on that?
GC: I was specifically talking about Mirror Kisses, I think. When I came up with that name, I was 18 years old, and I was making what I called my serious music: shoegaze-y guitar stuff I made on the computer. But no one really liked it.
Then I got really into [the] Human League. I made a song that sounded like them and played it for a couple of my friends, and they thought it was hilarious but also awesome. I thought, Well, this is a lot easier for me to do because I'm pretending to be someone else, and I'm singing about stuff that's not necessarily relevant to me. You know, like singing about a bunch of sexy stuff when I can't get a girl to pay attention to me.
But then, with time, the music got less and less '80s copycat. So I decided to start fresh with my own name. I think that the name change was a big help in the way that people perceived the music.
SD: Speaking of which, I'm still a little confused about where you stand in relation to vaporwave.
GC: People define it so differently. The serious artists in vaporwave don't call themselves [that], but everyone else [does]. The album that I released by Surfing — that's a quintessential vaporwave album. But they don't like to be called vaporwave, and they never really knew what that was.
I definitely felt like I was fully a part of it at one time, when all that was happening in 2011 or 2012. Now there's a new wave of people making music that's very similar, and I've kind of stayed the same. I tag my stuff as vaporwave. It's a great way to find people who are going to listen to your music. But also there is a ton of people who say, "Oh, this isn't vaporwave. This is garbage. Why is this guy singing?"
SD: You seem to love the movie Hackers. What's the deal?
GC: That movie is the future that I wish the present day was. It touches all the right places. Everybody looks fucking cool in it. Their clothes are sick and their haircuts are dope. The dialogue is bad, but the way that they look is really sick.
SD: Are you a fan of karaoke?
GC: I hate karaoke.
SD: Really? That surprises me, because you have intense karaoke energy in the "Bleed" video.
GC: No. If you want me to sing, you have to pay [for] a ticket. That's my position on karaoke.
SD: What's something you could never live without? And it can't be related to making music.
GC: Fried potatoes. I get really crazy and irritable if I don't have them. I have some kind of French-fry addiction.