Mr Ocean is a producer from Netherlands who has been creating a unique blend of bossa nova inspired vaporwave since late 2017. He is the owner of Seaside Tapes which has released music from a diverse range of artists including the likes of V A P O R S O F T W O R K S 蒸気ソフト and Ultra 64. His latest album, Seculentia, is about to drop January 7th on Seikomart Japan with a CDr release to follow shortly.
In anticipation of this new release, I spent some quality time discussing the label, the new album and culture.
How did Mr Ocean and Seaside Tapes start out?
So I started with a YouTube channel named Ocean Vibes where I uploaded vaporwave, future funk songs etc. (still do, just less frequently now), then LTZ (larisa theory zeus, another ‘vaporwave youtuber’) called me Mr. Ocean in the comments, and I liked that so renamed the channel to Mr. Ocean. Around October 2017 I uploaded my first own track to the youtube channel under the name Mr. Ocean. After that I just made some more songs etc. eventually resulting in my debut album 생선.
At the time I was a ‘nobody’ and had no idea about releasing albums so I just uploaded it on my own Bandcamp instead of contacting a label because I wanted the album to release immediately and not have to wait. It wasn’t until later that I came up with the name Seaside Tapes, I didn’t do much promoting etc. for the label, because it was not really that official yet but then around June 2018 [[ｓｔｅｌｌａｒ 성 적 인 날]] emailed his album d r e a m c a s t 기억 to me, and I decided to upload it on Seaside Tapes. After that the releases followed each other pretty quickly, and now we have releases from tons of amazing artists. One big feature of the label is that it’s not a label for only one or two genres, but what’s more important is the album cover and the theme of the songs/albums on the label.
What attracted you to the name Mr Ocean. Obviously with that and Seaside Tapes there’s a whole water/sea/beach concept, what does that means to you?
The reason for the name is kinda personal, so I won’t tell too much, but I have never liked swimming. I don’t even like beaches that much, but I love the ocean, all the cool sea creatures and animals around there, crabs, sea turtles, sharks, fishes, and all that stuff. And when I went on holiday it was generally to places near the ocean, so I guess it’s sort of about nostalgia for those holidays. This is also why the music is heavily bossa nova influenced, that’s like the perfect music for the ocean/beaches.
How would you describe your journey from having no idea about how to release music online to running a successful label? What lessons did you learn along the way? What advice would you give to anyone who is just starting out with their own label?
Well, at first, it wasn’t about starting a label. It was more like I didn’t know if labels were going to accept my tunes, so I just decided to self-release the first album. I knew about a couple labels that were accepting submissions back then but, as I said, I just wanted to get the album out immediately. Now I don’t really mind when it gets released, as long as it’s not like half a year later. I’ve learnt that the benefit of releasing a album later is that you have more time to hype the album up, so to speak.
About the label, I don’t know if I can call it successful yet, but let’s say it exceeded my expectations. I only expected 12 releases in the first year… at most. But now we’re already at 15. So the digital release part is going well, physicals have taken longer than expected. So for 2019 getting tapes ready for as many releases as possible is going to be a priority. To achieve this I will have to slow down new album releases but I can tell that we already have two albums confirmed for early 2019. With tapes it’s also hard for me to predict how many will sell, and therefore how many I need to order from the manufacturer.
I’ve learnt that keeping all your artists and business partners involved with the label is really important, some issues I have had could have been prevented If I had been more upfront, so that is definitely something I plan to improve on this year. For someone starting out a new label I would advise them to define a signature aesthetic as a requirement for all releases. It can be as broad, or narrow as you want, but it helps a lot to have a cohesive theme around the label. For Seaside Tapes for example some keywords are: beach, sea, ocean, tropical etc.
Do you produce music under any other aliases?
I have recently created the MTX and John Titor’ alias, these aliases aim to be sort of a counterpart or opposite to the Mr. Ocean sound. Whereas I try to make Mr. Ocean music very warm, inviting and tropical, the music produced under MTX will be very distant, cold and aggressive. My goal is to release under a few different aliases and possibly also start another label (not for vaporwave but for other electronic music, similar in style/scope to hyperdub/arcola etc.)
What is the story behind the MTX alias? How did this project start out?
MTX basically started as a joke, it’s supposed to be a chuunibyou character heavily inspired by Okabe Rintaro from the Steins;Gate visual novel and anime series (which I’ve been pretty obsessed with since discovering it this year). So without spoiling Steins;Gate, it’s basically a time travel science fiction story, and I’ve been a huge fan of everything to do with science fiction since I was little.
MTX tries to act like a super grandiose character which leads to the music being cold, distant and aggressive. In this sense MTX is more of a ‘artist’ project, while Mr. Ocean is more of my personal project, it’s like the shadow side of myself in a jungian psychology way. Carl Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality) and as a such this sort of automatically leads to the music being very different from Mr. Ocean but still having some similarities in some ways.
The John Titor alias will probably be a one time thing. I created it for The Voyager Tapes ep on seaside tapes which is just a silly placeholder ep I made.
I’m really interested in your references to Jungian psychology – could you maybe talk a little but about how these ideas influence your work. What are you trying to achieve through the exploration of your shadow-self?
I don’t think there’s a direct influence from it on my work, but it plays a part in me wanting to have different aliases. The mindset I have while making music as MTX or Mr. Ocean is very different, MTX is more stuff I make when angry or feeling funny (as in a mood where I laugh at everything, I don’t think there is a proper english translation for it). While Mr. Ocean is more the stuff I make when I just get these random energy bursts to make some music. I think a key part is that I want to sort of ‘master’ all the different sides of myself, such as shadow, anima etc. because I think that would be beneficial for my self-development in the long run, or at least understand myself better.
You have a new Mr Ocean album called Seculentia about to be released on Seikomart. What is the inspiration behind this new release?
Japanese media is an ongoing influence on my albums and Seculentia is no exception, in fact this time I might have gone a little overboard. This album is heavily inspired by 1998 anime Serial Experiments Lain. In particular Cyberia, an important location in the anime which is basically a hazy night club. This club atmosphere is also found in a lot of tracks on the 2nd half of the album. I just liked the whole cyberpunk aesthetic and story surrounding the anime so much that I incorporated it in this album. That said, the first half of the album is more similar to my regular style of bossa nova inspired vaporwave. All in all I’m really happy with how the album turned out and the release on the Japanese Seikomart label, which is so fitting since the album setting is Shibuya just like Serial Experiments Lain. I don’t really have a backstory for this album, which I did have for my other albums, I think the music speaks more for itself this time around.
For a sneak preview of the release please check this exclusive mix put together my Mr Ocean to give us a taste of what he has in store for us with Seculentia:
How did you go about synthesising the Bossa Nova sound with cyberpunk into a cohesive album concept? Did you find this a challenging combination to work with?
Originally the album was only 12 tracks, but Seikomart told me that there could be some bonus tracks. So I made a few tracks exploring a cyberpunk aesthetic but I liked the sound of those so much that I wanted to explore it further. Almost all of those newer tracks are found on the second half of the album. The the album’s opening track is called Cyberia Day, so that leads to more of a bossa nova sound. But beginning from the second half with the track Cyberia Night the album turns towards a cyberpunk night club vibe. For the album I think all the individual songs are strong enough and I hope that the album still feels cohesive. I think it should be fine since on other albums I combined bossa nova with mallsoft (Termini, 생선) and fishvapour (생선). The combination of the two styles was not really challenging to me, the only thing is that the album is really different from what I expected it to be naturewave at first. I might still explore the original intended sound in another album.
In your opinion, how do cyberpunk and vaporwave connect aesthetically, conceptually, politically etc?
There is a lot of overlap between the two in my opinion, cyberpunk focuses on a futuristic aesthetic while vaporwave mostly focuses on a past aesthetic. So there you have a interesting contrast. Politically vaporwave is sorta anti-capitalistic, tho I think late-capitalist is a better term. And in a way we are rebelling against the large megacorps (record labels, EMI, Sony etc.) for artistic freedom. Cyberpunk is much the same in a way, just that it’s resistance against megacorps and not much to do with music. There is also the punk part of cyberpunk, vaporwave is very much a internet version of punk in my opinion so that is another similarity between the two. If you think about it vaporwave might as well have been called cyberpunk instead as a music genre, since it is a mostly digital (cyber) punk movement. So to me cyberpunk and vaporwave are basically two different sides of the same coin.
You mention a lot of anime. What is it about Japanese culture that inspires your so much?
I don’t know if you listen to Japanese music a lot, but there is something really special about it that I generally can’t find in UK/USA music (save for a few exceptions). It’s really unconventional and experimental at times, and I have always been drawn to stuff like that. Some of my favorite Japanese artists are: Midori, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, Sotaisei-Riron, Shibayan. But if we’re talking about anime, I don’t know the, stories are just really compelling to me. Like I enjoy American cartoons, but those are mostly focused on the humour, while the plot is less important, for good anime shows, they can have a really good and intriguing story while still featuring lots of humor. It’s just more meaningful to me than a lot of American television.
For games I like Japanese and Western games about equally, I’m not interested in AAA games for the most part, but more the stuff for older consoles and indie games/retro stuff. Japanese games do tend to have better music than their western counterparts imo, Persona series has some of the best music ever and the Touhou games have basically created an entire (music) subculture around them, which I have also been heavily inspired by in my works. All my albums feature at least one or more samples from the Touhou doujin music circles. If you’re interested in that I’d recommend Shibayan (Electro, Bossa Nova and Nu-Disco) Demetori (Instrumental/Power Metal) as intros to that music.
As a Dutch producer, how does US popular culture influence your music?
It’s kinda funny to me, I have little to no idea about a lot of the US stuff, but other stuff is/was also popular in Europe. I think back about my childhood and it was mostly japanese mass culture I think, pokemon, game boy advance, nintendo DS etc, for cartoon shows I watched both Japanese, American and when I was younger, still now actually (Some anime have been mentioned earlier, and for US cartoons I quite enjoy Rick & Morty, South Park, Regular Show, Futurama).
For example malls are practically non-existent in the Netherlands, there is like Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht (super ugly mall, pretty cool city) and maybe Magna Plaza in Amsterdam which is technically a mall, but looks more like a church or a palace, so very different from the US type of malls. But I have been to Canada on holiday a few times (some of my family lives there) and been to West Edmonton Mall for example, so I have experienced the coolness of Malls first-hand. But on the other hand I think Japanese/Asian culture plays a more important role in vaporwave as a whole, or at least as much of an influence as US culture. And for me those countries are both kinda far removed from me, US is closer to me I guess in a cultural sense, since I also live in a western country. I wasn’t around in the 90’s and 80’s and the whole corporate culture of that time, but for me it’s just funny stuff, in the same way as a movie like ‘American Psycho’ for example, I basically see it as satire on the 80’s and 90’s global culture, or at least my idea of it.
You mentioned not having malls in Netherlands. But what would a Dutch vaporwave aesthetic look/sound like?
Lots of Acda en de Munnik, BLØF and Marco Borsato samples I guess (all dutch groups/artists). Most people here don’t really like the Dutch music, but it’s all really recognizable for nearly everyone so sampling those popular songs and turning them into some twisted flip would work pretty well I think. But I haven’t really thought about this much, so I don’t really have more to say on this topic. For the aesthetic I don’t know honestly, maybe the ‘I amsterdam letters’ randomly placed on album covers, or some abstract paintings by Piet Mondriaan could work pretty well too I think.
And before we sign off don’t forget to check this album out on the 7 January when it drops – Seculentia: OUT SOON ON SEIKOMART