Crystal Vessel is a producer from Sheffield, UK whose music fuses danceability with a keen sense of nostalgia that is teased out of flowing synthetic textures. Her distinctive sound uses a minimalist aesthetic to great effect, producing spacious mixes that combine gleaming electronic tones with atmospheric field recordings, fragments of obscure cinema and the distant jumble of voices shredded into data scraps and reconstituted into something positively post human. Although she has been producing electronic music since 2010, she didn’t find her way into the vapor-verse until 2015, and since then she has put out an impressive collection of releases, with albums on Sample Crew, Vapourcity, Seikomart and Keiseki Digital. Her latest release, The Future Sound of Vapour came out on Asura Revolver on 5 March 2019. It is an ambitious reimagining of the potential of Vapour intended to push the boundaries of genre that features collaborations with two of the most forward-thinking producers in the scene: Lila Tirando a Violeta and Glaciaere.
In the lead up to this release, Crystal Vessel spent some time with VapoUrban discussing her development as a musician, explaining the origins of her podcast Coffee with Crystal (in which she is still yet to take a single sip of coffee), discussing the controversies of Hardvapour and enlightening us on what she thinks the future of vapor will be.
According to your Soundcloud bio, you got into producing electronic music in 2010, “starting out with electronic dance music (EDM) and later moving on to ambient, IDM and downtempo”. How did you get started producing music?
I remember way back, like 2009, I had a class trip to the Apple Store where they taught us Garageband and let us loose on their iMacs to create a song and I loved it. I never had a Mac at home so I just kinda… left it. A couple months later I found a copy of eJay in a second-hand store. eJay was a bit like Garageband except it was all loop-based with the loops being included in the software so it was pretty generic. From there I moved onto downloading royalty free samples and playing around in Audacity until I eventually decided that if I wanted to be professional I would have to get a proper DAW. In the summer of 2011 I bought FL Studio, in the summer sales.
How have you evolved as a producer over the past eight or nine years?
My music has evolved as I’ve learned more techniques, skills and, mostly, structuring. So when I started I was labelling my stuff as ‘club’ music because I had no idea about subgenres and stuff. Thankfully, I eventually learned about sidechaining and a few other techniques to improve my production quality. Then it came to learning how to make sounds in different VSTs – and I’ll be honest, I tend to use FL Studio stock plugins because they’re all super good and are just as powerful as something like Sylenth1 just without the $199 price tag.
Also, on your Soundcloud bio you state that HKE, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher are great inspirations. How have each of these producers influenced the Crystal Vessel?
When I first got into the vapour scene my favourite producers were people like Darkpyramid (who I later found out was HKE), Blank Banshee and Chuck Person. As I got more into production around the vapour scene I found myself getting more influenced by the less sample-based stuff and more into the harder stuff that HKE produces, similarly the weird IDM that’s all over the place but still dancey that Aphex Twin makes really inspires me. Like, he can make something beautiful like Rhubarb and then next he hits you with Windowlicker. I love the way he can be so varied. That’s what I aspire to be, I might release something chill or it might be something super dancey but equally atmospheric.
As a producer who began making music outside of the vapor-adjacent scenes how did you come to be involved in this community?
I discovered the vaporwave genre in mid-2015. I was looking through Facebook, of all places, and saw a ‘list of electronic genres’ post and there was vaporwave. I’d never heard of it so I looked it up and found Blank Banshee and Macintosh Plus. I quickly got drawn into the genre. At the time I was producing trance music under a different alias and had no real intention of doing anything vapour-related.
I moved to a different city that same year and was in a completely new area. I knew nobody, I was homesick and at that time vaporwave kinda helped. I’d listened to it so much that year that it reminded me of being home. I would go to bed at around midnight and listen to A Heart Full Of Love by Darkpyramid every night until I fell asleep. I started to produce a few vapour tracks, most of them were pretty bad. A few months later I saw a post for a new label on the r/vaporwave subreddit. The label was Vapour City Detective Agency, so I went for it. I had maybe 2 tracks done. I sent over a track and the person who runs the label agreed to release an album in a month’s time… giving me a month to create 6-7 more tracks to pad out the few tracks that I’d managed to make.
I managed it, eventually, and submitted it. The album was released and at the time I was planning to keep Crystal Vessel as a secret side-project with no links to the real me or my other music. As time progressed I got more and more into the vapour community through Twitter and eventually admitted to myself, I was done with trance music. It felt too samey, too generic. I dropped my ‘main’ project and Crystal Vessel became my only music project.
Since becoming involved in the community one of your notable contributions is the Coffee with Crystal podcast. How did this project come about?
I don’t release albums super often. I feel bad about it sometimes but I like to take my time and release 2 albums a year as opposed to rushing out 1 album a month or something crazy. I wanted to have a project to do in-between albums where people could engage with me and my music when I’m not releasing. Also, I like connecting with the community and the podcast is a good way of doing it. I get to share my opinions and put them out there for people to see.
Where would you place your music within the diverse mess of styles and subgenres that make up the dysfunctional vapor family?
My music isn’t exactly vaporwave. I don’t use samples and my tracks are usually a way higher tempo than the traditional vaporwave tracks. I guess I would say that I produce ghost tech or more generally I’d describe it as vapour. It’s certainly got an aesthetic to it but it also has a bit of a beat, meaning it works well in nightclubs and stuff too. So yeah, I guess ‘vapour’ would be how I’d describe it.
As a producer with ties to both vaporwave and the hardvapour scene, how would you describe the relationship between these two sub-groups?
I think that hardvapour gets a lot of bad representation because of certain groups within the subgenre. I mean, just recently r/hardvapour got shut down because of a breach of Reddit’s community guidelines because the few that frequented it just used it for edgy jokes. However, I think that hardvapour is as much part of the vapour family of genres as vaporwave.
Hardvapour seems to be one of the most misunderstood sub-genres within the vapor family. What does it mean to you?
To me it’s a breath of fresh air, to be honest. I enjoy vaporwave and its many subgenres but it can get a bit stale after a while, that can happen when you listen to any genre for a long time. I see hardvapour as something relatively new and untested, it holds a lot of promise and gives a new aesthetic to the genre. With hardvapour comes the darker, more industrial aesthetic which is an awesome counterpart to the bright pink-blue gradients of vaporwave. It also gives vapor a sub-genre which is a little more dance orientated, allowing it to be accessible to a larger audience who prefer the darker style and aesthetics.
A lot of hardvapour controversy seemed to get recently re-ignited, what do you think spurred this on?
There are a number of members of the hardvapour community that are fans of edgy humour and memes, I think that this can be misinterpreted as genuinely offensive or pertaining to their actual views (it’s unclear whether the memes they post relate to their actual views or whether it is just a joke). Another recent event that caused a lot of controversy was the alleged transphobic messages to a member of the vapour community from a large, established hardvapour record label. This is of course something to be outraged by as these are horrible views to harbour, especially in a genre that has a number of transgender artists such as vaporwave. Unfortunately, although these are only the views of a small minority of the genre, those who voice these opinions are the people with the largest audiences.
How did you latest album The Future Sound of Vapour come about? What is the concept for this the album?
The album is a collection of 8 tracks that are all heavily inspired by past vapour releases from other artists combined with my vision of the direction that I see vapour is headed. The tracks heavily feature deep basslines, driving drum beats and give that overall mixture of downtempo atmosphere and dance. I’ve played the majority of them live before at clubs and stuff and they never fail to get a good reaction.
A question your latest album title begs asking what, in your opinion is the future of Vapour?
Vapour means a lot of things to a lot of people. I think the future of vapour, in my opinion at least, is heavy basslines, driving beats but ultimately an overall feeling of atmosphere. Dance music nowadays is generic, upbeat and is practically cheesy pop music at this point whereas vapour allows something more, something unique. Vapour allows a track that you can dance to, but also has a lot more to it with delicate atmospheres putting the listener in a specific state of mind or place.
And finally what do you hope Crystal Vessel’s role will be in this future?
HKE, Lila Tirando A Violeta, WosX, MOD-COMM 81, Halo Acid. They are all pioneers and champions of the vapour genre. They have created numerous iconic albums each. These are the people that I would consider to be at the top of the genre. I aspire to be like them.
Crystal Vessel’s new album The Future Sound of Vapour is available now as a NYOP digital download on the Asura Revolver bandcamp: https://asurarevolver.bandcamp.com/album/future-sound-of-vapour