Thirsty Thursday: Black Atmospherics through the Prism of Light: The Vaporwave Ventures of Ghost Bath’s Dennis Mikula

Credit: Lense of Sense Photography via @ghostbathofficial

My boy Dennis Mikula and I shot the shit last August when his band Ghost Bath casually thumped their trailer through the cracks of my New Orleans street. While the show right over the parish line at Southport Hall was as tight as a crab’s pussy, the waviness of the night heightened with the stars (and not in the way that we had expected). I can still see his long curls pulled back, wild and sleepy. He had accidentally stumbled into the preppy college bar down the street, returning back swiftly with a whiskey-to-go and a scarred look in his eyes. We spent the rest of the night pouring over my magnetic macabre words displayed across my refrigerator with a mission to construct them into ad libs as broodingly crass as possible. I suppose it was more productive than our last spooky venture together a few months prior in Baltimore—attempting to summon Jesus with a Ouija board.

True to form, Ghost Bath departed my house in the wee hours of the morning, leaving no evidence but a grinder and an ethereal trace. I woke up the following night in the hospital from alcohol poisoning after a long week of partying (which, PSA, is not cute). Meanwhile, the headliner of that tour, Decapitated, was taken out in handcuffs in what would kick off a trial in the court of public opinion, Corey Taylor wielding the gavel. In light of abounding chaos, Dennis and I had completely overlooked our interview plans. It is an impressive feat that Ghost Bath has concurred Nuclear Blast despite performing polarizing interpretations of a fringe scene like depressive black metal. I sure as hell prefer cloaks over camo shorts, but I realize that as a whole, the rest of the metal community tends to stay partial to the latter. Still, Dennis possesses another story in need of being told; that of his vaporwave label, Geometric Lullaby, and his many wavy aliases, with the most public being Electric Specter 電妖怪.

And so, true to the book of the ’wave, we reconvened via internet in more stable times to talk the good talk. After much correspondence about the freshly-minted, early PC-inspired electro genre, Mikula felt compelled to end with an anecdote that can only lay the groundwork for the beginning.

In late October of 2017, I had posted on a vaporwave forum asking for anyone to submit to Geometric Lullaby, just to get an idea of what was out there. I received quite a few responses, but one in particular stood out among the rest. I immediately deleted the post after that. 

An email from someone claiming to be from Azerbaijan, a small country just north of Iran, caught my eye for a few reasons. It seemed that the artist had already set up their own Bandcamp with all of the covers and album names, each without the actual music, only the text that I received in their description. 

The first reason this all caught my eye was that I was sent six full albums all at once, each one linked in the initial email. 

Second was the imagery and the music videos. Each of the albums had multiple music videos paired with it. These videos were eerie, haunting, dreamy, and still somehow beautiful. How this artist managed to make them so relaxing but still put me on edge baffles me to this day. 

Third, the text sent with the emails was so bizarre. I just didn’t know what to make of it. Each album had the title listed and track names (all of which included Chinese) and a block of Chinese text. I am still unable to understand the meaning of this text, or the reason for the Chinese language if they truly are from Azerbaijan. Some of it translates to almost a suicide note, while other parts sound like a story that I can’t quite piece together. If you can decipher any of it that may help me understand, please, email me at the label address. 

But, also included was some of the most heart-wrenching poetry that I’ve ever read. If you go to the artist’s Bandcamp, you can read each of them right now, along with the album covers and titles. A lot of them are hard to read. They sound like someone who is in a dark place in their life. All of this intrigued me without hearing any of the albums in full, but that was when I got excited. 

The last, and most important reason, was the music itself. Take away all of the imagery, the poetry, and the bizarre song titles, and you still will find an amazing collection of albums. 

This music is dreamy and atmospheric. It is haunting, yet relaxing. It is eerie but beautiful all at the same time. But most of all, it is extremely sad. I found myself listening to every album, all six, from front to back twice as soon as I started them. And to this moment, these have become some of my favorite vaporwave albums of all time. I even sent some of my friends a private link to listen and they got angry when I took it down a month later as they said they often went back to it. 

The samples selected tell a dark and depressive story, set against the backdrop of unbearable loneliness. Not only are the sounds and the chords selected and manipulated with perfection (the part choices, pitching, and speed all work together so well), the lyrics that were chosen are spot on. I get chills just thinking about this collection of albums. As they go, they evolve and change, some more haunting, while others, like a dream of a love that never was. And so, I knew I had to be the one to release them. 

After three full months of attempting to contact the artist with my layout ideas for their albums and such, I finally got reply. It read, ‘Please release. Send me address.’

I immediately compiled everything I needed and sent the first album off for dubbing. When I got it back, I’ve got to say, it turned out wonderful. Best sounding cassette I have heard in a while. 

My doubts about their location lessened when a mysterious package arrived in my mailbox, addressed from, where else, but Azerbaijan. The box contained only 25 copies of a J-card, each with the word ‘Death’ scribbled on the front. I will be sending these with the first album only. I am unsure if I will ever receive anything else from this artist, so if you want one, make sure not to wait too long. 

Are these albums an intricate call for help? I just sincerely hope that this person is okay. They have created something unique and have a perspective on things that I can really connect with. I feel selfish, but I want more albums and expression from this individual. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I.



So, here is the text released with the first album, (life cycle) – 生命週期:



‘If love is a gift then I am luckier than most 


I am showered with more than anyone could hope


Only I cannot accept them with open arms or a smile


I push everyone away from me, never ending denial

 



It hurts to exist


It is painful to live


My wrists show the struggle of my emptiness

 



Just once I want to express myself right 


To be honest to those who deserve so and cry 


To bleed my own blood not for me, not my life


But someone who needs it, just once before I die 


No more lies…

 



And when I’m gone from this life, I’ll look down in surprise


The world keeps on turning, not a cloud in the sky 


Without me it’s better and less filled with hate 


Because now I am gone, buried deep in a grave.’ – b e g o t t e n 自杀 



 

‘Lay me down and close my eyes. Send me off into the night.’

我真的很想去杀我自己,因为没有人需要我在这里,没有人要我在这里,没人在乎,我没有在线离线的朋友,我不爱我的家人,没有任何人理解我,我是一个失败,只是浪费钱/食物,更多我可以列出

所以我在这个旅行的合唱团,但是是夏天,但有像冬天般的天气。旅游地点有点糟糕,因为我曾经住过(约3000人,充满吸毒者)。我记得走到温迪的一个场所(没有我住过的地方),但这个标志就像“老兵酒吧”那样庆祝老将。我走进去,我没有钱,也没有我的朋友,但是一位老太太说:“哦,我不在乎,你还会在这么美好的一天去冰淇淋。

”然后我被我的合唱团中的男中音拉开,我完全迷失在感觉像一个梦幻般的颜色和建筑物的模糊。 

我所说的是冬季天气的原因是因为在上一部分末尾的幽灵段下雨,我用身体遮挡我的东西在雨中不被弄湿。即使这次旅行持续了几个小时,我想(不记得有关旅行的细节,也没有看到我的老师或任何同学以外的男高音和男中音)。我终于得到了不公平的,在一条我很熟悉的街道上。我头脑里有一个想法:我要去这个城里的朋友家去拜访,这是我去过他们家的唯一的朋友,和他一起睡觉。所以当我到了他的房子(我像火影忍者那样跑了30分钟,而不是坐公共汽车),到了他的房子,他是真的不同。有意义的是,我想:“在3.5年的时间里,我们分开了,我发现了一种幽默幽默感,他有一种脚痛,痴迷于水獭” 
但等等还有更多

我进了他的房子,他没有像上次那样的狗,但他比以前有5个兄弟姐妹。我记得的是,我问他的父母在哪里,他的父亲说“哦,Skyler发现如何把自己变成水獭,所以他在浴室里有一些”私人时间“,这对他来说非常伤心”,而我可以听到非常非常大声的浴室呻吟声。我在汗水中醒来,低声想死

Each album is tagged with ‘hushwave’ as well as the title to the second album. I’m not sure if this is the genre they’ve come up with for their sound, but to me, it fits perfectly.
Being that Drunk in a Graveyard is known for receiving similarly cryptic correspondence (i.e. a hello to boneyard I sends my albums for reviews cheers that yields some of the most emotive work of the decade) I felt compelled to share my education on Dennis’ electronic equivalent.

First and foremost, when and when did you first hear about vaporwave?

I believe I was searching YouTube for different music and saw the cover of Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe (2001) in the suggested videos. It is a bright pink cover with the Roman bust of Helios on it. The title and tracks used Japanese characters and everything about it drew me to listen. The first time I listened I wasn’t so sure if I liked it. It was slowed down, reverb-y music from the 80’s, but the more I listened, the more it grew on me.

After that, I began searching for more vaporwave and discovered a whole slew of subgenres and different styles. When a friend showed me the artist death’s dynamic shroud.wmv I was sold. It was so bizarre, depressing, atmospheric, and everything I look for in music.

What does the genre evoke for you?

I’ve mentioned this before in interviews, but I have a strange form of synesthesia that transforms the music I listen to into vivid imagery and pictures, places and moments from my past, or even colors and temperatures. I could throw on a certain vaporwave track and see this vast winter landscape and then listen to another and be in a specific store in a specific mall when I was 5 years old.

Overall, I think vaporwave focuses on atmosphere, mood, and feeling above everything else, which is the entire reason I love it, and the reason I love DSBM/Atmospheric black metal as well.

I think it depends on the subgenre we are talking about. Future Funk is one of the bigger subgenres, and it actually uses different soul, funk, and pop music, sometimes sped up, with a beat over it. That type of music is uplifting and the melodies carry the songs. Lo-fi/Late Night Lo-fi/Climatewave sort of stuff brings me escapism at its best. Most are like watching an old television set at 3 a.m. in an empty hotel room. The commercials, The Weather Channel, etc. included.

Then there is the more “artsy” vaporwave like death’s dynamic shroud.wmv or different forms of eccojams, or vapor. These I listen to most similarly to [the way I listen to] other types of music. They can evoke whatever the album sets out to achieve. Most of the time it is this dreamy, atmospheric, warped reality; a past that never existed, sort of like an alternate 80’s.

What inspired you to leave your mark by going full in on a label? What are some of the challenges and rewards of running a home operation?
I’ve always thought of running my own label but never quite had the time/ideas of what exactly I wanted to do. When I found vaporwave, I knew this was the next big genre coming up, even if it remains super niche. The community is amazing, and cassette tapes are the preferred physical medium, although vinyl is making its way up. I spent the last few years listening to and finding every artist I could and downloading every album I could. Most albums in vaporwave are free for digital download.

I saw that there were so many releases that were only digital and artists who I wanted to release new material for that I decided to go all in and start a label myself, focusing on high quality cassette tapes from dubbing, to design, to packaging and extras.

The main two challenges are time and money. I have my own band that I have to work with every day, I work as PR for some other bands, I am writing an epic fantasy novel at the moment, I am three years into learning Japanese, plus I work a part time job on the side. All of this takes a ton of time, so when you add in the label work, it can be a bit much. For the label I do design work, interact with artists both new and artists I am releasing, buy all the packaging, extras, labels, ready the music, make music videos, run the label [social media] pages, test the cassettes, pack the cassettes, print the labels and mail them, promote the label since I am brand new…I’m probably missing a bunch of other things, but you get the idea.

As far as money, it is a bit self-explanatory. I have to pay for all of the equipment, packaging, ink, labels, cassettes, etc. all up front.

A glimpse into Mikula’s Home Operation

Ghost Bath—particularly in your last record—shares an ethereal quality with Electric Specter. How does the inspiration/writing process compare between the two projects?

I think they share some sound because they both come from me. As far as my intentions with the projects, Ghost Bath is largely me expressing myself in my darkest times, thoughts, and emotions. I do my best to allow that project to be a sort of catharsis for me. Though…it seems to work better for others than myself.

With Electric Specter 電妖怪, I was attempting to do something different and new with vaporwave. The base idea for the project is to make arctic, hypnagogic vaporwave. Something cold and icy-feeling with some computerized sounds. I also like to make things a little spooky with voice samples and slowing parts down. My first album Arctic Circuitry was my coldest, most freezing sound, while my follow-up Cosmic Creator kept those ideas, but gave it a cosmic and creepy twist.

I think the main thing I do with the project is speed samples up so fast that they become trance-inducing and sort of a lull atmosphere. I think this mirrors how atmospheric black metal uses blast beats. So, there is a cool connection.

What does the future hold for Geometric Lullaby?

Currently I have tons of releases lined up for everyone in a variety of vaporwave genres. Just keep an eye on any of the social media pages (search Geometric Lullaby) and you will get updates on what I release. All of my cassettes will come with stickers, crystals, tarot cards, Japanese style OBI strips, and a sleeve for storage. I want to provide really high quality tapes for people to collect because people in the genre are big collectors.

Let’s say you wanted to do a label tour. Would that be viable? Can vaporwave translate live or is there a better way for it to be consumed?

I have seen arguments for both sides of this. Some vaporwave artists translate well live and actually tour, such as George Clanton. Some decide that they will not play live shows. Personally, the mystery behind the aliases of a lot of vaporwave artists made me interested in it in the first place. I like the idea of it only being available online without a face or the actual name of the artist.

I think the best medium is cassette tape. The sound adds something to the music that it may take away from other genres. It gives a lot of releases an authentic sound. I blast cassettes in my office all day while working.

Last, but certainly not least, what was your favorite Windows screensaver? I always fucked with that apocalyptic maze one pretty hard.

Honestly, I go for the abstract blue backgrounds. Most of them come on a PC when it arrives. It is not too distracting when you are trying to find the right icon on your desktop and the color is calming to me. The main screen saver for windows Vista was the one I used most in my life, I believe.

– Jenna

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You can find Jenna on instagram.

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