FM Skyline’s ‘Images’: A New Dreamscape for Vaporwave in Richmond


Right now is a good time to be a vaporwave fan. Gone are the days of rampant Floral Shoppe memes and obtuse criticisms of lazy production techniques. Some of the genre’s most prominent creators are putting out their best work and finding more mainstream success online and offline. More artists of every medium are tastefully incorporating the sound and aesthetic into their work.

It’s especially good news for Richmond. Local midi maestro FM Skyline just released Images, his seventh LP and the first since 2021. Like the vaporwave scene at large, it occupies a much more optimistic, sunnier place while still maintaining the dreamy, surreal hallmarks of an FM Skyline release. What’s more, the enhanced CD release features a puzzle video game created by FM Skyline (whose real name is Pete Curry) and George Clanton, fellow vapor mogul and founder of 100% Electronica, that vaporwave record label and the one Curry calls home. 

Furthermore, June 1st brings i2K Electronic Music Festival to Ember Music Hall, featuring Curry and other vaporwave favorites such as Vaperror, Whitewoods, and FrankJavCee. I caught up with Curry to discuss all of these events in more detail at Blanchard’s on Morris over tea and coffee.

Curry has spent the last 13 years in Richmond cutting his teeth in the DIY music scene in various rock bands and even studying music at VCU for a time, but he’s happy with where he has ended up. “I was playing bass and writing for my friend Saw Black, I played drums in a group called Death Birds Surf Club… I’ve played a lot of loud shows. I’ve had enough, I don’t miss it.” 

When vaporwave started to gain more popularity online, Curry took a liking to it quickly, particularly the unique pairing of sonic and visual aesthetics. “I remember when Floral Shoppe was being written about, seeing it and registering that ‘hmm, this is interesting, but also sounds really pretentious,’ you know? But I love art too, so I think in the back of my mind I was always looking for a way to approach music in the context of art,” he recalled.

“I was inspired really quickly. I had been learning a lot of video game music on piano at the time, JRPGs and things like that. So it sort of clicked, like ‘oh, I can just write that sort of tune and make it really groovy and funky and trippy.’” Inspired by artists like Eyeliner, James Ferraro, and ESPRIT 空想 who were making original compositions using the vaporwave formula instead of sampling Kmart tapes and incidental Kenny G tracks, Curry went into the studio to try his hand at it. 

Photo courtesy of FM Skyline and 100% Electronica

One of the earliest products was 2019’s Advanced Memory Suite, a hazy, wavey cruise through abstract architecture with washed-out textures on simple midi synths. It was a quick success upon release and eventually landed on the ears of Satin Sheets, a New Zealand producer whose own sound was an inspiration to Curry. Satin Sheets, also a 100% Electronica artist, loved Advanced Memory Suite and recommended it to their boss, the afore-mentioned George Clanton. Impressed by what he heard, Clanton contacted Curry to offer him a spot at the first of a now annual vaporwave festival, 100% ElectroniCON

All the while Curry had been trying to get in touch with Clanton after being inspired by 100% Electronica’s work, as Curry was running his own label at the time, Crystal Pistol Records. “It was a really crazy triangulation! I was really trying to get in touch with [Clanton] somehow, but I had to go all the way through Satin Sheets in New Zealand.” 

Since then, Curry has released several successful records with 100% Electronica. The latest, Images, is a bit of a departure from those past, darker releases. In contrast to 2021’s Illuminations, which is moody, melancholic, and at times spooky, Images is groovy, shimmering and hopeful. “In the Hills,” inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” is a slap bass lullaby soaring over the trouble-free landscape of the Teletubbies’ colorful homeland. The lead single “Fresnel” features quivering keys and conversational guitar and saxophone solos, all with that signature midi soundfont, of course. 

The music video attached to “Fresnel,” which Curry also created, is a virtual psychedelic trip through liminal 3D spaces that take inspiration from the 90s experimental film series Mind’s Eye. Curry cited those films, particularly the soundtrack by Jan Hammer, as a massive influence on his sound and visuals. “I’ve been hugely, hugely invested in studying all of that retro CGI stuff,” Curry said. “ [Beyond the Mind’s Eye] in particular, there’s a certain symbiosis with the soundtrack and the visuals. That’s a big influence on how I conceive of the surface aesthetics of the videos, and also the unity of the sounds sounding like the visuals.”

As they were planning the album out, Curry and Clanton, ever appreciators of obsolete technology, both knew they wanted to do something special for the CD release. Pairing the 3D assets Curry created for the “Fresnel” video and Clanton’s skill with the Unity game engine, they created an enhanced CD that features a puzzle/mystery game that takes place in the world of the “Fresnel” video. “This was our first time working with, ‘what if CDs weren’t just a cheap digipak?’” Curry explained. 

Photo courtesy of FM Skyline and 100% Electronica

On Curry’s horizon is the i2K festival, a collaborative album with fellow producer and video game soundtrack aficionado Equip, and perhaps even more shows to promote Images. i2K’s organizers VaporVA state their goal as “Bringing live Vaporwave/Electronic events to Virginia.” Curry is looking forward to what that could mean. “I think it should be fun for people in Virginia and here in Richmond. I haven’t played here in years, so it should be a good opportunity for people regionally to see me and some of these other folks perform over there!”

Toward the end of our conversation, someone occupying the table next to us placed a note on our table explaining that they weren’t trying to eavesdrop, but they had written their dissertation on the history of vaporwave and took great interest in our conversation. There’s literally dozens of us! And 2024 is treating us right.

Give FM Skyline a follow HERE

Quentin Rice

Quentin Rice

enby music nerd partial to noisy post punk and vaporwave. you can usually find me at shows, smash bros tournaments, or stuck in the backrooms. my cat's name is pickle 🙂

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