Friday, December 14, 2012

Seapunk: scenester in-joke or underground art movement?

Photograph: Planet Photos
Whatever it is, seapunk is the ridiculous meme that's now gone pop

The music/internet joke subculture "seapunk" started its short life in mid-2011, as a sleepy 4am overshare from the well-thumbed iPhone of a Brooklyn DJ. Julian Foxworth (AKA Lil Internet)'s tweet about a "seapunk leather jacket with barnacles where the studs used to be" sparked a wave of nautical in-jokes, as well as inspiring a collective of musicians to make loopy, bloopy tracks.

Many thought this understandably short-lived meme had died a watery death in 2011, but when Rihanna took to Saturday Night Live to perform Diamonds recently, with a full-on seapunk-influenced production, it got a new lease of life.

#Seapunk – described at its original "peak" as "a web joke with music" (by the New York Times, no less) – moved quickly from social-media snickerfest to real-world happening, as its Atlantis 90s cyberpunk aesthetic piqued online imaginations. A secret Facebook gang of hardcore seapunks clung to the meme like the barnacles on Lil Internet's coat, flooding the blogosphere with "tropicult" imagery and creating a kind of Tumblr-on-Sea community, populated with dolphin gifs.

The visuals and lingo eventually begat seapunk music. Fire For Effect, Zombelle, Ultrademon, Slava, Unicorn Kid and, ahem, Splash Club 7 produced tracks overdubbed with narwhal mating calls and David Attenborough soundbites to accessorise their psychotropical videos. Dedicated label Coral Records Internazionale set up an official beach umbrella for all the "wavy" MP3s and seapunk compilations. Parties in New York, LA and Chicago pushed the lifestyle out into the world.

By this point, the little-meme-that-could had glamoured some actual famous people: see Soulja Boy's Ocean Gang, Kreayshawn dabbling in the shallow end, subculture maven Venus X's green hair, Gaga's turquoise hair, Katy's "Perrywinkle" Grammy hair and Azealia Banks's mermaid shtick.

The inevitable early adopter outcry in response to this co-opting of their scene marked the exit point for many first-wavers, with squabbles about what constitutes true seapunk ("MERMAIDS ARE NOT SEAPUNK #tropiganda!") raining on the parade. Seapunk had gone from sublimely ridiculous to just plain ridiculous.

Vice magazine sounded the death knell by publishing a tract by Lil Internet and collaborator Lil Government that disavowed the scene, called Seapunk Washes Up. But a year later, Taylor Swift has newly aqua hair and Azealia Banks's latest Atlantisvideo exploits the 3D web art that Rihanna also used for her prime-time performance.

Seapunk may be having a second life, but surely Rihanna's had the last word. Now she's had her controversial go at seapunk, only the most shameless would have the whale cojones to follow her into the water.

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