The 1984 Louisiana World Exposition glimpsed a future that never arrived, a monorail-powered brave new world championed by a giant talking pelican mascot named Seymore D. Fair. The fair collapsed into bankruptcy, failed to recoup the millions spent to build it, and infamously remains the last World's Fair to land on American soil, while Disney hijacked a global vision for the 21st century and beyond with its sanitized futurism under a giant geodesic golf ball at Epcot.
While several Carnival krewes turn their attention to New Orleans' tricentennial celebrations, the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave revels in the 1984 disaster. The krewe joins New Orleans Airlift to host The World's Unfair: A Mardi Gras Ball at The Music Box Village Feb. 2.
"Honestly, it started with the recognition that we stumbled onto a really good pun," says krewe founder Merely Synecdoche (MS). "It was ripe for satire. There's a hell of a play on words there."
Vaporwave's visually driven aesthetic reworks emblems of '80s and '90s nostalgia, in which hyper-processed music samples, corporate language and early internet effects morph into surreal and satirical jabs at late capitalism and consumer culture.
"I think of vaporwave as the past's vision of the future, which is really easy to make fun of, because people are always wrong," MS says. "In a more sad vein, vaporwave doesn't really contend with the dystopian visions of the future. The low-hanging fruit for vaporwave is 'Pepsi will make you happier' — things that were easily debunked at the time, and going back and seeing how innocuous but also dangerous these things were, too."
The krewe saw the 1984 World's Fair as an ideal case study for an immersive vaporwave experience.
"The World's Fair was about advancing the future, telling you how much better the future is going to be, how technology is going to change everything and change you, promising a more interconnected world, but really only promising more tourism," MS says. "That breathless future thinking that IBM and Pepsi and advertisements and what we thought about the future of computing — it all fits. I don't think we had to make a huge leap."
The krewe debuted its virtual Mardi Gras "parade" in 2016, live streaming a collection of videos constructed by pseudonymous vaporwave artists. The krewe also has assembled large-scale video installations and video games, and this year's virtual parade includes 49 videos from artists across the digital domain, mounting a parade that's "absurd, unwieldy and way more than we probably should have," MS says. Meanwhile, vaporwave has assimilated in mainstream culture, from countless meme pages changing the language of the internet to artists as big as Katy Perry adopting its irony and palette.
The krewe's World's Unfair ball is among its biggest projects yet, a full-scale physical space pulling its crowd into the depths of its circuitry. The structures inside the Music Box Village will turn into "extremely loose interpretations" of the World's Fair sites, surrounded by 25 light installations and a 12-foot TV wall serving as an homage to the World's Fair's Wonder Wall, a half-mile-long stationary parade. The krewe's tribute to the fair's infamous Mississippi River gondola (on which Archbishop Philip Hannan got stuck during a maiden voyage) includes an actual gondola with projections simulating a ride in the sky. Improv troupe Special Features will perform a live broadcast of the party, inspired by WDSU-TV's awkward four-hour-long broadcast of the fair's opening ceremonies.
There also are performances by DJ Windows 2000 (aka Arcade Fire's Win Butler, getting a software upgrade from his DJ Windows '98 moniker) and High Profile, performing a vaporwave tribute to George Michael. Also performing are DJs Rusty Lazer and Nice Rack, Plan Z, Kay Weathers, Evan Lee and Baby Bats, among others.
"If we're going to make something," MS says, "we're going to make it big and ridiculous."