Cyberpunk dystopias and ambient music have long had a symbiotic relationship, feeding off of each other’s themes, sounds, concepts and imagery and becoming fused together into one single, hazy, nocturnal, neon-drenched, futuristic entity. The last 3 years have seen an explosion of obscure, underground artists who, under the guise of mysterious corporate conglomerates or ghostly apparitions from an improbable future, are heralding a new era of long-form ambient music inspired by cyberpunk novels, Blade Runner and night-time-driving-in-Tokyo dashcam videos. As one of the best new emerging electronic music labels, UK-based Dream Catalogue has helped push this move forward, coining terms like “dream music” and “dreampunk” in order to describe the surreal, dream-like quality of the music they release. Each album is accompanied by similarly surreal artwork, meant to convey the sights and sounds of a vague, unfamiliar future world with its many moods and atmospheres. New smaller labels have soon followed suit and, all of the sudden, there is an ocean of dream music to be heard on Bandcamp, to the point where you can literally spend entire days immersed in otherworldly soundscapes – yeah, dream music is, unsurprisingly, excellent background music for sleeping or even working.
It can be a little tough navigating through the sheer volume of music that’s available out there, so I have taken it upon myself to provide you with a brief introduction to dream music. I’ll try to highlight some of the essential artists and labels that comprise this new scene, along with some choice cuts from each one, mostly releases that I have listened to myself over the past months, managing to leave a lasting impression on me. The dream music rabbit hole goes really deep, so it’s all up to you how much of it you want to explore.
t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者
t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 is one of the most prominent figures of the dream scene, so much so that weird genre tags like “phaserwave” and “slushwave” are being attributed to him. He is also one of the most mysterious and prolific artists out there – there is virtually no info on the real person behind t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, yet he manages to release an impressive amount of music as well as co-spear the Dream Catalogue label along with founder HKE. The most striking aspect of t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 is the lo-fi aesthetic that permeates his music. All of his releases feature low-quality screen grabs of odd, futuristic scenes or characters, while the tracks are slushy, hazy, often long-winded affairs (it is not uncommon for his songs to last well past the half-hour mark) punctuated by the trademark phaser effect that he has become well-known for.
One look at his Bandcamp page is enough to become lost and confused, but albums like 向かい合って (Face to face), アマテラス (Amaterasu), アンドロメダ (Andromeda) or 夢の国 (Dreamland) are all excellent starting points, showcasing Telepath’s atmospheric vibes at their absolute best. Just be warned that this isn’t really the sort of music that favors active listening. It works much better as background music. He also did some very nice collaboration albums with 猫 シ Corp. and Vincent Remember which were released on the Dream Catalogue label. Unfortunately, they have been taken off the label’s Bandcamp page for the moment, so I guess we’re out of luck until they are reuploaded.
仮想夢プラザ (Virtual Dream Plaza)
仮想夢プラザ is Telepath’s side project and it pushes the ambient aspect of the music to extreme levels. There’s a vomitload of albums available that consist of single tracks, each track being around 31 minutes in length. It’s pretty overwhelming at first, but most of the stuff is just stretched-out, highly reverberated sample-based ambient with a heavenly feel to it. My personal recommendation is the almost self-titled 仮想夢プラザ, but feel free to browse around and just listen to whatever album has the nicest artwork. It’s all pretty similar.
HKE / Hong Kong Express
HKE is the founder of Dream Catalogue and an accomplished electronic music artist in his own right. Taking cues from the atmosphere of South Korean director Wong Kar Wai’s movies and maintaining the same air of mystery and secrecy as Telepath, he released several albums under his Hong Kong Express moniker. Sadly, his first albums, 浪漫的夢想 (Romantic Dreams) and 2047 are also taken off the DC Bandcamp page, which leaves us with HK, a dark, gloomy and gritty collection of dystopic cyberpunk ambiances that will make you feel like you are a replicant spending its night in the back alleys of Tokyo. Should you want to explore more of HKE’s recent ventures in electronic music, feel free to browse around https://hkedream.bandcamp.com/. HKE is also behind the alias of Subaeris, an ambient/future garage project that should appeal massively to any Burial fan out there. Myself included.
2 8 1 4
We mentioned both HKE and Telepath, so it makes sense to move on to 2814, a collaborative project of original music between the two, which they started in order to prove that vaporwave doesn’t have to necessarily rely on 80s samples in order to convey an atmosphere of nostalgia. 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day – pictured at the top of this post) is arguably vaporwave’s most celebrated and well-liked album to date. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s high-time you do. It might take a few listens for it to really sink in, but once it does, you will discover one of the most engrossing and atmospheric ambient albums ever made. The distant police siren in the first song will give you shivers. However, their self-titled album (pictured above) is almost as good, so there’s no reason to skip it. The third 2814 should also drop sometime this year, so keep an eye out for that. It’s gonna be pretty great.
Tech Noir is the long-form ambient alias of 회사AUTO and I’m including this because his 完 (Finish) album is a whopping 16 hour slab of abstract, chimerical sounds with a cyberpunk feeling that should turn any dark room into a creepy digital dungeon. I haven’t actually gotten around to listen to it in its entirety and I probably never will, but hey, it’s there! If you ever finish the gargantuan task of listening to this entire thing in one go, do let me know how it felt.
death’s dynamic shroud.wmv
The weirdly-named entity death’s dynamic shroud.wmv is currently busy pushing sample-based music into new territories, with their highly acclaimed I’LL TRY LIVING LIKE THIS and CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE albums, but in their earlier days they were also exploring some dense ambient stylings. DERELICTメガタワー is an ambient concept album behemoth consisting of 84 songs (!!!) in various styles, touching on dreampunk, eccojams, experimental and other subgenres. A heavy mix of sounds that demands active listening and processing power. For a lighter experience, how about シェンムーONLINE? A highly enjoyable vaporwave dance album with chiptune and video game music influences. 3, 2, 1, GO!
Yup, I kept on mentioning it, so of course the seminal UK label gets its own section. It is a veritable treasure drove of amazing electronic music, spanning a wide range of subgenres: vaportrap, dark ambient, new age, future bass and, of course, dreampunk. Your Dream Catalogue fix of futuristic ambient soundscapes should include 安全出口EXIT空间和时间 by Chungking Mansions, THE GAMES WE PLAY by チェスマスター, Lonesome by Renjā, ルートバックホーム by Remember, Into the light by Infinity Frequencies and whatever else looks good to you.
Cyber Dream Records
Moving on to smaller record labels, let’s take a look at Cyber Dream Records, an upcoming label specializing in spaced out, futuristic ambient vibrations from the nether regions of hyperspace. These guys maintain a powerful cybernetic/space/retrofuture aesthetic, both through the music and the exquisite artwork that adorns their releases. Start out with some releases from 漂流する夢想家 (Drifting Dreamer), ΣƶɦĂk, rリiチcャhーaドr_d and tek800 and, if the weird names don’t spook you, prepare for some memorable astral journeys.
BLCR Laboratories (formerly known as Bloody Carpet) is another small label with a futuristic, lo-fi vibe, providing ambient tunes and music for sleeping and drifting in and out of life. I’ve enjoyed listening to such releases as LONELY_TOWERS_ by FUTURE_TELLER_, FORGOTTEN PARADISE by Sangam and afterlife by reef frequent and I will probably check out some more stuff over the coming months, as well.
Plus 100 Records is a label that’s been gathering a steady following recently. Vaportrap prodigy Vaperror is the one at the helm of this label, which has released albums from t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 (you already know what to expect), Remember, whose album ハートエイクに歩い (Walk to Heartache) opens with a monolithic 30 minute slowly-evolving ambient track, and テレヴァペ (Televape), a collaboration between Telepath and Vaperror combining ambient, dreampunk and flowing jazz melodies. Highly experimental and at times challenging music, but great fun to listen to.
And this concludes, for now, our brief journey into the realms of dreampunk and dream music. Hopefully you have enjoyed the recommendations and have bookmarked some albums for later listening. As I said, this kind of stuff is perfect for night-time listening or boring office drone work, so if you’re ever in the mood for some flowing, dreamy, surreal, futuristic soundscapes, I hope this post has pointed you in the right direction.