June 30, 2023
The sounds and aesthetics of the 1980s have endured as a cultural obsession for decades, inspiring all kinds of new art forms that evoke nostalgia indebted to the era.
Over the last decade, the vaporwave subgenre of electronic music hit a fashion peak by embracing a retro-revivalist spirit. It often combines the beeps and boops of yesteryear with more nuanced critiques of pop culture and consumerism. The sonic vibe is paired with bright, visual elements that ironically transport listeners back to places they may not even remember.
Is there anyone more qualified in Philly to put a spin on vaporwave than Tony Trov, cofounder of the South Fellini lifestyle brand? With Johnny Zito, the pair opened the apparel shop on East Passyunk Avenue in 2016, selling shirts and other products that distill the local cornerstones of Philly pop culture. The two lifelong friends from South Philly have collaborated on a number of creative projects, ranging from comic books to horror films.
Now Trov has released a new music project, dubbed "Hoagiewave," that he says is influenced by the vaporwave concept and partly inspired by Mort Garson's 1976 electronic album "Mother Earth's Plantasia."
"It's an album that you're supposed to play for your plants, and it's supposed to help them grow," Trov said. "The twist is that it's a pretty cool synthesizer record. And I've been kind of making that my thing (with 'Hoagiewave'). If you play this while you're eating a hoagie, it makes your hoagie taste better."
The eight-song album (free to stream on Bandcamp) runs just over 41 minutes and features all instrumental tracks in the vein of dream pop. Trov wrote and recorded the album using a popular keyboard made by Teenage Engineering, an electronics company known for its accessible instruments. The OP-1 model includes a drum machine, synthesizer and four-track recorder all in one device.
"Usually when you're in a band, it's like four people and everyone deciding and arguing," Trov said. "With this, I pumped it all out myself. It's really a fun process."
Last year, Zito asked Trov to write him music that would go well with a montage of vintage clips he was collecting from old Philadelphia commercials and media broadcasts. Trov had played in bands before, but he had never written and produced music entirely on his own.
The resulting 20-minute track Trov made is called "lofi beats to double park to," a humorous spin on the trend of lo-fi music people use as background noise for studying. It has simple, repetitive beats and pleasing melodies that tend to help people focus and relax.
"It came out really kind of haunting and nostalgic-feeling," Trov said.
The response to that project was so positive that Trov and Zito did a Christmas version in December that featured another "Hoagiewave" track, "Happy Holidays Rita," with some guitar work from Trov's wife.
Trov decided he might as well create a whole album by experimenting with the OP-1.
"Every night I put my daughter down to bed, and then I go and do an hour's worth of Hoagiewave music," said Trov, who turns 40 in July. "I just made one at a time, and at a certain point I had about 40 minutes worth."
Highlights from "Hoagiewave" include "Trash Night in the Italian Market," with spooky Halloween horror synths; "Drowning in the Schuylkill River," which weirdly sounds like the South Fellini version of mall shop music marketed to encourage spending; and "All Public and Parochial Schools Are Closed," which samples the classic KYW ticker sound that accompanied snow day announcements on the radio until the station abandoned it a few years ago.
"Hoagiewave" can be streamed on all the major music platforms, but Trov also had 150 cassette tapes made for those who want the full experience. They're selling for $12.
"I feel like the media and the medium were correct. This kind of music sounds best on a cassette tape," Trov said. "I hadn't listened to a cassette tape in 20 years. Getting my old one out, opening it up and getting that sound of just putting a tape in and closing it, it was like, 'Oh my god, I haven't heard this in so long.'"
Trov plans to continue experimenting with music and new "Hoagiewave"-style tracks. He's also in the early stages of organizing an event, possibly in September, where he'll DJ a version of "Hoagiewave."
For now, this might be the hot new album of the Philly summer — or at least something interesting to listen to while you study.