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Music Tracks for Vapers Highlight Art Event in Manhattan

Last week's e-cig show on New York's lower east side was a gathering of true believers, it appears. As such, it illustrates the health of the vaping community, auguring well for its survival despite the preachments of finger-wagging prohibitionists.

The evening was staged by the "art and technology" enterprise Rhizome, and it featured a mixtape "for vapers, by vapers" put together by DJ, musician, and vaping enthusiast Aaron David Ross. The tune jockey's vaporizer "looked more like an expensive piece of jewelry than a replacement for 'analog' cigarettes," according to reporter Molly Osberg of The Verge, a news outlet specializing in what's trending in the Big Apple.

The mixtape (made available for listening by a link in Osberg's article) leads with four tracks that have a distinctly "techno" sound, and then mellows out in the fifth band, "ADR feat. Nightfeelings – Resistance is Phutile", dominated by a sexy and atmospheric sax solo. The seventh track, "Milk – Vapin", gives us a bit of rap backed up with mellow jazz piano, followed by the minimalist and repetitive synthesizer work of "Soft Circle – Kemuri Nashi". The series ends with the funky "Ohmboys feat. VapeYoda – I got your flava". 

Ross and fellow vaper Mat Dryhurst were fellow panelists on the program at the New Museum in lower Manhattan, which made interesting points about the increasingly significant distinction between "cigalikes" (e-cigs that look like the combustible, lethal kind) and "mods", or personal vaporizers built by their devoted users, often looking like anything but. "Modding", or building modified vaporizers has acquired a panache not characteristic of its early days. Dryhurst claims that his wife once threatened to withhold conjugal favors if he used his vaporizer in public, a threat which appears to have been waived since that time. Now the practice looks "desirable, fun, and edgy," according to Osberg.

It comes down to commitment, according to Dryhurst, who commented that mod-building "speaks to the same compulsion as synthesizer builders." Cigalikes went out of fashion, he claims, and "are the Coca-Cola of this culture."

The Rhizome program at the Main Street Gallery also included a presentation by a health researcher named CAB Fredericks, who urged vapers to take action "against the man", presumably meaning against intrusive and prohibitionistic government regulators.

Art critic Orit Gat of Rhizome also commented on the split between cigalikes and mods, suggesting that this moment is a critical one that will define the product. "We're still not sure what they are, . . . or what we're supposed to do with them," she said, illustrating her remarks with slides of French clopinettes, parlours where customers can sample vaping products in an atmosphere redolent of an Apple store. Her presentation also included visuals of the nearby Henley Vaporium, where "vaporists" can help customers find the flavors best suited to their tastes, likening the emporium to "Whole Foods" rather than a computer goods outlet.

Normalization is what it's about, summed up Alex Gvojict, an artist who contributes cover work for Ross's mixtapes. Phil Daman, president of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association added from the audience that "the script is very much unwritten."

Osberg gives the final word to Gvojict, who claims that customizing mods has reached an "avatar level". "It's an extension of who you are."