Lo-fi music did not emerge overnight, but was fuelled significantly by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Low fidelity” music is currently booming on numerous YouTube channels and is characterised by a touch of retro through simple technical equipment and often with analog sound generation. Classifying this genre as “chill-out music” would be misleading because chill-out is usually ultra clean sounding, right down to the very last frequency. Lo-Fi doesn’t shine in the same way, on the contrary: low fidelity can and should sound antiquated, rusty, crackling and imperfect. Imperfection is so perfect in this case! Read on…
A lifestyle of deceleration
Lo-Fi shapes a new attitude towards life, and a very relaxed one at that. Just sit back, relax and slow down everyday life. The art lies in reduction and being different. Special sound aesthetics and a deliberate contrast to the over-produced mainstream. It seems as if Lo-Fi has developed as a counterpoint to the often hectic and error-free everyday life in a niche – almost unnoticed by many – and has stepped into the limelight in the course of the inevitable calm.
Huge community on YouTube channels with a manga factor
It is by no means so. After all, a huge community has already formed around the Lo-Fi Study Beats. The YouTube channel “Chillhop Music” currently has around 3.06 million subscribers and many of them are very active in the chat windows during the live streams and mixes. Of course, the musical and visual range is large; however, the videos are often set in scenes with motifs or gifs in the anime aesthetic; Very often girls who stare at their desks while studying.
That fits exactly into the picture. Because the sounds are so wonderfully calming, empathetic and touching, lo-fi music is often associated with concentrated drumming at home. Even if the errors in the recordings that have not been eliminated, for example the tape hiss, static, crackling and the occasional hook, could throw students out of their concentration.
(pic captured from ChilledCow YouTube channel)
Longing for the imperfect
It is precisely this aim for non-perfection that is largely responsible for the particular appeal of this music. It’s just not stylish department store music. Rather, the noise is reminiscent of the vinyl record, sometimes even of the shellac record after it has met the needle for the five hundredth time.
It is not uncommon for the tracks to be garnished with unusual noises or even bird calls. Like a modern form of meditation music. Often there are short sequences that feel like they could ripple endlessly. In terms of tempo and intensity it is the complete opposite of rave music. This music mostly lets you pause and calms you down. If you are already tired, it is likely that you’ll fall asleep to it, like the music box that hung over your bed when you were a baby.
Need some illustrated examples?
By the way, Lo-Fi can also be described in an “intellectual” way. A manifesto, or “Lo-Fi Dogma” from the Zurich cultural foundation called Sound Development has existed since 2007. It’s about “bringing back risk and chance in the production of music”, through the following of self-limiting guidelines. For example, as soon as the recording is in the can, nothing can be edited, added or corrected afterwards; a song must also be recorded in one day with all musicians and instruments in the same room. Here are the guidelines:
Guided by Voices – the pioneers of Lo-Fi
Guided by Voices are considered the pioneers of this genre. An indie band from Ohio who also load their soundtracks with vocals. And even that is neither perfect nor completely free of background noise. A new attitude towards life for the young generation; the elderly feel transported back to their childhood. Just retro. By the way, Guided by Voices was founded in the 1980s. At that time it didn’t sound so anime-tainted, rather a little cautiously punky.
Pavement – disbanded more than 20 years ago
Pavement was also one of the forerunners. After all, the American band released 5 LPs. And in 1999 it no longer existed. This makes it clear once again that Lo-Fi is not a recent invention, it is just being interpreted differently these days. Again, reminiscent of the singer-songwriter scene. Low fidelity has seen decades of development.
Elliot Smith – the melancholic one
Elliot Smith, was a solo singer, with a melancholic – but rather enchanting – aura. Emotional lyrics are underlaid with profound music, all instruments performed by the man himself. He was widely known, in particular, for his song “Miss Misery“, it emerged into the mainstream when he performed it at the Oscars.
Daniel Johnston – stumbling recordings with unusual instruments
For example, Daniel Johnston uses flutes, violins and more. You can tell from his recordings that they are not polished. To be fair, the man suffered from various mental and physical health issues, so the fact that he was able to produce 21 albums in his short lifetime is more than impressive. Perfection is definitely not the goal here, rather its lack is what makes these songs so human, even childlike. This is what makes them so touching. Sadly, Johnston passed away in 2019 from a heart attack
Lo-Fi hip hop radio with a flattering manga factor
Then decades passed and the use of “lo-fi” changed. There are several other examples that are played on the lo-fi hip hop radio channels, for example, on both YouTube and Spotify, beautiful sound sequences that can caress you to sleep. Those longing for peace and balance, you know where to listen… And, of course, for some reason, they are visually framed in an anime motif:
Depending on the era you were born in, what is your idea of Lo-Fi music? Please let us know with a comment, we’d love to read some of your insight!