Chillwave, The Escapist Microgenre
Do you listen to tunes by acts like Toro y Moi, Washed Out, Neon Indian, Gold Panda, Blackbird Blackbird, Purity Ring, XXYYXX, Slow Magic, Juzhin, Com Truise, Memory Tapes, Memory House, Tycho, Baths, Small Black, Craft Spells, Memory Cassette or Wild Nothing?
If you’ve answered “Yes” to at least one of them, then you have been listening to chillwave music.
What chillwave is all about
There isn’t a straight-forward definition for chillwave, but it can be described as “a mellowed down, funky genre with woozy tones and echo-like vocal harmonies”. This microgenre popped into the scene during the late 2000s, when the retro and dreamy pop flavour about the summer (or anything psychedelic, for that matter) became a theme. Remember the VHS tapes of background music from the late 80s and early 90s that gave you that summer vibe? That’s what chillwave is intended to sound like.
The 1980s influence is very prominent in chillwave music as it plays with the nostalgic vibes of the decade. It became a “hipster favourite” on the internet and went on to become massive in 2009 when some of the best chillwave tunes were released by acts like Toro y Moi, Neon Indian and Washed Out. However, do not mistake chillwave for its sub-genre called vaporwave, which joined the scene in the early 2010s, featuring 1980s and 1990s styles ranging from R&B to smooth jazz through chopped and screwed methods.
One thing for sure about chillwave music, though, is the escapist-themed lyrics it presents. Here’s a snipped from Washed Out’s “It All Feels Right” off their 2013 album, Paracosm:
Leaving heading eastbound/ Weekend’s almost here now/ It’s getting warmer outside/ It all feels right/ Call your friends, I’ll call mine/ We’ll head out for a long ride/ Sun is coming out now/ It all feels right
Close my eyes/ Think about the old times/ What’s it all about?/ The feeling when it all works out
How chillwave got its name
Carles, the elusive writer from the now-defunct Hipster Runoff blog, even proposed new names for this new concept of music such as Chill Bro Core, post-AnCo rock, Conceptual Blog Core and post-electro, but ended his article with “...feel like I might call it 'chillwave' music in the future. Feels like 'chillwave' is dominated by 'thick/chill synths' while the conceptual core is still trying to 'use real instruments/sound like it was recorded in nature.”
Carles then explained that he was basically throwing names out there to see what would happen, and lo and behold, “chillwave” stuck. Neon Indian member Alan Palomo said that the name was decided because “it was the most dismissive and sarcastic... the term chillwave came when the era of blog-mediated music was at its height at that time”. It was in the beginning of 2010 that the term was adopted by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in their articles, which made it official.
From then on, chillwave-centric acts began popping up everywhere, especially on SoundCloud. It opened doors for many indie acts to be recognised on many platforms, from music festivals to even TV shows. It became the go-to music for many occasions.
The present & future of chillwave
Throughout the years, the popularity of chillwave ebbed and flowed, at times almost fading away from their position as the hottest kid on the block. New genres kept entering the music scene, and people were moving on to newer sounds. Having said that, the main players like Toro y Moi and Washed Out, who are responsible for taking chillwave to the forefront of the music industry, continue to deliver new music that have undeniably evolved immensely from their first debut. Even so, the chillwave vibe that we’ve grown to know and love will never die; as familiar hints of the genre can still be heard in their songs.
Just like everything that surrounds us, there will come a time when it needs to progress and move on in a different direction to keep up with changing trends. This microgenre may be slowly vanishing, but hints of chillwave can still be heard in some new tunes.
This might not be chillwave’s prime time anymore, but it’s still a treat for the ears to go back and listen to these amazing tunes inspired by the yesteryears, best enjoyed with an accompanying glass of whisky on the rocks by the balcony while watching the sunset.
Cover Credit: Frame Harirak / Unsplash