Even if you haven’t heard of the genre by name, you might be familiar with the phenomenon of lo-fi music—playlists that comprise of chill beats to facilitate a state of focus, all the better to study or work to. ChilledCow is undeniably one of the most popular YouTube channels within this genre, with over 8.4 million subscribers to help calm your nerves or simply get away from the many distractions in the world.
Lo-fi music is incredibly consistent and consists of distinct downtempo tunes that mark a dominant paradigm within the internet radio realm. This new millennial-oriented realm of ambient music consists of familiar beats that evoke subtle, complex, and soothing moods to fill life’s more mundane moments.
The term lo-fi stands for “low-fidelity”, in reference to the genre’s sound and production, in which imperfection is celebrated—the “mistakes” become intentional as a part of the process. It is considered of lesser quality than professionally produced tracks you might hear playing on the top 40.
Many of these lo-fi artists are often so-called “bedroom musicians”, amateur beatmakers who work within a shoestring budget but are nevertheless extremely resourceful. They work with whatever is available to them to create an authentic bedroom sound, in the process creating a safe space where the listener can be productive too.
The renaissance of lo-fi was kickstarted in the mid-2000s with the arrival of Japanese music producer Nujabes, who redefined the sound for Samurai Champloo, a popular anime in 2005. His style of incorporating scratchy sounds and a slower tempo mixed over jazz and hip hop became a global phenomenon for his ability in layering modern acoustic sensibilities over nostalgic sampling.
The influence that hip-hop has had on the mainstream is undeniable, and it has also become an integral part of the identity of lo-fi music. The base and snare combination called boom-bap that emerged in the hip hop of the ‘80s is strongly associated with lo-fi today, sub-consciously amplifying genuine sentimental value for listeners familiar with that era in music.
Who knew this fuzzy genre, often stuck on infinite loop, could have a rich history beyond its reputation as lounge music or chillhop? A staple in the portfolio of many a backyard musician, lo-fi has been the inspiration for creative minds to push imperfect and fragmented work into the world.
Kick off your shoes and listen to this collection of lo-fi tunes we have curated for you on loop.
Cover Image: Krismas / Unsplash
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
Kevin is a Malaysian who spends way too much time on Twitter and YouTube. He has also been listening to the same podcast since 2016 on repeat.