Let’s play a game: think of 5 words to describe the Lo-Fi universe. We are quite sure that among these, one is certainly “relaxation”. This is probably the most iconic and specific genre of music that has ever existed. It is difficult to find other interpretations, or if there were any they would not differ so much from the “chill” effect of this powerful musical phenomenon. During the very first quarter of the pandemic, streaming of Lo-Fi music reached peak increases of 300%, compared to the “unsuspected” times of the previous quarter. An unprecedented boom, which has crowned this genre as the “most listened to of generation Z“. Would it be folly to claim that we are facing the quintessential genre of our generation? In our opinion, absolutely not!
A little bit of history.
As the name suggests, Lo-Fi music – short for Low Fidelity – is the opposite of high fidelity music production. Also known as “do it yourself” music, this genre of music is voluntarily produced with “low” quality. This is by far the most significant trait of the beauty and aesthetics of Lo-Fi music. The genre established itself as a standard in the late 10s, however the first songs were produced in the 90s by a group of underground artists. The genre was formed when this network of musicians began using repurposed drum machines and samplers in the early 20th century due to their soft, warm sound. Similar types of music have existed since the 1950s, although it is difficult to say whether this influenced the development of Lo-Fi music. Many bands have imitated this style using low quality music recording equipment. Many artists, including Paul McCartney, followed suit and released singles which were then produced on portable multi-track equipment.
It is difficult to trace the origin of the name “Lo-Fi music”. The word Lo-Fi is said to have been popularized by William Berger, a DJ at the independent radio station WFMU. In his weekly program entitled “Low-Fi,” Berger explored home recordings produced with low-cost equipment. Lo-Fi can also be considered the quality of production rather than a type of music. The tools used are generally considered to have imperfections. They are of low recording and production quality compared to other instruments. However, the artists’ deliberate use of such instruments and elements has created a new sound.
The Lo-Fi music audience has changed and grown in recent years. It developed from small fanbases on SoundCloud and Tumblr reaching hundreds of thousands of Spotify and Youtube listeners. It used to be the kind of music you could hear in an elevator or small bar, now Lo-Fi tunes are featured in many established playlists. Lo-Fi Hip-Hop in particular has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. Many playlists have been created on numerous music platforms and have been tagged with words that bring back calm and relaxation but also certain emotions such as nostalgia or happiness. Artists and listeners alike say the discretion of Lo-Fi music makes it great to listen to while studying, relaxing or working.
“Lo-Fi” music is considered an “alternative” musical genre, with many songs that at first listen may sound similar, however anyone who has followed these productions for a while will surely have found a favorite artist or a certain emotional streak that the more it suits him. The basic idea applies to any production of this genre: the music is accompanied by nostalgic sounds like the “sizzle” of a vinyl record and is neither so slow that it makes you sleepy, nor so fast that it makes you anxious; the fact that people generally listen to lo-fi beats on an infinite loop also helps create a relaxing effect.
Victor Szabo, a music professor who is writing a book on the genre, explained that the repetition in music makes it predictable, further calming listeners. The brain can “easily predict on a subconscious level how it will continue to play; the listener can divert his attention from the sound and focus on other things without being surprised or bewildered. ” The word used by both Szabo and other music experts to describe the final effect is “cocooning“. Lo-fi envelops you in predictable and smooth sound, shielding your thinking from the unpredictable and harsh outside world. This helps you relax and focus. As a result, you get more. It is therefore not surprising that these productions are suddenly so in demand. A cozy, safe space where you can actually be productive looks pretty attractive right now.
Features for production.
An important feature to keep in mind when producing this genre is that simplicity is everything: we are not talking so much about harmonic simplicity but rather about simplicity of construction, so few elements exploited well. Many tracks for example do not include lyrics, unless they are samples; in addition, many productions can also be based on samples of chords and melodies of old funk, soul, jazz and hip-hop songs from the 80s and 90s. As we have now understood some of the main characteristics of this genre are the imperfections, these can be obtained in many ways, directly during the recording of the piece or more simply in post production. Slight distortions of your instruments or your percussion, background noises such as the typical “vynil noise” or any type of ambient noise are the basis on which the genre is founded. If you start from a sample the most important phase is your ability to transform it by cutting it and rebuilding it, to change its tempo, pitch, distort it or equalize it with band passes. Once you find 4 bars that work and give you the sought-after vibe, then it’s time to indulge yourself, there is no rule, but anything that has a round sound and that is complementary to this retro aesthetic can be inserted. The instruments range from simple piano to more jazzy elements such as sax but also orchestral instruments such as trombones or harps. As for effects that can give you a hand in recreating the typical quality of the recordings of a few decades ago, we recommend the use of the “iZotope Vynil” plugin, this free plugin has been designed specifically for this genre and allows you, through a simple setting, to restore the track in a decade chosen from those available, even reaching the 1930s.
The ChilledCow case.
To give an idea of the explosion this genre has had in the last year, it is fair to mention a controversial event that happened to one of the most followed channels for Lo-Fi streaming.
In fact, many people are familiar with the name of the hip-hop LoFi channel “ChilledCow“, famous, among the many contents, for its constant live streaming starring an anime girl who does her homework. During a weekend in February 2020, following a mistake made by YouTube, the account was closed and the live streaming ended. By then ChilledCow had produced one of the longest streams in YouTube history – more than 13,000 hours – amassing 218 million views in the process.
The accidental ban on the account by YouTube for “violation of the terms of service” sparked a movement of such size that it attracted the attention of the American company that lifted the ban in less than a day.
Dimitri, owner of the channel, then started a new live stream while the original one now appears as an unplayable video. Clicking on it displays a message informing us that the recording is not available but which nevertheless remains as a sort of homage to the original live stream, with the added advantage of showing how many hours it has accumulated over the years.
On February 23 with the official ChilledCow account he tweets: “My account has been unlocked, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the huge support, I’m grateful to have such an amazing community. I’ll be streaming again as soon as possible. ”
A statement from the YouTube support account on Twitter confirmed that the closure was “a mistake on our part“, adding that they “shared the feedback with our review team to prevent similar errors from happening in the future.” However, this isn’t the first time ChilledCow live streams have stopped. The famous 24/7 live streaming was also banned between July and October 2017, a few months after the start of live streaming. The problem, like most things on YouTube, boiled down to copyright; ChilledCow originally used a GIF from a Studio Ghibli anime, which showed a little girl doing her homework. The GIF led the channel to receive a copyright takedown request. When the channel returned months later, the character was replaced with a copyright-free version that could then be used without worrying about the account being hit by a company like Studio Ghibli.
It is due to the size of its audience that the account suspension was lifted, creating a ripple effect among fans on Twitter and Discord. When the ChilledCow channel ran into problems, Twitter users started paying homage and complaining about the loss of their favorite “study group”. Some have pointed out that, after two years of studying, the girl in the video has finally finished her homework.
Lo-Fi in Italy.
The question arises: and in Italy? Our country is a very rich twilight, full of artists who work wisely in the shadows and who have released productions through foreign labels. Does Kina‘s name mean anything to you? Well, know that this 21-year-old Neapolitan is one of the most listened to local artists ever, with over a billion streams on Spotify and over 500 million visuals on YouTube.
But let’s stay on our question. An Italian artist who produces Lo-Fi, with a particular patriotic warmth, may have wondered whether or not there are Italian record labels entirely dedicated to Lo-Fi.
Fortunately, the answer is positive: the Italian LoFi reality is evolving at the same pace as this crucial musical phenomenon. Among the first figures Ego LoFi, which from November 2020 has embarked on this path as a sub-label of Ego Italy. Another Italian reality is the Bolognese label Emic Entertainment which presented more Lo-Fi Hip Hop compilations between 2020 and 2021: the first of these is called 001/20 Compilation and was released during the first lockdown. The follow-up of YouTube and Spotify playlists is in line with the streaming boom that this genre is having throughout Italy and throughout Europe. But not only! From December 2020, a new national reference point has taken on a concrete appearance: from the mind and passion of Mattia Menegazzi, Lofitaly, the first Italian record label entirely devoted to Lo-Fi, was born.
Born as a blog with the intention of creating a community at a national level, now Lofitaly stands as a “hotbed of Italian artists” who produce Lo-Fi to be exported to the rest of the world. A real record structure still in its infancy, but with the line already outlined.
On Thursday 8 April, the youBEAT team hosted the founder and A & R of this very fresh company in the periodic talk show youBEAT Cafè: Mattia Menegazzi and DJ Sparta.
Sources: Wikipedia, MusicGateway, inc.