Lo-fi music became a major genre during the global lockdowns of 2020. Many people found themselves stuck at home all day, trying to find the motivation to do work, study and chores. Add to that the factor of more time to kill by going online, and the growth of lo-fi music was the result.
So, what exactly is lo-fi music?
What Are The Characteristics Of Lo-fi Music?
Lo-fi is short for “low fidelity”; so essentially, it’s the opposite of hi-fi, or “high fidelity”.
Hi-fi refers to clear, high-quality sound which reproduces the original source as closely as possible. Lo-fi music is therefore a lower quality reproduction of sound. It will include audio distortions such as background noise and phonographic imperfections like tape hiss and background static of old vinyl.
In 1994, Beck’s single ‘Loser’, which was recorded in a kitchen, reached the Billboard top 10. Lo-fi as a production value really reached a zenith in the nineties, when hip-hop and indie rock artists choose it for economical and stylistic reasons.
These days, the tag ‘lo-fi’ is generally used as a shortened term for ‘lo-fi hip hop’. It’s a form of downtempo electronic music underpinned by hip-hop beats and samples. It often incorporates the kind of chord progressions you find in jazz music, and may also incorporate elements of chillwave and house music.
The overall effect is a relaxed, dreamy sound with retro elements. Samples are often taken from old films. This gives it a cosy, often nostalgic vibe, ideal to relax to or as ‘bedroom music’.
Where Did Lo-fi Hip Hop Come From?
The birth of modern lo-fi music as a style is often credited to chillhop artist Nujabes, and the hip-hop pioneer J Dilla.
A fun side note: Nujabes worked on the soundtrack for anime series Samurai Shamploo. So, if you were wondering what the link was between lo-fi and anime, this is where it all began. Anime remains a visual element of many YouTube livestreams.
The actual emergence of lo-fi hip hop began in 2013, with the debut of livestream channels on YouTube. These livestream channels enabled artists to create what are essentially radio stations, with a never-ending flow of music. Many lo-fi artists also began curating playlists, and you can find many examples of these on Youtube and Spotify.
In 2015, the Lofi Girl Youtube channel was born, back then known as ChilledCow. This lo-fi hip hop radio station has become the most famous and successful lo-fi livestream ever, with over 1 billion views and over 10 million subscribers to date.
Why Is Lo-fi Music Popular?
Lo-fi music has the dual qualities of being relaxing, but also helping you to focus. It makes excellent background music for study, reading and chores, or just to chill out to.
Many livestreams, such as Lofi Girl, also have a chat function, so they provide a place to hang out for people seeking connection, with many users opening up about personal issues.
Many lo-fi playlists you’ll find on platforms like YouTube and Spotify really place emphasis on creating a ‘safe space’ for the listener. They promise to whisk you away you to secret, serene environments or moments in time, whether that’s an evening in a cosy bedroom, a moment to reflect on a quiet rooftop, or deep in a mysterious forest.
Many more people work and study from home these days. Without a dedicated workspace or office, lo-fi music helps create a kind of cocoon that reduces outside distractions and, due to its downtempo, calming properties, helps reduce anxiety. It helps people to manage their environment.
The retro hip-hop beats and sound effects, such as record scratching or the sound of a muffled voicemail, amplify the feeling of comfort and nostalgia – feeing the need as we sometimes do for a nostalgic, safe space to retreat.
The world is crazy right now, after all. When we have fears about the future, the past is often a safe place to escape to.