Cash-strapped music hopefuls often jam in cramped bedrooms or abandoned spaces that allow them to practice freely without having to spend a cent. These aspiring musicians then bravely record their self-composed demos in these dive venues in the hope of getting signed by a respectable label. Unfortunately, the converted digital audio output produced from these sessions sound lacklustre and dull—raw, crackling, scratchy and filled with hisses. The absence of contemporary industry-standard equipment is the culprit.
Despite the flawed recordings, the imperfections developed through phonographic distortion adds an attractive element that complements certain music compositions. And that, my friends, is ‘lo-fi’ in a nutshell. Alternatively referred to as DIY music, lo-fi aesthetics evokes qualities of home-recorded melodies with attached out-of-tune or out-of-time musical notes. Why are listeners still enamoured by such subpar output? Its unforced arrangement and raw structure are recognised by a respectable alternative crowd, a feat since the genre’s origins in the 1950s. Refer to The Beach Boys, Animal Collective, R Steven Moore and early Sir Paul McCartney.
Presently, lo-fi has a diverse presence in hip-hop, indie and even ambient tracks. But I’ll wager that chillwave is the true heir for such warped tunes. Modern technology has allowed sketchy musical notes to be created digitally and manipulated on demand. This deliberate process takes away the organic glitches formed while recording a song but allows manipulation on the placement of phonographic flaws. Neon Indian’s 8-bit ‘Slumlord’, Sohn’s loopy ‘Tempest’, the Richard X-produced ‘Some Girls’ and, of course, the godfather of chillwave, Ariel Pink.
The bar for a perfect song with sonic clarity complies to industry standards, but having some imperfections may yield an unexpected audio masterpiece.