Music can communicate an idea or feeling that words simply cannot. A guitar riff, a synth melody, a bass drop can communicate feeling that words and talking cannot. Music makes people feel things and music unites masses who feel similarly. It has, since the beginning of time, been a way to communicate, to pass down stories through generations and to relax and lose yourself in thought and feelings. With time has come many genres, ranging from the functional, rhythmic blues to the pulsating, trance of electronic music. Lo-fi is just another one of these genres, and is derived from the words low-fidelity, meaning that the musical quality is usually of a lower standard compared to the typical, contemporary standards.
Lo-fi as a genre emerged in the 1950’s due to amateur musicians with low budgets wanting to record their music and now having the means to. The DIY recording and non-ideal recording locations meant that natural and unnatural distortion often occurred, leaving a song of low quality and, low-fidelity. Despite the lower quality of the songs, they became popular among the masses, with the genre’s uniqueness making it popular. The uniqueness was born from many people loving imperfect songs. A lot of popular music is considered to be technically perfect, with every beat hitting at the perfect time and all other elements sitting perfectly within the mix. This is where Lo-fi differs from others, as it is not so ‘perfect’ in comparison.
This song by Johnny Ace called ‘My Song’ was both written and then recorded at a radio station in the 1950s. One of the writer’s described it as a ’15 minute job’ and if you have a listen, it definitely sounds rushed and of poor quality. However, this style resonated with some people and this song arguably birthed lo-fi as a genre, with its long rein on the billboard top 100 in 1952.
Nowadays, Lo-fi music is generally used to make some small electronic beats. Oftentimes, a lot of elements are band-passed to create a low-fidelity feel and vibe without having to record or re-record elements to be of lesser quality. Some popular lo-fi songs of recent times include the below listed:
Lo-fi music has branched off into many sub-genres, the most prominent of these being hip-hop. This sub-genre is now also widely associated with anime (Japanese Cartoons) due to several reasons. A main and probably the most foremost reason of the association is due to many lo-fi producers growing up as anime fans and wanting to recreate some of the musical styles of their favourite shows. According to Lo-Fi producer ‘KisaiTheSpooniestBard’, a lot of newer producers grew up watching Toonami and states that “Toonami and lo-fi production have always had a symbiotic relationship.”, meaning that the show and musical style go hand in hand.
If you watch this scene for instance, you can hear the underlying track is off-kilter and sounds of low quality.
‘KisaiTheSpooniestBard’ goes on to state that The real ‘aha’ moment came when Samurai Champloo came out and it featured Nujabes, Fat Jon, Tsutchie and Force of Nature (all lo-fi producers) on the score. That was major. The entire vibe of that show had it’s finger on the pulse of underground culture. And it wasn’t just boom-bap, either, there was elements of all sorts of production styles in there. Trance, nujazz, acid jazz, trip-hop, you name it. So many of us link those sounds with the happy nostalgia of watching anime at midnight-early morning alone or with like-minded friends.”
As you can hear from the song described, the melodic elements are not entirely on the beat and the recordings sound someone out of place and not entirely perfect. However, this aesthetic is something that has obviously been aimed for and has inspired many artists since its release to recreate similar things, with some of youtube’s largest trending channels now being Lo-fi hip-hop radio stations with anime characters as their backgrounds and obvious inspiration.
So with all this history and examples jumping at you, what is actually, at the end of the day required to create a lo-fi track of any description?
Well, for the most part, creative freedom is totally up to you and what you consider to have a lo-fi ‘feel’ or ‘aesthetic’ might be totally different from my point of view. However, distortion to some extent is something that I feel is probably the most important aspect. Distortion on percussion, background distortion/vinyl crackle used as ambience or all components of lo-fi that are commonplace in today’s versions of the genre. There are no set parameters for your lo-fi song, however they do generally have a slower feel and so a BPM of between 50 and 150 is usually going to cover you pretty nicely. Some general instruments included in a lo-fi track include;
- Percussion (Kick, Snare, Hats, Vinyl Crackle). Often these are distorted, heavily filtered and a little bit ‘out there’ in terms of their progression. How you arrange and create them though is totally up to you.
- Synths. What synth sound you do or do not create is totally up to you. However a lot of the synths I hear in lo-fi have a kind of oriental feeling, with lots distortion. They also tend to drone on and on rather than being rhythmic or melodic.
- Vox. A lot of lo-fi tracks feature short VOX chops and samples from various cartoons and anime to create an ‘aesthetic’ or ‘feeling’. As I previously stated this is also because the genre and anime go hand in hand nowadays and a lot of lo-fi producers grew up watching shows that included elements of the genre.
I hope I taught you something about lo-fi or at least my perception of it! Have a good day.
A Brief History of Lo-Fi Music | HOT VOX. (2018). Hotvox.co.uk. Retrieved 18 April 2018, from https://hotvox.co.uk/news/brief-history-lo-fi-music
anime?, W. (2018). What is the origin of the relationship between Lofi Hip-Hop and anime? • r/OutOfTheLoop. reddit. Retrieved 18 April 2018, from https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/5t2u5w/what_is_the_origin_of_the_relationship_between/
What are some elements in lofi hip hop that define it as such? • r/makinghiphop. (2018). reddit. Retrieved 18 April 2018, from https://www.reddit.com/r/makinghiphop/comments/5aalgt/what_are_some_elements_in_lofi_hip_hop_that/