Last year was a bloody doozy. Between Bowie leaving, Bernie being sandbagged and your man getting the job instead. 2016 was a truly tumultuous time to be alive. We still live in 2016’s long shadow. For me personally, last year was the culmination of a very long and tiring journey. The madness of that American election in particular seemed an apt way to see it out. During that jolting 24hr shit-show it seemed like the whole world was losing its’ mind, just as I was finding mine. Thanks, in part, to a genre of music called Lo-fi.
I had returned from London the previous summer with a university degree and a very poor bill of mental health. I was looking for the creature comforts of home and long strolls in the woods to conceal me in bubble wrap while I recovered. Luckily I did recover, and then some. That bubble-wrap that I enclosed myself in has more of the feel of a cocoon now. A cocoon that now feels like I am bursting out of in some sort of chilled metamorphosis of the soul. I know right, big deal bob tell us more about your “soul”. Well I will, kind of anyway.
It was around that disorientating time that I came across Lo-fi music. Lo-fi music could be described as a mash-up of old jazz-style tracks mixed in with a hip-hop style drum beat (or vice-versa). Often accompanied with a few choice samples from old movies, inspiring speeches or cartoons. Sugi.wa’s track urtha1 is a good example of this eclectic mix of old and new sounds forming a beautifully-wistful melody. Kazams’ — A story about time has that inspiring sample thing going on. While Sensi’s track Psyco is a gorgeous example of old school hip-hop made new through this mixing technique.
Lo-fi infuses the old with the new, like the mash up artists of the late noughties. But unlike those mashup’s Lo-fi stands upon it’s own musical merits. Rather than relying on the novelty of hearing a familiar track mashed up with another. Lo-fi accomplishes something new within its techniques. Owing perhaps more to the sounds of the late Japanese producer Nujabes than to Girltalk.
But what I’ve come to love most while listening to lo-fi is the headspace it puts me into. A lo-fi track done right creates this relieving place to relax. Caught in between the comforting memory of times gone by and the contrasting elements of new technology. Lo-fi allows me to lay back and relax in a nostalgic feeling for the future. It re-frames and remixes what’s already out there into something new. It’s no big deal, just chilled tunes to relax to. Which incidentally is what some Lo-fi mix tape channels are literally called.
Lo-fi music usually comes packaged in the form of mixtapes on Youtube. Bringing together a collection of a dozen or so obscure to relatively-well known artists at a time. The aptly named H I G H I N S C H O O L is one of my favourites (NB skip to 4:20 for the better start..literally). On their own these remix artists are little known but perhaps that’s part of the allure of lo-fi’s relaxing vibe. It’s not about the attention or the fame, although big shout out to I eat plants for a living — Don’t stress it for having the best track and name combo in the game. Lo-fi seems to reach under the radar but perhaps that’s the best way to get across a sincere message these days.
Although Lo-fi lives now in the sidelines of mainstream culture it’s musical appeal is growing. Some of these Lo-fi Youtube channels now transmit live 24hr hour transmissions. Like some sort of new-school radio station except there’s no ads, no dj’s speaking and no other music, except for lo-fi tracks. Going unnoticed most of the time the artists whose names are tucked away in the corner of the stream aren’t to be found headlining the next fest. At least not yet anyway. Some lo-fi style artists are finding more mainstream success, such as flamingosis. But mostly these mixing artists, producers and dj’s stay out of the spotlight.
That obscure space Lo-fi inhabits, between old and new, mainstream and off track was the one I got caught in last summer. As it was all kicking off in America I found Lo-fi nestled in my YouTube suggestions. It was as if a secret little audio den had appeared for me to hide in and watch the interconnected city lose its’ reason in real time. Away from the mainstream gaze but still tuned into a worldwide vibe.
Lo-fi spoke to me like a chilled friend when you’re stressed. I would hear the latest nonsense from your man-in-orange and the gaggle of paparazzo that follow him everywhere; and then I would pull back. Sometimes but not always, I would medicate a little with some caribbean herbs and tune into some Lo-fi.
Lo-fi music has helped me make sense of the world that is unfolding online by connecting me to it through less polluted lines of communication. I feel a connection to the producers of lo-fi. It fills me with a calm confidence that they’re out there, reacting to the bullshit with this chilled-out response. It’s almost as if I can sense them when I’m listening in. These bedroom warriors out there, tuning into the same nonsense that I do. But instead of gluing their eyes a little closer to the T.V. screen they choose to pull back and make a relaxing tune or two.
Whatever their reasons for doing so, thank the secular equivalent of God that they do. I don’t know what my last year would of been like had Lo-fi not been suggested to me by the algorithm. Lo-fi music has helped me unwind when it seems the whole world was winding up and I am not alone in that prognosis.
It seems that I am but one weary soul in a sequence. As it was for me, Lo-fi has been prescribed for many other thousands of bedroom dwellers. Hopefully it allows them to achieve a chrysalis the like of which I am now going through. God help the orange demagogues of this world if that’s true. Tunes this chilled will change the world under their chubby little feet.
Lo-fi has become an important part of my daily routine but having said that, variety still remains my life’s spice. As such there will inevitably come a time when I’ve had enough of being high on lo-fi and say “enough of this”, switch off and disconnect. Haven gotten my fill of being chilled I’ll leave the Lo-Fi world and return to my own. By inevitable way of hours of aimless scrolling through Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and any other live transmission of the world wide vibe I can get my grubby mitts on.
Having then had enough of all the transmissions I’ll return to that rickety “real world” and all its well-worn woes. But the time I’ve spent away from the nonsense with the other millions of lo-fi fans is precious to me. Especially when the world is tearing itself apart on the other much less hospitable 24hr media channels.
Lo-Fi has given me a vent out whilst still connected. Like some sort of viewing platform of the general vibe of our time. Or at least a reflection of that vibe by people I feel an anonymous connection to. It’s with this sideways vibe and others that I intend to carve out some room to breathe. Some space to make sense of what-the-fuck is going on right now without running away from it and in the process turn the tide in whatever way I can. I’ll muster up whatever might I can find inside and fight back against the dying of the light.
Or at least I’ll give it a go, again and again until I get it right. Because I’ll be damned if your mans’ brand of bollocks is going to see out this civilized show on Planet Blue. Fuck that noise. Because I’ve found a way of tuning out of that shite and into another channel. One that feels new and old and connected to everyone in-between. One that sounds a lot more like the future I dreamt of, when Bowie was king and Bernie was winning.
Written by Bob
Edited by Peter
Kazam— A story about time
Sol.theory — Luv
Sugi wa Future ft Kanye — Iwon Sugi Wa rmx
DOMINANT — City Gaze
H I G H I N S C H O O L
Flamingosis- Football Head
Flamingosis — Getting close to you
I eat plants for a living — Don’t stress it
Sugi.wa — urtha1
Sensi’s — Psyco