What is Lo-fi Music and Why Is it so Popular?

Lo-fi music has become a major genre during the global lockdowns of 2020. Many people have found themselves stuck at home all day, trying to find the motivation to do work, study and chores, with more time to kill by going online, and the growth of lo-fi music has been the result.

So what exactly is lo-fi music?

It’s a form of downtempo music with elements of hip-hop and jazz, featuring breakbeats, sampling and textures such as environmental noise and vinyl scratching sounds. Samples are often taken from old films. This gives it a cosy, often nostalgic sound, ideal to relax to or as ‘bedroom music’.

Lo-fi music is found on popular streaming sites such as Spotify and also has dedicated YouTube channels, the biggest of them being ChilledCow. ChilledCow’s animation of an anime girl doing her homework has become an internet meme, such is the popularity of the channel.

It is indeed an ideal music genre to study to, which is probably why it has been especially popular for younger listeners. Unobtrusive enough to have on in the background but stimulating enough to keep you awake, it helps you maintain your focus. ChilledCow also has a chat function, so provides a place to hang out for people seeking connection during these somewhat isolating times, with many users opening up about personal issues.

The genre has not escaped criticism, however. Detractors have accused lo-fi creators of being lazy, as much of the music is essentially similar-sounding, and easy to make, with creators able to make their own material on apps such as Bandcamp (I myself have recently become a dabbler in Bandcamp). It has been argued that all you really need to know in order to create lo-fi music is how to sample (haven’t quite learnt that bit yet).

But it’s the sampling that really makes the difference. You can put a unique flavour on lo-fi music depending on what you choose to sample. A couple of my favourite lo-fi channels on YouTube include one which samples vintage songs and another which samples the Star Wars films (this last is especially fun).

And lo-fi music’s popularity shows no sign of dying out. The numbers speak for themselves: at the time of writing this article, Spotify’s biggest lo-fi playlist, ‘Lo-fi Beats’, has over three and a half million followers. And ChilledCow has nearly seven million subscribers.

Clearly, for many internet users, lo-fi music creates a safe space to work and study. The chat room functions also fulfil a social need during these strange times. The music is not always necessarily all that pioneering, true. But if it’s helping people, can we really knock it?

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.

Because we do seem to live in an age of anxiety. Whether it’s economic anxiety, the stress of living through lockdowns, or anxiety about COVID-19 itself, many people are increasingly escaping into the aural realm for relaxation.

I think millennials especially are drawn to lo-fi, and the evidence does seem to point to that – feeing the need as we sometimes do for a nostalgic, safe space to retreat. When we have fears about the future, the past is often a safe place to escape to.

Alice Part 8

X.

As the train gathered speed, Alice took a closer look at the other passengers on board. It was ‘standing room only’ in the most literal sense, as there were no seats, and many of the animals were not well-adapted to sit in seats anyway. There were squirrels, dormice, rabbits, oysters, hedgehogs, frogs, various birds and even an alpaca. The train was gathering speed rapidly now and Alice looked on in some alarm as some of the smaller animals began to roll towards the back.

“Eek!” said a squirrel, as it tried to cling to the hem of Alice’s trousers. They were going really fast. Alice looked out the window to find she could no longer see the ocean, just a racing blur of technicolour. Were they going faster than light? Alice began to tumble towards the back too, and suddenly felt she didn’t want to be on this train anymore; she was scared. Why couldn’t she have stayed on the beach, collecting shells?

“Ow!” she said, as she hit the back of the carriage, and dislodged a disgruntled hedgehog from behind her.

“Watch where you’ve flying!” said the hedgehog.

It was pandemonium: animals were piled up at the back of the train, all bickering with one another. Many of the birds had tried flying to keep up with the speed, but it was too fast for them, and they too were hurled towards the back; a large seagull was draped over the eyes of the alpaca, which was in turn draped across Alice and the other animals.

“I wonder were the gnat is?” said Alice.

“I’m right here,” said the tiny voice by Alice’s ear, and Alice fought the urge to swat at it.

“This is quite a way to travel, isn’t it?” said the gnat.

“Indeed!” said Alice. She was so vexed she could say nothing else.

“Trains have really gone downhill if you ask me!” said the hedgehog.

“No-one was asking you!” said the squirrel.

“Now, now, don’t bicker,” hooted an owl, who was spread in a most unbecoming way against the back of the carriage.

“Where are we going?” said Alice.

“To the White Tower, of course!” the animals all squeaked, hooted and chirped in reply.

“But why?” said Alice.

“Because we want to go, stupid,” said the hedgehog. “Why else would we be here?”

Alice thought he was only grumpy because she’d squashed him slightly. She wondered when this terrible train journey would end.

The Cheshire Cat materialised then, in mid-air in front of Alice.

“Having fun?” he asked.

“Not really,” said Alice. “What is the point of this?”

“The train is a great metaphor for life, don’t you think?” said the Cheshire Cat. “It can be rather a bumpy ride.”

“This isn’t funny!” said Alice.

“That depends on your view,” said the Cheshire Cat. “I like to view things a different way.” And here he flipped over onto his back in mid-air and grinned at Alice, upside down.

“Who are you? And why are you different to all the other animals?”

“I’m a cat,” he said simply. “And don’t expect me to tell you my secrets, for we cats revel in mystery. But I am not the mystery you must solve. In this case, I am simply the messenger.”

“So, you’re not the one who’s behind all this?”

“Oh no – I’m a cat. I may know things humans don’t, but I’m no inventor. I think there’s someone you should meet. You’ll find him in the White Tower. Right at the very top, if you can find it.”

And he disappeared.

Eventually the train began to slow down, and it finally came to a stop at the bottom of a hill. Alice and all the animals unfurled themselves, grumbling, from the back of the train, and got off. Alice looked up at the hill. The White Tower stood on top of it, gleaming in the sunlight. She looked around as a flamingo pushed past and saw that all the animals and birds were heading off in another direction.

“Where are you going?” she called after them.

“To the Visitor’s Centre and Cafe,” they replied in unison. Alice shook her head and started walking up the hill.

“Goodbye,” said the tiny voice in her ear.

Alice reached the top in time to see the Cheshire Cat’s tail disappear through a half-open door at the foot of the tower. A biting wind came from nowhere and the door blew shut. Some butterflies flew past that were the colour of autumn leaves.

Alice walked up to the tower and stopped outside the small wooden door, which was painted a peeling blue.

She’d been wanting to come here for so long…

She took a deep breath and turned the handle.