A Lo-Fi Love Letter
by Noah Adaikkalam
Lofi hip hop is slept on. When I say this, I don’t mean the “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to” or “lofi hip hop radio - beats to sleep/chill to” which are both streams on ChilledCow’s YouTube channel or anything from the Bootleg Boy series, where videos follow a theme of “Raining in ______,” with cities from all around the world like New York and Osaka.
I would consider these examples as the entry level lofi. It’s easy to find– stuff so popular that I’ve occasionally found it playing in boba places and gaming stores alike. The streams are all over YouTube and consistently hold between 16,000 and 2000 listeners. Yet, they never fully run out of music to play, which speaks to how expansive the genre really is.
I think that it is the next big wave of music.
Using my two of my favorite lofi artists as a lense into the genre, bsd.u (pronounced “Beside You”) and Philanthrope, I’ll show you why.
Philanthrope is an Austrian producer. I first found him on a German record label, known as Radio Juicy. Radio Juicy did a whole series of radio shows, spanning anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes in length, where beat producers or DJ’s get to do whatever they want. Philanthrope’s appearance was on S2E12 “Mondayvibes.” The entire show starts off tranquil, like a pot of water at rest. Slowly he slides the energy level up, emulating the feeling and reluctance of waking up on a Monday morning and you watch the water begin to boil. He does all this on his MacBook Pro, using Logic X for his production and occasionally ripping beats from a 404 drum machine.
Since his Radio Juicy show, he has put out a number of projects under Chillhop’s label. It is based out of the Netherlands, and similar to Radio Juicy, is a completely online label that promotes and profits from underground music. Chillhop’s bandcamp boasts 120 projects in total. Philanthrope works pretty exclusively through Chillhop, marketing himself on other affiliate websites and doing some merchandising through HHV, a German Streetwear and Vinyl conglomerate.
In a later 2017 interview with Sterofox, he spoke about, “Clockwork,” his project earlier that year, “I tried to tell a story of a failed relationship, but I think you can interpret the LP the way you want it.” While it still has the cookie cutter drum line, and the minor chords moving under and over it, he branches out, utilizing violins, an overall lighter and unique sounds that is underutilized in lofi. Through those underutilized sounds he is able to convey emotional narratives through instrumental music. To me it is a simple and accessible modernized re-interpretation of classical music.
The artist bsd.u takes a bit of a different approach. His Vancouver Island home has a full set up, 404’s, Ableton, which coincidentally work very well with each other, as well as vinyl and cassette converters to sample older music. In a random interview found on Reddit’s r/Lofihiphop from a year ago, bsd.u talks about his process and slowly getting into music as he got older. By 18 and 19, he was doing it fairly seriously, but not full time. He currently works another job, and makes beats when he had time.
His earlier music was produced by Inner Ocean Records, a small label in Canada, while his more recent music is produced on the German Label, Vinyl Digital. He works with Radio Juicy as well, doing a show episode, “Voyager,” and his late night bump series which is sold in a four-piece vinyl set through their label.
His music is very sample heavy, relying on music from vinyl, cassettes, and CD’s. “It is pretty much impossible to emulate that kind of sound you just pretty much have to do it… and not a lot of people actually go out of their way to do stuff like that and it makes it a little more special,” he mentioned in the reddit interview. This shows on my favorite track of his is: “crush on u” a cut-off of his 2014 project “[late nite bumps].” He mixes Lil Kim and Lil Ceaser’s “Crush on U” with Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” blending the two together perfectly.
These are two of the greats, but there are so many more lofi artists. This genre allows for so many different people to make so many different tracks that operate on the same sound. This an internet-born phenomena, through and through. It was developed through mixing software, something that is extremely accessible, and shared through Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Bandcamp, and the websites for all the labels that promote their music. There is such a depth and variety of artists, each producer having their own distinguishable sound. Lofi is a movement of Musicians coming together to support one another through free music that uses nostalgic samples and emotional sounds to reach everyone. It recycles beats and samples from our childhood and works them into songs we stumble upon now, reminding us of what it was like to watch Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Studio Ghibli movies as a kid.
This is the next wave of music.