Earlier this week,a friend of mine put me up on this Lo-fi Hip Hop playlist on Spotify. I thought it was a'ight, but I kept finding weird similarities in all the songs to the point that it was like there was a meme, and I just found out about the joke.
Basically, all the songs sound like ideas for songs that weren't quite finished, and then somebody found out about the genre called Lo-Fi and just put their unfinished beats out with Distortion and wobbly effects or whatever. Another thing that I noticed is that there's a lot of anime elements to these videos on YouTube. A lot of songs have looped anime clips that are about 5 seconds long, or just a looped anime gif. I'm cool with that part, as it has nothing to do with the recording. But the part that makes me laugh is when it's clearly a sample taken from an anime movie. A lot of the samples are that really cheesy jazz music that you hear on 80's and 90's anime movies, taken during one of the peaceful scenes when the character goes back home for a day or something like that.
But for my mind, it's not good enough to just have a rudimentary, drive-by understanding of a genre. All of the modern Lo-Fi beats that I've listened to in the last few days are simplistic MPC style drum beats over Funk bass lines and Jazzy chord progressions, usually a sample from a old jazz song that's been looped and distorted. That seems to be the paint-by-numbers formula for most of these playlists. This takes me back to the days of emo, when I was trying to find out exactly what "Emo" meant. To this day, it's more of an aesthetic than anything with real meaning. It was never explained to me, but rather revealed as a bunch of pretentious and cynical hipsters making esoteric references to one another and pretending that everything is an offensive joke, to the point of Campiness (in the original use of the word).
So I did what any other person would do when they discover a new idea. I created a ignorant Meme and took to Facebook to see what kind of response is I would get. And boy did that work.
After the few brief conversations I had with friends, I realized that I was going to have to do some research myself. Thankfully, I didn't have to do a whole lot of research. I read about four or five articles talking about Lo-Fi , mostly articles that transitioned into promotion of their favorite Lo-Fi artists. I also read the Wikipedia page and all of the examples that it gave. I walked away from that bit of research with a better understanding of what I think we're dealing with.
The Lo-Fi craze seems to be split in three different directions. It's most current iteration is the Lo-Fi hip hop which is a combination of artificially Lo-Fi recordings mixed with jazz and chilled hip hop beats. The other iteration is ambient or chill music with similar qualities. Neither of these iterations are what have interested me the most. Although, I must confess I do enjoy some of the chill hip hop beats, but that doesn't necessarily make them Lo-Fi.
The thing about Lo-Fi is that it's a philosophy, and a mentality that you bring to production. It's the rebel opinion that you don't need to have the best of the best when it comes to equipment and gear. It's the rebel mentality that says you're going to do this project come hell or high water. It doesn't matter if you fully understand how to use your recording gear, any more than it matters whether or not it's thunder storming or there's a dog outside barking. You're just going to use what you have, and you're going to roll with the punches.
Lo-Fi recordings are generally done on low budget equipment, or unorthodox equipment that isn't necessarily intended for professional audio recordings. You might get some sounds on a handheld tape recorder and hold it up to your microphone, hiss and all. Your mics might pick up the squeak on your chair or from the floorboards. You might get you breathing. You may accidentally hit the mic stand. It might be raining outside. You might have someone running around upstairs chasing after a toddler. These are all things that could show up in your recording.
In my opinion, Lo-Fi is the punk rock equivalent to high-quality recording. And I think that's a good thing. The only thing that makes a Lo-Fi recording good is the musicianship and the composition that goes into the recording. Everything else is flawed and full of imperfections. Imagine if you recorded a whole song using nothing but the First Take. This is the mentality were talking about when we get into Lo-Fi territory.
It's understanding of Lo-Fi gives me a big relief because I've done things like this in the past, especially on my first album. When I first started recording music my first album was terribly recorded with a microphone that I found Under the Staircase at my grandmother's house while I was cleaning her basement. I use that microphone for the entire album, and there is all kind of hissing and pops and clicks and background noise and a bunch of other crap. But what was important to me was that I get these ideas out of my head and on to the recording.
Now that I understand this as a Lo-Fi mentality, I'm much more proud of my earlier works and I may actually post it on Choon or something like that. Lo-Fi isn't perfect, and it shouldn't sound clean. So, the next time you hear me making fun of chill hip hop beats for claiming to be Lo-Fi, maybe you'll have a better understanding of what I'm teasing.
Podcast host for The Xero Hour Podcast | Founder of Tentmaker Music | Musician | Family Man | Christian | Conservative | Not in that order