What Is Lo-Fi?
I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon this Livestream once: A girl, studying, a cat in the background, accompanied by slow and relaxing music. This Livestream is not the only one, there are dozens of Livestreams or playlists full of these chill beats and vibes. This kind of music is called Lo-Fi and has millions of fans from all around the world. What is this kind of music, where does it come from, and why are so many people fans of it?
Definition: What is Lo-Fi?
Lo-Fi, or Lofi, means “Low Fidelity” and is the opposite of Hi-Fi or “High-Fidelity”. Low Fidelity describes music which sounds like it was made with simple technical equip and also unclean, dusty, or scratchy. Often you can hear vinyl cracking, rain, or even bird sounds in the music. Also, Lo-Fi is sample-based, this means that a song consists, for example, out of a drum pattern or some chords, which repeat over and over again, followed by other instruments and beats. A big aspect of Lo-Fi is offbeat, you might not hear it instantly, but the beats, kicks, drums, etc. are a little bit off the rhythm, which makes the music sound more human. Lo-Fi has no lyrics, at the most a couple of words.
The birth of Lo-Fi
The story of Lo-Fi begins in Detroit in the 1990s with James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla. Most music producers of this time used for their music MPC’s, computers, which help the artist to attach a beat perfectly to the rhythm. In opposite to that J Dilla made a completely different thing: He played the drums and beats intended a bit off the rhythm to give his music a more human feel (If you’re interested, here is an example). J Dilla used for his music samples from old records, where the characteristic dusty and crackling sound comes from.
But how got these songs so popular? Well, the answer is Adult Swim. Adult Swim is a TV channel which program was filled with anime. The channel started to integrate Lo-Fi beats into their air times between anime episodes. This music was recognizable to millions of teens who later became the founders of the Lo-Fi hip hop we can find today. Adult Swim is also the main reason why this kind of music is connected to anime figures and scenes.
Lo-Fi is a super popular music genre, the 24/7 Livestream from Chilled Cow, which I already mentioned at the beginning, has about 38000 active listeners, depending on the time and day. And this is only one of the many, many playlists and 24/7 radio Livestreams you can find. These jazzy beats are often used by people to study or learn because the music is just perfect for these reasons. You can’t be distracted by lyrics or aggressive sounds, it’s made in a way that perfectly plays in the background, helps you to stay focused. Because this kind of music is meant to play in the background, you can watch a phenomenon which is quite unusual for the music industry: The artists' names aren’t recognized by listeners. The channels, which curate these songs, are more recognizable than the artist himself, and this is strange, imagine you would listen to, for example, Ariana Grande and think about her label and not about herself as a musician. Lo-Fi is a completely decentralized subgenre in the music industry like no other out there.
Lo-Fi is like a small world for itself: It’s on the one side a music genre with millions of fans, on the other nearly forgettable music with only a few recognizable names. Things are very different if you compare Lo-Fi music with Pop music, it’s made to play in the background and not to distract you, more to help you to keep your focus. It instantly creates an unknown free and relaxed atmosphere which we nearly never experience in our busy daily lives and lets us forget our stress and finally relax a bit.
Note, some of my sources are in german