Many people recognise the term lo-fi nowadays. It often pops up in the top corner of our Youtube recommendations- the increasingly specific titles from ‘2 A.M Study Sessions’ to ‘lo-fi beats to quarantine and stay indoors to’ tend to draw the eye. But what exactly is lo-fi music? And why are there so many 24 hour streams of it with pleasing anime visuals and edgy lowercase titles to accompany them?
A large part of listening to lo-fi involves discovering lesser-known artists
‘Lo-fi’ is short for ‘low fidelity’, which is when distortions or errors are picked up in music recordings. Usually, these are undesirable. However, lo fi embraces these mistakes (think Bob Ross’s ‘happy little accidents’ but in music form) and makes it an important part of the genre’s aesthetic, often adding them in on purpose to add to the song’s homespun feel.
The genre fits snugly with the kind of music you often find from independent artists on Bandcamp, such as garage pop, bedroom pop, and shoegaze. But lo-fi also sounds as if it could fit into the backdrop of an animated movie- imagine if the soundtrack of a Studio Ghibli movie was recorded by an artist like Clairo and you’ve pretty much got it.
Often, lo-fi music is made at home, even in the artist’s bedroom, which makes it one of the only genres that is regularly listened to in the same environment in which it was created and produced
Although lo-fi has grown in popularity recently, fuelled by Youtube channels who provide constant feeds of the music, it can be dated back as far as the 1950s. Amateur musicians working on small budgets often produced music with a raw sound, including unintended distortion effects. The term ‘lo-fi’ would later go onto to refer to indie and alternative groups who recorded music at home- the use of abstract lyrics and structures, as well as the low-quality production, meant that they produced a different sound to mainstream songs. When I think of lo-fi, it reminds me of this sort of DIY production.
In modern times, lo-fi is usually slow and dreamlike- in fact, a lot of inspiration for the modern genre comes the ethereal ‘dreampop’ of the 1980s. Unlike prepackaged pop music, there is something oddly comforting about the imperfections and simplicity of this style of music. With its peaceful atmosphere, it can easily be put on in the background without becoming too distracting, which is why many choose to listen to it while they study. Often, lo-fi music is made at home, even in the artist’s bedroom, which makes it one of the only genres that is regularly listened to in the same environment in which it was created and produced. This is another reason that it’s so easy to sink into.
A large part of lo-fi’s success is its willingness to adapt to the times and take its genre almost exclusively to streaming platforms
There are some really popular artists who fall under the lo-fi umbrella. I have two of In Love With A Ghost‘s albums on vinyl, and City Girl has streamed their entire album for free on their YouTube channel: a large part of lo-fi’s success is its willingness to adapt to the times and take its genre almost exclusively to streaming platforms. Most lo-fi artists aren’t signed to labels, so you won’t find their albums available for physical purchases in-store. In fact, a large part of listening to lo-fi involves discovering lesser-known artists.
Originally, I found lo-fi through Bandcamp, which is a pay-as-you-like streaming service populated by independent artists. When I was studying for my A-Levels, I frequented High Sunn’s Bliss and In Love With A Ghost’s Healing whenever I sat down to revise. The calming atmosphere makes it perfect for studying or sleeping, as its dreamy sound makes it easier to tune out from the world around you. Eventually, it became part of my routine to choose a compilation, playlist, or album to put on in the background to draw my focus to whatever I’m working on. (If only Curiositea endorsed it, I’d get so much more work done in there.)
Lo-fi also provides a stepping stone to so many different music genres. Some I’ve detailed already, such as bedroom and garage pop, but lo-fi is an umbrella term for so many different artists that there’s always more to discover. Each is more interesting than the last. Recently, I’ve been turned onto Japanese indie rock, (POLKADOT STINGRAY have some excellent songs if you’re needing recommendations), and was pleasantly surprised to find out it’s a genre largely fronted by women. If I hadn’t listened to lo-fi in the first place, I likely never would have known it existed.