Chillwave

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Chillwave (originally called "glo-fi" or "hypnagogic pop";[3] also "dream-beat"[16]) is a music microgenre characterized by a faded or dreamy retro pop sound, escapist lyrics about the beach or summertime, psychedelic or lo-fi textures, mellow vocals, low-to-moderate tempos, effects processing (reverb especially), vintage synthesizers, and other attempts to loosely emulate 1980s electronic pop aesthetics as well as engage with notions of memory and nostalgia.

Sometimes regarded as a "made-up" genre, chillwave was one of the first music genres to develop primarily through the Internet. The term was coined in mid 2009 by the satirical blog Hipster Runoff, referring to a recent proliferation of indie music that sounded reminiscent of "something that was playing in the background of 'an old VHS cassette that u found in ur attic from the late 80s/early 90s.'" Its vanguard was represented by the one-man acts Neon Indian, Washed Out, and Toro y Moi, who gained critical attention during what was known as 2009's "Summer of Chillwave", a time when there was an inundation of artists with names and song titles that referenced summertime themes. Washed Out's 2009 track "Feel It All Around" remains the genre's definitive and best-known song.

The term was criticized for being nebulous and contrived by various media publications, while the music was often derided for its reliance on nostalgia. Some artists rejected the tag, while many exploited the style's low-budget simplicity, which led to an oversaturation of acts. The movement soon dissipated, and the style effectively fell out of vogue by 2011. Another Internet-based microgenre, vaporwave, subsequently derived from chillwave.

Etymology[edit]

Neon Indian performing in 2010

Most accounts attribute "chillwave" to a July 2009 post written by "Carles", an anonymous individual who managed the blog Hipster Runoff.[7] The site, which was active between 2008 and 2013, was known for its ironic posts on "alt" trends.[17] Carles invented the genre name for a host of similarly sounding up-and-coming bands.[7] A July 27 post titled "Is WASHED OUT the next Neon Indian/Memory Cassette?" ruminated on a nascent trend involving the "musicsphere" searching for a "new 'authentic, undergroundish product' that isn't a huge brand like AnCo/GrizzBear/etc. ... It seems easiest to have a chill project, that is somewhat 'conceptual' but also demonstrates that ur band has 'pop sensibilities' or something." He than proposes a list of genre names; among them, "Chill Bro Core", "post-AnCo rock", "Conceptual Blog Core", "Music 2 smoke weed 2", "Synth Computer Pop Atmospheric Wave", "GazeWave", "ShitWave", and "post-electro". The post concludes:

Feel like I might call it 'chill wave' music in the future. Feels like 'chill wave' is dominated by 'thick/chill synths' while conceptual core is still trying to 'use real instruments/sound like it was recorded in nature.' Feel like chillwave is supposed to sound like something that was playing in the background of 'an old VHS cassette that u found in ur attic from the late 80s/early 90s.'[18]

Carles later explained that he was only "[throwing] a bunch of pretty silly names on a blog post and saw which one stuck."[19] Neon Indian's Alan Palomo, who was categorized with the scene, surmised that the name stuck "because it was the most dismissive and sarcastic ... the term chillwave came when the era of blog-mediated music was at its height at that time."[20] The term did not gain mainstream currency until early 2010, when it was the subject of articles by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.[21]

Chillwave is one of the first genres to formulate online.[20] It is an example, according to writer Garin Pirnia, of shifting the idea away from defining a musical movement's birth in part by a specific geographic location, as is historically done, to focusing instead on how the groups became linked and defined through various outlets on the Internet. Pirnia wrote in 2010 (quoting Palomo), "Whereas musical movements were once determined by a city or venue where the bands congregated, 'now it's just a blogger or some journalist that can find three or four random bands around the country and tie together a few commonalities between them and call it a genre.'"[7]

Style and milieu[edit]

Precursors[edit]

... something that could pass for today's "chillwave" has existed, in wide and steady circulation, at just about every moment for 20 years, and mostly as such a rote and staple sound that nobody would even think to name it specifically.
—Nitsuh Abebe, Pitchfork, July 2011[22]

Chillwave has been variously classified under the umbrella of psychedelia,[6] bedroom pop,[1][2] or electropop.[11] Before the label was invented, chillwave music was likely to be described as shoegaze, dream pop,[23][22] ambient, or indietronica.[22] Pitchfork's Nitsuh Abebe writes that, since at least 1992, the style has existed for the same principal reason: "stoned, happy college kids listening to records while they fall asleep." Of specific references, he cites Slowdive, Darla Records' Blissed Out ambient compilations, and Casino Versus Japan's eponymous 1998 album.[22] One of the earliest manifestations of the genre can be heard in the form of the Beach Boys' song "All I Wanna Do" from their 1970 album Sunflower.[24][25] Boards of Canada, whom Abebe says pre-chillwave music was often compared to,[22] were also inspirational to its development.[26]

The genre's flourishing between 2008 and 2009[28] was prefigured by the 2007 album Person Pitch by Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), which is credited with launching the style.[28][27][11] The album influenced a wide range of subsequent indie music,[29] with its sound serving as the major inspiration for chillwave and a number of soundalikes.[27] The band Animal Collective, which includes Lennox, is also noted as foreshadower of the movement.[30] Their album Merriweather Post Pavilion, released in January 2009, was particularly influential for its ambient sounds and repetitive melodies, but was not as tightly associated to the "hazy" psychedelia that chillwave would be identified with.[31] According to Flavorwire's Tom Hawking, chillwave acts "took one aspect of early Animal Collective (the sort of ill-defined pastoral nostalgia) and spun it into an entire genre. Animal Collective were never really part of that scene, such as it was — they were more like its spiritual overlords, the band who blazed the trail that chillwave and its adherents stumbled along a couple of years later, tripping on questionable acid and mumbling things about beaches and PBR."[30]

Ariel Pink performing in 2007

Critic Simon Reynolds holds Ariel Pink to be chillwave's "godfather". Pink gained recognition in the mid 2000s through a string of self-produced albums, inventing a sound that Reynolds calls "'70s radio-rock and '80s new wave as if heard through a defective transistor radio, glimmers of melody flickering in and out of the fog".[32] The Paw Tracks record label which distributed Pink's albums was run by Animal Collective, who signed Pink after being impressed by a collection of 1990s demos he had brought to them.[33] On chillwave's bedroom pop precursors, Cellars (Allene Norton) believes that Pink is "definitely not chillwave but that kind of stuff influenced a lot of the artists making it, like Washed Out."[34] In 2010, Uncut's Sam Richard profiled Pink as "a lo-fi legend: a prolific crafter of damaged pop songs delivered in a perplexing array of styles and accents ... The ghostly pop sound of Pink’s previous output has proved curiously influential on the current generation of bedroom producers such as Ducktails and Toro Y Moi, who’ve been corralled under the semi-sarcastic banner of chillwave."[35]

Partly responding to Reynolds' assertions, Dummy Mag's Adam Harper wrote that Pink's influence on lo-fi scenes has been somewhat overstated, and that calling him the "godfather" of chillwave is "debatable", adding that "Pink’s albums are zany, personal, largely rock-based and dressed in awkward glam, they don’t have the mirror-shades-cool synth groove of chillwave or the pop-art pastiche of hypnagogic pop ... It hopefully doesn’t need emphasising that Ariel Pink didn’t invent home-recording, or lo-fi, or even retro-lo-fi. In fact, if we look at the history of home-recording and lo-fi, Pink can begin to look like the end of an era rather than the beginning of one."[36]

"Summer of Chillwave"[edit]

The 2009 "Summer of Chillwave" was marked by an inundation of artists with names and song titles referencing summertime, the beach, or surfing.[37] Songs were generally of low-to-moderate tempo[38] and incorporated what Kevin Liedel of Slant Magazine describes as "faded soundscapes, dreamy lyrical reflections, and warm, anachronous instrumentation meant to invoke the analog glow of late-'70s/early-'80s slow jams."[39] Initially, the "chillwave" tag was subsumed under the "glo-fi" and "hypnagogic pop" labels.[3] Journalist David Keenan coined "hypnagogic pop" a few weeks after "chillwave" was invented, using the term for a developing trend of 2000s lo-fi and post-noise music in which varied artists began to engage with elements of cultural nostalgia, childhood memory, and outdated recording technology.[40] While chillwave and hypnagogic pop are similar in that they both evoke 1980s–90s imagery, chillwave has a more commercial sound that emphasizes "cheesy" hooks and reverb effects.[41]

The movement's vanguard was represented by Neon Indian (Alan Palomo), Washed Out (Ernest Greene), and Toro y Moi (Chaz Bundick).[31][11][46] All three were one-man acts from the Southern U.S, while the last two were acquaintances and collaborators.[47] Greene's "Feel It All Around" (July 2009) became the best known song of the genre, later to be employed as a backdrop for the opening sequence of the television series Portlandia (2011–present).[17] Neon Indian's debut Psychic Chasms (October 2009) was another early album that typified the genre.[34] Pitchfork's Ian Cohen wrote that chillwave was "all but defined by the early Neon Indian singles 'Deadbeat Summer', 'Terminally Chill', and 'Should've Taken Acid With You'. But Alan Palomo was perhaps the least representative of its founding fathers—just about the only chillwaver who wasn't initially awful in a live setting."[48] Bundick's debut Causers of This (January 2010) drew similar attention for its style of old-fashioned, lo-fi pop.[49] The album was acclaimed by critics and given an early endorsement by Kanye West, which lent the work significantly more popularity. Rolling Stone additionally dubbed Bundick the "godfather of chillwave".[50]

Both sonically and in backwards-gazing ethos, the genre emerged from a sense of generational retreat—a collective desire to return to the womb, maybe, or at least to find a place of contentment where we’re left alone to exist in a sort of vaguely pleasant stasis.
Larry Fitzmaurice, Vice, 2015[43]

Although it had no specific geographical sourcepoint, chillwave was concentrated in the south and east coast of the US,[7] with Brooklyn, New York figuring the most prominently. Hawking notes that the "fact this was such beach-centric music makes it interesting ... chillwave also strikes me as hugely middle class music. ... whereas punk reacted with anger and a desire for change, chillwave was the sound of escapism and resignation. ... it’s surely no coincidence that chillwave’s rise coincided with the aftermath of the 2007 sub-prime economic meltdown."[28] Eric Grandy in 2009 wrote in The Stranger, "The genre's great unifying theme is a kind of fond nostalgia for some vague, idealized childhood. Its posture is a sonic shoulder shrug, a languorous, musical 'whatevs'."[14] Jon Pareles in 2010 wrote in the New York Times, "They're solo acts or minimal bands, often with a laptop at their core, and they trade on memories of electropop from the 1980s, with bouncing, blipping dance-music hooks (and often weaker lead voices). It's recession-era music: low-budget and danceable."[10]

In November 2009, Pitchfork ran an editorial feature on the "summer of chillwave". The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, who had been compared to Animal Collective, were mentioned as a "looming figure" throughout that summer's indie music, elaborating that it is "not to say that any of this music sounds like the Beach Boys, or even tries to. ... The Beach Boys exist in this music in an abstracted form-- an idea, rather than a sound, as it's often been. This is partly up to the fact that sounding like the Beach Boys is actually very difficult." Rather than being represented by groups who copy the Beach Boys style, Wilson's influence stems from his legend as an "emotionally fragile dude with mental health problems who coped by taking drugs. Summertime now is about disorientation: 'Should Have Taken Acid With You'; 'The Sun Was High (And So Am I)'; You take the fantasy of his music-- the cars, the sand, the surf-- add a dollop of melancholy and a smudge of druggy haze, and you have some good music for being alone in a room with only a computer to keep you company."[37] Vulture's Frank Guan writes that the evocation is "not to summer as a season of deprivation and loss of control, but a summer spent in suburban quiet and prosperity, chilling indoors alone with central A/C, watching daytime TV or listening to music."[47]

Criticism and decline[edit]

Backlash[edit]

Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi, pictured in 2012) felt that chillwave "did its thing, and once it became a thing, people stopped caring about it, even the artists [making it]."[51]

Chillwave reached its peak in mid 2010.[31] Reynolds' refers to 2010 as the "Year of Chillwave Backlash, a flurry of jibes almost as formularized as detractors make out the music to be: obligatory reference to Hipstamatic + snigger at the name + invocation of nostalgia as a priori Bad Thing = entire region of music dismissed."[32] George McIntire of the San Francisco Bay Guardian described its origin as in the "throes of the blogosphere" and called the term a "cheap, slap-on label used to describe grainy, dancey, lo-fi, 1980s inspired music" and a "disservice to any band associated with it."[52] In 2011, Carles indicated that the bands he spoke to "get annoyed" by the tag, explaining "It was just ridiculous that any sort of press took it seriously. ... But they understand that it's been a good thing. What about iTunes making it an official genre? It's now theoretically a marketable indie sound."[19]

Some of the common descriptors used for the music in reviews or blog posts became clichés, including "soundscapes", "dreamy", "lush", "glowing", and "sun-kissed".[53] The Village Voice's Christopher Weingarten remarked in December 2009 that "90 percent of writing about glo-fi mentions 'the summer' in some fashion. And summer's been over for, like, four months now."[54] One unnamed Pitchfork writer opined: "This music isn't easy to write about. It takes a lot of work to get past 'soundtrack to the summer' and 'makes me want to hit the beach.' So much of this summer-obsessed lo-fi is about atmosphere and feel that it can seem weird to scrutinize it."[37]

The chillwave scene ultimately "withered and died". One major reason was a sudden oversaturation of artists; Fitzmaurice explains that "many of its lower-tier practitioners were motivated by careerist, rather than sonic, ambitions; home-recording software made it exceptionally easy to churn out something with the sample-mining, if not wholly emotional, level of Washed Out’s 2009 chillwave totem 'Feel It All Around,' and so literally hundreds of aspiring musicians tried their hand at making hazy, nostalgic electronic pop."[43] According to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's Reed Fischer, Pitchfork's 3.8 rating of Millionyoung's Replicants (2011) signaled that the genre was "dead", writing that "over the course of this 309-word baby of a review does Larry Fitzmaurice actually mention the actual recording he's listening to. ... What many artists didn't realize (but will come to find out when they get stinker reviews) was that they had to release their chillwave 1.0 projects by December 31, 2010."[55]

Retrospection[edit]

As of 2015, the majority consensus was that chillwave was a fabricated non-genre.[48] By 2016, Palomo described labels like "chillwave" and "vaporwave" as "arbitrary" and noted that he "couldn't have been more happy" about the "chillwave" descriptor falling out of favor.[56] Toro y Moi's Chaz Bundick publicly expressed ambivalence toward the genre, saying, "I like the fact that I'm associated with it. It's cool. Not a lot of artists get a chance to be a part of some sort of movement, so I guess in a way I'm super flattered to be considered a part of that."[51] Grantland's Dave Schilling argued his case that chillwave was "made-up":

It really only existed from the summer of 2009 to the beginning of 2011, around the time when no one was sure how much of Hipster Runoff was a gag and how much was sincere tastemaking. ... [The music] could have been thrown in with existing genres like shoegaze or dream pop, but by creating a term from nothing, it revealed how arbitrary and meaningless labels like that really are. It wasn’t a scene. It was a parody of a scene, both a defining moment for the music blogosphere and the last gasp. Sites like Gorilla vs. Bear and Pitchfork bought into it for a while, and sincere think pieces in traditional media publications like the Wall Street Journal asked, "Is Chillwave the Next Big Music Trend?"

It never could have been a proper trend, because it was transparently manufactured.[23]

In 2015, Fitzmaurice reflected that the "holy triumvurate" of Washed Out, Toro y Moi, and Neon Indian had "persevered" in spite of the genre's "death".[43] In 2012, Hawking concluded that the "chillwave era will most likely be a footnote to musical history, a faint flaring of middle class angst in a frightening time for everyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining regardless, because its simple existence says far more about a generation than the music itself ever did."[28]

List of artists[edit]

References[edit]

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  55. ^ Fischer, Reed (February 21, 2011). "Pitchfork Uses Millionyoung to Declare Chillwave Dead". New Times Broward-Palm Beach. 
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  61. ^ Mettler, Mike (March 31, 2015). "Interview: Tycho (Scott Hansen) on touring, digital vs. analog". Digital Trends. Retrieved December 29, 2016. Ambient chillwave maestro Tycho always has his head in the clouds — something the man also known as Scott Hansen takes as quite the compliment. 
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