Fashion, Lampooning, Protest: What is Low-Fi?

The rattle of instruments, barely distinguishable percussion or beats, technical noises, distorted voice – you won’t believe it, but a decade and a half ago many people recorded their favorite music from players to dictaphones built into ancient push-button cell phones. Or they would rigidly squeeze the files to fit more into the 15 megabytes of memory. And we listened to these songs with the built-in speakers. The quality of the listening left a lot to be desired, but it had its own special charm. Maybe that same charm has been pushing talented musicians to write music of inferior quality for many years. Or maybe that’s not the point.

Anyway, lo-fi is a genre, which successfully competes with other music genres in the struggle for popularity.


First, let’s understand what low-fi music is, and where it originated.

In the early ’60s, many rock bands could not afford quality sound recording and were forced to use quite modest quality equipment to record their hits. At the same time, some bands deliberately distorted the sound, thereby demonstrating a kind of protest against the studio’s “glossy” recording. The musicians wanted to show their uniqueness and achieved the effect of “homemade amateur sound” at royalty free music sites. Among them was The Rolling Stones, who recorded the guitar parts of the song “Jumping Jack Flash” through a cassette tape.

So, lo-fi is recording with noise and distortion (from low fidelity “low quality”). Here, for example, are some bands straight from the nineties – it may seem strange to some lovers of the firm and good sound that these guys turned out to be quite successful and popular.

In particular, thanks to their success lo-fi has finally formed as a separate style of music, which today includes subgenres: lo-fi indie, lo-fi hip-hop, lo-fi house, and others.

The founders of lo-fi are considered to be the indie-rock band Pavement. Their rebellious character gives away both their image and their anti-promotion policy. It’s enough to look at the guys themselves, as well as at their album covers – and here it is, the style of the real low-fi 90s: non-conformism, hooligan appearance, and drawings on the front side of the disc, more like primitive child drawings.

In the USSR, the first band to play lo-fi was DK, founded in 1980 by Sergey Zharikov. “DK is considered not only the pioneer of experimental music but also the founder of domestic lo-fi. Sergey Letov, the older brother of the leader of Grazhdanskaya Oborona, played in the band. It was under the influence of “DK” that the creativity of GrOb was formed in its time.

Interestingly, the youth audience listens to Letov even today. Not only his texts are topical, but also the genres, in which Letov became a pioneer. The fashion for everything experimental finds an echo in the works of Grazhdanskaya Oborona, and that is why the interest in the band does not cease to grow.

Low-fi today

So why is lo-fi music popular so many years later?

The answer is simple: lo-fi is the perfect background music. You can study, work, and go for walks under it, in other words, you can do absolutely any every day and not only things. Lo-fi relaxes, causes only positive emotions, and the presence of distortion in the track adds a nostalgic mood. This music is light, lamplight, and atmospheric. Many artists of this genre write the names of the bands in Latin, and almost always in lowercase letters. This is the philosophy of modern lo-fi artists: they put their music in social networks, record their albums without professional equipment, use lowercase letters for names – it’s a chambered, protest against canons and “polishedness”. The lyrics of low-fi songs are full of infantilism, they are a protest to everything old and hardened. In order not to be like the others, musicians purposely distort soundtracks in order to achieve the effect of “dictaphone recording”.

By the way, low-fi radio on YouTube is very popular now. It is a stream with lo-fi and chill-hop music, accompanied by endless animation with an anime girl. The picture is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki cartoons, and it perfectly complements the relaxing nostalgic wave. The stream is endless and can be listened to at any time of the day or night.

Finally, let’s find out what popular lo-fi artists there are in our country, and why audiences love them.

The band angelic milk is a young guy from St. Petersburg, playing cosmic music, complemented by the gentle voice of vocalist Sarah Persephone. The band’s image, like the drawings of their covers (made by Sara) and the songs themselves, are imbued with infantilism, but that’s their beauty: they immerse listeners in nostalgia, where everyone can feel free and dream.

The band homeboy in Luv is musician Maxim Starovoytov from Helsinki, who sings in Russian. His tracks have a minimum of words and a maximum of lamplight lo-fi beats.

The band SUMMER COMA is two guys from Moscow who perform lo-fi indie pop. Their music is more dynamic than the previous bands but no less beautiful. Real lo-fi as it is, with sound distortion and atmospheric lyrics.

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