Here’s the Story of a Little Music Genre Called Chillwave

Washed Out's Ernest Greene looks cool. And chill.

Handout/Will Govus

Washed Out’s Ernest Greene looks cool. And chill.

Cameron White, Staff Writer

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Never heard of it? Well, that’s probably because it emerged hand-in-hand with the modern hipster culture that loves everything obscure. Chillwave has spent most of its life in obscurity, but the recent and unavoidable influence of hipsters has brought chillwave into the light.

Still not convinced it’s a real thing? Walk into any Urban Outfitters, and you’ll probably hear Washed Out’s new album Within and Without or something similar. IFC’s tv show Portlandia even features a chillwave intro song, also by Washed Out.

Chillwave (AKA Dream-beat, glo-fi, hypnagogic pop) is a genre that gained popularity in the summer of 2010. Chillwave is usually tied in with Balearic and Lo-fi, two closely related genres. It was propelled by the online blogosphere and gained enough hype to make many people believe that it was “the next big thing.”

Chillwave usually features heavily-filtered vocals, simple melodies, sound effects, pop synths reminiscent of the 80s, and the general sound of a home production. Most artists start out with humble beginnings, using only a laptop or low quality sound equipment to record music and make performances.

Some artists, like Memoryhouse, have found out that they need to change their production style once they’ve been signed to a record label. Memoryhouse’s style was originally layered with effects similar to most chillwave artists, but now that they’re expected to perform live shows while on tour, their signature style is no longer viable.

While it was still a relatively new thing, artists like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Ariel Pink, Small Black, Memory Tapes, Toro Y Moi, and Millionyoung were all thrown into this overarching genre of chillwave. Not surprisingly, this new classification started to meet all kinds of opposition. Artists that had been labeled as chillwave began to question whether or not chillwave was actually one concrete genre.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Palomo said, “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.”

Because chillwave is largely a creation of the internet, its legitimacy is  somewhat controversial. It seems like new subgenres similar to chillwave are being created quite often. When someone coins a new name, nobody really knows if it’s going to become widely accepted, or if it’s going to become just another redundant name for the same thing.

Chillwave isn’t as popular today as it was a few years ago, due to the fact that many of the artists that made up the genre’s framework have either discounted the label, or changed their music style all together. Despite these changes, many artists and fans, like myself, have continued to hang on to the magic that was once an Internet sensation.

I’ve been listening to chillwave for about two years now, and while the hype has died down, most of the artists that were prominent in the genre’s heyday are still actively releasing albums. I find it refreshing that artists who make chillwave, or music like it, have the chance to become big without the intervention of labels like Universal Music Group or Sony BMG Music Enteratinment.

Some artists pursue a career in music without ever being signed to a label at all. Music distribution sites like Bandcamp provide a no-cost solution to new artists, and are where many chillwave hopefuls post their music.

The future of chillwave is an uncertain one. Ultimately, whether it can stand the test of time is up to you.