Chill-out (shortened as chill; also typeset as chillout or chill out) is a loosely defined form of popular music characterized by slow tempos and relaxed moods. The definition of "chill-out music" has evolved throughout the decades, and generally refers to anything that might be identified as a modern type of easy listening. Some of the genres associated with "chill" include downtempo, classical, dance, jazz, hip hop, world, pop, lounge, and ambient.
The term "chill-out music" – originally conflated with "ambient house" – came from an area called "The White Room" at the Heaven nightclub in London in 1989. There, DJs played ambient mixes from sources such as Brian Eno and Pink Floyd to allow dancers a place to "chill out" from the faster-paced music of the main dance floor. Ambient house became widely popular over the next decade before it declined due to market saturation.
In the early 2000s, DJs in Ibiza's Café Del Mar began creating ambient house mixes that drew on jazz, classical, Hispanic, and New Age sources. The popularity of chill-out subsequently expanded to dedicated satellite radio channels, outdoor festivals, and thousands of compilation albums. "Chill-out" was also removed from its ambient origins and became its own distinct genre.
"Chillwave" was an ironic term coined in 2009 for music that could already be described with existing labels such as dream pop. Despite the facetious intent behind the term, chillwave was the subject of serious, analytical articles by mainstream newspapers, and became one of the first genres to acquire an identity online. As on-demand music streaming services grew in the 2010s, a form of downtempo tagged as "lo-fi hip hop" or "chillhop" became popular among YouTube users.
Origins and definition
There is no exact definition of chill-out music. The term, which has evolved throughout the decades, generally refers to anything that might be identified as a modern type of easy listening. Some of the genres associated with "chill" include downtempo, classical, dance, jazz, hip hop, world, pop, lounge, and ambient. Chill-out typically has slow rhythms, sampling, a "trance-like nature", "drop-out beats", and a mixture of electronic instruments with acoustic instruments. In the "Ambient/Chill Out" chapter of Rick Snoman's 2013 book Dance Music Manual, he writes, "it could be said that as long as the tempo remains below 120 BPM and it employs a laid-back groove, it could be classed as chill out."
The term originated from an area called "The White Room" at the Heaven nightclub in London in 1989. Its DJs were Jimmy Cauty and Alex Patterson, later of the Orb. They created ambient mixes from sources such as Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Mike Oldfield, 10cc, and War. The room's purpose was to allow dancers a chance to "chill out" from the more emphatic and fast-tempo music played on the main dance floor. This also coincided with the short-lived fad of ambient house, also known as "New Age house". Cauty's KLF subsequently released an album called Chill Out (February 1990), featuring uncredited contributions from Patterson. In addition, during the early 1990s, the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile (1967) was reputed as one of the best "chill-out" albums to listen to during an LSD comedown.
Ambient house declined after the mid-1990s due to market saturation. In the early 2000s, DJs in Ibiza's Café Del Mar began creating ambient house mixes that drew on jazz, classical, Hispanic, and New Age sources. They called their product "chill-out music", and it sparked a revived interest in ambient house from the public and record labels. The popularity of chill-out subsequently expanded to dedicated satellite radio channels, outdoor festivals, and the release of thousands of compilation albums offering ambient sounds and "muffled" beats. Consequently, the popular understanding of "chill-out music" shifted away from "ambient" and into its own distinct genre. Music critics to that point were generally dismissive of the music.
In 2009, a genre called "chillwave" was invented by the satirical blog Hipster Runoff for music that could already be described with existing labels such as dream pop. The pseudonymous author, known as "Carles", later explained that he was only "[throwing] a bunch of pretty silly names on a blog post and saw which one stuck." Chillwave became one of the first genres to acquire an identity online, although the term did not gain mainstream currency until early 2010, when it was the subject of serious, analytical articles by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In 2011, Carles said it was "ridiculous that any sort of press took it seriously" and that although the bands he spoke to "get annoyed" by the tag, "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."
Streaming became the dominant source of music industry revenue in 2016. During that decade, Spotify engendered a trend that became known among the industry as "lean back listening", which refers to a listener who "thinks less about the artist or album they are seeking out, and instead connects with emotions, moods, and activities". As of 2017, the front page of the service's "browse" screen included many algorithmically-selected playlists with names such as "Chilled Folk", "Chill Hits", "Evening Chill", "Chilled R&B", "Indie Chillout", and "Chill Tracks". In 2014, the service reported that throughout the year "Chill Out" playlists had trended much higher than the national average on campuses across Colorado, where marijuana had been legalized in January of that year. In an editorial piece for The Baffler titled "The Problem with Muzak", writer Liz Pelly criticized the "chill" playlists as "the purest distillation of [Spotify's] ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper".
In 2013, YouTube began allowing its users to host live streams, which resulted in a host of 24-hour "radio stations" dedicated to microgenres such as vaporwave, a derivation of chillwave. Music streaming platform Spotify added to the popular "lo-fi beats" wave by generating "Spotified genres", including "Chill Hits", "Bedroom Pop" playlists, and promoting numerous "chill pop" artists. In 2017, a form of downtempo music tagged as "chillhop" or "lo-fi hip hop" became popular among YouTube music streamers. By 2018, several of these channels had attracted millions of followers. One DJ, Ryan Celsius, theorized that they were inspired by a nostalgia for the commercial bumpers used by Toonami and Adult Swim in the 2000s, and that this "created a cross section of people that enjoyed both anime and wavy hip-hop beats." These channels equally functioned as chatrooms, with participants often discussing their personal struggles. As of 2018, Spotify's "Chill Hits" playlist had 5.4 million listeners and had been growing rapidly.
Chillhop became one of the most widely known microgenres and may also be viewed as chill-out music fused with hip-hop. Nujabes and J Dilla have been referred to as the "godfathers of Lo-Fi Hip Hop". Vice contributor Luke Winkie credited YouTube user ChilledCow as "the person who first featured a studious anime girl as his calling card, which set up the aesthetic framework for the rest of the people operating in the genre" and suggested that "if there is one shared touchstone for lo-fi hip-hop, it's probably [the 2004 MF Doom and Madlib album] Madvillainy".
Some YouTube streams, including those by Chillhop Records and ChilledCow, faced issues such as copyright strikes and bans. In February 2018, Chillhop Records received a copyright strike from anime house Studio Chizu for the use of a character from the feature film, Wolf Children. Though Chillhop Records only used a five-second loop of one character, the popularity of the video caught the attention of Studio Chizu. The founder of Chillhop Records and owner of the YouTube channel, Bas Van Leeuwen told the gaming magazine, Polygon, that the company worked with Studio Chizu in order to bring the livestream back on. ChilledCow received another notice from YouTube, in February 2020, detailing that the channel had violated YouTube's Terms of Service. According to The Fader, soon after the shutdown of ChilledCow's channel, a large influx of support from fans of the longstanding lo-fi curator was recognized as the reason why the popular lo-fi hip hop livestream was resumed after the mishap.
Viewership of lo-fi hip hop streams grew significantly during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. In April, MTV News noted, "there might be something to be said for lo-fi hip-hop’s composition, and the way its creators mix simplistic melodies with a judicious use of words to create intense memories, feelings, and nostalgia" and stated that the quarantine in place in various countries "has led people to log more hours online due to boredom or virtual workplaces and schools, and livestreamed music performances are reaching their full potential."
Lo-fi hip hop is considered an Internet meme. Many producers in the genre later distanced themselves from the label or drifted into other music styles. Common criticisms of the genre included the music's simplicity and clichéd sound.
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