With thousands of dedicated followers, Lofi is the underground music genre that has boomed over the last few years. The phenomenon exploded across channels like Youtube back in 2016, after the introduction of 24/7 live streaming. We caught up with Ryan Celsius, king of Lofi to break down how this multi-faceted genre came about.
Ryan Celsius is widely-known amongst the Lofi community as being part of the a wave of artists to really place the genre on the map. After producing early versions of "fruity loops" in 2007, he ended up creating over 80 tracks that became some his best attempts at mixing and combining sounds. Tragically, a few years later, he lost most of his work when his laptops were stolen during a robbery at his home, leading him to have to re-discover new music and entering a phase of demotivation. The incident lead him to create YouTube playlists featuring and supporting independent artists, in the hopes that it'll keep them encouraged to continue producing. In 2012, he started up his widely-known YouTube Channel creating "unofficial" music videos further promoting artists whilst simultaneously assisting with production needs.
So what exactly is lofi and why is there such a high following? Ryan explains "Lofi hip hop as it is known today can be broken into several sub-genres that play into a distinct common sonic theme of nostalgic simplicity and more slow paced instrumental hip hop production." The genre is built to be versatile, able to be enjoyed as both background and foreground music, completely dependant on the listeners needs. Whilst it comes across as simplistic, the music itself carries a more complex relationship to each individual.
"When focusing on something else, a lofi hip hop beat tape or track can comfortably wash over the listener and provide a soothing backdrop. If given a bit more attention that same tape can provide a wealth of depth upon further analysis and really show case interesting sound design, unexpected percussive patterns, and melodies that seem vaguely familiar."
In 2016, there was a major boom in listeners of the genre after YouTube introduced 24/7 live streaming capabilities. This was the start of the common 'Anime Study Girl Loop' and the variations that followed. Lofi, specifically the sub-genre of 'Study Beats', was then marked as the perfect accompaniment for those late night study hours, merging with easy anime and cartoon animations. However this mix of anime and lofi isn't a new phenomenon and actually came around in the early 2000's as Ryan explains:
"During this time in the US, Cartoon Network began playing anime that had heavy hip hop and jazz components. This nostalgic association with anime and beat tape style bumps is a huge reason for the existence of anime within lofi hip hop currently. However, it has definitely evolved and taken on a new form with the consistent pushing of these aesthetics through YouTube livestreams."
Whilst the 'Study Beat' sub-genre may be considered the most popular version of lofi hip hop in todays time, there are in fact multiple versions of the genre out there, in which the scene is constantly evolving with many producers connecting various other genres to "craft new soundscapes that help them establish a unique sound".
With the current global pandemic causing havoc to many areas of the music industry, strangely enough, the lofi hip hop scene hasn't necessarily been affected. As Ryan shares "The lack of performance venues and live shows does not particularly hurt the scene at all, as the majority of popular lofi hip hop artists do not tour or perform shows that commonly."
Many, if not most, lofi artists share a common theme of being 'DIY bedroom producers', so being able to totally focus on their EPs and albums during self-isolation has been a majorly productive time within the lofi community. With the lofi hip hop community constantly evolving into new mixes of genres, who knows what will be produced next.