this is outside the usual remit for this blog, but there are only two types of music, right? good and bad? i like this chillwave stuff so here comes the feature i did on the nascent scene for the july issue of djmag
Don’t let the name put you off. Chillwave may sound like a naff Hollyoaks Balearic rip-off, but the music which belongs to the only semi-recently named genre is anything but. Rather it’s a half remembered flashback to childhood, when summer days and blazing sun were endless; when you lazed about on scorched grass making daisy chains and chasing butterflies, all the while soaked in a hazy yellow-orange hue as captured through a plastic snapshot camera from the 80s. Sure, unless you’re Kevin from the Wonder Years, your childhood was probably far from that idyll. But so evocative and almost painfully nostalgic is Chillwave that it makes you remember such scenes, whether you lived them or not.
To trace the genre’s history takes you back to summer 2009 when early tracks by Toro Y Moi and Washed Out popped up, and spread, on the blogosphere, whilst to search for its influences may be to extrapolate it from 60’s psyche rock/pop/folk or to draw parallels with sunshine and synth sodden hits by the Beach Boys. More contemporary analogies are harder to draw, but imagine if lo-fi pop principal Jim Noir grew up in California instead of on an estate in Manchester; or imagine an absolute antithesis to the Ritalin generation’s fluoro, nu-rave revolution of a few years ago and you’ll be in the right ballpark. So, whilst most derivative new dance genres stem largely from the worlds of house or techno, Chillwave is different.
What’s more, rather than being born from one community of musicians working, jamming, theorising together, Chillwave is a product of Web2.0 – it’s a genre of dislocated artists (variously from New Jersey, California, San Francisco) all brought together by, and on, the blogosphere last summer, with no major label or discernable PR involvement at all. Characterised by washing synths, plenty of echo, woozy, nostalgic lyrics and a glistening, sun-reflecting-on-sea texture, Chillwave is gorgeously hazy pop pushed through a psychedelic filter.
Two of the leading proponents of these recession era, DIY sounds, Chaz Bundick and Ernest Green (aka the aforementioned Toro Y Moi and Washed Out respectively) are friends from Columbia, South Carolina and their music shares a beachy, breezy air as a result.
“It wasn’t a conscious thing we were doing, we didn’t aim to set out and make this sort of music. It just happened. The Chillwave tag is a running joke between me and Chaz; it just appeared on the internet. I prefer to call it dream pop, but whatever” Ernest tells us with a wry smile.
“For sure we share the same influences – old shoegaze, synth pop, Beach Boys – but Chaz is more instruments based where I’m more electronic. I don’t try to write songs about this time or that, this emotion or the other, I just sit down and get into it. I don’t even listen to dance music so feel a bit of a fraud making these dance-y beats, but that’s what it’s all about – just going with the music and totally getting lost.”
Meanwhile, 24 year old Toro Y Moi whose debut LP ‘Causers Of This’ came out in March and who listens to everything from French house and J Dilla to freak-folk, is a restless singer songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist design graduate.
“I started out doing guitar and piano based stuff, then went on to laptops in 2005 because already I didn’t want the Toro Y Moi sound being fitted into one style. I didn’t want people to get too familiar and for them to think Toro Y Moi is an electronic musician then for them to be surprised when I do something else, so I mix it up. I’m more interested in the end sound than how I record it. If that sound is ‘Chillwave’ then I’m cool with that. I see how people relate the name to the music.”
Coming at it from a different side – both metaphorically and literally – is Brit Richard Norris (aka one half of Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve with Erol Alkan, sometime producer of Joe Strummer from the Clash, ex-NME journalist and The Grid member). His roots as a label manager for the British psychedelic record label, Bam Caruso, back in the 80s releasing oft unheard of bands mean his sounds are firmly rooted in rock.
“I’d been working with Erol and playing him some of the old stuff I used to release on Bam, he got really excited about them so I made him some mix tapes and it re-ignited my passion for that sort of music. I find I quite amusing being lumped into a genre but my sound is certainly more psychedelic than most Chillwave artists” Norris tells us indifferently.
“People attach the tag to my ‘Children of the Sun’ track [from March’s eponymous The Time & Space Machine LP] which I recorded as the psychedelic record I always threatened to – but never did – make. There’s a breezy, 60s California sound to it but other Chillwave artists uses modern, digital synths and sounds where I use mellotrons and organs. There’s been an influx of colour/psychedelica since the black and white sounds of The Strokes as well as a mini Balearic resurgence everywhere from Ibiza to Germany and I think it’s those things which have lead to this more chilled and blissed-out music.“
Of course, as the genre spreads to the outside world; as the wheels of commercialism turn and the imitators jump on board, Chillwave’s innocent bedroom aesthetics will be lost. But that’s not a problem for the genre’s pioneers who have already begun to evolve their sound.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never played live before and now I’m on tour playing these songs I made in a bedroom at my parents’ house” excites Ernest. “I’d never written songs knowing people would be listening and suddenly there was all this pressure and expectation. I decided for the live shows I needed to fatten-out the bottom ends so people could get into it more, otherwise I think it would have been boring. It’s more dance-y now, a bit more hip hop, but it still sounds like Washed Out.”
Whilst Chaz, too, is forging ahead and aims to release his second full length of 2010 later this year.
“The second album I’m really trying to get out but it’s a challenge with all the touring. It’s gunna be a totally different vibe with more traditional instruments. There won’t be a lot of laptop or computer stuff. It’s going to be more organic” he tells us.
A new single from that album, ‘Leave Everywhere’ shows the Columbia kid has widened his remit, layering instrumentals beneath his reverb shrouded, still sweet vocals and, in the process, ensures Chillwave is maturing into something with a real potential to last.
Whether it turns out to be a passing ripple or of the all consuming Tsunami-type only time will tell. But for this year at least, Chillwave is the sound of summer.