Lo-fi & Glitch

The enticing aesthetic of errors

According to tradition, music and noise are consirered opposite. For decades, composers and musicians have striven for the perfection of form and “purity” of elements. Malfunctions in such environment were to be avoided and corrected where possible.

However, with the rise of underground rock and hip-hop, as well as the availability of cheaper workstations in the early 90s, more and more artists started to produce music. While never saturating the market, less pristine-quality recordings and experimental works began to make their way into the mainstream. Such music was defined in retrospective as belonging to the lo-fi, noise, and glitch aesthetics. Genres that saw the light of the day at different points in the 1990s but are all connected through conceptual vectors.

Kyuss’ “Blues For The Red Sun” (1992) is as fascinating as it’s poorly recorded. An ingenue but genuine example of lo-fi, before “lo-fi”.

Lo-fi, in particular, refers to the lack of technique and technology regarding the recording and mixing of music. It is the natural antithesis to high-fidelity. Ground noise, buzzing, and other imperfections in the recording are magnified and veneered. Because of their capacity to add layers of “grain and dust” to otherwise clear recordings, the produced effect is a sense of nostalgia and a moodiness that is characteristic of many contemporary lo-fi releases.

Similarly, glitch describes the failures and in a flow of communication. Sonically-characteristic errors (glitches) are organised in the arrangement as if they were instruments, becoming central elements in the composition. Glitch music is about pushing the tools available to you as a musician to make something never heard before.

Failures at the centre of attention

My appreciation for music falling under the umbrella of lo-fi & glitch has often been challenged by musicians attempting to appropriate themselves of a sound only to meet the needs of an audience. At the same time, there have been scenes that have thriven, and some still do, for their unprecedented music production skills.

It is difficult, however, to label electronic music and restrict its sound to a specific press-ready niche. The obviously biased list of artists and music presented below is by no means exhaustive inventory of every lo-fi or glitch release ever, but only a short sample only meant to exemplify what a piece of lo-fi or glitch music could sound like. Neither am I, with such a subjective take, trying to designate the artists as belonging only to that particular genre and musical scene.

Well-sounding malfunctions

A visionary album that got me into the genre of glitch — that with hip-hop references later renamed as glitch-hop — is edIT’s Crying Over Pros”. One of Planet Mu’s most overlooked releases struck a chord with me because I’ve never heard any hip-hop producer use their tools in such a way before. edIT used techniques that were only sometimes found in experimental electronic music before, but nowhere near hip-hop. It was a record ahead of its times.

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Amber by Autechre is another recent discovery dear to me despite its now 24 years since its release date. Blurring genre-labelling, but often defined by the press as belonging to IDM and Glitch, Amber presented an “entirely electronic and entirely instrumental” soundscape that could still compete with most modern productions.

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Deliberate degradation

Teen Suicide (band, now known as American Pleasure Club) is maybe the most representative of the noise-pop and lo-fi aesthetic. Their ingenuity and quirkiness, paired with a deliberate lack of recording-quality — especially with their early releases — is effective as it’s catchy.

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In contrast, Lo-fi House, be it borrowing from the indie-rock/lo-fi aesthetic or creating a sound of its own to stay distinguishable in the dance arena, has experienced a disproportionate growth during the past 5 years. Thegenre quickly evolved “from an online community of fresh-faced producers into a palpable underground phenomenon”¹.

With its wide sound palette and extensive DJ experience, Ross From Friends is the “leading figure” in the lo-fi movement and an always favourite of mine.

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References:

  1. Mixmag. (2018). Ross From Friends is the emotionally-charged house producer making an Impact. [online] Available at: http://mixmag.net/feature/impact-ross-from-friends.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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