Enjoy the Chillride Part 1: Chillwave is Literally a Joke

I am late to the blog buzz, and even late to the backlash on this but who cares…   the blogosphere’s favorite new catch-all is “Chillwave.”


I mentioned the term to my brother last weekend, trying to deliver it slathered in as much cynicism as possible, but it still felt silly even saying the word with a straight face (but perhaps that was the idea).  So what’s the deal?  Ummm.  Where do I start?

First off, a number of the bands being lumped into this genre – Washed Out, Neon Indian, etc — are legitimately good bands.  SO.. . Let’s get that out of the way. My beef is not necessarily with the artists themselves, but with the coining of the term and then how readily it was accepted, over-applied, and then re-appropriated.

It is amazing how rapidly a term can be conjured out of nothing to develop its own aesthetic, following, and to eventually (inevitably) become exploited.  Though what I’m about to say is most certainly hyperbole, it’s as if we’ve witnessed 10 years of the Punk / New Wave Culture Arc in a little over 12 months.

Search Trending of Chillwave starting in September ’09

How do you explain this? Well… It’s the Internetz.  Okay, it’s the accessibility of technology and communication to which the Internetz is central…

Today we’ll just talk about where the word “Chillwave” originated because it’s amusing in and of itself.

Wikipedia (eeeek) defines “Chillwave” as such:

Chillwave is a genre of music where artists are often characterized by their heavy use of effects processing, synthesizers, looping, sampling, and heavily filtered vocals with simple melodic lines. Its musical predecessors are diverse and include the synthpop of the 1980s, shoegaze, ambient, musique concrete and various types of music outside of the Western World […] nostalgia of 80s synthpop is filtered through a distorted lens, re-envisioning the era in a more vague and lo-fi sense.

Now,  I’m not sure if it was meant to be funny, but the last sentence describes Chillwave as  ~”a vaguely distorted lo-fi lens of revisionism.”  That line is fucking funny. Funny in its redundant descriptiveness. Deadpan funny.  Delivered in such a way that it could have been made up by the likes of a meta-comedic hipster blog like Hipster Runoff.

The crazy thing is that Garin Pirnia in a WSJ Speakeasy post from March ’10, (also more directly by Audiosuede in April ’10), suggests that very thing — that the term “chillwave” was made up to poke fun at questionable genre labeling (just another jab at aging taste-maker Pitchfork Media ).  Carles, the penname of the anonymous Hipster Runoff author, quite possibly coined the term Chillwave himself.

Hipster Runoff is a parody site.  It’s an endlessly entertaining  blog that I really hope everyone knows is a joke.  The blog slips into l33t speak, “air quotes” excessively, and fixates on hipsters “staying relevant”, curating their personal “brand”, and living the most authentic “ALT” lifestyles possible.

via Flavorwire

Though the term “Chillwave” is tagged in an earlier article that talks about Neon Indian on 4/20/09 (Carles gives Neon Indian’s album a  7.267 out of 10), there is no appearance of the term in the text of the post.  Chillwave’s first appearance in print looks like 7/27/09, in which Carles is searching for an appropriate name for musicians that…

…have a chill project, that is somewhat ‘conceptual’ but also demonstrates that ur band has ‘pop sensibilities’ or something. Not sure what the ‘ceiling’ for these types of bands are. Seems like they will probably have to build their ‘live brand’ as being something that is ‘artistic.’…

Carles then goes on to bulletpoint possible genre labels for such bands, which included…

post-AnCo rock
Kewl Boring Music
Music 2 smoke weed 2
Synth Computer Pop Atmospheric Wave
Conceptual Blog Core

After the hilarious brainstorm, (WaveWave being my favorite), he settles on the now-eponymous Chillwave…

Feel like I might call it ‘chill wave‘ music in the future. Feels like ‘chill wave’ is dominated by ‘thick/chill synths’ while conceptual core is still trying to ‘use real instruments/sound like it was recorded in nature.’ Feel like chillwave is supposed to sound like something that was playing in the background of ‘an old VHS cassette that u found in ur attic from the late 80s/early 90s.’

And with Carles’ hilarious jab at sub-sub-genre categorization, “Chillwave” itself became a sub-sub-genre.  And that’s just where the story starts.  Since its unlikely birth, the c-word has come to represent a slew of self-aware bands, cloying affected imagery, as well as other cultural underpinnings.  I’ll talk a little bit more about the genre, its bands, and its fans in the upcoming days.

6 thoughts on “Enjoy the Chillride Part 1: Chillwave is Literally a Joke

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