EDM / Dance
Best New Artists
Indie chill…. What is it? What does it mean? Those two words open up a postmodern rabbit hole into a quantum universe of indeterminacy. What might make one person mellow, sleepy, happy, and calm might be infuriatingly boring to another? That's not even to begin to dissect that first word, as what is and isn't 'indie' is a whole separate conversation.
Why is this fuzzy, quantum descriptor taking over? Is indie chill a genre? A musical movement? Without getting into a metaphysical debate, we can default to Descartes' view on existence. Indie chill is real, because it exists, because people think it's real.
But why are so many people gravitating towards this fuzzy genre? What does it say about the world we're living in? Let's discuss, shall we?
The term chill as a musical descriptor came to prominence in the '90s, as information technology was really getting going in earnest. If 'chill music' is a genre, of any kind, it may be the first postmodern musical genre. Which is to say, it doesn't have a hard-and-fast definition, or even a consensus on its musical characteristics. So let's go ahead and dig into its etymology a bit in search of a definition.
The word 'chill' is the variable that's going to help us solve this equation. Because it's been used to describe legit musical movements, as well, that have some defining aesthetics we can expound upon.
Chill music is a shortened version of 'chill-out music,' which was an honest-to-goodness musical style in the late '80s and '90s. Chill-out music stemmed from the chillout rooms in raves and dance clubs. London's Heaven Nightclub featured the first high-profile chill-out room, where ambient music like Brian Eno would mix with progressive House, Techno, and Trance, from artists like The Orb, Orbital, or The KLF. These chill-out rooms were meant as a respite from the overwhelming stimulation of the big rooms. Which is also where we get our first hint why this music's so vital. And why it seems to be spreading.
Starting off as a mood, chill vibes started to permeate other genres. Most musical styles have some form of chill variant, especially if they've been around for a while. Downtempo/Trip-Hop is one variant, blending chilled hip-hop beats with noirish, jazzy vocals. Jazz, 'world music', hip-hop, and pop are all serve chilled, at times. Looking at this aspect of indie chill out also starts to illustrate some of its darker aspects.
One aspect of indie chill focuses on the relaxing, mellow, soothing, sometimes hypnotic aspects of a style. The other showcases how nearly any style, sound, or genre can be subverted, polished into sanitized, sterilized safety. This is kind of chill with digeridoos looped over stale house beats, looped ad nauseam. In our more enlightened, culturally-sensitive times, we'd like to think this style would've fallen out of fashion.
Not everybody's super adept at introspection, unfortunately. New Age-sounding beats paired with generic chanting samples are just as prevalent as they've ever been, if not more so.
Seeing as how we've made a case for chill being more of a mood or a feeling that a proper genre, per se, let's delve into some of the most popular variants of chill indie music.
One variant of chill music that is actually a genre in and of itself is 'chillstep.' Beginning in 2009, chillstep is a sub-genre of dubstep, toning down the bassy machismo of American dubstep and fusing aspects of more atmospheric genres, like Future Garage and Liquid Funk.
Of course, anyone who listens to non-American styles of dubstep realize its European counterparts were much lighter and more graceful, more romantic, even seductive. In a way, chillstep is just bringing that aspect to the forefront. This makes chillstep more suitable for your bedroom mixtapes, for the 'chill' part of 'Netflix and Chill,' which is, no doubt, what a lot of the genre is alluding to.
Chillstep is a breath of fresh air for those who love dance music but get burned out on constant low frequencies and blaring volumes. Much like the best love, the best dance music can be slow, subtle, delicate, and nuanced. It just makes it that much more satisfying when the climax comes.