The Evolving Function of Chillwave

The Evolving Function of Chillwave

When chillwave first came out, I understood it to be Pitchforkfolk’s attempt to reappropriate techno as an inaccessible, slowcore, iPad-fueled genre. Using Washed Out as the ultimate example, it seemed to be a type of booty music art-oriented guys played to assure you that they like the scenic route but aren’t too nature-centric to torrent RAR files.

Basically, I thought it was boring. Too slick. Too lulling. Too inorganic.

But it didn’t go away. Instead, it ballooned into a general mellowing out of indie music. The invention of chillwave seemed to inspire a bunch of people taking polaroids of themselves smoking shisha in their parents’ hot tubs to say, “Oh wait, I can make music too.”

Indie music as a whole started to grow, and soon chillwave had something for everyone:

Toro y Moi’s earnest tunes for a mumblecore movie that doesn’t exist. Phantogram and Delorean’s Starburst-flavored harmonies that sound like grown-up Chuck E. Cheese/roller-skate parties.

After noting that our collective playlist at the agency where I work was increasingly nothing but chillwave, I got to thinking about its function. Something about its quiet, unobtrusiveness and pretty textures made it the perfect background music for writing, designing, creating spreadsheets, and other kinds of yuppy 9-5 labor.

Without necessarily meaning to, chillwave became the perfect soundtrack for the modern workplace because it encourages creativity while keeping people mellow. There aren’t many types of music that segue so well from dancefloor to cubicle, and in this case, these songs’ basic lack of topic or narrative make them a better muzak than muzak itself.

After listening to Youth Lagoon a thousand times while writing about breakfast cereal, I realized that I needed to open my heart to chillwave. It’s not as blatantly cathartic as Animal Collective or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but when you need a type of music lets you stay emotionally neutral all day long, chillwave is your guy.

Becky Lang