A Brief History of Lo-Fi Music


The emergence of lo-fi music in the 1950’s was started by amateur musicians that had low recording budgets. The DIY recording and non-ideal recording venues meant that unnatural distortions occurred. Despite the lack of quality the records had, the lo-fi sound became popular among the masses; it was the character and uniqueness of a song that made it popular, not how faithful of a representation it was. One example of a lo-fi song is Johnny Ace’s ‘My Song’. It was both written and recorded at a radio station. The co-writer David Mattis called it ‘a fifteen minute job’, and when you listen to it you can definitely hear how the rushed recording affected the quality. It has a raw sound with an uneven mix; the drums are too quiet and the piano and saxophone are in a constant battle to be heard. Even so, ‘My Song’ stayed at number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1952.  

The raw distorted sound of lo-fi music became associated with youth, and musicians started to record tracks using poor equipment on purpose. During the 1980’s and 1990’s the concept of lo-fi was taken to an extreme through genres like Metal.

A good example of this is the song 'Dunkelheit' which was written by the Black Metal musician Varg Vikernes (Burzum) who recorded his album Filosofem in 1993.   


The 21st century has bought with it a brand new age of technology, and the possibilities for music production and recording practices are constantly evolving. A lot of music avoids mimicking live music with acoustic instruments, and instead uses sounds created with computer software. One extreme example of this is the song “Frogs on Acid” (2008) by Cluekid.

Cluekid - Frogs on Acid

Every sound that makes up the track was created with some form of computer software. The accompanying beat could be comparable to a drum kit, but the bassline/melody is so warped that it can’t even be compared to anything natural or organic let alone a musical instrument.  

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