Chill-out (shortened as chill; also typeset as chillout or chill out) is a loosely defined form of popular music characterized by slow tempos and relaxed moods. The definition of "chill-out music" has evolved throughout the decades, and generally refers to anything that might be identified as a modern type of easy listening. Some of the genres associated with "chill" include downtempo, classical, dance, jazz, hip hop, world, pop, lounge, and ambient.
The term "chill-out music" – originally conflated with "ambient house" – came from an area called "The White Room" at the Heaven nightclub in London in 1989. There, DJs played ambient mixes from sources such as Brian Eno and Pink Floyd to allow dancers a place to "chill out" from the faster-paced music of the main dance floor. Ambient house became widely popular over the next decade before it declined due to market saturation.
In the early 2000s, DJs in Ibiza's Café Del Mar began creating ambient house mixes that drew on jazz, classical, Hispanic, and New Age sources. The popularity of chill-out subsequently expanded to dedicated satellite radio channels, outdoor festivals, and thousands of compilation albums. "Chill-out" was also removed from its ambient origins and became its own distinct genre.
"Chillwave" was an ironic term coined in 2009 for music that could already be described with existing labels such as dream pop. Despite the facetious intent behind the term, chillwave was the subject of serious, analytical articles by mainstream newspapers, and became one of the first genres to acquire an identity online. As on-demand music streaming services grew in the 2010s, a form of downtempo tagged as "lo-fi hip hop" or "chillhop" became popular among YouTube users.
Origins and definition
There is no exact definition of chill-out music. The term, which has evolved throughout the decades, generally refers to anything that might be identified as a modern type of easy listening. Some of the genres associated with "chill" include downtempo, classical, dance, jazz, hip hop, world, pop, lounge, and ambient. Chill-out typically has slow rhythms, sampling, a "trance-like nature", "drop-out beats", and a mixture of electronic instruments with acoustic instruments. In the "Ambient/Chill Out" chapter of Rick Snoman's 2013 book Dance Music Manual, he writes, "it could be said that as long as the tempo remains below 120 BPM and it employs a laid-back groove, it could be classed as chill out."
The term originated from an area called "The White Room" at the Heaven nightclub in London in 1989. Its DJs were Jimmy Cauty and Alex Patterson, later of the Orb. They created ambient mixes from sources such as Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Mike Oldfield, 10cc, and War. The room's purpose was to allow dancers a chance to "chill out" from the more emphatic and fast-tempo music played on the main dance floor. This also coincided with the short-lived fad of ambient house, also known as "New Age house". The KLF subsequently released an album called Chill Out (1990), featuring uncredited contributions from Patterson. In addition, during the early 1990s, the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile (1967) was reputed as one of the best "chill-out" albums to listen to during an LSD comedown.
Ambient house declined after the mid-1990s due to market saturation. In the early 2000s, DJs in Ibiza's Café Del Mar began creating ambient house mixes that drew on jazz, classical, Hispanic, and New Age sources. They called their product "chill-out music", and it sparked a revived interest in ambient house from the public and record labels. The popularity of chill-out subsequently expanded to dedicated satellite radio channels, outdoor festivals, and the release of thousands of compilation albums offering ambient sounds and "muffled" beats. Consequently, the popular understanding of "chill-out music" shifted away from "ambient" and into its own distinct genre. Music critics to that point were generally dismissive of the music.
In 2009, a genre called "chillwave" was invented by the satirical blog Hipster Runoff for music that could already be described with existing labels such as dream pop. The pseudonymous author, known as "Carles", later explained that he was only "[throwing] a bunch of pretty silly names on a blog post and saw which one stuck." Chillwave became one of the first genres to acquire an identity online, although the term did not gain mainstream currency until early 2010, when it was the subject of serious, analytical articles by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In 2011, Carles said it was "ridiculous that any sort of press took it seriously" and that although the bands he spoke to "get annoyed" by the tag, "they understand that it's been a good thing. What about iTunes making it an official genre? It's now theoretically a marketable indie sound."
Streaming became the dominant source of music industry revenue in 2016. During that decade, Spotify engendered a trend that became known among the industry as "lean back listening", which refers to a listener who "thinks less about the artist or album they are seeking out, and instead connects with emotions, moods and activities". As of 2017, the front page of the service's "browse" screen included many algorithmically-selected playlists with names such as "Chilled Folk", "Chill Hits", "Evening Chill", "Chilled R&B", "Indie Chillout", and "Chill Tracks". In 2014, the service reported that these playlists were most popular in US states where marijuana had been legalized (Colorado and Washington). In an editorial piece for The Baffler titled "The Problem with Muzak", writer Liz Pelly criticized the "chill" playlists as "the purest distillation of [Spotify's] ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper".
Lo-fi hip hop
In 2013, YouTube began allowing its users to host live streams, which resulted in a host of 24-hour "radio stations" dedicated to microgenres such as vaporwave, a derivation of chillwave. In 2017, a form of downtempo music tagged as "lo-fi hip hop" or "chillhop" became popular among YouTube music streamers. By 2018, several of these channels had attracted millions of followers. One DJ theorized that they were inspired by a nostalgia for the commercial bumpers used by Toonami and Adult Swim in the 2000s, and that this "created a cross section of people that enjoyed both anime and wavy hip-hop beats."
Nujabes and J Dilla have been referred to as the "godfathers of Lo-Fi Hip Hop". In Vice writer Luke Winkie credited YouTube user ChilledCow as "the person who first featured a studious anime girl as his calling card, which set up the aesthetic framework for the rest of the people operating in the genre" and suggested that "if there is one shared touchstone for lo-fi hip-hop, it's probably [the 2004 MF Doom album] Madvillainy".