Meet the Latest Synth Micro Genre: ChillSynth
The Beginning of ChillSynth Way back in 2015 I had just left college, moved to Cleveland, and started writing about synth music
The Beginning of ChillSynth
Way back in 2015 I had just left college, moved to Cleveland, and started writing about synth music… it was kind of like that Hannibal Buress sketch from the Eric Andre show. Equally as surreal, right around that time Simpsonwave was blowing up and became a whole thing.
Of all the many Simpsonwave videos, one of them stood out to me. The music it contained wasn’t your average synthwave or vaporwave track, and it was amazing. It was labelled #chillwave – but that seemed off to me. I had listened to a LOT of chillwave, having experienced the dreamy “Summer of Chillwave” firsthand – and this didn’t really sound like chillwave I knew.
I shrugged it off. People throw labels around all the time, and, in truth – this fantastic track didn’t really sound like synthwave either. Looking back, I now believe this track – Resonance from HOME – was the very beginning of a new microgenre of synth music altogether.
HOME’s music was truly one of a kind. It’s a dreamy sound, still retro but without being on-the-nose like a lot of synthwave. Always chill. People who know a shitload more about music than I do have even created video essays on why Resonance sounds so damn good.
Then, after dropping just a couple albums and EP’s between 2014 and 2017, HOME remained relatively silent in the coming years. Fast forward to 2018. As I’m scouring the internet for new music to write about, I keep hearing that sound. I even write about it a little bit. The HOME sound. But now, other artists are whittling it down, carving out their own unique niche within the framework of chilled out synth music —
— and they’re all calling it ChillSynth.
Now in 2020 there’s even a ChillSynth Spotify playlist, Discord server, and Website. There’s also a YouTube channel filled with ChillSynth over at Electronic Gems. Somebody went and made a (very short) essentials image over on Reddit. At this point, I figured this is much larger than a passing trend – it’s become a full-fledged micro genre standing all on its own – and the article you’re reading now began to take shape.
Below is a short, non-inclusive list of some of the major players. This is not an all-inclusive list, so don’t get mad at me.
Now, I’ve seen other music bloggers try to “coin a genre” or “announce a genre” before, and it’s always gone very poorly, most often resulting in the author getting hilariously dragged on social media. Understandably, didn’t want to do that for this article. In fact, the genre has already seemingly been named by the artists themselves. So, instead I reached out to three of the larger labelheads releasing ChillSynth music – Andrew W. of Stratford Ct., Nat S. of Midwest Collective, and Alex F/Tyler V of Eyewitness Records – to let them do the talking for me.
Note: Each of these labels deserve their own entire article. They spoke to me for over two hours each on the phone, and answered many of my personal questions about running a label to boot. Sadly to keep this article somewhat short and readable, we can’t separately promo each one. Suffice to say they all deserve a good listen, and you can do so here: Stratford Court / Midwest Collective / Eyewitness Records (Formerly Known as Dream Girl Records)
But Don’t Take it From Me…
One of the things they all agreed upon in my interviews is that the sound started with HOME. Before exploding into internet popularity via Simpsonwave videos, HOME was relatively underground, appearing on a few compilations before releasing full albums – and he was the only one with that sound.
“It all started as a Soundcloud thing…It’s pretty silly…[Home] was someone I found on Soundcloud initially with only a few hundred followers, and really fantastic music. So I reached out to him and said, “Do you want to put a song on this Compilation I’m pulling together?” and he did.” – Nat S.
“I think a lot of it does have to do with HOME. He definitely paved the way for many of these guys, I think because of how big he blew up. I don’t really know what all these artists were doing before that. HOME has done tracks for our compilations since the beginning and back then there wasn’t really many other artists that sounded like him.” – Andrew W.
“Some synthwave tracks had chill elements at that time, but it wasn’t really until I heard HOME’s Odyssey that there was a whole album of this new sound. It didn’t have any of the standard characteristic synthwave gated reverb 80’s drums, or other synth sounds people associate with synthwave stuff.” – Tyler V.
After Simpsonwave blew up HOME, it took other artists a few years before many started reverse engineering the HOME sound. Some of my interviewees even speculated it was the lack of new HOME releases coupled with the fact that people were craving that sound (Myself included) that lead new artists to start making it. But, not too long after they did, the sound began to evolve into something new.
“It kind of had a lag effect. People didn’t start making similar music until a year or two afterwards. When they did me and my friend, like, jokingly called them “Home Clones” because it’s like, “oh, this is this is like literally that sound.” Nat said. “But I want to be clear, what people are doing now is not a simple clone. It’s sort of folded in on itself, and created a new genre continuing that particular nostalgia – and it’s awesome.” – Nat S.
“Some synthwave tracks had chill elements at that time, but it wasn’t really until I heard HOME’s Oddessey that there was a whole album of this new sound. It didn’t have any of the standard characteristic synthwave gated reverb 80’s drums, or other synth sounds people associate with synthwave stuff. ” – Tyler V
That specific evolution is something we’ve seen before – in vaporwave and synthwave. The main genre starts, and then begins breaking off into small subsections like vaportrap or darksynth – some of which even become AS popular or more so than the original genre. Right now, it seems, we’re beginning to drive into that inflection point with ChillSynth. It’s amazing how similar my separate interviewees opinions were on this.
“I think chillsynth is having a very similar progression to how vaporwave evolved.
You know, vaporwave started around 2010-12, with classic albums like Macintosh Plus’s Floral Shoppe and Chuck Person’s Eccojams, and pretty quickly there was a vaporwave “Sound.” On the surface, it was an easy sound to make – take a deep cut from a Diana Ross album and slow it down, chop it up a little bit. It was easy to emulate. Then, in the next coming years newer artists expanded on that sound. Artists like 2814 made vaporwave that was all synth and no samples – and Saint Pepsi added drums to samples that were only slowed down a bit. Those were still “vaporwave,” sure – but the newer artists were starting to really explore and do their own thing.
The same is true for chillsynth right now. Artists like Home built an initial platform of relaxed nostalgic retrosynth that was pretty easy to replicate. There are tons of soundcloud artists recreating those sounds right now.” – Alex F
But we’re quickly moving into the time period where there are a large amount of chillsynth artists who are replicating that sound with their own spin. You have artists like Admo and A.L.I.S.O.N, and Emil Rottmeyer who are adding their own things to make it unique. There developing their own “sound” within the framework of chillsynth.” – Alex F
“I think more recently we’ve seen a large increase in the amount of people making this style, starting around 2017. It’s hard to say how big it’ll grow. Just seeing what vaporwave has done …Chillsynth is definitely a huge and booming micro genre now. It’s interesting to see, because I feel like when it was first developing, (and I’m sure it’s still in it’s beginning stages) everyone sounded pretty similar, but, you know, in the past few years many of the artists are starting to kind of carve out their own place inside of that. The sound has a base – but it’s already diverging.” – Andrew W
Regardless of whether or not you consider ChillSynth a full-fledged micro genre, a subgenre of synthwave or chillwave, or just a passing trend, it seems as though the ChillSynth community is growing fast — and it’s certainly a niche to watch. It might experience a boom and bust just like vaporwave or chillwave, but whatever it way it goes you should really listen to and explore it because, well – it’s just truly great music.
“It’s a genre that wear’s its heart on its sleeve, it’s personal. That’s why people are becoming attached to the genre – it hits really hard emotionally in a cathartic or nostalgic way. I think that’s what’s driven people to want to make this sound.”
– Tyler V