Man, the music world is weird these days. What the fuck is a feature on “lo-fi” doing on MTV? Is is possible that something I’ve been doing for 15+ years might be becoming MTV’s latest New Cool Thing? How should I feel about that?

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There is so much mention in this video of lo-fi as limitation – limitation in funds, limitation in equipment, almost to the point that it sounds as if it’s not just about dealing with limited resources, but that a lo-fi artist would intentionally limit their resources, use crappier equipment than they could afford or whatever, if it were ideally 100% up to them. I’m not sure about that.

Still though, to me, lo-fi is not so much about limitations, but about freedom. Sure you can’t afford to go into a real studio but you don’t even really think about it, because you wouldn’t be able to create the way you create in that environment anyway, with the meter running and a so-called professional engineer running all the equipment and enforcing the “right” way to do everything. Freedom to do it your way, and freedom to get music out there without having to go by the official channels, the record labels, the money people. Freedom to record some weird rackety collage of noise and put it out because you like it. Freedom because it never even really occurs to you that the sound quality might be bad to some ears, because you don’t judge the quality of music primarily by the production values anyway. Freedom to record more music because you don’t have to waste time being all OCD about the sound; if the performance and the feel and the moment are right, then a scratchy noise on the track caused by a short in the microphone cord doesn’t matter enough to bother spending the time re-tracking it, after all, you’ve got a ton of other songs you want to do.

So when the reporter asks if lo-fi is a choice or just dealing with limitations, it’s a weird question. It doesn’t really seem to have an answer. “It’s both” is probably the best answer one could come up with.

Lo-fi, for me, is also a kind of summer music: hot, muggy Midwest summers, sitting on the floor tangled in a forest of patch cables in a room with no air conditioning. It’s riding around in a dumpy old car with shitty old speakers, smoking a ton of cigarettes. It’s about drinking big cups of fountain pop by day and cheap 40-ouncers by night. Partly because those are memories I have of certain times when I was involved in the making of tons of lo-fi music; partly because lo-fi recordings are about the only thing that still sounds good on those shitty old car speakers; partly because tape hiss sounds like heat and humidity and because the lackadaisical manner of Lou’s acoustic songs on III feel like the product of the lethargy that such conditions bring; partly because on just such a summer day last weekend I was helping my friend and Radio Dramamine drummer Bret “Poopy” Philp move in to a new apartment after his old one was rendered uninhabitable, according to the Red Cross, at the hands of the floods, and No Age’s “You Is My Hot Rabbit” managed to make itself the soundtrack to that afternoon; and finally because it’s summer now and I’m on a creative streak lately.

The point is, the lo-fi-ness is not supposed to be the focus. The music itself is the focus. There’s no one lo-fi style. It’s not a movement or a genre, and it doesn’t warrant being treated like one in this way. So, despite having some pretty great musicians in it, watching this thing kind of annoys me.

You’re Living All Over Me is a famously hazy recording of several mind-blowing songs. Whether it was done on a 4-track in someone’s basement or not, it sure sounds like it could have been. Do you think Dinosaur Jr. ever thought of themselves as “a lo-fi band?”

Is “lo-fi” in 2008 in danger of getting turned into just another label, another pose, another empty scene, to go the way of “punk,” “alternative” and “indie?” I hope I’m over-reacting, but we’ve seen this kind of thing before. On the other hand, MTV doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of pull in telling folks what’s supposed to be cool these days as they did back in the 90s – as evidenced by Stereogum’s headline.

Charlie Schiz

Charlie Schiz
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. I've been weird all my life. It's my time to shine.

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