Playing on elements of nostalgia, creating an atmospheric aesthetic of cooling peace, and with musical elements like sampling and rhythmic patterns rooted deeply in hiphop, Chillhop / LoFi has become one of the biggest musical phenomena of recent years. A niche-yet-rapidly-growing market, Chillhop / LoFi, (distinct yet similar, whose definitions are nearly as fluid today as the elements they draw their aesthetic from) has garnered itself a legitimate money-making industry in regards mainly to streaming revenue. We’re in the age of the streaming playlist with this medium being one of the most widely-used methods for music discovery. One big influence in this mode of media ingestion has been the company Chillhop Music, with hundreds of millions of collective streams, millions of followers, and who is the main driving force behind the ever-so popular “Beats to Relax and Study To” live playlists on YouTube.
One artist who sticks out in this Realm, with unique classics released via the Chillhop brand and who I personally discovered via a Spotify Chillhop playlist a couple years ago is Ian Ewing. I had the opportunity to chop it up with Ian and got to learn about him and his art. His humble mentality and unassuming presence created a welcoming vibe to my work. This is what we talked about:
A completely independent 27 year old artist living in Milwaukee, Ian began his interest in music at an early age.
“HipHop was one of the earliest genres of music I got into. MTV2 and And1 mixtapes were my first exposure, probably due to my big brother… The soundtracks were amazing.”
Being from the Midwest, Ian admits that his home can tend to fall a step or two behind on current hiphop trends. This being his reality growing up, much of what he was able to take in from HipHop culture was through what he saw on television.
“I got into (acts like) Jurassic 5, NWA, and M.O.P.… Hiphop has always been the common denominator in terms of pushing me to create music. I’m thankful for the television channels coming in to be initially exposed to these styles.”
This being said, meshing influences of hiphop with other genres is what Ian does well and is what brings a unique style to his final products. His creations go beyond specific genres and transcend musical barriers, blending influences and musical talent into his own unique expression.
“I was introduced (as well) to classic rock in middle school but then graduated to more indie music… Some examples are My Morning Jacket, Grizzly Bear, and Wilco… I really love going back to these genres still.”
This mixture of influence can be heard throughout his discography.
Important to note about the Chillhop / Lofi genre(s) Ian most soundly fits his music into is that the rise in popularity is partially due to the accessibility of musical creation in today’s market.
Considering the fact that LoFi (or low fidelity) elements have been a desired aspect of music since the 90’s, seemingly degraded sound quality (which, when done correctly is actually carefully calculated sound design) and varying effects can fit these ‘bedroom recordings’ into a pleasing experience for listeners.
Gone are the days of needing thousands of dollars in equipment and gadgets to make profound music. Not to say one won’t get out of their equipment what they spend but with a simple setup of a laptop, instrument interface which can retail for as little as $100, and a double-digit priced microphone (as examples) one can create clean live instrument tracks in their home. What we can see with a glance at Ian’s social media presence is evidence of this type of work.
A musical genius in his own element, his Ludwig drum kit, Kontakt software, and Fender Stratocaster guitar are all catalysts for his expression (along with some soul-soothing decorative accoutrement in the background). He has been creating this way for years, his first releases being volumes of ChillHop entitled ‘Boosh’ which hit Spotify in 2017.
“I very quickly move onto whatever is moving me. Whatever I’m releasing at the time is what I’m most into and feels the most profound to me.”
Ian credits Pete Rock as the first person who inspired him to get into producing on computer software. Creation this way came naturally to him as he began at the same time he started college.
Ian’s primary instrument is drums, citing them as his ‘baby’. Secondary is keys, which is what he initially learned music theory on to appease his mother. He later dabbled in guitar and once producing picked up for him it all came full circle.
“To be able to know what’s going on in theory with chord progressions is crucial… It can make your beats turn into songs before you know it.”
Adding all of the aforementioned elements together we can see how these culminate into the unique musician we know today. Ian now has frequent song releases, sound packs on splice, tours regularly, and is making some of the most personally fulfilling music of his life. After learning about Ian’s past and influences, I had a few more questions for him. The rest of our conversation went as such:
Alex: What do you listen to currently outside of hiphop?
Ian: Outside of hiphop I’m a very random and sporadic listener. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of listening to only my own stuff I’m working on at the time. But what I’ve noticed is when I have beat block I can dive into listening to new music and gain new inspiration.
Alex: What has been your most personally influential and fulfilling piece of work?
Ian: Often I find myself enjoying my latest release the most. I’m very young as far as releases, having only been releasing stuff for a few years. I feel like each one is distinctly different from each other. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I just put out an EP last August called Overnight which was less hiphop based, venturing more into the ambient world, but using more live recording and instrumentation. Sometimes these ventures can feel more rewarding in the long run.
Alex: How important are the Chillhop / LoFi communities to what you do?
Ian: Very important. I feel like I’m reminded of this more and more because I’m independent. I very much want to retain that and I’ve been realizing this more lately. When I first started making beats I was making the most ‘Chillhoppy’ stuff I ever made, more loops and such. Before there was the community there is now I was sort of bummed not knowing if people would find my music. But over the next three years people discovered it and I felt extremely liberated. With Chillhop I always have an outlet for my core music. It really is awesome.
Alex: With Chillhop / LoFi being (a) newer genre(s) where do you see it going in the next few years?
Ian: I see two things: It’s getting real attention now with real money being made. People are easily able to get their music on streaming sites to make money and (the music is) being more widely consumed. This could potentially be an uncool side. A symptom of more mainstream audiences catching on to something we always knew is over-saturation. On the positive side though I think the genre will expand with new instrumentation and ideas which will differentiate producers and push the sound forward as a whole. Adding more people will only expand the sound. There’s positives and negatives.
Alex: If you could start your own genre of music what would you call it and how would it be characterized?
Ian: I would probably call it Hummus Hop. (It would be) anything that can make you dance and cry at the same time. Undeniable rhythms and grooves are important but also something intensely harmonic… Nostalgia to make you tear up while you get down in the club.
Alex: What is your favorite type of hummus?
Ian: Homemade roasted garlic hummus made by me.
Alex: What are some pastimes outside of music?
Ian: I love food and cooking. I went to school for nutritional sciences. On the daily I love spending time making all my meals. I Enjoy the act of it all and I appreciate the aspects of health and environment. I also love being physically active. It sounds cliche but I try and take care of my mind, body and soul.
Alex: What is your favorite social media network?
Ian: Instagram. It seems the cleanest, and I’ve had the most real interactions and productivity there.
Alex: What would we find in your recent Youtube history?
Ian: A mixture of improv comedy, cooking videos, and podcasts… Also interviews with Megan Thee Stallion.