Music | Sound Off

'Lofi hip-hop — beats to study to' genre also provides an escape from coronavirus mania

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

For the past two months, every night has started in roughly the same way for me. I go on YouTube and see what music livestreams are kicking off, whether it be archived concert footage debuting on the internet for the first time, or an electronic artist goofing around in the studio.

Alternatively, I’ll hop over to Twitter, scroll past the usual deluge of doomsayers and try to find any kind of online event to escape into, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. There’s usually at least a half dozen options.

Trying to find some kind of real escape amid the COVID-19 pandemic is tough, though. Escaping to the outside world isn’t possible for many people, and, inside the steady stream of coronavirus news can get overwhelming. It’s like after an earthquake, except the “shaking now” tweets have been replaced with the day’s numbers of newly infected.

So, how can I check out for a bit to refresh? I don’t own a Nintendo Switch, so the simple delights of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” remain out of reach, and Netflix’s “Tiger King” series hasn’t quite clicked for me. Instead, I’ve chosen to put the headphones on and reconnect with music in a deeper way.

I’ve been drawn to ambient releases, the sort of tracks that develop slowly over time. Longer pieces from Tokyo-based creator Celer and Italian composer Gigi Masin reward patience and aid escapes from the news. Quirkier electronic works, like the newest album from Daisuke Tanabe, offer more punch but with enough mutations to stop it from fading into the background.

The biggest surprise of my musical diet, however, has been the addition of a YouTube-centric genre that I used to roll my eyes at: “lofi hip-hop — beats to study/chill to.” These playlists have now become part of my morning routine, and they put me in a more relaxed frame of mind for the rest of the day. And extra props to the channels offering a soundtrack specifically to isolate to.

Listening to uptempo songs can offer a welcome dopamine hit — give the latest releases from Moe Shop and Kamisama Club a go for some much-needed cheer — but it reminds me that live music of any sort is, optimistically, months away from being a part of my life again — as is dancing and simply being around a community of fans. When I first heard tofubeats’ new song “Club” at the start of March, I thought it was a charming ode to nights out. A month later — and coupled with a clever video featuring clips of shows — its celebratory get-a-drink-after-work mood feels melancholic.

Enter the livestreamed show. The constant trickle of hyperlinks to Twitch or YouTube have provided the closest thing to normalcy in regards to music I’ve come across — whether from online radio outposts, such as Datafruits, or one-off events like Music Unity 2020, which saw Japanese artists playing live from empty venues scattered across the country. What makes them all so refreshing right now is the comments sections, which provide a community in which other fans stuck at home can come together. You only get a few hours away from it all, but it’s still a welcome getaway to something familiar.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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