History, Culture, and Origin of Chillout Music?
April 29, 2004 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Can someone explain chillout music? Not so much what it is, but the history, the culture. Can anyone explain where all this chillout, downbeat, DJ-but-not-club music is coming from? Why are most in compilations? Are there big artists? When did this first come about? And is this big in Europe? Fruitless googling produces this BBC site that kind of explains it, if you are already familiar with the culture, which I'm not. I know big names only because they repeat on compilations and only know the music.

I've been listening to what I guess is chillout since Kruder and Dorfmeister's "Sessions", then I totally started rocking out to Lemonjelly "Lemonjelly.ky", then Tosca, then Zero7, then some box recurring sets called "UltraChilled" or "Hed Kandi's Winter Chill" which are numbered. I get a lot of bootlegged copies of similar compilations called "Cafe del Mar" from a friend who travels a lot, who can't explain the phenomenon either. It's not heard in American radio, music and none of my friends know about it. The closest my friend could pin it down to was "MDMA come-down music, big in Western Europe, and party places like Ibiza".

It seems to me that this has been around in some form since the mid 90s, but is getting bigger? Or is it getting smaller? How are chillout listeners viewed? Whenever I play it (always late at night, because it gives an almost illegal euphoric state of calmness) my friends look at me and go "What the in God's name is this?", which could show the narrow-mindedness of my friends... but considering I can't even buy this stuff in stores says a lot about how know one knows about it in the great USA.

I'm also interested in what kind of people listen to it. I don't want a repeat of the whole mid-nineties Peter Van Dyke thing where I play it to be cool and everyone goes "You're a raver?" and I go "What?" and I find out about the whole big pants, angel wings wearing, pacifer chomping subculture.
posted by geoff. to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also I notice some hip hop undertones, with a simple rap ontop of the cool beat, like in "Rae & Christian" releases.
posted by geoff. at 10:51 AM on April 29, 2004

Modern electronica and chillout are my meat and potatoes at the moment. I'm a multi-tasker, and I find this kind of music very easy to have on in the background. My affinity with it started back in the early 90s when I discovered Enigma, and, while it's not obviously relevant, Enya.
posted by o2b at 10:54 AM on April 29, 2004

The closest my friend could pin it down to was "MDMA come-down music, big in Western Europe, and party places like Ibiza".

Sounds spot-on to me. They have rooms for it in clubs, though that's about all I know about it; it's not my scene. Classic FM has a programme featuring such music on Friday and Saturday nights (well 2am Sat & Sun) to serve this section of the public, called the Chiller Cabinet.

Personally I dislike the 'electronica' aspects of it - Eno and 'real' ambient is my more my thing.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2004

Rather than "chill-out" music you might want to try looking up "trip-hop", which sounds like what you're describing. That genre came out of England somewhere in the mid-nineties with bands like Massive Attack and its many offshoots (including Tricky), Portishead, and Morcheeba. I'd suggest looking up any of those bands over at the allmusic guide. They've got music maps and related artists, which should keep you busy on the research end for a bit.
posted by LionIndex at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2004

geoff, I've been listening to this type of music for the last 10 years. I know what you mean. My defining moment was listening to a Jose Padilla mix tape back in 94, and thinking: "what IS this?!" - it was a mixture of abstract hip-hop tracks, out-and-out ambience, jazz-tinged tracks with big synth pads washing over, then some acoustic guitars, vibraphone, some wobbly 303 acid sounds...then whatever. Not describing it well at all, but it definitely got my attention.

If you go travelling around SE Asia, you willl see in the markets whole racks of CDs dedicated to this stuff (so many Cafe Del Maar bootlegs).

I can't pin it down either except to name some artists I really like:-

Machine Love (also known as Spacewave)
DJ Shadow
Deep Forest
DJ Cam
Michael Van Erp
Sven Van Hees
Jose Padilla
Paco Fernandez
Nightmares On Wax
Pulp Fusion compilations

(off top of my head)

I guess the above cover World Music, Ambient, Abstract Hip-Hop, ummm....Other! Also listen to a lot of amateur artists from the internet too. They tend to be categorised in :-

World Music

Then there's a million other tracks I love but I don't know the name or can't bring to my mind now. But I know what you mean...!!
posted by SpaceCadet at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2004

My son, to whom I defer in all matters concerning electronic music, says, "Loosely, the culture of chillout was simply something downtempo, "chill" to relax, talk, and lounge about after dancing for hours. I remember going to chillout rooms at the Limelight in NYC, 1040 in SF, etc. If you are seeking to hear some streams of this genre of music, also try going to Shoutcast and streaming the audio via Winamp (Electronic -> Ambient/Downtempo/Acid Jazz). I'm sure there are other comparable programs to hear this music but I find a good selection to choose from on Shoutcast's listing; it's a nice touch that you can reference artists or songs from the player and search a bit for stuff you like. Soulseek is a good place for electronic music; you'll be able to find a lot of music from users of Soulseek of the many electronic genres. Also, nice albums to look into might be Supreme Beings of Leisure, Dirty Vegas, The Orb (more ambient), and Groove Armada, Perfecto's Chilled as well as the third CD off the Perfecto Collection (The After Hours) are very nice compilations. Chillout culture, I cannot really elaborate, it's pretty common sensical :-), now you go plop down on a couch, drink, smoke, and chat. YMMV."
posted by Lynsey at 12:28 PM on April 29, 2004

Here's >>>> . <<<< a whole thread on chillout/downtempo internet radio stations!
posted by SpaceCadet at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2004

Here's some stuff to google for. (sorry, but I just discovered ask.metafilter and I really need to extract myself from noodling online.)

All of the suggestions so far are spot on, but here's more in freeform word association. Some are bands, some are genres, some are historical artifacts, etc. Some great, some awful, some well known, some highly obscure. By no means all inclusive. Here we go:

Brian Eno
Furniture Music
Dub Soundsystem(s)
Jamaican Dub
Wendy Carlos
Robert Rich
Boards of Canada
Casino Versus Japan
The Orb
The Orb's Pomme Fritz
Trip Hop
Luke Vibert aka Wagonchrist
Trance Europe Express (Volumes 1 and 2, for starters. (Trance used to be super chillout music, not hyperkinetic psychedlic dance music.))
The Irresistable Force aka Mixmaster Morris
Ambient Temple of Imagination
Richard Sun
brainwashed.com (more experimental then downtempo or ambient usually, but a great resource regardless)
Experimental Audio Research
Deep Forest (eh...)
Enigma (eeeeh...)

everything2.com (wikipedia on dope) has a lot of info about a good deal of this stuff. Search terms that you know already there as well. IE, downtempo.

The Jamaican Dub Soundsystem phenomenon really has a lot to do with the roots of this stuff, and is a good place to start, but not the only place. Depending which genre you're listening to, it has more or less to do with it. (The Orb drew a lot of inspiration from the dub soundsystem thing, among other sources.)

Best of luck, and feel free to hit me up via the IM contacts on my bio to ask for more when I've got time.

SouLSeeK UBER ALLES! (username there is this one, but I'm not on that frequently any more. It supports offline msging though. ;) add me to yer lists and msg me that you did so I can add you, musickological phreakazoids!)
posted by loquacious at 12:56 PM on April 29, 2004

brainwashed.com (more experimental then downtempo or ambient usually, but a great resource regardless)

This is the home of Windy & Carl, whom I love to pieces, and they're very chilled out. But more in the manner of someone running a number of electric appliances and vacuuming off in the distance than a post-party come-down type thing. YMMV
posted by LionIndex at 1:54 PM on April 29, 2004

Response by poster: At least I'm not alone. I guess it's really hard to define too. I was thinking there was a whole group of uber-cool label wearing Europeans and all they do is listen to chill-out/downtempo beats while sipping colored drinks in cool bars.

I'm also seeing why the mainstream American hasn't picked up on this, well except for car commercials. I don't see anyone going to a Groove Armada concert, it is not really something you can just sit their enjoy and buy. You have to be doing something else, like drinking, eating or coming down off some drug.

Now if I only had a little motivation and a grant I'd do research into this, I'm still really curious about the artists and the collaboration, and their culture. You look at rap and rock and roll, to an extent everyone is influencing each other. The whole compilation album thing is weird though.

My theory right now holds that except for a few dozen artists, the majority are club djs whose single clicks with someone and gets on the compilation.
posted by geoff. at 1:54 PM on April 29, 2004


For older versions (1980s) of what could be called chillout (I didn't know what to call it at the time), look up the bands Durutti Column and Dif Juz.

The roots of downtempo/chillout lie in jazz. After a long night of jamming in a club, the artists often needed to wind down.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 4:34 PM on April 29, 2004

Chillout music is easy listening. It's also a complement to the listener, who is hectic, and needs to chill out.
posted by holloway at 5:19 PM on April 29, 2004

A bizarre addition I'd make to this loose collection of genres is Van Morrison's "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart" album (1983).
posted by SpaceCadet at 3:48 AM on April 30, 2004

I'd add the KLF's "Chill Out" album, from the early 1990s I think, as an electronic/ambient classic.
posted by carter at 5:57 AM on April 30, 2004

What? We've come all this way and no one's mentioned Philip Glass yet? Pish, for shame!
posted by dmt at 6:59 AM on April 30, 2004

I'm definitely not an expert, but my impression was that chillout as a movement started to really gain popularity from the Cafe del Mar compilations in the early 90s. Cafe del Mar is a famous place in Ibiza, which in the early 90s started changing from a sleepy Mediterranean island into Euro-rave central.

David Toop's excellent but way-out-there book Ocean of Sound puts the start of chillout at a 6-month stretch of London club nights called Land of Oz in 1989. The guys in KLF and the Orb were doing DJ sets in a separate chillout room where people sat on pillows in the dark. Toop practically manages to rewrite the entire history of 20th century music as leading up to chillout.

Some chillout artists I rate that weren't previously mentioned: Thievery Corporation (the best of the bunch, based on dub and Brazilian music), DJ Cheb i Sabbah (classical Indian music mixed with chillout beats). Also check out SomaFM for some consistently excellent abstract takes on chillout --- more background music than active listening.

It shouldn't have anything to do with your enjoyment of the music, but chillout has now become so mainstream in Europe that a new compilation comes out every 12 minutes. It's used constantly in advertising, and as the shopping-friendly soundtrack to every mildly trendy clothing boutique in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. It's the music of choice for well-off 30-something professionals who want to think of themselves as being a bit stylish, and have grown out of rock, harder dance styles, and hip hop.
posted by fuzz at 7:09 AM on April 30, 2004

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