Lo-Fi: The Futile Quest for Authenticity

‘Lo-Fi’ is a production aesthetic that embraces the sound of lower quality recording than is considered standard, as such it begs the question – why would musicians want this? It is contrary to what one would expect.  A simple answer would be that ‘they like the sound’, but I think this is too simplistic and creates the further question of why some musicians prefer lo-fi. Some might say that the crackle and extra noise adds character and energy to the mix, but what is the nature of this character?

The answer lies with the quest for ‘authenticity’, a quality important to artists throughout this history of rock music.  Hi-fi production traditionally requires expensive equipment and therefore money or a major label, and so to embrace lo-fi is to effectively reject the commercial, which is considered undesirable particularly within the indie establishment. Furthermore the ‘imperfect’ recordings are often a result of an artist recording themselves, rather than an outside producer, thus embodying the DIY ethic and emphasising the artist as autonomous, without outside influence- and thus more authentic.

Whilst some lo-fi production may be borne out of neccesity (when higher quality equipment hasnt been availible etc), I can’t believe that many of todays artists cannot achieve higher fidelity recordings- recording and mixing equipment is both accessible and cheaper than ever. If this is the case, then lo-fi artists must be actively trying to achieve their sound. This potentially poses a problem for their authenticity; if they had to try to be something, then it is nothing more than pretense- the opposite of authentic.  It is when ‘lo-fi’ production feels forced that is the cause for my cynicsm, its like trying to be nonchalant; it just isn’t possible.

Despite all my whining I do actually quite enjoy a lot lo-fi music (see the many examples littered throughout this post) , and on occasion I can appreciate the charm of its production, though most of the time it’s not the production which is contributing my enjoyment, but the song itself. Case in point, I am a huge fan of ‘Forget the Swan’ from Dinosaur Jr.’s self titled 1985 album, it’s perhaps my favourite song of theirs- but the quality of this live version far outstrips that of the original, and is all the better for it.

Well, I think that’s about enough ranting for this week, but before I go have a listen to this playlist of genuine authentic lo-fi I’ve compiled for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

One thought on “Lo-Fi: The Futile Quest for Authenticity

  1. Pingback: Legacy: Music’s Dead Hand |

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