Lo-fi beats and melodies roll on for minutes and stretch for hours. These songs seem made to be linked together and listened to throughout the day, they make up a soundtrack of life itself, a nostalgic musical loop to relax and escape from everyday stress while doing other things: studying, taking a walk, falling asleep or just hanging out.
The term “lo-fi” is an abbreviation for “low fidelity,” and it’s applied to music that is recorded with low quality to achieve certain sensations, mainly nostalgia. In the 90s it was used to label some alternative rock artists, to the point of becoming a cool tag, although it was more due to budget constraints than for aesthetic reasons.
There’s definitely a nostalgic air that sets apart the lo-fi style, fueled by different musical genres, including hip-hop, funk, jazz, and electro, to round off that relaxing chill-out groove. The focus isn’t commercial but fundamentally emotional, of state of mind. Most of the lo-fi tunes are instrumentals, built on boom-bap beats and garnished with samples of ambient sounds to evoke positive feelings. Another feature of lo-fi is how it’s usually reproduced via YouTube, in harmonious communion with anime illustrations and looping gifs.
Creative songwriting is never the same and has the hallmarks of each place. And that’s why Mexican lo-fi has become something magical and unique. To account for this, we are going to start by diving into the tracks of Palmasur, one of the pioneering projects of the local scene. There we can trace typical sounds of everyday life in the Mexican streets, such as the bread vendors, the subway, or the radio with its old traditional music.
“Palmasur is a project that combines lo-fi music with the Mexican worldview to connect with people and generate cultural identity,” tells its main producer, Chema Rodríguez. “We believe that each moment or each place, however small or simple it may seem, can tell a great story. There, a Mexico of the past is represented, and that generally causes nostalgia.”
Palmasur emerged during the pandemic times, in mid-2020, with a track titled “Lo-Fi Para Pasar la Cuarentena en Tu Ranchito”. “That was the first one I did, and maybe that’s why it’s the most special,” says Chema. “My family actually lives on a small ranch, and at that time I was very far from them. Although lo-fi points to nostalgia, what I wanted most was to remember my family, so when I made this song I knew I had to go in that direction.”
We recently highlighted Sotomayor’s presence in the new Latin wave. And now it’s time to introduce Flora Vida, a lo-fi project created by one of the Mexican siblings. Here, Raúl Sotomayor forms a long-distance duo with Max Greenhalgh from Los Angeles. Together they explore and mix Afro-Latin culture with beats and lo-fi atmospheres, creating nostalgic yet vibrant songs. The art of their first work shows 3D leaf-shaped floral objects. Each song is named after flowers from Latin America: “Copihue” (Chile), “Dalia” (México), “Flor de Maga” (Puerto Rico), and “Bayahibe” (República Dominicana).
From her home studio in the beautiful city of Guadalajara, Ruth de Las Plantas introduces herself as a lo-fi producer who’s inspired by her plants to create relaxing beats and pleasant sounds. Her debut single “Simbiosis” came out last year. “I make music for little plants, because of what grandmas say: if you sing to them and talk pretty to them, they grow prettier,” says Ruth, who also often posts videos of herself visiting a nursery garden or modifying her home production setup. “This is where I express my fascination, this connection that I discovered with my plants.”
This lo-fi movement has also been joined by artists with more extensive experience such as Jiony, one of the pillars of downtempo electronica in Mexico. Co-founder of the VAA label and stage partner of Nicola Cruz and Nicolas Jaar, this Mexican producer already has more than a ten-year career combining trip-hop, nu-jazz, techno, and Latin music. His most recent album, 2021’s Uno Es Mínimo Dos, is inspired by the lo-fi sound.
Other lo-fi producers like Mylo B and SpoonBeats complete the picture. This is a growing movement, of course. Just watch this cool playlist expand…