On Aug. 25, at the Loft in Dallas, the Texas-based music blog, Gorilla vs. Bear, is staging a concert featuring bands that are part of a new subset of indie music, chillwave. The three bands—Ontario’s Memoryhouse, New York’s Twin Sister, and Austin’s Sleep∞Over—make music bathed in nostalgia. It sounds like late-’70s soft rock performed by the hip-hop generation, with sentimentality filtered through Casio keyboards and analog drum machines.
Gorilla vs. Bear is chillwave’s greatest champion. Since launching the site in 2005, Dallas natives Chris Cantalini and David Bartholow have become indie-music kingmakers, soliciting the latest recordings and videos by little-known, do-it-yourself artists and promoting the best of the bunch. A seal of approval from Gorilla vs. Bear can send bands into the rarefied air of indie recognition. More often than not, the site reserves its most enthusiastic approval for chillwave groups.
Blogs like Gorilla vs. Bear can launch worldwide trends online. It’s a phenomenon that is upending the way pop music evolves. Pop movements of the past grew out of vibrant local scenes: the D.C. hardcore punk movement of the 1980s or L.A. gangsta rap and Seattle grunge in the 1990s. Artists there held up their hometown loyalty like badges of honor. The vanguard bands of the chillwave movement don’t come from the same place. Instead, music writers noted chillwave bands’ shared love of the Doobie Brothers, lo-fi vocals, reverb-drenched keyboards and the analog sound (several chillwave bands release their music on audio cassette). Taken together, those elements form the movement’s foundation.
The Gorilla vs. Bear show on Aug. 25 exemplifies this new, blog-centric approach to movement-making, and is a nice introduction to an elusive genre. The show’s opener, Sleep∞Over, is pure chillwave. Their songs are tiny symphonies of lo-fi, woozy pop, with vocal melodies buried behind a wall of cozy near-distortion. The music sounds like it’s being transmitted from inside the womb or emanating quietly out of omnipresent static, like a TV caught in between channels. Almost all the artists making chillwave are too young to remember a time when TVs did any such thing, but that hasn’t stopped them from longing for it.