For the entirety of human history, there has been music. From the early talking drums, to the advent of the synthesizer, we have been taking the sounds of the natural world and weaving them into tunes. When you think about the sheer number of genres that must populate the airwaves at this point in our evolution, it isn’t hard to understand why so many dang microgenres exist.
A microgenre is pretty much what it sounds like—a derivative form of a parent genre. These little bops skip and tumble their way through history in ways that actually tell us a lot about the times they originated in. So, while we certainly can’t cover them all today, we’re going to go into a few of them—my personal favourites, in fact—to see what their backstories reveal about us as a generation, as a people.
Retrowave: The 80s have arrived
Otherwise known as outrun, synthwave or futuresynth, this microgenre is some combination of cheesy 80s film soundtracks and early 2000s electro. It has its own further derivatives, each pointing to some stylistic element that transforms the mood. Retrowave originated in the early 2000s, when producers were yearning for the long-gone years of the 80s and the nostalgic strains of its TV music.
The resurgence of this style of music in the late 2010s has theorists and enthusiasts pointing to an increase in nostalgia; a desperation to retreat back to a time when life was simple, straightforward, and—dare I say—bodacious.
If you’ve never heard this music before, you need only watch an old episode of Magnum P.I. or Knight Rider to get the picture. Electronic drums, voluminous reverb and synth bass lines whip you back to a simpler time; where hair was big, lights were neon and sunglasses at night were pretty much expected!
I recommend hopping in your car and taking a night-time drive with this playlist on. With the lights whipping past you and the sounds of trilling synths in your ears, it’s practically impossible to feel anything but unstoppable.
Acid House: Your music but on drugs
You can also call this one “acid” if you want to keep it simple, which your brain might need if this is your music of choice. In order to understand acid house, just imagine the sounds of the more typical, broader genre of house. Then drop some LSD, and you’re away. (Don’t do drugs, kids!)
The sound of acid house can only be described as listening to house music while tripping acid—hence the name. As part of the psychedelic movement in the mid-1980s in Chicago, this style evolved out of deep basslines and that odd electronic “squelch” sound most synthesizers can emit.
When the Rolan TB-303 synthesizer came out, DJs lost their minds and started producing tracks using the sound effect. Once again, the resurgence of this music points to an increase in popular nostalgic media, e.g. Stranger Things. More than that, this particular niche of house has elements of modern pop and alt-pop that sing across the ears, which really just goes to show that any kind of trend is circular.
Muffled music is habitually tripped up by piercingly clear tones, keeping you on your toes just enough to prevent you from melting into your chair. If you’ve ever heard a Billie Eilish song (and if not, you’re a “bad guy”), you can just think of Acid House as a somewhat burnt-out extension of her music.
Chillhop: Breathe with the beat
This is one of the more commonly known microgenres, often appearing in mixes alongside lo-fi (i.e. low fidelity) beats for the perfect background music. It’s a fusion of chill-out music and hip hop, creating some perfect amalgamation of a tune that is engaging enough to warrant the attention of your cerebral backwaters, but chill enough to keep you calm and focused. Long, chill synth chords wrap in and around downtempo beats that often feature a trigger-happy high hat, and trills that descend into a lo-fi bridge bring you all the way down to earth.
Chillhop was named as such for the fusion between chill-out music and its roots in the New York hip hop scene. It steadily evolved into the smooth jazz of the early 2000s, carrying those smooth caramel tones with it all the way to today’s mixes. Now that streaming services are available, students the world over have flocked to channels that provide the easy-listening study aid that is this music.
You don’t have to be a student to enjoy it though. I defy you to wake up on a rainy Sunday morning, play a Chillhop playlist while sipping your coffee, and not have the best day you’ve had in a while.
For more breakdowns, bops and beats for your daily fix, look no further than Zizacious.
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