The cover of the vinyl release for DJ Boring’s “Winona,” one of lo-fi house’s breakout tracks.
A few weeks ago, XL Recordings‘ Imran Ahmed went live on NTS Radio. With an ear to the ground for acts at the threshold of mainstream crossover, the label A&R curates a monthly radio show to shed light on the new music he’s most excited about. “My job at the label is to find the next generation of artists that are as talented and compelling as some of those synonymous with the label’s past,” he said in the show’s introduction. “People like King Krule, Radiohead, Jai Paul…the show I do live here every month is a bit of a distillation of that search I guess—the best stuff that I’m feeling at the moment.”
Over edits from distinguished up-and-comers like Sega Bodega and Mal Devisa, the industry insider flicked through hours of synth-heavy hip-hop and juddering bubblegum bass, finally landing on a breakout track from the English producer Ross From Friends, “Talk to Me You’ll Understand.” But the track was something of an outlier in that—in certain scenes—it already was a hit. Its original YouTube upload had already amassed over 1.5 million views, so Ahmed presenting it as something new discovery felt a little strange. Typically nods from tastemakers come before massive online attention, but this track’s path to more mainstream acclaim might signal a change in how the web affects dance music discovery.
Over the last year, the term lo-fi house has become synonymous with a certain gritty sound; it’s heavy on bass, yet built from simple synths and samples. With the tight range of tape’s natural EQ and a thick cassette-hiss crackle, acts like Ross From Friends, DJ Boring, DJ Seinfeld, and others have found success in a return to form. These producers scrub bare the bloated theatrics of house’s recent history with a surprising blend of sounds that feel new, even if it’s coming from the past. With staggered seventh-chord pads and overblown kicks that swallow the rest…