For a scene to genuinely grow it needs innovators.
It needs those people who respect the art and the artist but also have an eye on the future, and groups that aim to inspire as well expand. One such platform is Chillhop Music. Since 2012 the platform and label have been dedicated to promoting originality, forward thinking music and building connections between its artists and fans. Always pushing the boundaries of what this music can do. With the company’s brand new site, revamped livestream and the release of the latest in their seasonal Essentials series, we took the chance to chat with Chillhop Music’s founder, Bas Van Leeuwen.
Chillhop has been massive over the last few years. How did it come to life?
The platform came to life like 5 years ago. I guess actually at the beginning of 2012. Back then there wasn't really too much out there for this type of music. It was a very different landscape to what it is now, so you really had to scour Bandcamp and last.fm to find stuff. I think there were only one or two YouTube channels doing it at the time. Me and my friend used to chill, listen to music and search for the new stuff. We realized how hard it was to find this type of music so I decided to make blog. I wanted to gain some experience, but I also wanted to see if we could build the music’s profile up a bit. That's when it started. At the beginning it was a blog then it kinda turned more towards YouTube because I figured people were keener to listen rather than read about it.
Yeah. I remember seeing some Chillhop videos back in the day so seeing you guys transition into a record label was amazing.
Yeah it's been a while since we started the label, like two and a half years ago I guess... Might actually be more like three? The first few years we really focused on promo and connecting with the artists as well as what was happening in the scene and how we could help the artists. I've always been very artist focused from the beginning. In the long term if you offer good value to the artist they are gonna want to work with you. That's always good approach. You have to see where you can offer value to the artist.
You have an impressively large roster of releases but also manage to maintain a really close connection with the artists, with spotlight features and more upcoming integration with artists on the site. How do you strike a balance between output and fostering this kind of closeness?
I think we have always been very personal and transparent in what we do. A lot of labels in this type of music (because it's kinda new) are taking advantage of the artists and fucking them over. I've always been super transparent and always ask the artists how they feel about things. We never hide things from them; we always ask them what they think about upcoming features and things like that. That way they feel involved. I guess also our artist focused approach makes them appreciate what we do more. We have a great team. Simon (aka Philanthrope) has always had a great connection with all the artists. Just in a casual way. We are just sincere in what we do. I've always tried finding a balance between the creative side and making sure people hear it. You can make cool music but you really have to put in the work to make sure people hear it. For me it feels like if the label is taking a cut on releases, I want to make sure that we offer enough value to make it worthwhile for the artist. Otherwise I wouldn't feel comfortable offering something where they don't profit from it enough.
So this artist focus almost just comes naturally to Chillhop's ethos?
Yeah exactly. The music is kinda like the easy part? We have the playlists and if we put something up people will listen to it. The community things, like the AMA's and the articles, are more challenging. We have wanted to do it for a long time but it's not as easy because it appeals to a smaller group. You have to really select the artist that has something interesting to say. It's a bit harder. There always has to be a balance between the time you invest and what you get out of it. It's nice to write articles and do these things, but there has to be thought behind it so that when it's out there people will read it and want to find out more about the artist. We are getting to the size now, with the team also, where we have the resources and the platforms to push this side more. To be honest at this point a lot of people listen to the music online as like background music? To me it takes away the character from the music and people don't really relate to the music itself anymore. I want to add some depth and context to the music itself to appeal to fans rather than people who just want some background noise. You can appeal to both but we want to push and develop the scene, rather than follow trends. I want to try and get people more connected with the artists.
From your perspective why do you think we have seen such a growth in popularity of this type of music? Why now?
I think it's a combination a few things. One: I think it's easy to make a simple sampled beat, two: People see money in it because of Spotify which kinda sucks but whatever and three: you have the YouTube livestreams and the anime aesthetic that appeals to people.
We are in an interesting place with it. We’ve seen a recent spate of articles from mainstream outlets on Lo-Fi and this type of music, and you have been vocal about the coverage. Is this your issue with that? That they aren't really interested in the depth the genre can offer?
Yeah. I think we are at a point where the market is becoming too saturated with cheesy shit. That's why we are trying to push more original stuff in the genre. We have actually stepped away from samples as a whole. All our upcoming stuff will be sample free. We are pushing more for an original sound. I feel like we have come to a point where we should put in the effort to support artists that try to build a sound as opposed to mimic what everyone else is doing. I dunno man I think people should really support artists who are pushing the envelope because otherwise it'll just become like a circle jerk of people doing the same shit. We really need to put effort into supporting originality and really calling people out on their bullshit as well. I'm all for supporting people trying stuff but there's also a lot of people doing bullshit. I really want to stop supporting people, who in my opinion, aren't genuine and aren’t actually supporting the development of the music itself.
I understand. You wanna get behind things that are genuine and fresh.
Exactly man. If you hear our upcoming summer compilation it's very different from the stuff that's popular nowadays in the sound. It's actually a risk from our side and I think it'll take a while for people to catch on to that sound but I also think it'll be nice. Instead of doing the same sad, Lo-Fi stuff there's a lot of uplifting music that's better for summer. Maybe it'll inspire people to think outside of the box a little more.
Let's talk about the seasonal Essentials compilations. I've been listening to the recent Spring one a lot and what really sticks out across the whole series is the tracks capture the seasonal theme but without being too cliché. In terms of curation, what’s important when you are selecting music for the Essential series?
So we kinda of like invite the artists per season because some of the artist’s sounds fit better for one season than another. We also reject a lot of tracks. I feel like a lot of labels are like 'oh yeah extra beats would be nice' you know? They go for quantity because if just one track gets picked up by a playlist everything will be fine with it. I'm really against that so I want the tracks that fit together. So, we just select the tracks that fit well together with each other and we will deny tracks that don't fit the project as a whole or aren't fitting with the general direction we are going with at that point. We are pretty selective in that regard. Like I said we have built a big network with the artists and we have good connections with them so it's really easy for us to select the artists that we feel are nice to work with. Also we always try to have a balance between new artists and ones we have worked with for a while.
Ah OK. So it again comes back to the idea of forging a genuine connection with the artists.
Yeah man we wanna push people. We don't want to 'go easy' on people just to get music out there. In the long run some people are going to be challenged to create something that fits but it's going to be good for their development. A lot of this music lives online and most people tend to have a small circle, so giving them influences that force them to think outside of the box is always good. For example in our new office we are having a small studio, so I want invite artists over and put them in a different situation and see what comes out. Also it will be a great place to put different artists together. Philanthrope is doing the A and R now but he’s an artist as well so has the experience to give the artists technical feedback. They will have the listener's perspective from the rest of the team and then feedback from Philanthrope who can contribute with actual artistic experience.
That idea of forming a bridge between the artistic and technical comes to together quite beautifully with your revamped live stream. The level of depth for the user is amazing. What was the catalyst for this revamp and what is the vision for it now?
Live streams are nice because the music is getting attention but the problem is the artist doesn't really benefit from it too much. A lot of the value is with the streamers and a lot of these streamers don't really have a connection to the artists. So for us, being a label and being so artist focused, we want people to do more than just listen to the music there. That’s one of the reasons for the revamp. Another is we want to add more for the artists and to the scene. With the animation and stuff we wanted to create something more characteristic and memorable. I always try to do new things and not be like the rest. I just wanted to try something different. For example we chose the raccoon as a sort of mascot. The raccoon kind of fits our character because it’s a creature that can live in urban environments as well as in nature, and our music always combines those two situations as well. We just wanted a live stream that represents us and we will be using that raccoon more throughout our branding going forward. We have a whole plan for it. As for the live stream page we've had this in beta for a long time but with the new site we just thought let's integrate everything together. It was a huge challenge to be honest haha. It's quite technically advanced but we worked with some great people (like the guys from Stereofox) to make it happen. So the final product was a cool result of the joint effort from everyone.
I think it’s phenomenal. I haven't seen too many labels, independent or otherwise, that have done this. I think it could be a watershed moment in how we interact with music.
I just want to set the bar for this kind of thing. Honestly when I see a lot of the other stream channels I get kind of disappointed because you know five years ago there was no money in this music. There was no big fan base so everyone who was in it, was just in it for the music. Now the music goes by so fast and people don't give the music and the artists the credit they deserve, especially the forward thinking artists. I kinda want to go against the wave there and see how we can set an example. Hopefully people will catch on. Both the listeners and the other channels. Hopefully with this stream we can set a good example in the long term.
So what can we expect in the future from Chillhop? What's on the horizon?
We are gonna focus more on the creation of music, especially with the new office. We are gonna invite more artists over, have them create and do live streams, have events, do interviews here and there. We really want to cater more to fans because for me it’s more fulfilling to people who give a damn about the music and not just have it as background noise. Really we just want to see how we can build it all up, especially with sample free music. There are a lot of possibilities there. It's about building it up and continuing to serve the artists and push the sound because it’s always an evolving thing.