Electronic music generally brings to mind the image of a raucous crowd huddled underneath neon lights, fist-pumping and dancing artfully, or not-so-artfully. Regardless, everyone is in sync, everyone is there to escape and let-loose and feel the aliveness of bass and melody. Loud synths and heavy bass have their place under the neon lights, but there is another calmer genre of electronic music that is just as cathartic. A more downtempo, more ethereal form of electronic music, which some refer to as “chillstep” or “chill-out” music, has been emerging for years as an integral pillar of the EDM experience.
Some argue that chillstep, isn’t even an official genre, but a word that has emerged to describe a style of music that’s basically a downtempo version of dubstep. But despite its dubstep electronic origins, chillstep isn’t necessarily dance floor music. In fact, a common question on EDM forums is, “How is this even performed?” The answer is that it isn’t, really. Or, if it is, it just becomes a kind of interlude to draw contrast to bass-heavy tunes.
But even if it isn’t the main feature on the dance floor, it has its own purpose, attracting those who revel in its calming, almost meditative effect. But what sets it apart from most ambient music is that it is not without some embellishment and melodic direction.
The degree of melodic interest varies from song to song, artist to artist, but the effect remains generally the same. It is one of the most underappreciated virtues of the electronic music world. Something spacey, otherworldly, miraculous and delicate is always within reach. The following are some artists who can help you explore the genre for yourself.
1. Rameses B
A master of starry, glitchy, intergalactic soundscapes, Rameses B is probably one of the most iconic electronic producers on the scene. He works with a range of genres, experimenting heavily with drum and bass, liquid-y glitch-hop and, of course, chillstep.
His 2018 album, “Spacewalk,” is exactly what the title suggests — a relaxing, reflective stroll through galaxies. In 2012, he released “Moonlight,” which remains one of the most stunning contributions to the chillstep genre. If outer space had a sound, Rameses B captured it.
2. Aljosha Konstanty
One of the best gifts that SoundCloud has unearthed for me is Aljosha Konstanty, also known as AK. His music leans more toward ambient — a slower burn than a lot of Rameses B’s work, but still quite consistent in its chillstep leanings.
The atmosphere of his music has a certain pull, with just enough melody to point toward darkness and light, barren snowscapes and the jubilance of spring. His song “52 Weeks” somehow embodies an optimistic melancholy, if that’s even possible. It takes a rare artist to bring forth something that can’t even be described in words, but AK seems to pull it off with ease.
Miro’s signature is the soaring landscape that marries piano and electronic. His song “Soar” (ft. Elle Chante) is appropriately named, and also features vocals that don’t intrude; they allow the ambient soundscape to determine the melodic direction. There is a sense of unity here, which appears to be Miro’s specialty.
Electus makes chill music that sounds like nature. “Birds of Paradise” speaks to a sense of adventure, and “Just Want To Be Alone” perfectly embodies the sentiment of the lone wanderer (especially with the occasional samples from Alan Watts’ speeches).
Electus can create a simple sound that points toward introspection, or loud and complex dubstep — it all seems to depend on the mood of the day.
CMA is the artist that can always create something uplifting and almost triumphant. “Tomorrow’s Another Day” and “You’re Not Alone” have a warmth to them, a sense of comfort. Vocals aren’t necessary here because the song tells its own story. Piano and electronic meet in a melody that somehow seems to be progressing upward and outward.
I first discovered CMA on MrSuicideSheep’s YouTube channel. It’s no wonder the channel and its community is known as a refuge. When stress seems inescapable, and when the world seems even crazier than usual, CMA is the go-to artist for some optimism and reassurance.
I like to think of Azaleh’s sound as the “dark academia” side of chillstep. Often with the help of fellow chillout artist Sublab, he creates music that is almost foreboding, with little of the optimistic melody of Miro or AK.
A prominent bass sets the mood across his body of work, creating haunting yet relaxing sounds, like those seen in works like “Astral” (feat. Axel Grassi-Havnen) and his remix of Uppermost’s “Night Walk”.
While so many chill electronic artists tend toward the light and optimistic, Azaleh perfectly fills the niche of the ambient and mysterious.
Cloudnone is an up-and-coming artist who walks the line between dance and chillout, often relying on a gradually-developing interest and melody, as heard in “WISH.” Another prominent feature is highly synthesized vocals, like those in “Stay.” These vocals contribute to an almost alien atmosphere. Cloudnone’s main strength is creating interest and progression in the space between dance and chillout music.
All of these artists have something in common — their work can be seen as a doorway into a sense of peace, a moment of quietude reserved for spacious stillness. Sometimes, perhaps ironically, it takes a sound that mirrors outer space to remind us of the aliveness of the seemingly mundane here on Earth.
Whether it’s chillstep or hardstep, the heart of electronic music is aliveness; perhaps what makes chillstep a refuge is that it somehow harnesses both stillness and movement, depth and lightness. It’s the musical embodiment of balance between peace and aliveness. Perhaps, in more ways than one, that’s the balance that all of us need.