I am not sure when exactly I first encountered chillstep music, but it has been years since I discovered that genre, which dwells somewhere in the realm of dubstep & ambient music.
As always, I feel the need to state that everything written is just my personal opinion and when it comes to labels and genres there is rarely a 100% correct answer. Of course, I will not compare chillstep with Hypnagogic pop (that’s an actual genre), but you know - as every human, this attempt to explore the depths of an obscure genre is prone to mistakes.
What is chillstep music?
The origin of the chillstep genre lies in modern dubstep, but unlike his… dad (?!), that music style is much quieter and mindful. As the name suggests, its main goal is to help one chill and relax. The main beat is rather repetitive and while you could expect a significant bass presence, it’s definitely in the background as it lays the stage for ambient-inspired (and often mellow) sounds.
I guess it’s worth dwelling a bit on dubstep, before we go any further. I love this reddit ELI5 (explain me like I’m five) comment:
"...dubstep is a type of electronic dance music set at 140 beats per minute. But the drum pattern appears to be twice as slow, because the bass drum hits on every first beat and the snare drum on every third beat, giving the music a much slower and heavier feel. There is an emphasis creating novel-sounding bass lines, which has become into the "Skrillex"-type dubstep most people have heard today."
Going back to today’s highlight genre - chillstep’s first mentions date back to 2011 and it’s peak was definitely in the 2012-2013, back when YouTube was still dominating the streaming space.
As mentioned, I find the key features of the genre to be low, throbbing bass, a BPM on the rather lower end of things and distant, echoing vocals. I often see 2 directions when it comes to chillstep - the one heavily influenced by dubstep and the one that feeds his energy from ambient music. Either way - in both cases we’re talking about a very relaxing type of music with heavy bass.
What I personally prefer though, is that 2nd type of chillstep as I find it a bit more fitting my vibe. Artists like AK, Phaeleh, and Faodail are just a few examples of that sound.
Chillstep aesthetics and BPM
That’s a question I keep stumbling upon when researching for this article. The short answer is that it depends on whether you prefer the rather relaxing or upbeat type of chillstep, but the common answer is the 120 - 140 BPM range.
While reading on one electronic music forum, I find one particular response quite handy (credit goes to musikbear).
"Imo, a mash with serious dubstep and very melodic trance. I would say that the most important element is the melody. Without the effect it would just be noise. It is a seriously difficult act to follow!"
When it comes to the aesthetics, there is a lot of illustration-driven imagery going on in the YouTube scene. Needless to say, the vibe is predominantly lonely, which comes naturally with the sound of the scene.
Best chillstep аrtists
Yes, the line between chillstep and future garage is blurring as I keep writing this article, but there are a few pioneers of the genre we just can’t miss mentioning.
When we speak about chillstep, there’s a bunch of names that always come up in every forum and thread and that’s Mt Eden, Rusko, Seven Lions, Skrux, Rameses B, CMA, MitiS, Mr. Fijiwiji, and Zeds Dead to name a few.
I think it will be hard to speak about the best chillstep artists, but I feel those are some good entry points, in case you want to explore the genre deeper. My personal connection to the genre is rather in its outskirts, but I do try to feature chillstep-inspired music in our Ambient Space playlist. Don’t expect lots of bass depth, but I am sure you will recognize familiar patterns while exploring our selection.
Best chillstep playlist
I’ve been on the search for that one best chillstep playlist for 2 weeks now and I have to say this is pretty much an impossible task. If you realized after reading my article, chillstep tends to be rather vast and expansive, and the same goes for the playlists and mixes I found.
Again, if you feel drilling into the rather ambient-inspired stuff - drop by our Ambient Space playlist.