The year is 2016, and lo-fi house is everywhere. Dive down a house music wormhole on Youtube or Soundcloud and eventually you’ll run up against ubiquitous tracks such as DJ Boring’s “Winona”, Demuja’s “Loose Legs” or Mall Grab’s “Down”. Seemingly from nowhere, the internet was awash with tape hiss, cheap, compressed drum loops and poor quality vocal snippets.
Whilst previous generations longed for the crackle of a worn-out vinyl, this was clearly nostalgia for the VCR generation. Drawing derision from critics such as Midland for its low production value and placement of style over substance, lo-fi nevertheless emerged as the most unavoidable trend of the year, inspiring a generation of bedroom producers to adopt tongue-in-cheek monikers and throw out rough, DIY house music.
No one epitomised this movement better than Felix Weatherall, the man behind Ross From Friends.
He has it all – the self-aware, ironic reference to beloved 90s culture (see also: DJ Seinfeld, DJ Spielberg); a string of dusty, compression-heavy house tracks seemingly conjured up in his bedroom and released on Breaker Breaker and Lobster Theremin’s imprint, Distant Hawaii; and an omni-present breakout track, “Talk To Me, You’ll Understand”, which grabbed a 90s R&B sample, dunked it in nostalgia and dragged it through a hazy summer sunset.
Two years down the line, and lo-fi’s biggest stars are clearly growing up. Mall Grab has firmly cemented his place in the spotlight, playing nearly twenty times the number of shows in 2017 as he did two years earlier. Harrison BDP has graduated to moodier, deeper cuts such as “Eternal Space”, whilst DJ Seinfield has refused to be pigeon-holed, warily accepting his place within the lo-fi movement whilst simultaneously branching out into both acid house and trance-tinged offerings.
If his ambitious live Boiler Room set is anything to go by, showcasing live sax, keyboards and the best use of a guitar during a Boiler Room since Session Victim in 2015, it seems Ross From Friends is keen to follow their footsteps into more grown-up territory.
Aphelion EP is Weatherall’s first release on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label, and he has stated that he put these four tracks together with this in mind. One must only look to the inter-dimensional grooves of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, the laid-back chill-hop of Teebs, or the off-kilter, trippy rhythms of FlyLo himself to see that this is not a label that does things conventionally.
The EP’s opener, “Don’t Wake Dad”, is clearly made for Brainfeeder. The song lazily drifts in and out, before being snapped into place by a purposeful drum-beat and a longing sax. The blissful chords and video game bleeps remind us early on that despite the unconventional intentions, nostalgia is still a prominent calling-card.
“John Cage” relies on similarly reminiscent overtones, beginning with what sounds like a 2000s relaxation tape which gives way to an airy, sparkly seaside rhythm complete with seagulls and lofty ocean breezes. It’s the closest Weatherall gets to “Talk To Me” territory, which may appease some listeners and bore others.
The final two tracks are clearly the most club-ready, and provide the best indications of a more mature sound from Ross From Friends. “There’s A Hole In My Heart” provides a melancholic refrain which would happily slot into the emotional final throes of a late-night set, whilst “March” stands as the most satisfying production-wise, with crisp drums and a driven lead melody leading the EP to a close.
Whilst the lo-fi origins are obvious, Aphelion EP is a semi-convincing step into new territory for Weatherall. The weirder moments offered throughout show an artist dipping his toes into a pool of new sounds and ideas, not quite ready to fully dive in.
It will be interesting to see if he’ll fully immerse himself in the Brainfeeder sound on future productions, and what this would sound like sustained over a full album. But for now, this EP provides a tantalising glimpse at what’s next for one of lo-fi’s earliest ambassadors.
Purchase Ross From Friends’ Aphelion EP on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Elliot Tawney