How Slowed + Reverb Became The Soundtrack To Gen Z Lockdown

How Slowed + Reverb Became The Soundtrack To Gen Z Lockdown

And what lies beneath the trend infiltrating YouTube algorithms...

Anime girls dancing slightly offbeat in endless circles to a distorted version of 'More Than A Woman' by the Bee Gees. An unlikely combination that borrows British/Australian music, Japanese art, and an underlying southern American influence: a cocktail of culture only possible in the internet age.

Though originating in 2017, slowed + reverb edits have catapulted into popularity over lockdown - achieved by a marriage of TikTok fame and YouTube algorithms. A sign of the times, slowed + reverb allows young people to illicit control in a historical period of instability, demonstrated by rejecting the polished production of music preceding their birth. Creators warp popular music in a Gen-Z fashion which means all genres are welcome; from classic musicals to Top 40 pop. All are re-worked to feature the angst and longing for post-COVID freedom, mirroring the moodiness of its teen creators.

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As Gen-Z battles with teenage culture in the modern landscape, the rite of passage of rule-breaking now exists on a digital level. Slowed + reverb creator Slowerbed breaks Spotify terms and conditions by uploading his DIY remixes in the ‘Podcasts’ section, resulting in frequent deletions from the platform. For him, it was the atmosphere created by slowed + reverb that enticed him, which he says makes “good songs even better”.

An 18-year-old from the Balkan region, Slowerbed is keen to uphold the notorious anonymity of creators in this community, citing his inspiration as lockdown “boredom” rather than internet fame. This is something he feels his audience of over 140,000 relates to: “People might be very bored or sad during lockdown because their freedom is limited. They find their escape in slowed songs which make you relax and get your mind off bad things.”

He’s not alone in this thought. Scrolling through the comment section reveals hundreds of teens mourning parties they never attended or slow drives through cities they never visited. Lonely internet users gather virtually, united by the belief that the edits transport them to these elusive destinations - something music producer Mr. Wax refers to as “false nostalgia”.

“They were never really in another room at a party, smoking a joint while La Roux - 'In For The Kill' slowed + reverb was playing,” he says. “What is far more likely is the factors of that memory, whether real or fabricated, are reflected in the warped, distorted and droning sound of slowed music. You're not quite sure why it makes you feel like that, but it does. It's a very infectious feeling.”

Music has always acted as a pillar on which teenagers hang visions of their ideal life, with each generation forging a sound representative of their era. This time, the urge to escape is magnified and, in the face of a global pandemic, increasingly unrealistic.

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Snowdream is a music producer who is heavily inspired by internet culture, and he believes lockdown frustration infiltrates the edits: “There's a sort of sleepy, sad quality that I think people gravitate to, which is likely exacerbated by the poor mental health people may be suffering from due to lockdown.”

However, Mr. Wax points out that, despite the sombre atmosphere in which many discovered this technique, slowed + reverb provides a potential entryway into music production, amidst a catastrophic era for the arts. “The community interested in these edits is thriving right now, so it's a good time to pick up a following and get your ideas out there,” he says.

Requiring only free software and an internet connection, the technique emerged as a lifeline for a new generation of creatives, forced to spend a year of adolescence indoors. For Snowdream, this is part of its identity as an art form in the digital age: “It's very much a part of being active online to process information and then subvert or repurpose it.”

Yet, an internet trend rarely exists without controversy, and as more edits pop up, so do cries for creators to credit their influences. That influence is the late DJ Screw, who pioneered the technique chopped and screwed in 1990s Houston. Chopped and screwed is also characterised by its slowing down of songs, alongside other elements such as skipping beats and record scratching. Despite his death in 2000, the DJ was posthumously woven into Gen-Z quarantine anthems, unbeknownst to many listeners.

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Podcaster Paul Carter investigates the history of chopped and screwed in a recent episode of Moodring Radio, after his friend referred to the internet genre as a “gentrified” version of its predecessor.

“The whole essence of gentrification is to come into a new scene and reap the benefits of it, without taking time to understand the history and the context,” Paul says, reflecting on music industry trends that allow white artists to claim visionary status for work black artists originated years prior.

“Genres like rock and pop were pioneered by Black artists and they often influence something else after that doesn’t give due credit to where it came from.”

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While slowed + reverb consists of simple edits, chopped and screwed utilises a series of intentional ‘chops’, repeats, and breaks in the track, forcing listeners to fully absorb certain lyrics or melodies. Paul argues that, although the intention may be the same (to decipher deeper meaning within music), DJ Screw represented subculture, struggle, and talent in a way its successor never can, saying: “He didn’t have the technology we have today, so he had to be innovative. It also took a real appreciation of music to recognise which parts he wanted to replay.”

Though the modern influence of DJ Screw’s sound is undeniable, inspiration isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Travis Scott famously honoured DJ Screw during his SNL performance and even memorialised him on a song title for 2018’s 'ASTROWORLD'. For Paul, the difference between this and slowed + reverb lies in the credits: “People are lazy. Our instinct isn’t always to ask where this came from, it’s more like, let me just enjoy this thing.”

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But does this international audience understand the implications of referencing such an idolised technique, without crediting the culture behind it? Slater, the originator of slowed + reverb, hails from Houston and has acknowledged the influence of DJ Screw. However, the slew of copycat creators can be less informed, unaware of the cultural significance behind their DIY Lana Del Rey remixes. For creators like Slowerbed who grew up thousands of miles away, the historical significance is a mystery, and the edits simply exist as an accessible way to breathe new life into their playlists.

The solution? Paul says it’s as straightforward as changing the video description: “They could simply write ‘RIP DJ Screw’, and somebody is going to ask, ‘who is that?’ and that could lead them on the journey to checking out who this person was.”

Paul also suggests uplifting modern DJs who are maintaining the legacy of DJ Screw by paying homage to his innovation. “People who are taking a lot of time, effort, skill, and practice to get to do what they do, aren't getting that same love and attention,” he says, in reflection of the little work a slowed + reverb edit takes in comparison.

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But Paul is not ready to fully write off slowed + reverb yet and confesses he may still listen to the edits on occasion. And, as pre-COVID life remains out of reach, the internet community of creators continues to thrive, translating songs to fit the melancholy of a youth stuck in solitude.

However, Paul is encouraging listeners and creators to consider a more thoughtful approach to music consumption: “If I hear a 90s song I like, I might just see if DJ Screw did a version instead.”

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Words: Laura Molloy

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