Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Image courtesy of Idealism.
The Bigger Picture (London) — At just 22 years of age, Lassi Kotamaki, better known as Idealism, has become the biggest producer in the lofi chillhop scene, all the while maintaining his status as an independent artist free of record deals or labels. At the same time that he is studying medicine at Edinburgh University, he amassed as much as 120m annual streams on Spotify alone last year, more than most mainstream artists. It is astonishing to see what he has achieved this early on in his music career, and we had the opportunity to discuss this with him ahead of his upcoming LP, Sit in Silence, slated for release sometime this spring.
Read an overview of his music below; to skip to the interview click here.
The Finn originally burst onto the scene a few years back with four EPs released from mid-2016 to late 2017. The first of these, Rainy Evening, released August 2016, was also his most popular to date. The succinct 12-minute-long project was made up of one to two minute beats in the typical lofi style, with expertly chopped samples layered over J-dilla-esque drums. But Idealism’s beautiful piano melodies were something that made him stand out from the crowd, and listeners took notice; Controlla, the most popular song from that album (sampling a Drake hit of the same name), has amassed over 40 million streams to date. It was interesting to see how varied his sampling was, with him from the aforementioned crooning Canadian, to dusty jazz records like Kenny Dorham’s 1956 song Autumn in New York (on Tsuyu), and mid-2010s Japanese singer-songwriters like Hikaru Utada (on Nagashi).
Idealism put out a follow-up EP, Hiraeth, a little over six months later, which was a shift away from its predecessor’s format of lofi beats and towards more fleshed out and diverse sounding tracks. Kotamaki’s staple of ambient sampling, lofi crackle and beautiful piano melodies were once again at the heart of this tape, but it also featured more experimental tracks like Sweven, which drew upon dialogue from anime series Gantz, and the left-field synth-heavy single Interstellar Brownies.
Amaranthine was next, which was more of an electronic-based EP as Idealism wanted to “try some new stuff a bit… [he doesn’t] really want people to label [his] music as sad”. It indeed meshed together electronic songs like Voyage and Breathing with his typical piano-heavy songs, which in this tape included Don’t Say A Word and Time Will Tell.
Nobody Else, the last of the four EPs released in quick succession, built upon the staple Idealism sound, maintaining a cohesiveness of longer, more developed lofi tracks backed with relaxing piano, boom-bap drums and nostalgic ambient sampling. It even incorporated a tribute to legendary Japanese producer Nujabes (real name Jun Seba) in wings (one for jun), which sampled Nujabes’ Feather.
Those four tapes didn’t only leave their mark on the lo-fi music genre, turning Kotamaki into one of the most high-profile chillhop producers in the scene, but also left their mark on countless people’s lives and hearts. Unlike many lofi producers, which amass millions of streams but have little in the way of a regular fanbase, Idealism has over 100,000 Spotify followers and tens of thousands of followers on various social media profiles. On a YouTube upload of Time Will Tell, a single from Amaranthine, one user said the relaxing track helped him “find a new hope… become a new optimistic person”. Others say it helped them through tough times, and many attribute the turning point of their life, from dark, depressing days to a light at the end of the tunnel, to the calming nature of Idealism’s music. One said that Idealism’s music is the cure to their panic attacks, and another said that Idealism’s single Phosphenes was so impactful to them that they decided to play it during their wedding ceremony. A third credited Idealism with “the best moments” of their life; one said that Another Perspective quite literally saved their life. Even Sui Ishida, the cult-figure manga artist behind Tokyo Ghoul, wrote a poem inspired by Phosphenes.
Various comments left on YouTube uploads of Idealism singles.
The consequent singles Idealism released from 2017 to the current day are arguably even more polished and perfected, and have elevated the quality of his sound to staggering heights. Singles like 2018’s Far Apart and last year’s And Then I Woke Up are even as long as five-minutes, but remain engaging, well-rounded and beautiful to listen to the entire way through.
Idealism has used his profile to elevate those of smaller artists, like Japanese guitarist Yutaka Hirasaka on Tasogare and New-Zealand-based electronic producer Late June on last November’s Miles Apart. Idealism’s success has led to him gaining credibility in the lofi scene, inspiring many up-and-coming artists like Los Angeles producer Aqualina, leading to collaborations with the likes of SwuM and Jinsang.
He also appeared on albums by A L E X, Kendall Miles, Pandrezz and Lucid Green, as well as on countless beat tapes and compilations by huge lofi labels, including Chillhop Music, which runs one of the most popular 24/7 lofi streams on YouTube.
Last October, from Kendall Miles and A L E X's collaborative tape Hollow Moon; this single features Idealism.
Ahead of the upcoming album, perhaps to whet the appetite of his listeners, Idealism dropped a separate EP, “Distant, Quiet Waters”. The project is part of the Outlaw Project, led by investigative journalist Ian Urbina to accompany his book of the same name, in which he reports on “human rights, labour and environmental abuses that occur at sea”. Urbina undertook the project to raise awareness about the book to a wider audience, and out of the countless collaborative tapes he has released with artists from EDM to hip-hop to lofi, Idealism’s tape is probably the most high-profile and also likely the best yet. Featuring Idealism’s typical sound, the project also incorporates Urbina’s ambient sound and political speeches he captured as part of the Outlaw Project. In effect, Idealism has also decided to use his platform to push for social justice as well.
To listen to the EP below, and to check out his other music, find his profiles linked at the bottom of this piece; read the interview below, republished in full.
THEBIGGERPICTURE: Could you please introduce yourself for our readers?
Idealism: My name is Lassi Kotamaki, a 22 years-old medical sciences student from Finland!
TBP: You have grown massively in popularity over the years to become one of the most prominent lofi producers on Spotify and Soundcloud, amassing an incredible 120m streams last year. What do you think was the reason behind your meteoric rise?
Idealism: That’s something I’m still thinking about myself. I suppose my music is strangely relatable to people. It’s gentle and easy to listen to, so you can listen to it on repeat on and on! I also think that it’s honest music. There’s no gimmick or anything, it’s just music made with pure emotions.
TBP: What is your personal favourite track out of everything you have released?
Idealism: I think that would be either a moment of silence, another perspective or and then I woke up. I had a lot of fun making those tracks and they’re all different from one another. They’re also the most emotional tracks I have made with real meaning behind them. But if I had to pick one, I’d probably take a moment of silence.
TBP: When and why did you start to produce music, and how has your style changed over the years?
Idealism: I started about 6 years ago. It was simply for fun, just to have another ‘creative-medium’ type of hobby. My style has definitely changed, I have gone from ‘vaporwave’ type stuff, to chill trap, to lofi to ambient etc. I think I am still trying to develop my own sound, and I think it’s something that will always change over the years.
TBP: You have collaborated with several lofi producers and musicians. How do you produce music collaboratively, especially since in several instances you are working with artists in different continents?
Idealism: We just send each other ideas and stems back and forth, through dropbox or something. If one of the two isn’t really feeling the stems/chords/drums, usually we just move onto other projects, other stems.
TBP: You have frequently sampled in the past. What's your take on the use of samples, considering that it generates quite a bit of controversy in the lofi community?
Idealism: I think using samples is fantastic. For a person who doesn’t own any instruments, it’s a great way of making music. Of course, you have to be careful with copyright, to not get any legal issues later on. Also, samples shouldn’t obviously be used if you are simply adding a kick and a snare on top of it. At that point the lines get blurred; is it really your own creation?
TBP: As well as being a massive lofi producer, you are also a med student at Edinburgh University. How do you juggle music and your studies?
Idealism: Well for the past couple of years it was alright, now it’s getting tougher and tougher. I’m in my last year of university, so I have to allocate more time for studying than making music, which obviously affects my career and releases. But I know people are patient, I’d rather take my time and release something I’m mostly satisfied with than something half-assed just for the sake of releasing something.
TBP: Could you give a brief overview of the process, from start to finish, of creating a single track?
Idealism: It changes every time. Sometimes I might start by making the drums entirely, adding all the percussions and small details, and then only at the end I’ll add the chords and melodies. Sometimes I might start with the chords, then work from there. I usually get the structure and length of the song set first, then think of the mood/atmosphere of it all. I also mix everything along the way.
TBP: You have revealed on social media that you will soon be releasing a new album, called Sit in Silence, sometime this spring. What can we expect from this album?
Idealism: I’d say it’ll be a mix of things. Imagine mixing my previous 4 EPs together. That’s what it will sound like.
TBP: Do you anticipate music to continue to be a hobby, a side-hustle, or do you seek to make it a full-time career in the future?
Idealism: I think making it into a full time career would be rewarding yet really dangerous: I’m afraid I’d lose passion and interest. If I keep it as a hobby, I won’t have enough time to focus on it properly. I’ll just have to find the right balance. I’ll try focusing on it 100% after university, to see how it works out.