What started as a simple joke has transformed into a wave that’s lightly crashing against the shores of headphones worldwide. Night Bus music; it’s everything and it’s nothing all at the same time. It is a little bit of whatever you want it to be.
“It’s not a genre but a feeling,” says CFCF, Canadian electro-master Michael Silver, who is credited as being one of the original cultivators of the movement. “It’s about how evocative that term is – ‘night bus’ – and where that places you in relation to your experience and taste. It’s about the intersection of personal experience and personal taste and framing that through one specific type of experience.”
Dating back to 2010, the term “Night Bus” first originated in a thread from the forum Hipinion where a community began to define a sound that gradually took shape as contributors began posting YouTube links and playlists. Among integral contributors were pop culture critic Chris Ott, Elite Gymnastics’ James Brooks, and boarder ‘I Push Miracle Whips’.
According to CFCF, the genre is all about the audience conjuring emotions and using them to frame their musical experience. Night Bus is more than just a type of music that evokes a specific emotion, but rather a multitude of feelings.
“It’s something I’ve had a hard time getting across because so many want to just simplify it to like, some new breed of emotive dance music, which fits the bill, but night bus could also be some Roy Orbison song, at the right moment,” he said.
Roy Orbison and down-tempo atmospheric, ambient electronica aren’t the typical pair that come to mind when throwing together a playlist. However, it’s a unique convergence that Night Bus is capable of.
CFCF premiered his mixtape Do You Like Night Bus on The Fader back in 2010 and it was at that time the term started garnering even more clout. He followed that release a year later with Night Bus II. The mixes featured samples of everything from Aaliyah and PRGz, to Kingdom, The Eurythmics and Fever Ray.
Night Bus is clearly not limited to one specific genre, which is why it’s hard to coin the term a genre in it’s own right.
“There are all these adjectives that fit that [Night Bus] kind of music, but I think what kind of music fits those adjectives can have a range where that can be ambient music, certain types of hip hop, pop, or even instrumental heavy beats,” says Seattle based KEXP DJ Alex Ruder.
Within the Pacific Northwest, Ruder is responsible for pushing the Night Bus agenda and its ease of creating intimate musical connections. Earlier this year he launched a new record label called Hush Hush. With only one artist currently under his jurisdiction, Ruder has vision of syrupy sounds best experienced through headphones.
“There is a melancholy aspect to this kind of music. It’s very cinematic and kind of introspective,” Ruder says. “It has an interesting dichotomy between sad and beautiful.”
The type of atmospheric, ambient heavy beats that create Night Bus, gravitate toward a contemplative ride on public transportation at, say, 3am. It’s contemplative and esoteric at best.
Ruder started playing Night Bus when he stepped in to guest spin during a monthly DJ set for Ill Cosby (the man behind record label Car Crash Set Records) at a cozy bar located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. What started as a fill-in gig, eventually morphed into a monthly Hush Hush night at the bar, and now into Ruder’s next step in pursuing the Night Bus campaign.
“I definitely feel like it’s the beginning of a new movement that, up until recently didn’t have a succinct name to bind similar artists together. Alex has been holding the sound down for a long time; way before anyone knew what it was or where it was going,” says Ill Cosby.
Night Bus itself has been around for some time now, as other labels and collectives have put out this type of music but with no captivating title, which is why Hush Hush is cutting its teeth in a very specific manner.
“I want to create a label that puts out a quality and esthetic that listeners can have an expectation of,” says Ruder, which is just what he’s done with Kid Smpl’s August release of Escape Pod EP. (Listen to the title track below)
Kid Smpl, 22-year old Seattle electronic producer Joey Butler, joined forces with Ruder to release a four track EP that the label states “plunges listeners into a hypnotically cinematic world that pairs ghostly vocal samples with lush synths, immersive low-end tones, complex drum work, and washed-out ambient textures.” Couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.
Night Bus isn’t just limited to a handful of producers either. CFCF suggests How To Dress Well, Elite Gymnastics and Chris Ott; names of emerging familiarity. Add to the list Hush Hush’s solo player Kid Smpl, and you’ve got the makings for an even stronger Night Bus foundation.
Hush Hush Records released Dope Pac SE just last week, a collection of remixes of Kid Smpl tracks from other Night Bus-minded artists, such as Seattle’s DJAO and New York’s Big Spider’s Back. Butler’s debut LP Skylight is set to debut in November.
Night Bus is beginning to levitate towards zeitgeist status as the name begins to stick on a wider platform than ever before. Ruder’s plan through Hush Hush is to bring the theory behind the music into public consciousness. Its introspective nature doesn’t lend itself to massive performance growth (like what the industry is currently experiencing with the rise of producers in the EDM realm who sit on the opposite end of the electronic music spectrum), but there is definitely a place for it.
There are other pockets across the globe where Night Bus is emerging. For those in the Seattle area, Ruder hosts monthly Hush Hush nights at the Arabica Lounge and CFCF hosts the occasional Night Bus groove session in Montreal featuring fantastically crafted film montages by local film student JRC.
For producers like CFCF and DJs like Alex Ruder, it’s all about the experience and the intimate connections the audience is able to pull from the music.
“I love the idea of people getting excited about it, because to me it means people are interacting on a deeper level with their taste as a method of framing their experience… Night Bus is really just a way to get this point across,” says CFCF.