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During the late '80s and early '90s, lo fidelity became not only a description of the recording quality of a particular album, but it also became a genre onto itself. Throughout rock & roll's history, recordings were made cheaply and quickly, often on substandard equipment. In that sense, the earliest rock & roll records, most of the garage rock of the '60s, and much of the punk rock of the late '70s could be tagged as Lo-Fi. However, the term came to refer to a breed of underground indie rockers that recorded their material at home on four-track machines. Most of this music grew out of the American underground of the '80s, including bands like R.E.M., as well as a handful of British post-punk bands and New Zealand bands like the Chills and the Clean. Often, these lo-fi bands fluctuated from simple pop and rock songs to free-form song structures to pure noise and arty experimentalism. Even when the groups kept the songs relatively straightforward, the thin quality of the recordings, the layers of tape distortion and hiss, as well as the tendency toward abstract, obtuse lyrics made the music sound different and left of center. Initially, lo-fi recordings were traded on homemade tapes, but several indie labels -- most notably K Records, which was run by Calvin Johnson, who led the lo-fi band Beat Happening -- released albums on vinyl. Several groups in the late '80s, like Pussy Galore, Beat Happening, and Royal Trux earned small cult followings within the American underground. By 1992, groups like Sebadoh and Pavement had become popular cult acts in America and Britain with their willfully noisy, chaotic recordings. A few years later, Liz Phair and Beck helped break the lo-fi aesthetic into the mainstream, albeit in a more streamlined fashion.

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