BARBER BEATS: A Controversial Music Genre

Barber Beats is an online music genre that I find fascinating.

Its explosive rise in the 2020’s has been extremely impressive, hundreds of these colorful music releases most likely popping up in your YouTube recommendations, with hundreds of thousands of plays, sometimes millions.

The overall sound of Barber Beats features heavily sampled downtempo tracks consisting of all sorts of source material and inspiration, pulling from all styles trip-hop, nu jazz, lofi house, atmospheric hip-hop, and countless other mellow music styles. The end result is a suave, luxurious blend of soundscapes fitting for a, you guessed it, relaxing hair cut at that beloved barber shop nestled deep within the alleyways of a bustling city.

I can’t remember where I saw this, but I once saw someone describe Barber Beats as like “half casino heist, half forbidden romance” or something like that, and I thought that was just the perfect way to describe the vibes these tracks evoke.

However, because a big majority of Barber Beats are just a collection of tracks with virtually no edits at all from the original sample material being sourced, there has always been heavy discourse online of whether this is morally correct or not for Barber Beats artists to release, especially when they also want to sell their work digitally or in physical form.

Well today, I want to take a trip through this entire musical movement with you from its inception to where we are today. We’ll take a look at a couple Barber Beats classics, recent hits, and also some projects that really seem to take the genre in a refreshing, unique direction. We’ll also take a look at all the controversy surrounding this genre, regarding whether or not it’s right or wrong that these music uploads even exist in the first place.

Type in Barber Beats on YouTube and you will be hit with hundreds and hundreds of these colorful uploads to choose from. Full albums, compilations, the amount is virtually endless.

The majority sound of Barber Beats features a relaxing blend of smokey and elegant instruments backed by drum beats and a heavy bass, all creating quite the sophisticated mood. Grab a sample with some pretty pan flutes and a mellowed out synth and you're already halfway there, with all that’s left is to make sure you have a heavy low end to really give these tracks depth and weight.

The inception of barber beats can be traced back to a producer known as Haircuts for Men, who’s original works can be traced all the way back to 2014. Over the years, HFM would release projects like 大理石のファンタジー (translated to: marble fantasy) and ダウンタンブルと死にます (translated to: down tumble and die), both gaining massive popularity within the online music realm.

I can’t really pinpoint when the term “Barber Beats” actually came to life, but it’s pretty obvious that the name stems from the works of Haircuts For Men. There is an excellent article by Van Paugam called Barber Beats: The Future of Vaporwave that states the term was coined by Aloe City Wrld to describe this sound created by HFM, Aloe City Wrld being the leading record label in getting Barber Beats projects out there on physical forms.

Barber Beats is pretty much summed up to be a subgenre of the online-based Vaporwave genre as a whole, but these past couple of years we really started to see the term Barber Beats solidify for releases of this specific nature.

The artwork of HFM was also a staple to the whole experience of these releases: beautiful color pairings and textures overlapping typefaces, statues, and other sorts of imagery. The composition of these designs are mesmerizing and this aspect alone was always a big magnet to pull in new listeners. There’s a vintage and natural feel to them but also something so crisp, clean and modern, with every element always feeling perfectly placed in the composition. A large majority of Barber Beats projects feature this art direction, which can also make them
forgettable within the ocean of these covers.

大理石のファンタジー, I would say, is the most well known Haircuts for Men release. A lengthy project for only 6 tracks long, the mellow and soft pianos are given some energy with some reverb-soaked drum beats behind them. Many Haircuts For Men releases are similar with one another, but it was this one for some reason that really seems to be the release most people think of when the name Haircuts For Men is brought up. The entire discography, and pretty much Barber Beats as a whole, feels like one long never ending journey, with all things from the
artwork to the soundstyle itself blending seamlessly from release to release. ダウンタンブルと死にます is another release that, at least for me, pops up in my mind if I think of HFM. just like 大理石のファンタジー, this project also consists of soothing drums paired with quaint sample material. Synths, washed out vocals, and more shiny piano keys paint the picture of every album.

For a good while, it seemed like Haircuts for Men was the only artist truly dedicated to not only this sound, but sound atmosphere, let's say, of a virtual, musical barber shop you can access simply from your headphones. But eventually in the 2020’s, the genre found its footing with a multitude of artists who have had some releases do some serious numbers throughout the internet.

Artists like Macroblank, Oblique Occasions, Modest by Default, Monodrone, slowerpace 音楽, OSCOB, GODSPEED 音 and many others all dropped projects that played a heavy role in the growth of the movement.

Macroblank is definitely one of the biggest hits out of this scene in the 2020’s, with releases like 痛みの永遠 (translated to: It Hurts Forever) and 分離された (translated to: separation) carrying the torch from Haircuts For Men with a similar style of samples used, as well as that colorful, aesthetically pleasing artwork.

2022 saw one of my personal favorite Barber Beats projects, Anathema by the Baltimore based Oblique Occasions, just really tasty, laidback sample selections recycled into this mixtape collection of sweet sounding journeys into jazz. The track on there titled “no love” is simply gorgeous.

Modest by Default is also one of my personal favorite figures in the Barber Beats scene in particular, 2023’s Permaculture (组织胜过时间) being a definite standout. Exquisitely chill under just an hour for you to finish this journey from start to end. There is also the RAW PRACTICES series, volumes 1 through 3, which features UFC fighters for album artwork, and me being a huge, huge UFC fan (how am I not gonna check out an album with a cover that features a bloody Diego Sanchez on it!).

While many Barber Beats projects, as mentioned multiple times through this video, can feel repetitive due to their dependency on ultra chill, loungey sample flips all the time, some projects tend to take things up a notch with more unique themes, settings and some are even tied to an online music cult?

snowpoint lounge is a barber beats artist who ties in the world of Pokemon with their releases for example, using everything from sampled Pokemon soundtracks, tracklist titles, and some really awesome artwork all tying the entire package together to really showcase snowpoint lounge’s love for the series.

The Brazil based slowerpace 音楽 is also another personal favorite of mine, and many, in the Barber Beats scene due to each of their releases taking on a whole new world, atmosphere, or tribute to another piece of media or culture. This is another artist who is heavily inspired by video games and gaming box art, I’ve talked about their Barbershop SimulatorTM release on the channel in my Getting Lost on Bandcamp series, a 13-track collection of tunes that encapsulate
the background music in a “haircut tycoon meets Grand Theft Auto” game of sorts. Metaverse Sports Resort and PYROMANIACS are some other releases as well in the slowerpace 音楽 catalog that features a heavy influence from video games and their artstyle.

If you’re looking for another great read, KJHK radio did a wonderful interview with slowerpace 音楽.

SKINDANCE and the CREEP TAPES is a whole nother beast; these 4 releases feature a dark ambient and industrial twist on the Barber Beats formula; tracks with a bit more distortion and texture that pairs it with a pretty fascinating situation. The artist is apparently part of an “online music cult”, and more can be discovered if you were one of the people who picked up one of their extremely limited cassette releases. Each cassette contains a QR code, which the label insists that “IF YOU SCAN THE QR CODE WITHIN THE J-CARD, I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY AS A LABEL FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS THEREAFTER”.

I’m definitely a fan of Barber Beats, and there are pockets of days throughout the year where I listen to nothing but this type of sound as I do work, travel for shows, or simply drive to the grocery store, they are fun little snacks of mixtapes that look really nice artwork wise and help me focus on a task at hand. I find lofi hip-hop to be too delicate and quaint for me at times, and forms of ambient music to sometimes be too abstract or floaty to grab onto. Here though, projects in the Barber Beats realm keep me a bit more productive and grounded... I like to think
of Barber Beats as audio coffee.

And I also realize that many Barber Beats projects are just simple sample flips with virtually no edits at all from the original sample material being used in the tracks; samples could maybe be pitched up or down, but besides that, there are many times when Barber Beats artists are literally taking entire tracks from other artists and just slapping them onto their own music upload with fancy artwork and Japanese or Chinese track titles... nothing more than recycled, plundered works from existing creations, and because of this, there is always going to be
discourse online of whether this is morally correct or not, especially when Barber Beats artists also want to sell their work digitally or in physical form.

The simple answer to all of this is just to lazily say that it’s all subjective, and the true answer just lies in the individual listener and what they believe crosses the line between straight up stealing someone else’s artwork, or if they are actually providing a creative twist and crafting a sample into a new light. As I was writing what I wanted to say for this video, I found it very hard to decide what to even refer to people who upload Barber Beats onto the internet as. Do I call them producers? Artists? I wasn’t really sure, but something I do find quite frequently in the
Barber Beats scene is that many of these people releasing these projects also don’t even know what to call themselves.

Many of them state in their Bandcamp bio’s that much of what they do is plundered or recycled from other artists, Modest by Default for example stating “Virtually everything is plundered, and absolutely everything is free.” When asked what advice they would give to someone looking to start their journey as an indie producer, slowerpace 音楽 responded with “I don’t consider myself
a producer, just an enthusiast and a guy who likes playing with software =)”. The Haircuts For Men bio also famously states “I take some credit, but most everything is plundered”.

We’ve also seen entire discographies get wiped from Bandcamp due to the heavy repurposing of existing music being uploaded into these Barber Beats projects, Macroblank I don’t believe exists anymore on Bandcamp and the entirety of Haircuts For Men was removed in the past as well.

Things also get even fishier when Barber Beats artists and labels aim to release these projects on vinyl or cassette. How far can one person go in making these Barber Beats releases something they can claim monetarily?

Do I have the ultimate answer and truth on this subject? Obviously not, I very much see why many people think Barber Beats are morally wrong and you can get lost and lost some more in reddit posts with people going back and forth on how Barber Beats are low effort and shouldn’t have garnished such a following or appreciation. But at the same time, personally for me it’s hard to justify thinking it’s completely wrong when there has been so many examples of low effort sample manipulation not just in the Vaporwave scene, but other music genres and subgenres out there as well, that people aren’t in an uproar about. It all comes down to really your personal, subjective opinion on where the line is crossed. Does crediting someone
ultimately make your sample work morally correct? Or do you have to not only credit but pay for the full rights? Or is there a certain amount of chops and deconstruction you need to do within a sample that puts you in the clear? The simple answer for me is I always talk about how I love a fun, cheap simple Vaporwave flip, there is something comforting in living during a point in music
history where the technology we have at hand has created such an abundance of music uploads, no matter how intricate the production is on those uploads, so I can’t be the one to say that Barber Beats is wrong because I enjoy them.

“This is what makes Barber Beats so deliciously enjoyable; that it can subvert what people think Vaporwave should be, or is allowed to be. It was only a matter of time before what was understood as Vaporwave, conceptually, would start to evolve, and this process has led to a paradoxical moment where Vaporwave itself is becoming the source material for newer Vaporwave.” - Van Paugam, Barber Beats: The Future of Vaporwave

Barber Beats really just captures the essence of how disposable things seem to be in the internet age. There are so many genres I’ve talked about on my YouTube channel or here on Darknet where I’ve stated “anyone can make Vaporwave” or “anyone can make Signalwave” or whatever, but with Barber Beats LITERALLY anyone can make it I mean, grab a sample off of youtube, slow or speed it up, make some fresh artwork and boom you got something and people will probably listen to it. I will probably listen to it, and maybe I’m wrong for that, I don’t
really know.

It’s not like people are getting rich from releases. On YouTube for example, coming from a Youtuber himself, I can’t see many of these Barber Beats artists making much from ad revenue on these releases that even get into the millions of views; YouTube has gotten so good at detecting copyrighted material and automatically reroutes your ad revenue to the respective artists or platform that owns set content, so I can’t see much profit happening there. In regards to physical releases, coming from someone who ran a record label as well, getting vinyl produced this day and age with how expensive things are barely, barely turns a profit, and as independent small record labels on the internet, you’re really doing it for your love of physical media at a certain point. I don’t think labels are really out here to become millionaires from releasing Barber Beats on vinyl or cassette, I think there’s just a love to see these repurposed works, and mixtapes because that’s a huge majority of what these really are, mixtapes, brought to life in physical form with really cool looking records and packaging. It’s tough though because it is also very understandable to say that no one should even be making a penny off any of this, it’s tough to say this is all fine especially when another artist can be completely unknown to the fact that their hard work has just been sped up or slowed down slightly and is being profited on by someone else, regardless of how much money is actually being made. But as someone who is also a fan of genres like Signalwave or even some of our favorite Classic Vaporwave releases, and how much joy those projects have given to me, is it just for me to say those projects are ok but these aren’t? Is looping a section of a sample ad nauseam with some added
drums instead of playing the whole thing outright but just slowed down, is that really the cut off line for what is creative and what is stealing? What is the cut off for what's right and what's wrong?

Barber Beats will always just be this background aura of sound that accompanies me to get things done throughout the day. Many people releasing material in the Barber Beats realm aren’t here to profit off of any of this and hold themselves back from even considering themselves to be producers, but instead, just individuals with an urge to repurpose existing art with a new presentation style. Overall, the ability for someone to repurpose something, regardless of how much of it is changed, and upload set project onto the internet seems to be a sign of the times,
there is so much being uploaded online in every direction in any field or creative output every second of every day, and as we progress further and further into the future we’re only going to see even more instances of situations in music where we inevitably question whether its right or wrong to not just monetarily support someone in what they are doing, but just the fact of listening to it in general.

If anything, I do hope we see more artists get a bit more experimental with the samples used. (ROMBREAKER makes some really sweet sample-free Barber Beats for example!)

I love when online music communities come together IRL and make some stuff happen... Aloe City Wrld hosted a live Barber Beats show out in London, and it is directions like this that will only further enhance the creativity and uniqueness in this interesting little electronic music genre that has found itself a comfy home throughout your youtube algorithms in the past couple of years.

Cheers, much luv, ur boi,
Pad Chennington