Slowcore,[a] also known as sadcore, is a subgenre of indie rock and alternative rock characterised by slower tempos, minimalist instrumentation, and subdued lyrical performances.


Slowcore is considered a subgenre of indie rock, alternative rock, and pop. There is no definitive characterisation of the genre,[4] however it is typically defined by slow tempos with a sombre and atmospheric approach to songwriting and composition.[5] Slowcore articles often take influence from related genres, including dream pop, post-rock, folk, and americana.[4][1] Drone and ambient music are also cited as being similar.[6] Less frequently, slowcore songs borrow elements from other genres, including shoegaze and midwest emo.[7]

Lyrics within slowcore are often melancholic, with the vocal performances subdued.[5] For example, Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam has been described as slowcore because of "her sadly beautiful little-girl whisper" style of singing.[8] In 1998, SF Weekly wrote that "The best thing about slowcore [...] is that they demand the listener pay attention. The worst thing about them is that sometimes you fall asleep by the third song".[9]


A woman wearing a white dress laying on a red velvet couch in front of a grandiose red wall with gold accents
Lana Del Rey, pictured in 2013, has self-described her music as "Hollywood sadcore".

Slowcore is occasionally referred to as "sadcore", and many journalists and scholars consider them to be synonymous labels for the same genre.[10][8][7][11] Regardless, when they are distinguished, the differences are attributed to a heightened melancholy in the lyrics of sadcore songs.[12][13][14]

The sadcore categorisation saw considerable use in the early 2000s. Mentions include The Washington Post calling Mark Eitzel, the lead singer of American Music Club, the "reluctant king of sadcore" in 2002[15] and LA Weekly calling Charlyn Marshall (stage name Cat Power) the "Queen of Sadcore" in 2003.[16] Reviewers also used it in passing for albums such as Red House Painters' Rollercoaster (1993),[17] Shearwater's Everybody Makes Mistakes (2002),[18] and Low's box set A Lifetime of Temporary Relief (2004).[19] Since then, Lana Del Rey self-described her music as "Hollywood sadcore" in an interview with Vogue in 2011.[20][21] Phoebe Bridgers's music has also been called sadcore, a descriptor she dislikes: speaking to The New Zealand Herald in 2023, she said "I hate the 'sad girl' label".[22]


There is no definitive origin of the label "slowcore" outside of the agreement between scholars that its use began in the 1990s.[23][24][2] Within music, the suffix "-core" infers a scene or style, originating with "hardcore".[25][26] The American Dialect Society describes it more generally as a "productive suffix for aesthetic trends".[27] "Slow" refers to the pace of the music.[28] For "sadcore", the same applies, except "sad" refers to the emotion of the lyrics.[12]

One claim to the origin of the label is from Alan Sparhawk of the band Low. In an interview with The Paper Crane podcast, Sparhawk said his friend had coined the term "slowcore" as a joke and that he had humorously mentioned it in one of his band's earliest shows. He says that after that show, the media picked up the term and its usage began increasing.[29]


The "slowcore" label has been criticised by scholars and bands, calling it pejorative.[28][30] Members of Low, a band often considered monumental in the growth of the genre, disliked the label:[2] in 1998, founding member Alan Sparhawk called it "cheesy".[30] Regardless, the label grew in popularity and in an interview with Vice in 2018, Sparhawk recognised his band as being influential in its growth.[31]


Late 1980s: Stylistic origins

The sound that would become known as "slowcore" began emerging in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a counterpoint to the rapid growth of louder rock genres like grunge.[32][7] Unlike these genres, the early years of slowcore did not have a defined scene or any geographic hotspots.[24] American Music Club are considered an early slowcore band.[33][34] Releasing their debut The Restless Stranger in 1985, the band's music was slow and with characteristics akin to genres like folk and singer-songwriter. This style was echoed by other bands at the time, such as Cowboy Junkies. This style of folk- and americana-inspired music would become one of the defining styles of slowcore music.[4]

Within the same period of time, Galaxie 500 formed and began releasing dream pop albums. Their sophomore album, On Fire (1989), strongly influenced the genre,[4] as did the rest of their discography,[23] although their dream pop style was not entirely indicative of how slowcore would develop. Regardless, On Fire would become the "blueprint for the minimalist construction of slowcore itself".[4] Because of this, the band is frequently cited as one of slowcore's leading antecedents. Samuel Rosean, writing for Drowned in Sound, described them as slowcore's "most well-known progenitor",[4] a phrase also used by Andrew Earles in his 2014 book Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981-1996.[23] Robert Rubsam, writing for Bandcamp Daily, called Galaxie 500 the "fountainhead for all that would come".[24]

There were other early bands that formed in the 1980s that would help define slowcore, however many would not release anything until the 1990s. These include Codeine,[35][36] Red House Painters,[4][24] and Mazzy Star.[28]

During this period, the label "slowcore" was not used.[4]

1990s: Peak growth and evolution

While many of the bands that would influence the concept of slowcore existed before the 1990s, this decade is often cited as being when the genre began,[4][8][33] as well as being its heyday.[37][38][39] Throughout this period, the amount of bands and albums associated with the genre grew greatly, establishing its core sound and style.[4][24]

Three people performing on a stage with white lights in the background. The photo is positioned from the perspective of the crowd.
Codeine are considered to be one of the first slowcore bands. They are pictured here performing at Alexandra Palace during their 2012 reunion tour.

In these early years, the genre was defined by bands that had a style of minimalist and prolonged instrumentation with melancholic vocal performances. Codeine, having formed in 1989, released Frigid Stars LP in 1990, which incorporated "tortured lyrics and tired vocal melodies".[40] Codeine's music received attention over the following years, and after the release of the Barely Real extended play in 1992, the Toronto Star described it as being a "unique 'slowcore' sound".[41] Two years after Codeine's debut, Red House Painters, having formed in 1988,[24] released their debut: Down Colorful Hill (1992).[42] The album is bleak in both lyrics and composition;[43] this album, alongside their following albums Rollercoaster (1993) and Bridge (1993),[44] have been described as instilling feelings of "desperation, regret, and general darkness".[45] Earles contended that Red House Painters was the saddest band within slowcore in the early 1990s.[46] Another early band was Bedhead, which formed in 1991 and released their debut WhatFunLifeWas in 1994. This album consisted of soft vocals and dynamic instrumentation,[24] and the band would release two further studio albums, Beheaded (1996) and Transaction de Novo (1998), which maintained the same slow sound as their debut but deviated in technique. After this, the band disbanded and fell out of public discourse.[47]

Three people performing on a dark stage illuminated by red ceiling lights. In the background, a video is projected onto a wall.
Low, pictured in 2013, are heralded as pioneers of slowcore with their early releases.

During this time, the sound of slowcore music depended on the location. For example, taking influence from post-rock and indie-rock was prevalent within Chicago, while the Californian scene was defined by Red House Painters and American Music Club. However, Low, out of Duluth, Minnesota, would ultimately create the genre's archetypical sound.[4][2] Formed in 1993 by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, the band started by experimenting with slow and quiet rock music and in 1994, released their debut album I Could Live in Hope.[8][4] This album was different from its predecessors: while it maintained stylistic similarities with other bands' sparse instrumentation,[4] it was more difficult to categorise into other genres, like post-rock or dream pop. Due to this unique sound, Low are heralded as pioneers of the genre.[1][24]

Towards the end of the decade, Duster released Stratosphere (1998).[48] By this point, they had already released a few EPs but had failed to garner a notable reputation. The album was reviewed by Pitchfork and other zines, and the band would release one final album, Contemporary Movement (2000), before disbanding until 2018. Despite this, the band would ultimately become one of the most influential within the genre.[49]

Another band attributed to this period of growth is Bluetile Lounge.[2]

2000s–present: Continued expansion

Whereas subcultures like emo and NYHC became ever-more constricting over time, [slowcore] began with a specific set of goals and expanded outward. Perhaps because slowcore was always more about a feeling and less a particular set of sonic parameters, it was always more open to interpretation than some of its fellow spawn of the underground.

Robert Rubsam, Bandcamp Daily[24]

Slowcore continued to grow throughout the 2000s, with artists typically amalgamating slowcore with other genres.[24]

In 2001, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine formed Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions and released Bavarian Fruit Bread. The band helped repopularise a more dream pop-inspired sound of slowcore reminiscent of Galaxie 500 that would see success over the coming years.[4] In 2016, Cigarettes After Sex entered the spotlight with their single "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby".[50] The song, a dream pop and slowcore ballad, was originally released in 2012 but became viral online.[51] Following this, the band released their self-titled debut album in 2017, described by Pitchfork as a "slowcore collection [that] borders on ambient".[52]

In 2002, several Red House Painters members formed Sun Kil Moon. Early on, pundits noted that this band departed from the slowcore sound present in Red House Painters releases to instead opt for folk-inspired song construction.[53][54] Despite this, others continued to find similarities between Sun Kil Moon's music and slowcore. The song "Duk Koo Kim" from Ghosts of the Great Highway received a write-up in Drowned in Sound's "Slowcore Week", though the author noted the song moved "slightly away from [the] slowcore movement".[55]

Dan Barrett, a member of the post-punk band Have a Nice Life, released a self-titled album under the name Giles Corey in 2011. Giles Corey was emotive both lyrically and musically, with the production purposefully being low fidelity. Rosean noted that this was predictive of how slowcore would progress in the 21st century: departing somewhat from the essential simplicity in musical composition to instead place additional emphasis on emotional vulnerability. Rosean cited I'm Not As Good at It As You (2010) by S, formerly of indie rock band Carissa's Wierd, as another example of this. He writes: the album "[emphasises] harmony and melodic release over repetition while still maintaining [slowcore's] minimalistic style".[4]

Since then, reviewers have labeled various artists and releases as slowcore, including singer-songwriters Nicole Dollanganger[56] and Ethel Cain.[57]


  1. ^ Occasionally hyphenated as slow-core[32] or spaced as slow core.[58]
  1. ^ a b c Chick, Stevie (11 January 2003). "Pop albums". The Times. No. 67657. London. col e, p. 110. [...] elemental folky music spearheaded by Low, the acclaimed pioneers of 'Slocore' [sic].
  2. ^ a b c d e Grønstad 2020, p. 176: "I Could Live in Hope is of course seen as one of the albums that were key in ushering in the so-called 'slowcore' genre of alternative rock, which comprise artists such as Codeine, Red House Painters, Bedhead, and Blue Tile Lounge. The members of Low appear to disapprove of this moniker".
  3. ^ Swensson, Andrea (7 November 2022). "Remembering Low's Mimi Parker With 6 Essential Tracks". Pitchfork. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Rosean, Samuel (31 January 2019). "The Beginner's Guide To: Slowcore". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 14 June 2023. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  5. ^ a b Crystal 2014, p. 235: ""[...] characterised by 'slow temps, a sombre, atmospheric, sometimes densely textured sound, and quiet, forlorn vocals'" (citing the Oxford English Dictionary "slowcore" entry).
  6. ^ Fox 2009, p. 2-3: "Codeine's sound was not the heavy, space-filling drone of other slow-core bands".
  7. ^ a b c Kahn, Jamie (13 June 2022). "Slowcore isn't making a comeback, it's always been here". Far Out. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d Edwards, Mark (1 February 2009). "Slowcore: Encyclopedia of Modern Music". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2022.
  9. ^ SF Weekly, 6 May 1998.
  10. ^ Metzer 2017, p. 14: "It is no coincidence that slow core rock is also known as sad core."
  11. ^ Purdom, Clayton; McLevy, Alex; Adams, Erik; Rife, Katie; Gerardi, Matt; Adamczyk, Laura; Ihnat, Gwen; Dowd, A.A.; Anthony, David (20 August 2018). "1998 somehow brought us boy bands, nü-metal, and Neutral Milk Hotel". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  12. ^ a b Crystal 2014, p. 235: "The gloomy lyrical content rather than the acoustic effects led to the synonymous sadcore."
  13. ^ Collington, Christian (10 December 2022). "The music subgenre sadcore finds a new life with a new generation". CityNews. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  14. ^ "sadcore". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  15. ^ Harrington, Richard (24 May 2002). "The Melancholy Man Lightens Up". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  16. ^ Payne, John (13 February 2003). "The Queen of Sadcore". LA Weekly. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  17. ^ Hawthorne, Marc (25 September 2007). "Red House Painters: Red House Painters". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  18. ^ James, Brian (9 February 2003). "Shearwater: Everybody Makes Mistakes Album Review". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  19. ^ Modell, Josh (2 August 2004). "Low: A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief: 10 Years Of B-Sides & Rarities". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  20. ^ "Meet Lana Del Rey". Vogue. 20 October 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  21. ^ Trimboli, Isabella (3 April 2018). "Lana Del Rey review – 'Hollywood sadcore' shines in Australia". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  22. ^ Reitsma, Bethany (28 January 2023). "Phoebe Bridgers on Lorde, Laneway, and the 'sad girl' label: 'I hate it'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  23. ^ a b c Earles 2014, p. 124: "Like many bands featured in this book, Galaxie 500 was a big influence on a successive subgenre of band within indie rock. In the case of this seminal Boston trio, they are seen as progenitors of what the music press came to call 'slowcore'".
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rubsam, Robert (27 April 2017). "Slowcore: A Brief Timeline". Bandcamp. Archived from the original on 24 May 2023. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  25. ^ Judkis, Maura (13 September 2021). "Cottagecore, cluttercore, goblincore — deep down, it's about who we think we are". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  26. ^ Sisario, Ben (31 December 2009). "When Indie-Rock Genres Outnumber the Bands". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  27. ^ "Nominations for Words of the Year 2021". American Dialect Society. 7 January 2022. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  28. ^ a b c Earles 2014, p. 124: "[...] what the music press came to call 'slowcore,' an unfortunate term often attached to bands such as Codeine, Low, Seam, Mazzy Star, Bedhead, and Rex [...] known for really slow tempos and a general prettiness or melancholy tendencies."
  29. ^ Alan Sparhawk from Low tells the story of the origin of 'Slowcore'. The Paper Crane Podcast. 20 September 2021. Archived from the original on 2 October 2021. Retrieved 5 October 2021 – via YouTube.
  30. ^ a b "Low interview from QRD #14". QRD. Silber Media. October 1998. Retrieved 20 May 2023. Alan – what's the cheesiest? slow-core. I hate that word. the most appropriate is anything that uses the word minimal in it, but I don't think anybody's made one up for that.
  31. ^ Lindsay, Cam (5 October 2018). "Low's Alan Sparhawk Ranks the Band's 11 Albums". Vice. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  32. ^ a b Rogers 2008, p. 640: "Opposition and fluidity reside at the core of the genre’s aesthetic. For example, as US rock band Nirvana succeeded commercially, indie fans grew more interested in post-rock and slow-core, both minimalist genres antithetical to Nirvana despite that band’s origins within indie."
  33. ^ a b Tudor, Alexander (16 February 2009). "Slowcore Week: An Introduction". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 14 June 2023. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  34. ^ Dye, David (27 February 2008). "American Music Club: 'Slowcore' and More". NPR (Podcast). Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  35. ^ Heller, Jason (25 May 2012). "Reconsidering Codeine, a '90s band frozen in time". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  36. ^ Deusner, Stephen (21 March 2013). "Low: The Invisible Way Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  37. ^ Earles 2014, p. 4: "It was in this loose framework that indie rock and all its various subgenres experienced its heyday from roughly 1986 to 1996, give or take a year on either end."
  38. ^ Lewis, Catherine (28 May 2008). "Ida at Iota: Showing Indie Rock's Softer Side". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  39. ^ Rytlewski, Evan (10 January 2017). "Haunter Keep the Spirit of Slowcore Alive on 'Worm'". Shepherd Express. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  40. ^ "Sub Pop 20". Pitchfork. 11 July 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  41. ^ Punter, Jennie (11 November 1993). "Codeine trio feeling no pain with unique 'slowcore' sound". Toronto Star. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  42. ^ Stosuy, Brandon (6 May 2015). "Red House Painters: Box Set Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  43. ^ Goldberg, Michael (16 September 1993). "New Faces". Rolling Stone. No. 665. That music is quiet, stripped-down, intensely atmospheric folk rock with occasional psychedelic touches, played at a hypnotic dirge tempo.
  44. ^ Earles 2014, pp. 253–4
  45. ^ Earles 2014, p. 253: "Down Colorful Hill and two eponymous titled full-lengths recorded in 1993 together form a linear block of music from which emotes, with unequivocal intensity, authentic sadness, disenchantment, desperation, regret, and general sadness."
  46. ^ Earles 2014, p. 177: "Of the bands grouped into 'sadcore' and 'slowcore' classifications by critics in the early '90s, none were lower—or perhaps sadder (though Red House Painters might win that contest)—than Low."
  47. ^ Richardson, Mark (14 November 2014). "Bedhead: Bedhead: 1992-1998 Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  48. ^ Richard-San, Mark. "Duster: Stratosphere". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 16 February 2001. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  49. ^ "The Low-Key Legacy Of Duster, Your Favorite Indie Band's Favorite Indie Band". Stereogum. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  50. ^ Cacouris, Christina (17 February 2016). "The Diehard Romanticism of Cigarettes After Sex". Noisey. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  51. ^ Whyte, Woodrow (18 October 2017). "'Music should be universal – it should appeal to everyone': DiS Meets Cigarettes After Sex". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 15 June 2023. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  52. ^ Cook, Cameron (8 June 2017). "Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
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  54. ^ Goldstein, Hartley (19 November 2003). "Sun Kil Moon: Ghosts of the Great Highway Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  55. ^ Shaw, Natalie (20 February 2009). "Slowcore Week: Sun Kil Moon's 'Duk Koo Kim'". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 15 June 2023. Retrieved 14 June 2023.
  56. ^ Codiga, Jacqueline (7 November 2022). "Nicole Dollanganger's "Gold Satin Dreamer" Is an Unsettling and Beautiful Story of Doomed Romance". Pitchfork. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
  57. ^ Chodzin, Devon (11 May 2022). "On Preacher's Daughter, Ethel Cain's Jarring, Beautiful Vision Comes to Life". Paste. Retrieved 14 June 2023.
  58. ^ Metzer 2017, p. 12: "Rock fans do not relax but rather despair when they listen to 'slow core,' songs that are not only slow but also long."
Further reading