The movement consisted of artists that played extremely slow tempo, soft, and amazingly depressing music. The purpose was to make the music as non-commercially accessible as possible. The genre also had a sister genre called Sadcore, but besides lyrical content, there wasn't much to differentiate between the two subgenres.
The roots of the genre stem all the way back from the third Velvet Underground album. It consisted of 10 long, dense, hazy tracks that droned on in emotional torture, recorded much more quietly and acoustically and showing an influence from Folk Rock. (Generally attributed to the combination of losing founding member John Cale and the band's equipment being stolen.)
While many people have the misconception that Low was the first Slowcore band, the credit actually goes to indie band Codeine and their 1991 album Frigid Stars. They were far from the actual first band of the genre either; Galaxie500 were around for about 5 years before that, but were more influential to the folkier Dream Pop scene than they were to Slowcore itself. American Music Club had existed since the mid 80s but ended up making a genre shift into something that could be labeled as "proto-slowcore". The Trope Codifier were Red House Painters with their signature atmosphere-based, slow paced songs. They added a new emotional layer to the genre and effectively removed a lot of Codeine's dead monotonal riffs. Low wouldn't even enter the music scene until 1993, but they can get the credit for being the Trope Namer as they came up with the name of the genre, as well as becoming probably the most well known Slowcore act out there.
Much of Slowcore ends up getting lumped together with Post-Rock. This is because Codeine are also considered the first Post-Rock band as well (at least on some accounts, it's still being debated). The ringing, odd sounding guitars would end up being mimicked and expanded upon by Slint in their album Spiderland. For the first few years of the existence of both genres, it was hard to really differentiate until Post Rock started sounding much more orchestral. Hence, many bands labeled as Post-Rock on sites like All Music (i.e. Seam) are actually by definition Slowcore.
It is said that the movement was so powerful that it made 4AD Records move its main niche from Dream Pop to Slowcore (though the breakup of several of its flagship Dream Pop bands probably had something to do with it, and slowcore itself isn't very far removed from Dream Pop).
The movement slowly fizzled out in the late 90s as the Indie bands involved in the movement went on to actually make more commercially accessible music (some blame the rise of Neutral Milk Hotel, while others blame the sudden success of Elliott Smith). Some bands continued to make slow-themed music like the Red House Painters and their Spiritual Successor, Sun Kil Moon. The genre never really died though, many of the bands continued releases well into the 2000s, especially Low and Cat Power.
The bands are becoming something of cult classics, especially Red House Painters. Mark Kozelek's music in general has been sweeping up more and more hype as countless modern musicians continue to list him as an influence. The same can be said about all of the other musicians to a smaller extent. It's easy to see how artists like Bon Iver incorporate the elements of slowcore into their music.
Artists and bands commonly associated with this movement:
- American Music Club
- Bluetile Lounge
- Bohren & der Club of Gore (this combined with Jazz, Black Metal, and Ambient)
- Carissas Wierd
- Cat Power (it's either that or sadcore)
- Moon Pix (1998)
- Damon And Naomi
- Elliott Smith
- The For Carnation
- Galaxie 500 (technically Dream Pop, but very influential on the genre)
- Grace Cathedral Park
- Lana Del Rey (often describes her music as "Hollywood Slowcore", but same difference)
- 2012 - Born to Die
- Lisa Germano
- Mojave 3 (an offshoot of Shoegaze group Slowdive.)
- Pacific UV
- Radar Bros.
- Red House Painters
- Songs for a Blue Guitar (1996)
- Sun Kil Moon