L-R: Juno, Angelus, ericdoa, Stef, osquinn, kuru, glaive, d0llywood1. Artwork from kuru's "skytearer"

Digicore captures the angst of coming of age during a global pandemic

The hyperpop offshoot is a scene of teen musicians mining their upbringings for inspiration.

by Billy Bugara
|
20 April 2021, 11:51am

L-R: Juno, Angelus, ericdoa, Stef, osquinn, kuru, glaive, d0llywood1. Artwork from kuru's "skytearer"

The future of pop music is not defined by major labels, access to top recording studios, or even a consistent sound to call its own. Instead, it’s called digicore, and it’s shaped by the world of Discord servers, Minecraft, and the type of musical intuition that could only have been nurtured through years spent consuming YouTube beat tutorials and a cracked copy of FL Studio. Everything about this scene of teen musicians centres around the modern Internet landscape; from its origins, to its diversity, right down to how community-oriented it is.

Hyperpop — the maximal, autotune-heavy and at times chaotic music made by the likes of Charli XCX, PC Music and 100 gecs — has exploded over the past couple of years. But now, a new scene is rising up from under the Spotify-coined genre. The kids of digicore are mostly between the ages of 15 and 18 years old: a diverse cohort of group-minded, mostly independent artists working from their bedrooms, who’re keen to prove themselves on their own terms. Just don’t refer to them as hyperpop. “It’s a title that really does not apply to us… none of us make straight up ‘pop’ music at all,” says 17-year-old Louisiana-based d0llywood1. “We’re all digital kids who met each other on the internet and so make music that sounds like shit we found on the internet… that’s why ‘digicore’ is so perfect for us.”

This sponge-like attitude to music is precisely why the genre is so playful; video game sounds, abrasive distortion and emotional rap lyrics are a typical digicore cacophony. Tracks can be overwhelming at times, but always reflect the chaos of contemporary teenage life. Artists pull from genres as wide-reaching as midwestern emo, trance, and even Chicago drill. “We’re all internet kids,” says 15-year-old Kuru, a producer and singer from the DMV. “We take all the genres we listened to growing up and blend them into our own. And we’re all evolving off of each other… we take what we hear from each other too, and we create something new from it.”

Few artists in the digicore world have met each other in real life. Lockdowns aside, they come from different countries, different walks of life, unified by their tight-knit online friendships and a wildly experimental attitude to production. Nearly all of these acts are self-taught, needing no assistance from industry-savvy producers or indeed label funds to market their art. Given the ongoing pandemic, the career paths of emerging musicians globally has been prevented from moving beyond the online space; instead of playing live shows and waiting for their next big break in a traditional sense, new artists have been relegated to promoting themselves on social media. This scene of digital natives was uniquely equipped to navigate such a route all along.

Community and collaboration are two key elements of the scene, a direct result of platforms like SoundCloud, Discord and Minecraft. It was Dalton, an artist relations figure within the scene, who more or less kicked the whole thing off three years ago. He created Loser’s Club, a Discord and Minecraft server that would provide a launching pad for a handful of young artists to connect, bonding over common musical interests and going on to collaborate. “I was inspired to start Loser’s Club by all the people making music around me at the time,” says Dalton. “Everyone on the server would always freestyle a lot, just for fun back then… it’s insane that we moved onto what we’re doing now.” Artists involved early on included the likes of osquinn, glaive and Angelus — all now key players in digicore — each of them among the first to get playlisted on both SoundCloud and Spotify.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is a group of artists who are changing pop music as we speak.”

16-year-old French artist Angelus was early to join the server in 2017, and has since seen their career surge in streaming numbers and follower counts thanks to their unique style of glitched-out rap across tracks like “Revenge” and “Hope U Doing Well.” “We were really not taking ourselves seriously as artists back when we all met; we were just making music because we were bored,” they say. “But then we started gaining a bunch of fans and followers out of nowhere and things have just kept going since then.”

osquinn, a 16-year-old artist from Virginia, was the first digicore act to truly break through into the mainstream during the summer of 2020, with her deeply personal, melodic, electronic emo released under the name p4rkr. Tracks such as “ok im cool ft. blackwinterwells”, “i hate it here” and “i dont want that many friends in the first place” (10 million plays on that last track alone) — earnt her a spot on the cover of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist, which has 182k followers. While she and 18-year-old Atlanta artist ericdoa are often seen, from the outside, as the two “faces'' of digicore, the majority of the scene prefers the idea of rising in popularity as a collective rather than as individuals.

A large number of said collectives have come to dominate digicore, despite the varied sonic styles of the artists within them. Long-established staples like Novagang, Bloodhounds and Helix Tears exist alongside formations like Graveem1nd and Co-op; all of which provide a platform for acts to flourish on SoundCloud, rather than a closed off server. A member of Novagang, Bloodhounds and Graveem1nd simultaneously (there are no rules), the aforementioned DMV producer Kuru, 15, makes the kind of music that’d make your grandma blush. While production on tracks like “Typo” reference drill, “resolve” leans more towards a bubblegum bass track, with breakbeat and plucked synths throughout. “It’s a really good feeling,” says Kuru, “how we’re all kinda going up together as a group.”

Both Kuru and 17-year-old Stef (co-founder of Novagang), who are of Asian American and African American descent respectively, note how POC-dominant the scene is. It’s a sentiment shared by 16-year-old newcomer Juno, who began turning heads in November with the release of his single “Karma”, a distortion-heavy pop cut that quickly gained traction on Discord and Twitter. His emo vocals paired with the abrasive beat serve as a perfect encapsulation of his mid-late 2000s alt-influences.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is a group of artists who are changing pop music as we speak,” Juno says, reflecting on digicore’s story so far. “When I used to look at this scene from an outside perspective, it really seemed like a community that anyone could be accepted and welcomed into. That possibility creates this parasocial relationship between the fans and artists, where the community kinda just functions as one on social media.”

But despite its inherent DIY nature, digicore artists certainly aren’t opposed to the idea of major label interest and embracing a more traditional way of navigating the industry. While glaive has been signed to Interscope Records, ericdoa’s latest album, COA, came accompanied by an impressive music video for lead single “2008”, and it’s likely that more artists will follow suit. Both their fans and peers are excited to see their once-niche community finally gain attention from the music industry. “With how serious things are getting for everyone in the scene, it’s really awesome that we still have places like Discord and Minecraft to just chill,” said Dalton.

“This entire thing is crazy to me because we’re really all just kids in our rooms making the music we want to make,” ericdoa adds. “We were finally given the chance to express the art we make as a community on a huge platform, and that’s so amazing to think about, because it’s still just the beginning.”

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more music.

Tagged:
Social Media
Gen Z