We’re about halfway through the year, and UVC is kicking off its next era with a suite of new contributors and a full-scale redesign. To celebrate all this, six of UVC’s staff wrote about artists whose creative journeys meant a lot to us so far in 2021. Maybe we didn’t know about them yet on January 1st, but by now they’ve become one of our personal favorites; maybe we’d heard of them last year, but the music they’ve put out so far this year really grabbed our attention, and the ways they’ve honed their sound gave us a new appreciation for their work.
It’s practically a given at this point for digicore acts to live up to their scene’s seemingly limitless boundaries; what’s lost in this notion, though, is the essence of ambition. Just because this scene fosters a deep and bountiful pool of artistic exploration doesn’t necessarily mean that each of its acts will dive headfirst within it, but those who take the plunge find themselves in a different regard than those who are comfortable just getting their feet wet. And in the interest of fairness, it truly does take a certain level of experience within a scene like this to take that dive in a reasonably confident manner... most of the time, that is.
Enter this scenario’s ever-present outlier: ch2rms. Since bursting onto the scene’s landscape near the dawn of 2021, they have effectively taken this dive into all things ambitious and have come out completely soaked, perhaps even more soaked than even some of digicore’s most free-forming and experienced artists. It’s one thing to carry this type of creative attitude from the absolute earliest stages of their career, but ch2rms has elevated even higher in this sense by transcending “ambition” into “acclaim” — a level of acclaim that only they can call their own.
Their resulting journey to this point in the year was easy to foresee, yet impossible to predict in detail. Tracks like “botherin me” and “stuck 2 U” during 2021’s early months set the mark for the Co-op, SillyTeam, and NOVAGANG standout to build upon; these two contrasting offerings showcased ch2rms’ understated approach to their vocals as well as their transparent, to-the-point songwriting. The rest of their output during this time worked to cement this unique sense of artistry, but it would take something of a transcendental release to earn their now-showered praises.
Just 6 months into their 2021 rise, they dropped #us — arguably the boldest full-length project that digicore has yet to call its own. Though its second half is nothing more than a beautiful cast of conceptually-driven tracks that see ch2rms reach their most fine-tuned state yet as a performer, its first half is a 30+ minute pseudo-visual novel, with ch2rms themself playing its lead role in front of a wide cast of supporting characters, each with their own contributing voice actors. Taking up such an endeavor proves everything previously stated about this remarkably progressive figure, but the way the album’s second half supplements the provided story is just that much more outstanding.
Of all people to cement digicore’s status as a viable “multimedia” environment this year, even an act as unique as ch2rms exceeded expectations. It’s safe to say we’re all thankful they did just that, and by extension, they’ve set themself up for an even more boundary-pushing future to come.
Feel free to call out my blatant bias here, but to me, few things are as cool as being so deeply involved in the rising electronic dance community on places like Twitter and Discord throughout the past year or so. During the summer of 2020, I remember calling acts like Dirty Bird and the rest of Eldia Records as “niche” and “of its own” while writing about their output back then; now, contemporary online dance is undergoing a renaissance brought on by this exact community. It’s an “inner circle” of sorts that’s still as welcoming to new talents as can be, and while its grander influence is growing by the day, its cast of musicians is also expanding.
Among my favorite acts to join this fray in 2021 has been Nigeria’s very own rashaad, a resident house mastermind with just as much passion for the style as your favorite producer in the same light. They saw their first taste of prominence after participating in a remix compilation hosted by rising house monolith dazegxd earlier this year; since then, their output has been nothing short of extraordinary, bringing together turn-of-the-millenium pop samples and seamlessly translating them into the modern language of house dictated by this new community.
rashaad has yet to even come close to reaching their peak, but what a remarkable start to their promising career we’ve paid witness to thus far. With this unique style of dance reaching new levels of prominence as the year progresses, those who jumped on this train early will certainly reap the benefits of its now-comfy journey to the mainstream. Without question, rashaad is sitting near the front seats of this ride, and they might just have a chance to take the keys all to themself given how gifted they truly are.
This year, as I’ve watched my favorite online music scenes grow, I’ve been thinking a lot about why exactly I like certain artists so much. The current renaissance in SoundCloud’s underground has been going on for a few years, but it’s recently reached an inflection point. Upstart teenagers, from digicore to plugg to dark trap to the dance music wave led by Eldia, are getting signed to major labels or touring now that the world has started to open up again; more and more songs are blowing up online and engrossing listeners who aren’t even tuned into this music beyond the viral hits.
It feels like an important moment right now — on more than just a marketing level. You can spend all day poring through SoundCloud’s algorithm and find artists who try to churn something new out of its endless sea of sounds and aesthetics. But the ones at the heart of these waves go further; they have that X-factor that makes them stand out and pulls other music into their orbit, like they’ve defined something original for themselves. Sometimes that spark ends up flattened out by labels for crossover appeal, but certain moments just capture lightning in a bottle in a way that’s hard to explain. What makes a big song like BabySantana’s “Antisocial”, for instance, feel so uniquely Important to me when I listen to it, compared to other songs that came before it or inspired it?
With niche music like this, it can be tempting to make it a numbers game or turn yourself into an amateur A&R, constantly going “he’s up next!” or “she’s gonna be huge one day!” instead of thinking about the actual art you love. But when you get under all the label-speak, it’s exciting to find musicians online who take the trends around them and crystallize them into new forms.
Here are three acts who I think show that kind of special potential in their work. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past six months watching these artists grow and trying to puzzle out what sets them apart for me.
It took some time for me to get into #CF21, the group mixtape released in February by the members of cr3stfallen. After a while, though, the songs seeped into my brain: whenever I couldn’t find something to listen to, I’d always end up losing myself in the back-and-forth purgatory of “cr3st” or the hypnosis of the guitar line on “runny nose”. There were a dozen producers and voices on one, brief tape; each contribution felt fresh. cr3st seemed to explore the nebulous atmospheres of SoundCloud and piece together something more fleshed-out and cohesive, something that swirled through my mind long after I took off my headphones.
Like all collectives, though, the real fun in cr3st came when I explored the members’ solo output. Among other artists, the aloof chronicles of Okaymar and the zany incantations of Rodneyy (whom I interviewed for Finals) pulled me deeper and deeper into this constellation. For a while, these guys were all I listened to. More and more often, bars or song fragments would pop into my head throughout the day. And when I wasn't listening to cr3st themselves, the SoundCloud algorithm was drawing me deeper anyway, pointing me towards other artists mining similar sounds.
cr3st’s roster seems to have shifted throughout the year, with some artists joining and some artists leaving the collective. But whether they’re current or former members, these are the people ushering SoundCloud into its future.
I already wrote about Ame for Finals back in March, but he keeps surprising me. Every song centers on some new idea — a feathery guitar ballad, or a heroic anthem that sounds like it would be played in Plugg Heaven — and each one comes out so polished that I wonder why Ame isn’t making bank writing songs for other people. A lot of his charm comes from having inventive producers like Elijahdior, Zoro and Royal in his corner: they’ll whip up a rickety beat that sounds like Windows loading music or sample choirs from a visual novel soundtrack, and he’ll soar through it, clear-eyed, without seeming gimmicky.
A legion of post-Duwap melodic rappers has ruled part of SoundCloud for years, and Ame feels familiar in that context. But the weird inflections in his voice are unique, his melodies can be especially keen and intricate, and he often comes off more good-natured behind the mic than his more self-serious peers. He can even go fully impressionist: on “Cha Cha,” my favorite Ame song, his somber, abstract crooning seems to conduct the strings and pianos behind him, like he’s the lead instrument in a concert hall.
Ame always has a cool trick like that up his sleeve. Right now, he’s SoundCloud’s best-kept secret.
J3TSKR3VM’s best beats sound like playing laser tag in a nightmare. I first discovered the St. Louis artist when Zeroxxuit, one of my favorite producers, released a split instrumental EP with him back in February, and now I think J3TSKR3AM, along with the rest of BLACKGLOVEMAFIA, is next to inherit that wicked, cybernetic sound. Seeing these styles keep progressing is like getting to go to a underworld tech showcase every year: I don’t know how any of it gets made or how it works, but the people making these beats always seem to harness new sonic inventions from the deepest reaches of the Internet.
J3TSKR3VM raps, too. Instead of the hisses and mutters that usually populate this kind of production, he brings it back to the classic scream-raps that first defined this sound - when all of it’s smashed together, his voice and his beats can feel like planets colliding. His discography is already huge, and he’s explored different genres through projects like his industrial metal EP FED UP. I’m excited to see J3TSKR3VM keep opening portals into different sounds and making the most extreme, creative music he can muster.
Mixing everything from kids' keyboard sound effect samples to pulsating drum patterns, OTTO’s take on melody is clearly much more three dimensional than most artists see it. Just on their 2020 album, Clam Day, we’re offered a satirical indie rock disk-rot single alongside a video game soundtrack, followed by a theme song for an imaginary character. Otto’s musical vision really is visual, down to the album art that they’ve said is “inspired by corporate mascots”.
In 2021, Otto released another project under the pseudonym Memo Boy. The album, titled Songs & Demos 2015 - 2017, comprises an extensive compilation of songs, anywhere from 30 seconds to 11 minutes long. It’s a clear view of Otto finding their footing with music, experimenting with sounds to find that specific blend and format that suits them and their vision. It’s an electronic experience, traversing through music alongside Otto to build a beat. It’s almost as if you try to predict where the song turns from an intro into a beat, and just as you’re starting to piece it together, Otto follows up a completely new direction for the song in the best way possible.
2021’s 2-part, 4-song EP, Selections from the Billy Hole, speaks to Otto’s unmistakable ability to turn simple chords, melodies, and drum loops into a story. The use of vocals throughout their discography adds another level of instrumentation to the tracks, since the voices are passed through filters and re-pitched to match the same effect and mood of the instruments used in the backing. We can see this on songs such as "Insomniac ft. Chakra Efendi," "Guess My Crush," and the timeless love ballad "About You Now."
Otto only seems to be intensifying the complexity of their music and the world-building around it. In the world of DIY production, Otto is building up a repertoir
e of impressive, original, and unforgettable music. It’s safe to say I'm wholly excited to see the way this world evolves with Otto’s next release.
Internet Breath, the newest EP from Caleb Haynes’ Hey, ily! project, feels like an even blend of the 90’s and 2000’s emo I loved in grade-school, and the bleep-blooping of handheld video-games that’d get confiscated by my math teachers. Considering where Haynes is from — Billings, Montana — I wonder how many parking lots, highway stretches, and moments of late-capitalist American malaise informed the emo. But there’s no telling what sort of rabbit holes and internet excursions resulted in the rest of the pastel whirlwind here. There is literally so much more than emo to listen to, wrapped up at the end by dance-pop meets Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World centerpiece “pretty boi!”. When walking around classrooms and campuses, I would often listen to these styles of music back to back. To hear them pancaked on top of each other in the same mixes adds to the feeling that it’s an EP alluding to some kind of game.
I definitely would recommend Internet Breath as a front-to-back experience; moments like the cozying 8-bit shopper’s jazz of “Slumped” giving way to anxious bombast on “Projection Joins the Battle!” would be lost upon cherry-picking for your 2021 Emo playlist. While running the genre gamut like much of the new emo, all of the songs, passages, and sound nuggets are concisely brought together with a glowy master. It reminds me of soundcloud’s better HexD findings, which sets it aside from whatever this “fifth wave” is. I could imagine that the highs on this are suited for a mosh pit, while Internet Breath’s calms have this timeless and breezy, yet distinctly Midwest feeling. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me about Haynes’ project is daydreaming about what a full LP would be like, how many hairpin turns Hey, ily! might make when navigating 40 years of genres and refreshing for a new breed of mall-goth. Maybe as somebody that isn’t a mall-goth, I just like to gaze at the lifestyle and iconography of it on a screen until early in the morning.
By now, my surprise at the array of capable teenage vocalists and producers within this budding online electronic music scene has long settled into an astonished acceptance. But that doesn’t mean that these artists have stopped surprising me with their talents and creativity. One artist who has been on my radar has been phixel, the teenage producer and vocalist who has probably worked with one or two of your favorite artists by now. Continuing a steady streak of cohesive projects, her latest release, misplaced flora, is not only a logical next step in the development of a personal sound, but also adds to an existing tradition in an interesting and collaborative way. The project features no less than twelve guest appearances on the record, including contributions from Jedwill, funeral, Left at London, Holidaykiss, and more. It’s through all this that phixel shines, and adds to an already impressive catalog, including last year's Shapes and Colors.
What is most impressive to me about these two projects is the way that phixel has continued to refine a distinct style which, while referential to the soundscape around them, clearly reflects their personal character. Another eye-catching element of phixel’s music is the frequent collaboration found on these records, not only indicative of a collaborative spirit but also the recognition within the community that there’s really something here worth cultivating and being a part of. Songs such as “IH8 (feat. 8485)” and “LISTEN” off of Shapes and Colors had stuck with me upon my first listen, but after revisiting the project it became apparent that there were far more moments worthy of returning to, like “DAISY w/ goonpack”, a track whose production and vocal styles could fit onto an early Dylan Brady project. The most recent project, misplaced flora has fewer moments of that “hyperpop” simplicity, instead moving in a more excited and glitchy direction. Songs like “glass w/ funeral” exemplify recent digicore. I think my favorite track, however, is the guitar-tinged and absolutely blown-out song “incognito,” which draws a stark line between its traditional instruments and the way it incorporates the software of its synths. I think Phixel is one of the most exciting artists bubbling out of this scene, both because of their proven creativity and their ability to effectively add to an existing tradition.
Head of Content
2021 has been an incredible year for the underground. Many breakout talents and scenes are beginning to make the mad dash towards mainstream relevance. “Slay” music is the natural progression of mainstream trap, and slay's newest and most exciting artist and producer has to be reapsoul. His hard hitting, simple drum patterns and fun-loving, 2016 SoundCloud-esque lyrics and vocal tone set him apart from some of his more stoic peers and make him a much more accessible listen to those unfamiliar with the underground.
That being said, reapsoul is certainly an underground first artist. Draping his visual content in a Star Wars aesthetic gives him a unique style that he then used to start his collective Darkside. Darkside is a perfect showing of Reapsoul’s incredible ability to scout and find small artists that have significant potential. Some standout examples of this are the artists Gokami and Brandn. Reapsoul’s scouting process typically consists of sending his beats out and seeing how the artists perform with them. I highly suggest looking through his production discography if you’re looking for talented names you may have never heard.
Apart from reapsoul’s slay roots, he has stepped outside of the realm of micro-genre this year and tried his hand at more sounds. One project that always makes me smile is his first foray into pop music, mustafar. The track "vacation" in particular shows exactly how huge reapsoul could be with just a little more push. 2021 has been an exciting year for reapsoul and I believe it only goes up for him from here.