Hit play and everything seems normal at first. A baleful synth unfurls. Producer tags fire off. Disembodied coos from the rapper, David Shawty, warp around the soundscape. Suddenly, though, you hear a slew of stutters as fast as bullets. These are the sounds of a rapper’s voice spliced into fragments, placed in front of nearly every bar, like punctuation. “D-d-d-d,” he warbles, his voice injected with a ludicrous amount of aural Botox (Auto-Tune, pitch shift). The moment lasts for only a second before, like a show that was only buffering momentarily, he finishes his thought: “D-dancing on the sidewalk, lights flicker.” The rest of the track continues like this, cycling between coherent sentences and pitch-fried croons.
In the video, David Shawty is doing what has been done in rap videos a thousand times over: he’s walking, dancing, menacingly waving his fingers in the air. But he filters the visuals the same way he does the vocals—through a ridiculous, infectious gridwork of glitches. Clips rewind, speed up, stretch, layer, rotate, turn green, saturate to oblivion. Avalanches of clip art and freaky GIFs rain down on him. It’s a messy, hilarious blitz of digital malfunction.
Only in today’s meme-obsessed era could a song as brazenly inane as “dancing on the sidewalk lights flicker (musical)” go viral without also spawning a tsunami of scorn. Similar tracks like Yungster Jack and David Shawty’s “Pressure” have invaded mainstream TikTok and racked up big numbers on YouTube and Spotify too. People call the sound a score of cores—from glitchcore to digicore to robloxcore. Glitchcore currently leads the pack. Indeed there's already a Spotify playlist dedicated to the genre, “The Sound of Glitchcore,” although who knows what term will ultimately settle. One thing’s certain, though: the mini-genre has skyrocketed from a fledgling scene into a sizable movement in just the past year.
Even designating it as a genre might be a bit of a stretch for such a quicksilver sound. The artists associated with the scene sound vastly different from each other. The current front-runner name is contentious in itself, because not everyone uses the same glitched-out vocal aesthetic. Some only pitch their voices up, or mess around with strange beats. At its most basic level of definition, this is a sound equal parts rap, pop and electronic, usually with fast, high-pitched vocals deliciously drenched in Auto-Tune. Beats vary from calm to crazy, and on the tracks with stuttering vocals, the instrumentals often mirror the mania with sugary synths and spasms of sprightly chords. Electric sprees of ad-libs fill in the moments between lines. There’s a DIY feel, much like the old SoundCloud rap, as if these rappers produce from their bedrooms (which they do).
Unlike the old SoundCloud rap, though, these rappers and singers pull as much from hyperpop and 2000s electronica and pop as they do Lil B and Chief Keef.
Unlike the old SoundCloud rap, though, these rappers and singers pull as much from hyperpop and 2000s electronica and pop as they do Lil B and Chief Keef. There is some overlap between this new scene and hyperpop, which refers to the sparkly, exaggerated electronic pop subgenre that erupted in the middle of the '10s. This glitch wave, while similar, isn’t exclusively pop—these artists draw on the cellophane flavor of hyperpop artists like SOPHIE and A.G. Cook and apply it to an array of styles, such as trap and alt-rock. It’s essentially an evolution or a sister-genre of hyperpop, although some artists in the scene may also fit under the label “hyperpop,” which has become a sort of umbrella term for fast, experimental electronic pop.
100 gecs, the genre-annihilating duo whose goofy chaos-pop walked the tightrope between inventive and outrageous last year, are emerging as a key influence. Bladee, the Drain Gang rapper who veils his voice in an ethereal mist of Auto-Tune, also seems to be a central reference.
Just like grunge influenced the first string of SoundCloud rappers—who were born in the mid- to-late 90s—similarly 2000s music is returning as a nostalgic touchstone for a new wave of producers and performers. Mostly teens, these artists grew up listening to pop-punk, emocore and songs like S3RL’s 2007 “Pretty Rave Girl,” the nightcore classic that was a fixture of the web in the late noughties. The sounds of the ‘00s shadow all aspects of their music, from how these artists pitch and speed their vocals to the often garishly emotional subject matter, which hints at nights when they were younger spent listening to My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy.
It’s a diffuse wave with no central figure as such, but rather a loose core of crucial members. These include David Shawty, whose tracks teem with glittering glitches and often dabble in darker hues; Osquinn, formerly known as p4rkr, whom 100 gecs co-signed as of late, and who makes everything from megabouncy electro-rap such as “two am” to twinkling storms of low-end like “i dont want that many friends in the first place”; and Glaive, who offers perhaps the clearest look into how a sound like this could one day reach mainstream radio—especially the fromtheheart-produced “astrid,” a gorgeously fragile synthesis of indie rock and electronic rap that sounds like a tree shaking off its leaves in autumn. Also central are Capoxxo, Dreamcache and Oaf1, whose experiments in genre-mutilation are among the most elaborate (check out “Perfect,” which fuses 2000s euro-trance with ecstatic gasps deluged in Auto-Tune). When it all comes together, it’s both hideous and strangely winsome—like a painting that goes so far into kitsch it comes out the other side as genius.
“I’m on some really weird shit right now,” says d0llywood1, a popular artist in the scene whose top-tier genre-twists include the hyperpop’n’bass “ithinkimdoingbetter.” They’re working on a chiptune song with blackwinterwells. “I’m doing way more electronic shit, like EDM, house, I’m tryna learn gabber and hardstyle, and now I have a literal chiptune song in the works.”
The hyper-intense, always shifting nature of the music seems to leak into the artistic practice itself—there’s an admirable obsessiveness in the way these artists contour every component to absolute perfection. Dashing back and forth between the mic and the DAW, they tweak their vocals and beat like chemists fine-tuning a potentially dangerous reaction. “I do the vocals to the beat, and then afterwards I’ll go back into the beat and add a bunch of effects and stutters so the beat matches my vocal delivery,” SEBii explains. “Then I’ll go back into the vocals and add additional backing vocals to further match the edits… and then I’ll go back into the beat and add certain things.” This serpentine process results in rich, multilayered songs like “whereRu,” the aural equivalent of a triple-decker chocolate mousse. The beat shakes and spins in sync with SEBii’s fluttering voice. At certain points, a second layer of vocals fizzles beneath the main line, rising in volume to accent certain refrains. Every inch of sonic space is thronged with twin textures in the voice and the beat that feed into each other, creating a mosaic of neon melodies and sorcerous pitch-shifts.
Many of the vocalists double as producers, which allows them to experiment in ways most mainstream rappers don’t care to or don’t know how to. Knowing the nitty-gritty of Auto-Tune tech and programs like FL Studio means these artists can sculpt their instrumentals around their vocals, and vice versa. “The mixing is super important, that’s where I spend my time,” says SEBii, the impish crooner behind tracks like “Butterfly Bankai” and recent TikTok hit “Play Poker.” “Recording the [vocals] takes me like 20 minutes—I’ll take hours and hours to mix a song.”
Lieu’s frenzied “on god” featuring grandee, blackwinterwells, and 4 a.m., builds the vocalists’ glitches into the beat until it sounds like the instrumental is shifting in live-time, square-dancing around the stutters. Similarly, kurtains’ “talk talk” and “scream” fluctuate the voice’s pitch in lockstep with jumps and jitters in the soundscape. “The high-pitched voice effect was originally a mistake with the vocal tracks overlapping, but it sounded very cool to my ears,” says kurtains. “So I kept it there and continued to purposely use it in later songs.”
The surreal vocals grab your ear’s attention first, but the sound really hinges on the beats. These instrumentals are sometimes what elevates an artist from sounding like a washed-out Bladee copycat. Other times, when there’s a genuine vocal talent, this is mega-boosted by the beats—like on the boka-produced “globabee,, glo glo,” where i9bonsai’s glossed-up voice becomes a ray of shimmering light over the orchestral backing. Before, these sorts of aggressively electronic trap beats were the preserve of rappers like Lil Uzi Vert. This impulse is now being taken to the hilt by a new wave—equally vocal- and production-minded—who are reinventing rap through an electronic lens.
“I used to definitely lean more toward trap drums, but recently I’ve been focusing on the pop side of hyperpop—leaning into more conventional pop sounds but keeping the ‘hyper’ energy, per se,” says glaive. “I’ve always loved nightcore and thought fast-paced, high-pitched songs were the best.”
“I just go through plugins like Electra or Omnisphere and scroll through sounds until I find something I like,” says angelus, a popular vocalist and producer in the scene. “I lowkey try to mash different genres, especially because I’m heavily inspired and influenced by so much different music that I end up putting everything I listen to into one thing, and it sounds cool.” Angelus lists a mélange of artists as influences—everyone from Dylan Brady and Laura Les of 100 gecs to recent indie rock favorite beabadoobee.
Collaboration also becomes much more fluid when vocalist-producers are involved, because then they can work on multiple facets of each other’s projects. And this scene is collab-crazy: it’s common to see tracks with four, five or even eight vocalists on it—like ericdoa’s “attitude,” which feels like it features half the scene. “What drives us all to collaborate so much is just being in call with each other and acting like idiots,” says ericdoa. “I like chilling with everybody pretty much—if they’re in any kind of different scene like trap metal, hyperpop, mainstream music, whatever, we’re chill with each other. The fact that we’re in a Discord together and we can make a song just off rip is crazy."
Most of the action centers around a cluster of internet-spawned collectives, whose members often overlap and link up: NOVAGANG, Helix Tears, bloodhounds, slowsilver03, Varsity, Goonncity, and more. Each club has its own SoundCloud page and free-to-join Discord channel, the latter where artists and fans can congregate and trade files with each other.
“It took me a while to realize you can’t really do this shit alone as much as some people would really want to,” says d0llywood1, who is a member of Varsity, NOVAGANG, and lovecompound. “A good support network and a good group of friends takes you a long way, like Discord really made this community what it is.”
“It took me a while to realize you can’t really do this shit alone as much as some people would really want to. A good support network and a good group of friends takes you a long way, like Discord really made this community what it is.” – d0llywood1
The internet, as both a space and a culture, has played a central role in the formation of this scene, which first exploded at the end of 2019 on TikTok. Video creators began to use songs like “Pressure” and wido’s “push it !” as the audio to frenetic clips featuring rainbow lights, pixelated blurring and super-glitched dance moves. Soon “Pressure” leaked onto mainstream TikTok and hooked a good portion of #ForYou page travelers on the sound. For some insiders, this felt slightly damaging, though—the trend was marked by a hashtag, #glitchcore, which cemented the name for the scene.
“I’m really thankful for the glitchcore scene [on TikTok]. Despite the fact that people think it’s a music genre, it’s an aesthetic, like the edits,” says d0llywood1. “Through getting my songs in edits by iguana alana [a popular TikToker in the scene], I’ve had such a large audience open up and a community that accepts my music no matter how different it is from the mainstream shit.”
Without TikTok, there might have been no scene. But it’s no coincidence that “Pressure” scored viral success on the app. In the last few years, TikTok has become a breeding ground for bizarro sounds. “Pressure” was practically purpose-built for TikTok appeal. From the faux orgasmic vocal trills to the obnoxious chipmunk pitch, it works as a meme: instant, contagious, an attention-seeking missile. Yet—and this is what’s key—it’s not a full-blown, ass-backwards joke song. Some elements of “Pressure” may seem daft or sound grating, but as a whole, the song is quite electrifying—a sugar high of rippling melodies and short-circuited croons.
Made by and for teenagers, it’s the music of a generation that grew up on Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok; with a love and a facility for memes and other forms of internet creativity woven in its fabric. “Internet culture is influential to everyone in the community,” says glaive. “I’ve only been on the internet for a year, but the majority of my peers have been on it since they were children.”
“Whoever reads this article has to understand that the way I make music, and the way that a lot of us carry ourselves, is that we’re weird,” ericdoa says. “The internet influenced so much of my personality and my image as an artist.”
These artists don’t care if the music sounds silly, or the theme is corny, as long as tracks go hard as hell. It’s why they’re so willing to experiment with nightcore vocals, glitch effects and disorienting genre collisions. The result has been an onslaught of incredibly wacky tracks and madcap mashups: David Shawty and Yungster Jack’s “Kiss My Own Dick,” limeboiler’s heavenly Auto-Tune cover of an Animal Crossing tune, “k.k. bossa (small version),” kevinhilfiger’s loopy, airhorn-strewn nightcore remix of DEV’s “Dancing in the Dark,” featuring POPSTARBILLS and chach, and oodles more.
“The young kids in this scene are just taking it by the balls,” says ericdoa. “There are kids who haven’t even learned how to do long division yet creating a brand new genre that’s getting so popular to the point where it’s like a cult following.”
“There are kids who haven’t even learned how to do long division yet creating a brand new genre that’s getting so popular to the point where it’s like a cult following.” – ericdoa
Fast, freaky, and fun—that seems to be the unspoken ideology of this movement. Some people release multiple tracks a week, doubling-down on the rapid-release ethos of the old SoundCloud era. These artists take it to the extreme by making each track almost always less than two minutes, sometimes only a minute long. Restricting themselves to making short songs means they have time to produce more tracks and to experiment with new styles.
DEEPER AND DARKER: SURGE RAP
Another scene, with similar roots but a different sonic outcome, has popped up in the past year. Together, these scenes afford a glimpse of the future of rap—and reveal how the internet is changing music culture. Like the glitch wave, it sports a profusion of names: everything from surge to hex to crushed trap. Where the glitch scene is fast and surreal, surge is mellow and murky, a sort of lo-fi trap sound loaded with retro sound effects and compressed to sound like it was recorded on an old laptop microphone.
The seeds of surge stretch back to phonk master SpaceGhostPurpp and woozy cloud rappers like Cartier God. Yet the scene proper didn’t really crystallize until the middle of 2019, when a batch of remixes began to circulate around the web. They were done by tomoe_theundy1ng, who remixed a set of singles by Reptilian Club Boyz. Titled “Rare RCB hexD.mp3,” the collection sounds catastrophic, like a heavy van ran over the original tracks and this is what’s left. This is due to an effect called bitcrushing, which lowers the resolution of the audio data, creating gnarly distortion. The songs are also sped up, which makes the rappers sound hyperreal. Between the delirious vocals and the macerated soundscape, an abject yet glistening atmosphere forms. These two effects are also where the term “hex” comes from: it sounds like the tracks have been hexed.
The amorphous quality of the surge sound is the core of its allure. Reptilian Club Boyz sprinkled their original tunes with a panoply of pretty digital effects—lots of stuff from the video game Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow—and when these kinds of sparkly textures get flattened, the end product sounds like it’s coming out of the 8-bit speakers of a Game Boy. There’s something freakily nostalgic about the result: the fuzzed-out sounds seem to mirror the misty aura of memory itself. It’s like the video game soundtrack to a game that never existed.
For months, no one knew who did the Reptilian Club Boyz mix, where it hailed from, or even the names of the original tracks. An aura developed around “Rare RCB hexD.mp3” as it accrued tens of thousands of YouTube views and gained a cult following at the music-reviewing site Rate Your Music. Eventually, people uncovered the “uncrushed” versions of the tracks—cleaner and sharper, they should’ve sounded much better than the mixed ones. Yet it felt like something essential was missing without the deformities created by the mystery remixer.
While many surge producers only add distortion as an effect after the fact, the best ones incorporate it into their music’s structure like an additional instrument. Fax Gang, the group behind the scene’s most mesmerizing release to date, FxG3000, use noise as a sort of anti-enhancing device to corrode the pristine, professional polish of modern audio tech. Distortion comes in at only certain moments, usually during an especially emotional or full- throated bit of singing, like on the highlight track “Jeopardy.” Here, shivering glaciers of distortion are paired with tinny, piercing synths and virtually incinerated drums. The main Auto-Tuned vocals, when submerged in this waterlogged muck, take on a dazzling, hypnotic texture—cracked and ruined but still shining, like the vaporous light of a far-off beacon in a thunderstorm. While barely any other groups in the surge scene seem to be at the same level of creativity and songwriting as Fax Gang, there’s at least clear potential for the sound to grow—perhaps to become the shoegaze of rap.
More aesthetic than genre, a good portion of surge music comes in the form of 15-30 minute mixes, to which you’re meant to get high or zone out. There are also lots of “hexed” remixes of popular music, like albums from Playboi Carti and 100 gecs. The sound feels like an evil cousin of the “playing in another room” and “you’re in the bathroom at a party” remix trend that was popular a few years back. This style would distort popular songs so they sounded slightly spacey and distant. Surge does the same, but instead of simulating depth, it aspires toward the opposite: claustrophobia, spacelessness, the sound of implosion.
This is a new generation who adores Playboi Carti’s baby voice as much as 100 gecs’ absurd sound-smoothies, and for whom the nightcore aesthetic of pitched-up, sped-up vocals will never not be in vogue.
While surge is significantly smaller than the glitch scene, the two sounds offer tantalizing teases of what 2020s rap could look like. The boundary that once separated hypermasculine trap rappers and ultrafemme PC Music artists has completely dissolved. This is a new generation who adores Playboi Carti’s baby voice as much as 100 gecs’ absurd sound-smoothies, and for whom the nightcore aesthetic of pitched-up, sped-up vocals will never not be in vogue.
Genre-hybrids, gender-oscillating vocals and meme-infested themes—this might be the zeitgeist of our near future. TikTok has already introduced this generation to a clutch of sonic craziness, from the obsidian bass-doom of K Camp’s “Renegade” to the eclectic electronica of Crystal Castles’ “Crimewave.” And the songs that go viral on the app just get weirder and weirder—from 645AR’s fetus-voiced “Yoga” to 3l3d3p’s frothing and fissuring “lbitbt” to “Pressure.”
“Hyperpop mixed with trap, mixed with pop, mixed with EDM, mixed with all sorts of things—that could definitely happen in the future,” muses glaive. Young and excited to experiment, these artists are exploring the porous walls between seemingly disparate, diametrically opposed sounds and styles—it seems like only a matter of time before this glitch wave explodes in a dramatic way.