The definition of nightcore, as coined by the original Norwegian duo of the same name, is as follows: “We are the core of the night, so you’ll dance all night long.”
That’s the exact kind of hyperactive madness nightcore embodies. High-octane and high-pitched, this somewhat contentious subgenre of electronic music (also commonly known as nxc) ranks among the headiest, fastest, most deliriously fun forms of club music. Its strong anime aesthetic, too, which initially came about from this imagery being used as artwork befitting the high-pitched vocals, has fueled its resurgent popularity, especially among parts of queer club culture, as evidenced by the proliferation of queer artists, labels, and club nights incorporating the genre. Given that many unfamiliar with the genre might associate the nightcore aesthetic with middle-aged white men, due to its originators and initial popularity within this demographic, this prominence amongst queer scenes offers a certain pertinent subversion to that norm.
Originating in the early 2000s, Nightcore, comprised of Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Søderholm, was influenced in particular by the pitch-shifted vocals incorporated by German hardcore group Scooter and a desire to capture this dancefloor euphoria elicited by the upbeat atmosphere of happy hardcore. The Norwegian producers actually began by making original music in this style before going on to remix Eurodance and trance tracks by upping the pitch and speed, which became the essential parameters for nightcore. The duo’s popularity, and the genre they’d created, only grew from there, before experiencing a second wind of prominence during the mid-2010s when nightcore edits expanded to encompass genres outside of dance music, such as hip-hop and pop, and producers such as Ryan Hemsworth and PC Music’s Danny L Harle and A.G. Cook drew influence from the nightcore scene.
Most nightcore artists traffic in distorted edits of tracks—mostly Top 40, J-pop, and K-pop—sped up to 160+ BPM, with vocals so cartoonishly high-pitched they could easily come from a starry-eyed anime idol (hence the artwork). It’s not all remixing, though: recent trends in electro and dance have played a role as well, infusing the nightcore template with borrowed elements from PC Music-style future-pop, happy hardcore, EDM, and trance. Across Bandcamp, nightcore’s heady concoction of candied vocals, buoyant melodies, and breakneck pace has manifested in a similarly diverse array of recordings. Here are some artists who channel the nightcore aesthetic in their own distinct styles.
A previous collaborator with PC Music signee umru, as well as fellow nightcore pioneer 99jakes, Chicago’s Laura Les encapsulates the off-kilter cuteness guiding nightcore’s club aesthetic. Her sonic worlds contain an ever-enticing, invariably eclectic array of distorted vocals, chaotic tempos, and fluid rhythms; unsurprisingly, Big Summer Jams 2018 is flush with skittering beats, jaunty melodies, and a stellar collection of collaborators (including Girls Ritual, Dylan Brady, Yung Skrrt, and 99jakes). Closing track “livin my best life!” particularly captures a bubbly, kaleidoscopic club atmosphere, offering over nine minutes of sugar-coated bliss.
From start to finish, EIDOLON’s Limbo EP takes the listener on a bouncy and bizarre sonic adventure. Halfway between a tween-curated party playlist and a hardcore rave soundtrack, EIDOLON splices cute, jaunty anthems with dark, distorted beats and heavy, foreboding basslines. A fusion of breaks, blissful oscillations and frantic beats, the Orlando DJ and producer’s style is pretty aptly summed up by the spectral cuteness of the album artwork, depicting Casper the Friendly Ghost surrounded by balloons.
A San Francisco-based EDM project staunchly steeped in nightcore’s uptempo, sugar-rush norms, Cool Teens craft shrill vocals and stuttering melodies into the stuff of sparkling sonic highs. That said, their latest album Prisma is more dreamy-sounding than most nightcore records, with honeyed, melodic synths and a tendency toward velvety electro-pop bliss as opposed to the harsher happy hardcore beats of much nightcore. Their mixes for prominent netlabel and radio station datafruits—who showcase “the world’s strangest electronic sounds”—are also worth checking out.
As stated in his bio, Eric Taxxon, an artist producing a wide-ranging wealth of electronic soundscapes, makes “music for different moods” and, incorporated within his extensive discography, nightcore happens to be one of them. Majesty sees the Californian producer channeling the frenetic essence of the genre, lacing it with plunderphonics. (The album artwork befittingly features a pastel-toned unicorn landscape.) This is a frenetic cacophony of jittering vocals and accelerating rhythms that spiral into shimmering, fragmented chaos.
On the more experimental side, Fluffie’s Cute Girls pulses with hypnotic resonance; the album feels a lot like being in a trippy fairground where everything’s distorted in a beautifully unsettling way. A heady fusion of blissed-out trance synths, whispered vocals, celestial melodies, and swelling club beats, the Glasgow-based artist, DJ, and producer channels high-speed nightcore euphoria by bringing together equal parts dreamy haze and a nightmarish onslaught of hardcore noise, as on the heavy crash of “Crunch” and resonant, hard-hitting beats of “Mush.”
LA based performance artist and producer PHILTH HAUS crafts eerie, experimental soundscapes that build with stuttering beats and shrill, alien-like vocals. With the shortest track on ROCO 1.0 spanning a little over eight minutes, each of the tracks writhes with layers of shuddering, piercing instrumentation. While PHILTH HAUS’s work is more experimental in nature than the general nightcore ambiance, there’s a similar erratic vitality to the fluctuating tone of their creations; ‘O1’ growls ominously into existence before rising into a glistening discord of distorted noise and convulsive vocals. Delivering fitful outbursts of dark, deconstructed pop alongside moments of celestial, melodic harmony they elicit a particular kind of mesmerising rapture.
Making music for the meme-loving, raised-on-the-Internet generation, Frank JavCee’s music is a ridiculous delight which is apt for the innate element of silliness within nightcore. Serving up video game soundtrack-esque electronica alongside a healthy dose of parodic absurdity, encompassed particularly within his lyrics and overarching sense of playfulness, the L.A. producer’s Volume One features a nightcore edit of his own track “Never Sleep,” which speeds up the track to a frantic pace and pitches up the vocals into warbling anime-idol territory. ‘SugarRush Happy Hardcore’ has a particular oscillating frenzy to the beats that feels like being transported to a world of trippy, unsettling cheeriness.