‘Everything’s dialled up to 11’: meet Australia’s rising stars of hyperpop | Australian music

The music of the moment is not Billie Eilish’s dark, whispered polemics; nor is it Justin Bieber’s beatific R&B, or Tones & I’s helium-voiced hollering. The sound that defines the pandemic era is bubblegum sweet and razor sharp; deliriously loud and disorientatingly nonlinear. It’s a chaotic vortex of pre-existing sounds ratcheted up to the extreme, and moulded into something that reflects our industrial, internety present and future.

It’s hyperpop: a booming, blossoming microgenre that’s fast establishing itself as the nucleus of 2020s pop in Australia and beyond.

Hyperpop is hard to define – but you know it when you hear it. The sound has origins in the work of late producer and performer Sophie and PC Music founder AG Cook, who gained notoriety around 2013 for the rubbery, nonporous tracks they were making, which sounded more like pots and pans clattering in the other room.

The genre has evolved since, and is typified now by the music of pop star-turned-avant-garde hero Charli XCX and the surrealist electronic duo 100 Gecs. A young American contingent is pushing it into a more visceral, less cerebral place, as influenced by pop-punk and rap as it once was by trance and Europop. The term itself first gained prominence after an official Spotify playlist catalogued the sound; now, “hyperpop” is a nexus point of a more disparate scene, an important platform for some and a bugbear for others.

Epitomised in the music of artists such as Oh Boy, Ninajirachi, Donatachi, Cookii, Perto, Daine, Muki, and Banoffee (you will find a lot of “ie” sounds in hyperpop), Australia’s take on the genre is variegated and contested. At the same time, it’s producing some of the most vibrant and delightfully strange pop in the country.

Nina Wilson, a Central Coast-born producer who records as Ninajirachi, was one of Australia’s first notable hyperpop artists. A Triple J Unearthed High finalist in 2017, Wilson’s music is glassy and exhilarating, drawing in club influences alongside the bright, exaggerated sound. Her latest release, a collaborative record with Kota Banks titled True North, is a neat, distinctive document of the genre’s local form.

Ninajirachi and Kota Banks
True North by Ninajirachi and Kota Banks is a ‘distinctive document of the genre’s local form’. Photograph: Billy Zammit

Wilson was in year 10 doing work experience at Sydney community station FBI Radio when she first heard Sophie. She’d just begun to try her hand at songwriting and production; it was a formative moment.

Around the same time, collectives like Sidechains – a Sydney club night and FBI show – and Nina Las Vegas’ NLV Records were bringing the sound into clubs and radio mixes. “I had just turned 17 when [Sidechains] ran the Sophie show at Hudson Ballroom and I was so gutted [that I was underage],” Wilson says. “From what I’ve heard from friends, like Oh Boy and Donatachi, their parties were the best thing at the time.”

Through collaborations with higher-profile artists such as Brisbane-born star Mallrat and American hyperpop upstart Slayyyter, Donatachi has become one of Australia’s better-known hyperpop producers. “We were listening to a lot of [AG Cook’s label] PC Music, and it kind of all stemmed from there,” they tell me. “It was really born from a similar idea to what PC Music had: all the kind of obnoxious elements of Top 40 pop, but dialled up to 11.”

Donatachi hears a certain levity and playfulness that is specific to hyperpop in Australia. “Hyperpop is taken less seriously here, so the artists making it [do too],” they explain. “I’m a bit self-deprecating as it is, so I don’t want to make the music I’m making sound super serious – I guess almost as a way of protecting myself from a letdown if people don’t like it.”

‘Hyperpop is taken less seriously [in Australia], so the artists making it do too’: Donatachi. Photograph: etcetc

Two of the genre’s younger artists are poised to take it more mainstream. Sydney producer Perto and Melbourne singer-songwriter Daine have both signed to Warner Music Australia, the genre’s major label of choice due to its associations with Charli XCX and 100 Gecs; and each artist puts their own spin on the sound, with Perto’s music touching on EDM and Daine’s taking cues from emo rap progenitors like Lil Peep and Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.

Upon the release of her latest single Boys Wanna Txt, produced by 100 Gecs’ Dylan Brady, Daine became one of the first Australians to grace the cover of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist – a coup for any emerging artist. Still, she’s not so sure her music aligns with the scene itself.

“It was never really hyperpop, for me – I think I stumbled into association with that. It’s really confusing, and, like, I don’t get it,” Daine says. To her, “hyperpop” is a term useful only in its ability to put brackets around a style that’s constantly evolving and extremely broad. “I think if you’re young and you have a DIY ethos, and an eclectic sound that can be mistaken for parodying pop music, you’ll quickly get the word ‘hyperpop’ thrown at you.”

Daine considers herself “socially” part of the hyperpop scene that has blossomed online: Twitter, which lends itself to shitposting and abrupt tonal shifts, is analogous to how the music itself sounds, and the genre’s luminaries congregate there. But she says the term itself “is largely rejected and controversial”.

“Artists feel that they’re lumped into this loose genre term when they have alternative influences, and they don’t want to be painted with a pop tinge,” she says. Although she doesn’t feel her music necessarily warrants the tag, she doesn’t think it’s a wholly bad thing: “I think it’s created a lot of room for people to experiment and still feel like they have mainstream appeal, because it’s been such a prolific genre.”

The bubble may have already burst. Daine believes that hyperpop is “kind of on its way out … I [don’t] think that the same level of excitement around the genre is gonna hang around forever,” she says. But for the artists themselves, it’s a different story: “I think they’re all gonna keep making incredible music. Whether people perceive that as hyperpop is just a question of time.”

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