I’ve been feeling especially manic these last few months, for perhaps obvious reasons: the sky outside my apartment is blood red, ash and smog are choking the L.A. atmosphere, an economic disaster is imploding the local infrastructure, and... I think there’s a pandemic still happening? The state of my brain, and its associated badness, has underscored my manic feelings so much that I’ve been surviving on a diet of white-can Monster energy drinks, and recently, I woke up and shaved my entire head after growing my hair out for five years straight. It also means that most music I’ve been listening to just doesn’t satisfy the wild energy raging around inside me—but at least I have nightcore, a genre of music that, generally, sounds like your favorite song sped-up 1000 percent.
Earlier this week, while explaining how manic I feel to Jezebel’s editor-in-chief and fellow blog fiend Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, I mentioned my state of mind and its hunger for nightcore music, lamenting that the same kids who made fun of me for pumping it in my Jeep circa high school are now listening to 100 Gecs, a duo from St. Louis that is basically nightcore for the TikTok generation. (I mean this as a compliment!) Being “more seasoned” than I am—which is about as delicately as I can put it—Escobedo Shepherd asked me to explain, for her old ass, what nightcore “is.”
Perhaps called “happy hardcore” when my parents (and Julianne) were running around to clubs as teens and twenty-somethings in the ‘90s, nightcore was “technically” brought into formal existence by a Norwegian DJ duo of the same name. In 2001, DJ TNT and DJ SOS linked up and began remixing trance and Eurodance music at ear-splitting speeds. Their popularity soon exploded, with the rise of internet music sharing and streaming, and various other DJs and remixers took the genre in a hundred different directions.
At the same time, anime and manga subforums were similarly exploding in popularity, with many users disseminating the tracks of their favorite J-Pop artists or anime title tracks. Among these artists were groups like Capsule, or my personal favorite, Perfume, which created fast-paced electronic dance music throughout the 2000s. The common thread between Perfume and Capsule was electronic wunderkind Yasutaka Nakata, who is one half of Capsule and a long-time Perfume producer. But really, Perfume—consisting of lifelong friends and collaborators Ayano Ōmoto, Yuka Kashino, and Ayaka Nishiwaki—stand well on their own in terms of musical talent and creativity. A fantastic example of this is their 2008 track “Dream Fighter,” a personal favorite which still makes me gasp once in a while, some 12 years on.
Before I continue much further, I guess this can’t be helped: I should admit that these same anime forums were largely my entrance into internet culture. Where some of my friends had MySpace or LiveJournal, I had niche forum sites like Gaia Online, where I spent my afternoons arguing with complete strangers about just how gay Revolutionary Girl Utena! really was. (It’s very gay!)
Anyway, like all internet subcultures, these two forces were bound to converge, and they eventually did, sometime around 2010 or 2011, when I began to notice nightcore remixes of certain J-Pop songs circulating the internet. I’ll be honest, my entrance into nightcore began here, not during its early years as the earnest efforts of a Norwegian DJ duo. Sorry, dudes!
But nightcore’s popularity on Youtube in the 2010s wasn’t just confined to either purist tracks, or anime rip-offs. It also began to branch into non-dance related remixes, like this reimagining of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” from 2012, which has over 24 million views on Youtube. Despite the song not originating from an anime—take note of the anime style artwork!
That artwork became a staple of the genre on YouTube. If I could explain it, I would, but it’s just one of those internet things that “happened.” (If you have a better reason for this, hit me up!) When perusing nightcore remixes, you’ll either find Shōjo-style anime art—a type of manga and anime primarily aimed at girls—or pictures of Hatsune Miku, an avatar and mascot for a Japanese voice synthesizing software.
So there I was, a wee freshman in high school, riding the bus and pumping nightcore remixes I’d stolen off of Youtube (long live YouTube-MP3.org) and put on my older brother’s chunky iPod, which I’d also stolen from him. By my sophomore year in 2011, I’d saved up enough Chuck E. Cheese tip money to buy a busted, 1987 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Because AUX technology was not very advanced in 1987, I ditched the iPod on my commute and burned some CDs, which was a thing that was still possible. My mom called the Jeep “Chastity,” because she used to love telling me I would never get laid in it, due to how dorky she thought a 1987 Jeep Grand Cherokee looked. (This just isn’t true, and I had sex a lot in it—sorry mom!) But in hindsight, maybe she was actually talking about the music I’d come rolling up to school pumping.
There is possibly some truth to the very obvious fact that the specific confluence of J-Pop and anime that happened in my adolescence drew me to these nightcore remixes. I also think that part of it is mental illness.
When I’m feeling especially manic, nightcore, like, itches my brain. Maybe this is the same effect ASMR has on some people. The frenetic pace and pitch makes my ears tingly, and my body all warm. I have these manic and depressive episodes mostly under control these days, and I’ve been dealing with ADHD long enough to cope. This is a sort of crazy that’s comforting for my brain, instead of the kind that puts it (and me) in a hospital.
Based on its popularity, I’m obviously not the only one who found similar pleasure in it. But also because, these days, more and more artists have clearly lifted from, and been inspired by, nightcore. PC Music, the explosively popular label behind artists like Hannah Diamond, comes to mind; signee Danny L. Harle and founder A.G. Cook have both cited nightcore as an inspiration for the collective. It can also be heard in more recent tracks from 100 gecs, like N0thanky0u’s official remix of “hand crushed by a mallet.”
Don’t you just want to shake your ass to this? Here’s another recent nightcore-ish banger.
While explaining all of this to Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, she laughed, and told me it all sounds “very emo,” and “used to be called happy hardcore.” She’s not wrong! Everything old becomes new again, and former ‘90s ravers have passed on their will to YouTube users with anime avatars, who’ve been speeding up Lady Gaga and Evanescence songs 1000 percent for over a decade now. That’s nightcore!