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Making gabba from Radio Disney

How hyperdance made from Top 40 hits by YouTube kids is reworking our minds

The callow cousin of trance, gabber and happy hardcore, nightcore is a micro-scene centred around YouTube and steeped in anime imagery. Its producers’ avatars and thumbnails are appropriated from their Japanese antecedents and accompanied by frivolous pennames like ‘CUTLoveRx’ and ‘(*^・^)CHU〜☆’, conjuring a mirage of Moon Boots, glow sticks and shuffle phats engaged in a perpetual two-step around Adam Harper’s unsettling Virtual Plaza. But rather than recoiling from the sickly sweet puppy dog eyes of its Manga tributes, or the inhumanly high vocal pitches of its speed edits, nightcore fans embrace and celebrate the android fantasies of this simulated and over-stimulated cybernetic reality.

Its origins are as vague and bewildering as the Internet itself, the urban myths surrounding it spreading like virtual sprawl. The major consensus centres around a Nightcore Universe member Kirby’s account, claiming the movement has its root as far back as 2002, when two Norwegian high school students, Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Søderholm, began invigorating sad love songs by raising their pitch and tempo on PC audio production suite, Dance eJay. They produced a handful of CDs under the name Nightcore, including the first tellingly titled, Energized, before disappearing from the Online in 2003. It’s a decade later and the cult of nightcore has flourished around the legend (even inspiring a brief re-emergence by its primogenitors) with tens of thousands of ‘nightcored’ tracks obtusely paying homage to an obscure project from a Scandinavian fishing town. 

In essence, nightcore is nothing more than speeding up a given track enough to sound “cuter” –somewhere in the range of 125 and 130 bpm –but not so much as to sound “chipmunkish”. Popular ‘nightcorer’ Maikel631, who’s current YouTube account has been active since 2010 (when he was 15), offers some specifications in a thread on ‘How to Nightcore a song!’. Apart from showing some fairly rudimentary guidelines on changing two effects on the sound editing software, Audacity and WavePad, he insists it’s not nightcore unless it’s “EUROTRANCE, EURODANCE, VOCAL TRANCE, AND DANCE”. But every genre has its purists and the sheer volume of online mixes using pop songs, which, frankly are my favourite, suggest otherwise. 

Between Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ and Katy Perry’s ‘E.T.’ there’s something strangely alluring about the elevated current of time these tracks generate, creating a heightened sensitivity to its passing. By condensing a song’s melody, rhythm and emotion into a shortened space, it only serves to increase its power, however briefly, to near overwhelming levels of intensity and immediacy. 

As an illustration of nightcore’s effect, one contributor wrote, "I used to listen to music while I was on speed, but now I quit the speed and just listen to nightcore instead," which, beyond the obvious sarcasm, goes some way in characterising this kind of molecular music production. In the same way one’s perception of time accelerates on, say, amphetamines, the uniaxial compression of a nightcored song, often crammed into an hour-plus track mix, has the effect of simultaneously expanding and contracting a sense of temporality, creating a brain freezing feeling of euphoria in the process. 

And this stuff is addictive too. One can easily find themselves gorging on the two to three minute mixes of songs, across tabs and windows, while ripping them to a personalised play list, tailoring, curating and re-mediating them to their taste. There even exists a whopping 10-hour ‘mix’ of the original Nightcore’s Vocaloid anthem ‘Dam Dadi Do’, played on repeat, with the annotated challenge to “comment with how long you made it through.” ‘maverick duh’ reached 7 hours, 47 minutes and 54 seconds. That in itself speaks volumes about the nature of nightcore and its place within a culture of rapid progress. That is, one of data overload with no conceivable endpoint. 

Perhaps, nightcore is the fallout of that contentious notion of the ‘digital native’. A generation raised online and incapable of a disconnect, gorging on free to download music, with little regard for the capitalist notion of property, and contributing their own crudely constructed self-representations via basic audio editing and infinite access. When looking at this anomalous self-started youth culture, in parallel to a technocene era of mass communication reaching terminal velocity, what seems like a puerile aestheticism at first, suddenly becomes loaded with implication.