The genre-subverting sensation reveals how deep sea creatures, the city of Berlin, and Y2K pop icons played a role in the making of her fiery release
Not even being stuck at home during quarantine amid a global pandemic could thwart Ashnikko. Last year, as the music industry descended into uncertainty, the 24-year-old artist born Ashton Casey sliced her way through the darkness, wielding her razor-sharp, fuck-the-patriarchy electro-pop-rap like a weapon of mass destruction.
In the process, she became one of music’s most assured forces. There was “Stupid”, the anti-fuckboy manifesto that, though technically released in 2019, become inescapable on TikTok by early 2020. Then came Doja Cat’s “Boss Bitch”, the Ashnikko-written feminist dance banger off of the Birds of Prey soundtrack – another TikTok smash. And then came “Daisy”, her biggest breakthrough yet. It’s a subversive, empowering trap-pop anthem intended to crush stereotypes about women being inherently delicate, hurtling into the UK Top 40.
Thematically, it makes sense that “Daisy” leads the artist’s debut mixtape, Demidevil. It’s an aptly titled collection of 10 defiant tracks ranging the gamut from tongue-in-cheek pop-punk takedowns of uneven emotional labour in relationships, to musical theatre spoofs about the supposed mysteries of female genitalia. While the mixtape largely matches the frenetic, humorous, and at times aggressive sonic energy of Ashnikko’s earlier offerings, it also delivers some of her most emotional, introspective lyrics yet.
“Demidevil means half-devil, half-human,” the musician tells Dazed. “I think before this mixtape I had become known for my super angry breakup songs, and this unbothered, bossy character that I built for myself. I wanted to show a more vulnerable and hurt side – so the rage is the devil side and the vulnerable stuff is the more human side of the mixtape.”
Indeed, the fury bubbles up on songs such as “Toxic”, a braggadocious rap kiss-off aimed squarely at social media trolls (“What’s a sheep to a tiger?”), and the Kelis-sampling “Deal With It”, Ashnikko’s most “pop” single to date, on which she trades in a unfulfilling beau for self-confidence – and the guaranteed satisfaction of sex toys.
Elsewhere on the mixtape, the pain rears its inevitable, ugly head: Ashnikko licks her wounds after the implosion of a relationship on the acoustic guitar-driven “Good While It Lasted”, which sees her “taking responsibility for being an immature hothead”, and on the nu-metal-fueled Grimes collab, “Cry”, she rages and anguishes in equal measure in the wake of an ex-friend’s betrayal.
“There’s definitely more sadness in (this music), which I usually have a hard time showing,” Ashnikko admits. “I can only cry in front of like, two people and that’s it. I can’t even cry in front of my therapist, someone who I literally pay to cry in front of. It’s like when you’re about to cum and you just can’t do it. I think crying and cumming must be related somehow. It’s like an emotional purge”.
Below, Ashnikko fills us in on the more unexpected influences, both sonic and aesthetic, that helped shape Demidevil.
Ashnikko: I used to listen to her so much growing up. She’s amazing. I was like, ‘We absolutely have to do an interpolation of an Avril song’. We were between “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi”, and we were like, ‘It has to be “Sk8er Boi”, it’s the most iconic’. We went in and looked at the lyrics and were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to update these to be a little bit more feminist’, and “L8r Boi” is the end product. It’s probably one of my favorite songs on the mixtape.
RAVING IN BERLIN
Ashnikko: “Drunk With My Friends” is about going raving in Berlin. I love Berlin. We were only there to go clubbing. It was a few years ago and it was so much fun, but I’ll never do that again because the come down was the worst thing ever. I was spending my rent money on pills which was a super smart thing to do (laughs). After that I had sleep paralysis for a week, during which I thought I was dying from my ex-best friend choking me from above. I was like: ‘I am never ever, ever doing drugs again.’
But it’s a nice feeling to go partying without feeling self-conscious in the slightest, you can just completely be yourself. I just remember fucking interpretive dancing to techno for four hours. I’m sure local Berliners were like, ‘What the fuck is she doing?’ Usually when I go out I’m very un-self-conscious, which has changed in the past two years. Now I’m a little bit more guarded. Before I would go out and just dance exactly how hard and ridiculous that I wanted to. But then people started filming me secretly, which kind of ruined it for me.
“I wanted the mixtape cover to be the strangest, most cursed image ever. Some people have told me that it looks like Jay Jay the Jet Plane, that very cursed kids show – which is super cool because I am a huge fan of cursed images” – Ashnikko
Ashnikko: My favorite animal is the octopus because they are the closest thing we have to an alien lifeform on Earth. I love ocean creatures. I think it’s just so interesting that we don’t even know what’s at the bottom of the ocean. It’s very magical and alien to me. So yeah, I think that’s why I’m so fascinated by the octopus and wanted to become one in my (“Deal With It”) video. They’re very, very smart. Have you seen that documentary My Octopus Teacher on Netflix? They’re so cute, I love them. They just possess an animal intelligence that is so different from our own that we can’t even understand it.
AVATAR: THE LAST AIR BENDER AND SPIRITED AWAY
Ashnikko: I wanted the mixtape cover to be the strangest, most cursed image ever. Some people have told me that it looks like Jay Jay the Jet Plane, that very cursed kids show – which is super cool because I am a huge fan of cursed images. I was working with my creative director Vasso Vu and we had a lot of weird rough drafts. The first had the Demidevil character in the middle of a crater after being flung to Earth, with her limbs disconnected from her body (laughs). We were like, ‘No, that’s not right’. Then one day I was just watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and I saw Aang and Appa and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s perfect! That has to be it’. It also has a little Spirited Away dragon situation going on, and the luckdragon from The NeverEnding Story.
Ashnikko: The stuff that Pharell did for Gwen Stefani, like “Hollaback Girl”, is like… I mean, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is one of my favorite albums. That was my first album, I got it for my eleventh birthday. He also worked on The Sweet Escape. The Neptunes produced “Wind It Up” and “Yummy”, which were my two favorite songs growing up.
The stripped back production of “Yummy” was kind of an inspiration behind “Slumber Party”, which is also inspired by my own slumber parties growing up. When I was a kid I just remember this one line in “Yummy” – “Wanna spend the night? Don't bring pyjamas / Man there’s so much heat beneath these clothes” – and being like, “Oh my God, that’s the sexiest thing ever, that’s so naughty!” A no-pyjama slumber party? I thought that was crazy, it fueled my fantasies.
Ashnikko’s Demidevil is out now