No amount of artistic presentation or after-effects can substitute for a solid, self-assured voice. That can be hard to remember, especially on SoundCloud, a platform that produces dozens of shiny, new things to look at every day, where minor sonic trends can lead you down algorithmic rabbit holes for hours, and where the fundamentals of songwriting often get lost in the churning tides of whatever new aesthetic and production ideas are just starting to catch on. But SoundCloud’s biggest exports — X, Peep, Uzi, the folks you remember — have transcended that system; they've become their own centers of gravity, and thrown everything around them, sometimes including pop music at large, into orbit around their personalities and voices.
On a song like “Trying,” Indiana’s own midwxst charts a path into that stratosphere for himself. The SoundCloud digicore scene that has incubated the 17-year-old artist is full of pitched-up, breathy voices; in comparison, midwxst’s sounds almost tart, and feels visceral when he starts baring his soul. He sings about dealing with loneliness, depression and emotional overload ("I done take so many L's, I think it's time for me to win!") with the clarity of someone who's already figured a lot out, and the earnestness of someone who's still growing. Contemplative guitars, courtesy of Elxnce and Thislandis, collapse into kitchen-sink digital beats that throttle your brain. It's adolescence in motion.
To inaugurate The Browser, a new column exploring the worlds of SoundCloud and online music, I sat down with midwxst for a wide-ranging interview ahead of his EP SUMMER03, out today. In future Browser columns, expect in-depth roundups of releases from the over- and under-ground that strike our fancy, contributions from talented guest writers, and artist interviews just like this one.
My full conversation with midwxst is transcribed below. We spoke about his unique upbringing, assorted musical influences, and how he feels as a high school senior and almost-adult at the forefront of an online community.
What brought you into the SoundCloud scene that you’re in now? Explain how you first came up and got involved with it.
So, I wanna say that in 2020, I started making music more seriously. My friend named Aloe -- a producer, now a vocal artist, too -- him, LARZi, prodvvamp (formerly known as fifth way), and a couple other guys, and Elxnce, the guy I work with constantly, they came up with me. We were making music together, and one day we joined a Discord server; it was a LosersClub discord server, and LosersClub was a collective that existed back in like 2020.
The first person from this scene that I specifically spoke to was Angelus. I spoke to Angelus because I asked them for beats, and as soon as that happened - boom! Everything from there started to go up, because I started using their beats. Bern, from Underground Vampire Club, they had a lot of hope in me when I was very adolescent in the music stuff. And with that, it allowed me to sort of start to already build a platform for myself. But I didn’t start making the type of music that I make make until back around...I think the first song I think I’d put in this genre was “Trouble”, the one produced by Elxnce and Vinso. Just because of the vibe of it -- like, it samples Taylor Swift, it’s a playful, fun song. It’s cool. And I dropped that like a year ago, so I’d say a year ago is when I really started to develop my sound and stuff.
To get to where I am now, I’d always been on SoundCloud -- I always had it on my phone, because that’s where I listened to all my music at; either that or Apple, or iTunes. But I was on SoundCloud searching stuff when I was growing up. I found Ski Mask the Slump God, XXXTentacion, all from SoundCloud, the whole 2016 SoundCloud rapper era. All those artists I used to listen to, and still do now, I found specifically from SoundCloud. So to get a presence and a platform for myself on SoundCloud was super sick to see, because it was literally everything I could have asked for. Everything came back full-circle.
Around the time you got into the LosersClub server, and got those first connections, who were you listening to?
At that time, literally nobody from the scene. But as soon as I got into the server, I started researching everybody in there, like d0llywood1, dalton, zee!, zootzie...all of those were some of the key people I started listening to more and more. And then stef was in LosersClub, and he was really close to everybody in there, so I started listening to stef.
Through prblm is how I got into Novagang. When I got into Nova, that opened up an entirely different soundscape for me. That opened up the Novagang sound -- the pitched up, abrasive, but at the same time, calming sound as a whole, and that allowed me to make even more stuff. But at the time that I was in the LC server, I was listening to some X, some Ski, some B.o.B. (laughing). A lot of early inspo for me, stuff that’s always been a big inspiration, was J. Cole, Kendrick, Kanye West. Those guys are just some of the best people to ever make music, in my opinion. Just the amount of time that goes into their work, making an album that you can appreciate, is something I super appreciate.
One thing that stands out about you is your voice. Have you always wanted to sing?
With me, I’ve always been a singer, because I grew up in a household that was full of all different types of genres and sounds. If you go down to my basement, we literally have an entire case dedicated to just CD albums. We had a CD player that we’d put them in and listen to all the time. With that came exposure to whole different types of sounds; a big person I listened to when I was a kid was Kanye West, but it wasn’t the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy era Kanye, it was the Late Registration...Kanye in the teddy bear suit era. With that, I went to church, was in the kids’ choir sometimes, went to Sunday school.
But it’s really not until I moved to Indiana -- I’ve been here for like eight and a half years now. My school, Park Tudor, it’s a college preparatory school. From elementary school, you have to take a fine art; it’s made into the curriculum that you have to either take orchestra, band, or vocal class, and I took vocal class all the way up until middle school, so from 4th grade until middle school. And then once middle school started, I joined the band for all of middle school. I played the baritone and the trumpet, so that exposed me to scales, keys, all the things I really need to know about in making my music. And with that, it allowed me to already have a good understanding of the small music theory things I needed to grasp to make sure my music sound the best it could.
And then I stopped playing sophomore year, which is when I started doing the music stuff -- independently, outside of school, specifically focusing on doing that. I’m a senior now, so I’ve been at Park Tudor for...eight years, I’m pretty sure, so ever since we moved here. And it’s been a great place for the fine arts, they have a really strong fine arts program. They made sure you felt comfortable -- if you didn’t want to sing, you didn’t have to sing, it was just a matter of what you wanted to do. They had a lot of options you could explore, and I really appreciated that, because it allowed me to step in and test the waters.
So you’re in your senior year of high school. About a week ago I talked to dltzk, and we talked about this. With the pandemic and everything, lots of people are feeling like they’re kind of losing their last year. How are you feeling as you’re growing up, going to college, potentially leaving a lot behind?
It’s life! This is what everything has led up to in my life. I promised my mom I’d get my undergrad degree, regardless of if this music stuff goes up, or if it ends up becoming something I could profit off of. Or even a fucking career for me. I never envisioned it in the first place, I just started making music for the fun of it. And with the whole pandemic and stuff, it’s really given me time to self-reflect and think. Because you only have time on your hands.
Was I sad about not really having the senior year I wanted? Yeah, but at the same time, I’m not gonna be too bummed about it. I’m able to go to school physically -- I go to school, we have social distancing maintained, we’re COVID-safe. I had a regular school year so far, in my opinion. Our school just can’t do football events, home events, stuff like that. So I’m not really mad at anything. If anything, it’s a blessing, because with COVID and everything, when the state went on lockdown, it allowed me to just go in, look at my music, and make some of the best music I’ve ever made. To make some of the songs that just touch base with myself again, and try and get some of the most authentic music that I could out, so other people could understand that the same feelings that they’re going through, they’re not going through it alone. They can go through it with me, because I’ve been in the same places, the same mindset they’ve been at.
Speaking of which, the other big hallmark of your music is the way you write: these really personal streams of lyrics where you’re just raw venting into the mic, from deep within yourself. What’s been going on in the past year in your life, where you need that kind of outlet?
You know high school. High school is just...a mess of everything (laughing). Trying to balance this music career with school, having to do a sport -- I run track, I have meetings right before I go to track practice, so I’ll have to be late to track practice for some meetings. Stuff like that. All of those things, it can really get to you if you’re not prepared for it. And I really wasn’t prepared for it, up until a couple months ago. And with that, relationships and romance, the love side of things -- it’s just been a big rollercoaster of emotions.
But at the same time, I’m thankful for those rollercoasters of emotions, because they allowed me to open up about things that I’m uncomfortable about, and allowed me to talk about topics that I couldn’t really touch if I just...had a normal life (laughing).
I’m very, very vocal about speaking up about mental health, because that’s something that I lacked. I’m a very vocal person. I always tell my friends, “if you need me, I’m here, if you need anybody to talk to, I’m here,” and it’s something that I truly value, because you never know what somebody’s going through unless you ask. You never know how they feel unless you check up on them. You don’t know...They might not have just had a bad day, there might have been underlying causes to why they had a bad day, or why they’re snappy, or why they’re aggressive at you.
I had a really bad problem. My parents would see me slumped over, in a depressive state, but I wouldn’t be able to say anything, or word it to any extent, because it was hard! It’s hard to describe the mix of emotions you feel inside without making it very, very alarming. Without trying to disturb my parents, it’s hard to describe, “yo, I’m sort of fighting with who I am right now, I feel like I can’t even find myself, I don’t have an identity for myself, I can’t even appreciate myself.”
And I’ve always been this really self-conscious kid. I grew up moving around, and every single time I went to school, I was either viewed as “very nice” or “very weird”. No in-between. And whenever I got viewed as very weird, it kinda hurt, because I was just being my authentic version of myself. And as soon as I got called weird, I started suppressing that. That’s when I started just saying yes to everything, nodding my head, shutting up more, not really talking or replying, or attempting to be myself. Up until like junior year of high school, because my parents sat me down, they talked to me, like “hey, we wanna know what’s going on,” and I let it all out. I talked about the stress from having to reach the standards of others, the stress of having to balance music with everything I do, the stress of trying to be there for my friends even though sometimes my friends weren’t even there for me to check up on me. It just kinda gets hard being the caretaker of everybody when nobody really ever says “thank you.” or shows the same amount of support back. But at the same time, that’s just something I’ve gotten accustomed to. I don’t do anything for the gain of myself, I either do something for the gain of my friends, or my family.
Music has never been for the money, or the revenue, or all the perks of being a celebrity that come with it for me. Music is something that I do because I love to do it. At the end of the day, I want people to understand that they can be themselves. They don’t have to put on a facade, or put on a mask. They don’t have to hide who they are; they can be confident in their own skin, in their own selves, and not have to conform to these norms that society pushes on a lot of kids.
Especially Black kids. Black teenage kids. That’s why you see me painting my nails, expressing myself in the way I do, because you don’t see a lot of Black kids doing that. You don’t see a lot of Black kids opening up and speaking so openly about mental health, about the past, about things that may have traumatized them, or had a bad lasting effect on them. But I want people to understand that it’s okay to talk. It’s okay to speak on things that you’re afraid to speak on. It’s okay to be uncomfortable in conversations, because those are the conversations that mean the most. It’s not just a conversation at that point, it’s them understanding you.
So, speaking of supporting your friends, you’ve been a part of this ‘digicore’ scene for a while, and you’ve gotten to see it grow, and change, and get bigger. How are you feeling about the state of the community -- both its sounds and its social fabric?
I think one of the best moments in this scene was...I think it was either 2019 or 2020...the Austin, Texas bbloodhounds show. That show united so many people on so many fronts. ‘Cause I’m not gonna lie, the scene is a fucking mess sometimes. You have people beefing with other people over the smallest things, you have people disliking another collective because somebody makes up a rumor that somebody else might have said. People get called out and exposed every other day. I’m not gonna say it’s a very, very nice scene, it can be a very toxic scene, I’m not going to lie to you.
If you spend enough time on Twitter, you kinda…
Yeah. If you spend enough time on Twitter, you search up “hyperpop” or “digicore”, you’ll see (laughing). You’ll see it slowly go from “I like this type of music” to “this person is this, this person is that.” All of these labels and terms being thrown at people, it’s like, whoa! Relax, relax, relax.
But I’m really happy with the state as it is now, because a lot of us have been doing this music stuff for a while. Some people have just recently picked it up, but I’ve been doing this for a while, and everything’s started to pick up pace. All of the pieces are starting to fall into place for me and all my friends, and I could never be happier about that. It’s something that I truly appreciate. COVID helped the scene a lot, in the sense that everybody was stuck in the house and didn’t have anything to do. That’s why you saw “Red” come out, you saw all these big songs with everybody on them just having fun come out. It gave us time to create some of the best music we all could create. Being trapped in the house has its perks, surprisingly.
I also think the scene is at its peak right now. It’s in full blossom. It can’t get worse from here, and if it does...at least we had fun while we were at it (laughing).
You mentioned that there are new artists just now coming in that are adding more to the community. Are there specific ones you’re really keeping an eye on that you see a lot of potential in?
So, dltzk and juno and hallow, along with doxia, exodus1900, kurtains and glaive, are some of my most listened-to artists as a whole. And 4am. 4am’s a really good producer and a vocal artist! And the same could be said for basically all the ones I just listed. All of their sounds are unique to themselves, they don’t have a sound that’s stealing from somebody else, or, like...biting somebody’s swag, one might say.
They don’t have any of that. They have they own swag. Their own aesthetic, their own feeling to everything. And it’s super sick. AViT, as well. And Megan (Angelus), but me and Meg are some of the oldheads in the scene -- not really oldheads (laughing), but we’ve been in the scene longer than a lot of people. All of those people.
We had this thing where dltzk came out with an album called Teen Week, and with Teen Week, everybody had it in their bio, everybody tweeted it, and everything like that. And we ended up getting it on Anthony Fantano’s weekly listens, or whatever that’s called. You can see that when somebody creates a body of art, you have everybody supporting it, and everybody listening to it, dissecting every single song. Nobody’s favorite song on that album is somebody else’s favorite. It’s something I truly appreciate, because you get all these different outputs, and all these different views that you’ve never seen before.
Some of the longer-standing people I’ve been listening to are d0llywood1, funeral, stef...sholoh! sholohbae, my fuckin’ homie. zootzie, ways, zee!...I really want zee to get more credit and appreciation for all the stuff that he does.
One of his songs just recently kinda went viral, right?
Yeah, it went viral on Pitchfork, I saw that. And “Hate”! The “Hate” song, yeah! TikTok ate that up. Bro, it was just funny. He sent me, he was like “bro, I made a song,” I was like “ok, word.” First line, “I hate n----s, I hate n----s.” I was like, “is this the whole song?” He was like “yeah!” I’m like, okay, why is it hard?! I was bopping my head with it.
And it’s just cool to see him start to get a lot of, even if it’s just for a funny song, he’s still getting a lot more attention than he was like a week ago or a month ago. And he deserves it, he truly does, because that’s one of the most kindhearted and wholesome individuals I’ve ever met. And talented. He can produce, he can mix and master his own voice, he can actually sing! He’s like an all-around...that puts the bow on top. Really good artist.
Moving back to your own music, over the past couple months, you and a lot of your peers have been pivoting to more acoustic indie and rock-inspired instrumentation. Like your song “Liar,” or that new song you put out with Wells just yesterday.
What or who do you think has been inspiring that shift?
I’m not gonna lie to you. The shift in the soundscape was just -- this happens a lot of the time -- a lot of us at once think it sounds cool. Like, deadass. You might hear a guitar riff, or you might hear something in the intro of one of our friends’ songs, or another song, and be like, “wait a damn second! I wanna make something like this.” And then we’ll go and either get a guitar loop or get a friend to play the guitar for you, play your own guitar, get some chords or something, and then you set up all these things. It’s cool, and it’s fun to do. I pour my emotions out on those songs, because those songs mean the most to me.
Is there anything else you wanted to talk about that I didn’t mention?
Nah, you basically hit everything!
Images by rigo317 (1), and Tommy Bauer and Ollie Slade (2 and 3)