What is nightcore, the musical subgenre that is all about accelerated time?

NEW YORK, Dec 11 — Without being a dedicated listening platform like Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music, TikTok has managed to establish itself as a booster of music trends. For the latest proof, one need only look at nightcore, a subgenre that first appeared in the early 2000s. It has recently made a mark on the social network as the soundtrack of a generation that lives life at a hundred miles an hour.

The term brings together “night” with “-core,” the suffix currently being attached to all the micro-trends of the moment. Nightcore refers to remixing any song to a tempo of 160 beats per minute, like that of most techno tracks these days. TikTok users are having fun speeding up disparate hits like Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One, Lady Gaga’s Just Dance and Brandy and Monica’s The Boy Is Mine.

The more unexpected the song choice, the more successful it seems to be. Jarred Jermaine has made this his specialty. On TikTok, the American producer shares with his 4.3 million subscribers accelerated versions of hits such as No by Meghan Trainor and Miss You by Oliver Tree and Robin Schulz, but also of movie scenes. There’s something for everyone, as long as you like to hear nasal vocals over a super-fast tempo.

@jarredjermaine Viral sped up song edit from the Wednesday dance scene with Jenna Ortega vs. the original version Lady Gaga “Bloody Mary” & actual song they used in the scene from the TV show The Cramps “Goo Goo Muck” #viraltiktok #tiktoksound #wednesday #jennaortega #dance #ladygaga #bloodymary #thecramps #googoomuck #tvshow #tvshows #netflix #spedup #spedupsounds #spedupaudios #spedupsongss #spedupsongs #slowed #music Goo Goo Muck – The Cramps

But Jarred Jermaine isn’t the only one riding the sped-up trend. The hashtag associated with this trend, #spedupsounds, has over 9 million views on TikTok. It has also helped to bring some older songs back to the forefront such as Cool for the Summer by Demi Lovato. The song, from the American singer’s fifth album, is the fourth most popular track on the social network this year, despite having been released in 2015.

A 20-year-old subgenre

This promise of going viral is inspiring young artists, like Steve Lacy, to release accelerated versions of some of their hits. The aim is to make them as “TikTok-friendly” as possible and, thus, to increase their number of listens on music-streaming platforms. A perfect example is the remix of Roses that Kazakh producer Imanbek released in 2019. This version of Saint Jhn’s track on steroids became a commercial success after finding its audience on TikTok, allowing it to stay 23 weeks at the top of Billboard’s “Hot Dance/Electronic Songs” chart in 2020. Enough to make musician Jaime Brooks wonder on Twitter if Imanbek had inadvertently given birth to the “first nightcore hit.”

While the recent rise in popularity of fast-paced songs seems to prove him right, this musical subgenre actually dates back to 2002. It was dreamed up by Norwegians Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Soderholm. The two men were still in high school when they were asked to create their own song, according to the New York Times. They drew inspiration from German band Scooter’s Nessaja and the happy hardcore repertoire, a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s. The result: a track with an infectious beat that Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Soderholm created using eJay Dance 3 software.

Their teacher, however, wasn’t convinced as the duo received a “C+” grade for their composition, as revealed by the Times. But this prompted them to compose an entire record of equally sped-up tracks, which they gave copies of to their friends and relatives. And as luck would have it, their tracks found their way online and helped create the “nightcore” movement.

Combining the new and the nostalgic

But what accounts for the resurgence of this musical subgenre two decades after its inception? For Emma Winston, an ethnomusicologist who studied “nightcore” in 2017, the appeal lies in the subculture’s playfulness and deep community aspect. “It was almost as if the idea of good music was replaced with valuing participation in and of itself,” she told the Times.

Indeed, anyone is free to contribute to the “nightcore” movement by remixing, more or less skillfully, the track of their choice. This DIY spirit works wonderfully on TikTok, a platform where anyone can become a content creator. However, as a good alternative subgenre, “nightcore” raises questions in terms of copyright issues. Questions that the proponents of this subculture brush aside. They are above all driven by a will to listen to tracks they have sometimes known for years with a new spin. Once remixed in a “nightcore” style, these same tracks have the feel of something new, like they did the first time they heard them, but at the same time seem strangely familiar.

And it’s on this arc of nostalgia that “nightcore” works, not unlike the rest of the music industry, according to Simon Reynolds. The English music critic has devoted a long essay, entitled “Retromania” (2010), to this phenomenon that is driving the cultural sector. He refers to the first decade of the 21st century as the “re-decade,” characterised by “revivals, reissues, remakes and re-enactments,” he explains there. Nightcore is one of the manifestations of this nostalgia boosted by the art of revisiting. But at high speed. — ETX Studio