In a time where genre means nothing and attitude means everything, daine‘s universe simply refuses to be labelled.
Words: Martyn Young.
The rise of Australian/Filipino 18-year-old prodigy Daine from unknown bedroom experimental creative to rising alternative icon has been swift and striking. Taking the time afforded to her by the global shutdown of the pandemic, Daine has spent the last 18 months cultivating her own unique and idiosyncratic world full of evocative imagery, darkness and light and the wide-eyed optimism of a musical vision of infinite possibilities smashing through genre boundaries.
It’s impossible to sonically categorise Daine’s music as she experiments with all manner of progressive sounds, but there is an adventurous spirit that courses through everything she does is influenced by her childhood loves of midwestern emo, hardcore and a punk and DIY aesthetic that encouraged her to follow her own bewitching alt-pop path. And all of this without ever really leaving her bedroom. Musicians in 2021 are good at improving, and Daine has already packed a lot into a short period of time as she has risen to become one of the most exciting new artists on the planet.
“It’s been a really interesting journey,” she begins from the creative hub of her bedroom in Sydney. “I’ve had to learn a lot as a person. I feel like I was thrust into being a musician before I knew how to perform.” Like many emerging new artists, the enforced lack of live performance has given them a different perspective on their music and style. “It’s been really fun. In that way, the music is a lot more genuine because I was just a kid writing songs, and I was able to develop all these songs over the past few years, and it was just a really worthwhile process.”
Daine is an artist who has strong convictions and knows exactly who they are. Committed and focused, Daine is passionate about advocating for what she believes in and the music that she loves. It’s something that she puts down to her formative years in Australia’s heavy music scene. She cites her vegan lifestyle as an example of her commitment to going against the mainstream. “I’m pretty into veganism,” she explains. “I love cooking and a plant-based lifestyle. That’s pretty common in the heavy scene. Heavy music has always been a counter-culture, so if the mainstream is patriarchy and sexism, hardcore will be avidly feminist. If the mainstream is capitalism, then the hardcore scene will be super communist. I think that’s the same with veganism; that’s just another extension of social justice.”
The sense of shared community and collective ideals fostered within those heavy scenes plays a key role in Daine’s development as a person and as an artist. Collaboration is important. She may have been physically isolated but has spent the last 18 months building important relationships with a diverse group of artists and creatives that have shaped her music and her approach to her art. Music is just one part of the creative process. For Daine, it’s all part of one fevered sensory release. “My music and creative vision feel a little more cohesive than just music,” she explains. “It feels more like a movie. I’m very particular with my visuals, and I have a strong aesthetic vision. I want my music and my fanbase to have this fantasy world where they can escape to. I want to create visually immersive content, and hopefully, the music goes with that. I want to create an immersive experience.”
There’s a dark pop majesty to the visuals that accompany Daine’s music, from the futuristic gauzy sci-fi desert hinterland of her debut track ‘Picking Flowers’ to the gothic synth-pop of ‘Bloody Knees’, with its dystopian neon cityscapes. But it’s the playful horrorcore electronic nightmare of her last single ‘boys wanna txt’ which brings Daine herself into the light of clear focus for the first time, as she gazes passively straight into the camera before the screen gets warped and mangled in a glitchy fever mirroring the tone of the track. There’s the constant push and pull of sadness and isolation in her music, cleverly tempered with just the right hint to light to make her music truly disorienting and compelling.
The fascination with darker sounds goes back to her earliest musical loves. “I grew up going to a lot of hardcore shows,” she says. “The Melbourne scene was really inspiring for me. I listened to a lot of the classic Midwest emo bands growing up, like Tigers Jaw and American Football, and that kind of made me a bit of a moody person,” she laughs. “Maybe I was already a moody person, I don’t know. I was quite melancholy. That translates in my sound. People don’t believe me, but I’m actually a really happy person! I just like to sing sad songs because they pack more of an emotional punch. I try to sprinkle some hopeful lyrics in there.”
She laughs as she ponders her propensity to mention blood a lot in her songs as an example of creeping darkness.”It’s kind of grim, but it’s such a visually stark concept. In my song ‘Bloody Knees’ where I say ‘Look down and see dark red in the snow’, the only time you’re ever thinking of red-stained snow is blood.” Her songs are filled with otherworldly imagery and ghostly apparitions. “I like spiritual motifs like angels, angel numbers, synchronicity and dreams. Leaving your body. I find concepts like that to be really visually engaging.”
Summer 2021 marks an interesting pivot point in Daine’s musical career. Her earliest music was firmly rooted in that emo aesthetic, lo-fi and primarily composed on guitar. Gradually, she incorporated more of an experimental electronic edge to her music. She collaborated with different producers, including PC Music founder and all-around electronic pioneer Danny L Harle on the stunning dark pop electro ballad ‘Angel Numbers’. This embracing of futuristic electronic sounds culminated in her last single, ‘boys wanna txt’, a full-blown hyperpop banger featuring key artist in the scene ericdoa, and produced by hyperpop figurehead, and one-half of 100 gecs, Dylan Brady. It’s a striking pivot point in Daine’s career so far.
Rather than seeing herself as a hyperpop artist despite featuring in all the attendant playlists and the song having the playful, inventive hallmarks of the genre at its best, Daine sees the track as more of a loving tribute and experiment to recognise a community that embraced her and shares some of her musical values. Rather than box herself in as a hyperpop artist, she instead sees it as a creative impulse that can influence her own music and different tastes in a positive way. “I’m not annoyed by it because I’m really connected to the hyperpop community,” she explains. “That scene has been so supportive and welcoming to me. I love all the artists, like ericdoa, Ethel Cain and 8485. I’m not super angry at people comparing me to a sound that isn’t really me. I think it’s something that will easily pass me by. ‘boys wanna txt’ is the most recent, so people think that that’s my defining sound, but I’m going to have songs that I’m going to release later that will surpass that, and then I’ll be defined by that sound. It’s ever-evolving.” As she explains, it’s just as much the passion of the people involved that drew her to the sound as much as the sonics. “I’ve always been drawn to a community whether it’s like the hardcore scene growing up or the emo-rap SoundCloud scene as I got older, and now hyperpop is that group of people for me.”
The music Daine is working on now incorporates some of that anything-goes spirit of the invention of hyperpop but aligns it firmly to a heavier, more alternative approach. “A lot of my upcoming songs I had written two years ago before the whole hyperpop thing, so they’re all pretty emo and pretty post-punk,” she reveals. A perfect example of her musical switch up is her next single ‘Salt’, a collaboration with Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes. A speaker-blowing, cavernous scream of pure emotion and controlled sonic chaos, it hits harder than anything she’s ever done before. “I think ‘Salt’ is a good segway into my future sound,” she proclaims. For a song so powerful, it’s endearing to hear Daine idly talk about how it all came together with the ease of meeting up with a pal for a casual walk in a park. It’s only a collaboration with someone from one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. No big deal. “He messaged me on Instagram and was like, ‘Do you wanna do a song?’, and I was like, sure and sent him ‘Salt’ because I knew it was the best song that he could possibly hear,” she laughs. “It was pretty quick. He sent his verse overnight, and it was perfect, and he sang along with me in the chorus, and I couldn’t have asked for him to do better. The lyrics were so cohesive with what I’d written. I was so impressed.” Despite the low key nature of how it came together, Daine knows that this is a moment. This is a big one. “I think everyone is going to be mindblown. I mean, I was mindblown, and it’s my fucking song. It’s going to be pretty insane. Lonelyspeck’s production. Holy Shit. They are the best producers in Australia, if not the world at the moment.”
Bring Me have always been a touchstone for Daine. “It was the catharsis and intensity of the music that drew me to them,” she says. “I channelled that into making ‘Salt’. Lonelyspeck is really inspired by Bring Me The Horizon as well. It really puts a lot of intensity into the track.” It’s not just the newcomer learning from the established star, though, as Oli obviously saw something special in Daine and wanted to tap into some of her creativity. “I think Oli wanted to learn about the new hyperpop sound,” says Daine, recognising how Bring Me have led the way in incorporating experimental sounds into their music.
The music she loved in her youth still holds a lot of importance for Daine and will shape her music going forward. “I loved Bring Me The Horizon, Trophy Eyes, and I’ve got a collaboration with John Floreani coming up,” she says excitedly. “It’s been great to see that my idols can hear that I’m doing something that’s in the same vein and that they can connect with. It’s mindblowing for me. It’s a goal of mine to do a song with Jamie from Title Fight and Mike from American Football. Hopefully, I can reach their eyes sometime soon.”
‘Salt’ promises to act as a jumping-off point to Daine to further expand the heavy aspect of her music in her own diverse way. “It leads me back into my original creative identity,” she explains. “It’s sort of like wiping the slate clean so that people don’t have any predictions about me going forward. I want to break people’s idea of what they think my music is going to be because I feel like everybody is going to be expecting more glitchy hyperpop electronic music. I think it’s going to allow me to go back to my guitar sound and hopefully engage with some older fans. It’s like the matured version of my earlier tracks.” She promises some more new music on the way soon as she looks to build on ‘Salt’ and go deeper into the heavy depths of her sound. As ever, there will be no compromises or dilution for mainstream tastes. “My process is quite simple, and I don’t see that process changing,” she states. “I haven’t ever intentionally tried to make anything sound DIY, but that’s how it has organically evolved for me. It’s going to remain pretty authentic.”
A lot of the freedom to make as many stylistic turns and take her music in any direction she pleases comes from her immersion in online creative culture. She used to post her songs on various SoundCloud rap sites and different online platforms, and it’s a freedom which she revels in, and she wants to recognise the diverse audience it gives her. “It’s pretty liberating. It allows me to connect with different communities, and everybody has something for them,” she says. “It’s kind of daunting, but it’s really cool knowing that one day I could wake up knowing that Beyonce has followed me on Instagram,” she laughs. “Anything can happen to anyone in the age of social media. There are no boundaries between everyday people and celebrities. Everyday people can become celebrities. It’s kind of terrifying that the internet can be so volatile and unpredictable, but it probably only serves an artist’s benefit, particularly at the beginning of their career.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that an artist as confident and fully formed as Daine is right at the start of their career. Earlier this summer, Daine expressed online some of her fears about the pressure of existing as a new artist with the constant expectation to always be on and present and performing and creating 24/7. “Artists just write all the time, and they constantly churn out music,” she says. “Personally, I’ve found that approach to be really exhausting and not genuine to me. I’ve always found writing when I’m inspired when something happens in my life, and I feel something and then going to my guitar or going into Ableton and making something is the best approach because something rare, spontaneous and organic evolves when you are writing from the heart. It’s hustle culture that’s informed by capitalism. Everyone brags about having no days off and working so hard, and that has affected the creative community because people think, oh, I’ve got to make something every single day. Is it genuine if you go at it every day? There has to be a really healthy balance.”
Someone who knows all about the pressures of being a new artist is Charli XCX, and she has spent time acting as a mentor and sounding board for Daine while repping her at every opportunity as the best new artist around. It’s a relationship that Daine is hugely grateful for. “Charli helps me balance my ‘I don’t wanna write right now’ attitude,” she laughs. “She’s always moving and always doing something to it really inspires me because I think in ten years when I’m her age, I want to have that fanbase. It helps to have her wisdom and her takes on things because she was doing the same stuff as me when she was 18. It’s good having her as a mentor. She’s a genius.”
One thing Daine hasn’t experienced yet is the thrill of performing live to actual real people on the flesh. She has big plans, though. “I’m so excited. It’s something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” she beams. “I can’t wait to see what my listeners look like and share the music in real life. I’m really going to go ham into performing. I’ve been rehearsing and bought some cool stage props. I want it to be very atmospheric and magical.”
While the world was on pause for the last 18 months though, Daine has established her own performing festival online, which acts as a safe space for like-minded and progressive artists to perform and express themselves. Community is everything for Daine, and this was her way of giving back and representing a diverse and fluid community that may otherwise have been marginalised. Notable performers she has engaged have been future pop icons Charli and Hannah Diamond, as well as new wave hyperpop experimentalists like Brevin Kim, Harvest and 8485. She calls it Nocturne. “A lot of people in the hyperpop community or the SoundCloud community or the new wave of DIY electronica, a lot of these artists are queer or neurodivergent or have had rough upbringings and being able to make music and express yourself is something that connects everybody.”
Within this community are people who will shape and define alternative pop culture for years to come. They represent a new way of working and a new attitude. Respectful to the icons who have gone before them but not content to rehash the past, they want to shape a new future, and Daine is right at the heart of it. “Everyone is super talented and super creative and pushing boundaries for what we expect in music,” she says passionately. “In recent years, people have been bored because there’s been no innovation or no room for innovation in music,” she continues. “Hyperpop is the response to that boredom. Why not make everything crazy, and in that way, it has been inspiring.”
For Daine, there’s no better time for her to be making music than in 2021. “It’s boring to do the same thing over and over again that’s been done a million times before. A lot of people can have more complex sonic identities now. There are no rules. You can have a trap beat with a guitar. You couldn’t have done that 20 years ago. I think the fact we can now is awesome, and we have all these incredible mini genres that you can’t even describe.”
Daine’s music at its best certainly does defy description. It’s a hyper-modern blend of old and new, traditional and far-out, experimental and super accessible alt-pop. What connects everything though, is her punk values and punk spirit. As Daine’s music morphs and evolves and becomes harder, heavier, bigger and stronger, Daincore becomes ever more a state of mind and a way of life.
Daine’s single ‘Salt (Feat. Oli Sykes)’ is out in August.