Digital swing: An interview with carbine

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H.D. Angel graduated cum laude from the Snare Society.

Are your nightmares full of characters from cartoons you haven’t seen in years? Do you have chronic tinnitus as a teenager? Do you know what the “theyfriend snare” is? 

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may be a fan of dariacore, a microgenre/internet combustion chamber created by dltzk’s alter ego leroy. Since their first track in December 2020, leroy’s streak of sample-fuckering EDM has spawned two compilations, a third season in progress, and its own side of the SoundCloud algorithm full of artists offering their takes on its ideas. As soon as a new song or idea starts buzzing in the internet-music world, kids are already recombining its raw material in a million different ways.

My introduction to the wider post-leroy scene came with carbine, when friend of the blog billdifferen posted “inside my head” in noz’s Discord server last June. Even back then, it was clear they were doing something original – sure, they were riffing on Zeke’s work, but they seemed to come at those synth explosions with new eyes and ears and a refreshing sense of wonder. I would fall down the #dariacore rabbit hole on SoundCloud over and over again in the ensuing months and get obsessed with shit like Brazilian kids making triple-threat baile funk dariacore remixes of Lil Nas X songs, someone with an MLP avatar releasing riddim that sounds like glaciers colliding in your ears, or an established dubstep artist trying the style out and blasting their wobbles to bits for a new audience. But I was always most excited to spot the Amazing World of Gumball cover art in my feed that signaled a new carbine upload. 

Their sound evolved fast. When carbine started out, they were mostly remixing SoundCloud micro-hits from artists like d0llywood1 and Nigo Chanel; as the account picked up steam, they increasingly foregrounded their vocals on pensive, head-nodding pop tracks like “fade” that swelled with ambition. The goldfish always darted where I least expected. 5/4 psychedelics one day, a groovy Ariana Grande house flip the next. (Turn off that video essay you have on in the background and go through their SoundCloud for an hour instead – it’s a treat.) It got me wondering: Who the fuck is Carbine, where did they come from, and how’d they get so good at this?

Before carbine was carbine, they were anko; before they’d ever heard leroy, they spearheaded a microgenre on SoundCloud they call “hyperbounce”. “Basically, hyperbounce is a sub-sub-genre my friends and I pioneered which combined the swing of bounce and (actual) sound design,” they explain over Discord DMs a few weeks after our December interview. Along with artists like san and noremac, they created a decent-sized wave on their little corner of the internet after beginning the anko project in 2020, but carbine says the bubble burst after “everyone started cloning [our] sauce”. Then, after being introduced to the world of digicore through artists like their close friend quannnic, they reinvented themself as a Darwin-masked dltzk fan. In October, they soft-revealed their old alias, connecting the anko and carbine accounts with a cool sequel track co-produced by san and noremac, pretty much a ‘then-and-now’ of their sound. Since our interview, they’ve formally linked the accounts’ bios together.

Talking to carbine, I can see why they’re drawn to Gumball. They’ve got the show’s same smarts and casual sense of optimism – which is impressive in a SoundCloud landscape that could turn any kid into a misanthrope. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how carbine described their tracks as “impulsive”. While the digicore scene gets more labored-over and album-oriented, this stuff is basically just straight shots of Serum into your veins. Like much of the music trained on the eclectic churn of the SoundCloud algorithm, songs like carbine’s “insane” accomplish the deceptively-difficult task of hitting your brain with a bunch of cool shit as efficiently as possible, which sets the music apart from less compact precedents like Kid606 or less sophisticated ones like SoundClown.

That impulsiveness can arguably be to the scene’s detriment, though. As Kieran Press-Reynolds outlined a few weeks back, the semantic conflicts that often befall these kinds of small scenes have circled around dariacore recently; accusations of people biting or diluting leroy’s sound have flown around in the ether, and some artists have removed the #dariacore tag that first surfaced their songs in SoundCloud autoplay. (Even writing about it now, I feel a little late to the party.) 

Carbine has since disavowed the term ‘dariacore’ as a label for their own music. They’ve been through these cycles a few times now: “[Hyperbounce] had a similar rise to fame like dariacore…and it had a similar falling off to dariacore,” they tell me. Micro-movements like these live and die by their impulsiveness: the same creative energy that made last year’s summer of daria so exciting, letting the music take in and spit back out influences with such obsessive intensity, can also make the music too volatile, and too vulnerable to outside observation, to stabilize like it might in a slower, offline community where IRL social inertia could keep things grounded. But at its best, it’s a rush like no other. Sounds get traded, and ideas get codified. Eventually you get fluent in the vocabulary of the music, and stitch together a communal taste profile from all the instinctive kmoe a capellas and Drowning Pool screams. Curious artists fill in the algorithmic cracks between digicore kids and EDM kids to build something new at the intersection. It’s internet culture moving faster than a speeding breakbeat.

Of all the artists who’ve tumbled out of the d*riacore vortex, carbine’s the most poised to graduate into a style all their own. Their latest two tracks, “camera” and “fall”, are their most explicitly pop-facing, with one even notching a top spot on Billy Bugara’s digicore playlist. Although they’re including more vocals in their latest music – “since I’ve become more confident in them!” – they clarify that they’re not strictly pivoting the ‘carbine’ account to that style: “i honestly think im just trying to do me the best i can.” These songs trade a little of carbine’s throw-everything-at-the-wall spontaneity for something more meticulous, but they don’t feel like prestige-seeking gestures toward a more ‘mature’ or ‘accessible’ sound – just new experiments. And no matter what carbine’s making, you can always bank on their high-def sound design and a swing so sharp it could cut you.

When I ask them how many SoundCloud accounts they have, they count off six in total. Some, like carbine and anko, have baked-in audiences. Others, they suggest, are for the kind of secret, spur-of-the-moment Ableton sketches where their music got its start. (Maybe one of those will take off, spin out into a new community, and we’ll be interviewing them all over again in a year.) If there’s one thing about carbine that recalls dltzk, even more than the sonics, it’s their career arc: they’ve hurtled by chance out of their own cluster of EDM influences to try and reshape the scenes in their wake through sheer word-of-mouth impact. And that rules!

My interview with Carbine from December is transcribed below. This was before all the controversy around the name ‘dariacore’ and the scene itself, so take that with a few grains of salt if you wanna.

H.D. Angel: For a while, your Twitter bio was “dltzk #1 fan”. As a producer, with a producer’s ear, what do you think attracts you to their music? 

carbine: I think they’re doing something new every single time. They’re so good at putting catchiness into a song. Every single song has something memorable about it, and I can’t always put my finger on it, but I think that’s what makes them them. I always think their arrangement and control is perfect in every track.

What are your favorite songs of theirs?

On their main page, I’d probably say “search party” or “pretender”. Those are my two favorites. And when it comes to leroy, probably “the joke is on you” or…Season 2 Episode 10, “wants mom to know she looks cool and doesn’t plan on changing”.

So you have your own dariacore page, where you make instrumental stuff but you also make vocal pop stuff. How much do you mentally separate those two sides of your work?

I was kinda nervous before, because I wasn’t sure if I could put both on the same page. I guess they’re mentally different, but if they’re on the same page and people enjoy it, I don’t mind putting it all on the same page. 

As far as process, how is your workflow different when making a dariacore song vs. a vocal pop one?

I guess my dariacore, or house stuff, is more…uninspired? I guess I have a quick idea and I put it out, or I take a couple hours to put my idea into [Ableton] and make it a real thing. It’s a lot more of a faster, impulsive process compared to my vocal stuff, which I take a little more time to think out. It takes me longer than a couple hours, because I guess it means something more to me, and I want it to mean something more to other people, beyond just dariacore.

So you mean your daria stuff is kinda off-the-cuff, you do it all at once without deliberating too much?

I’ll get little impulsive ideas, and I’ll be like “Oh! I guess I’ll try and see what I can do with that,” and that’s how all my dariacore tracks start out.

Where’s the starting point for those ideas? Do you see a sample you want to flip, or maybe hear something in your head?

I always have music plugged in, and I’ll hear something with a cool chord progression or riff and go, “Oh, wow! What if I could turn that into something more than what it is?” And I throw it into my DAW, put drums over it, and I’m like “Wow, this sounds cool!” I guess that’s how everything starts out.

Throughout the day, what are you listening to, mostly?

I listen to a lot of different things. I have a huge love for jazz music, and…I forget the term for it, but it’s like, jazz lo-fi? I don’t know what the term is. Jazz is a huge source of inspiration for me, because it appeals to me in ways most music can’t.

You can tell a simple story with simple chords, but as progressions and chords are more thought-out and intricate, you can tell a different story and hit people in a different way than a normal pop track.

Who are your favorite artists in that vein?

Hmm…There’s a few jazz lo-fi people, especially in my city. quickly, quickly, Rob Araujo, Anomalie, Haywyre, just to name a few. But there’s probably older jazz artists I could find, too.

What city is that?

I live in Portland. Portland, Oregon.

Some of your songs obviously are just purely instrumental, and some of them have either your vocals or other people’s vocals on them. How’s the process different there? Do you just treat the added vocal like another sample?

Yeah! Essentially. So, sometimes I’ll start off with a melody and put my vocals over it, just to see how it sounds, and if it sounds good I’ll just make it into something simple. Most of my dariacore vocal stuff, like “inside my head,” I just freestyled into the microphone, and just made it work with the track. 

So for those, it’s totally off-top and you don’t write or plan your vocals ahead?

Yeah! Besides songs like “fade” or “anyway”. Those are a couple tracks that I wrote in advance. But most of my tracks, I don’t plan to make. It’s all…while I’m there.

Would you say more of your music comes from discovering shit as it happens, or trying to actualize ideas that are already in your head?

Hmm…Most of the time, I feel like I’m just there on my DAW and it’s impulsive, right? But sometimes I’ll get these cool ideas in my head, and I’ll think about them for days, and then I’ll take them to my DAW and try to make them into a real thing. But that’s rare, and that’s usually when I have a really good idea. But most of the time, it happens right then and there, vs. just thinking it out and having it sit in my head, I guess.

What’s a song of yours where the more drawn-out process happened?

Probably “fade”. I think I thought out that entire song in my head before I put it into my DAW, compared to just doing it while I’m there. And I guess it means something more to me than a simple dariacore-sounding track. 

My favorite song of yours is “i can breathe”, with lei. Talk to me about the making of that one.

So I reached out to lei, and lei sent me an old song of theirs, and they’re like ‘oh, I can send you the vocals of this old song of mine, and I wanna see what you can do with it’. I worked on it, and after like, a day, I sent it to lei, and they were like ‘oh, wow, this sounds cool!’ And then I put it out.

Editor’s note: That old lei song is out now, too. It rocks. 

Are you a fan of the 2K3 stuff?

Yeah! In fact, CJ808 sent me some beats that I could try out to be on the 2K3 page for. Which I’m excited about, but I still need to get to that.

I feel like you and CJ both have really weird, cool senses of swing. How do you put your stamp on a song rhythmically?

I like to offset stuff a bunch compared to a lot of people. I kinda hate how everything sounds so quantized when it comes to more mainstream music, and I guess I can’t bop to it unless it’s got a unique: boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. A swing, I guess. And I always try to offset my stuff by like 100 milliseconds, or even 150 sometimes. It makes something sound way more interesting, Something you can bop your head to, compared to feeling like a robot and just listening to quantized music. That’s just how I see it.

Who are some of your favorite other producers who kinda have that method?

Moore Kismet is a good example, I think. They always have crazy swing when it comes to their tracks, and it just works every single time. A lot of, I guess, EDM music is quantized, because it’s just how people wanna listen to it. But Moore Kismet did their own thing, and put a lot of swing and control into their arrangement. I guess it brought out more of the soul, like you said, and creativity in their tracks.

Did you grow up with an EDM background?

Oh, yeah! I was bumping Skrillex, Virtual Riot, since I was like 9 or 10. I love EDM so much.

How did you get into the modern SoundCloud stuff?

Well, I’ve been producing since March of 2020, and I started just wanting to recreate stuff that I listen to. 

I started in the bass trap community. Trap Nation, that kinda music. I started in that community, met a lot of people, and learned a lot of stuff from a lot of people, and I guess without my friends and the people I met along the way, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now.

How did you find your way from that side of SoundCloud all the way over to dltzk, lei, that side?

I know, it’s kinda crazy! I found it through some mutual friends who were already sort of in that scene, and they sent me their songs and I listened to them. And I’m like “Wow, this has so much more color than what I’m used to, and it’s so new to my ears. I wanna listen to this stuff, make this stuff,” right? Within the past six months, I’ve gotten into digicore, hyperpop, dariacore, and I’m like, “I love this so much more than bass trap, or trap metal or something.” 

So did the carbine account exist before you heard leroy?

No, leroy was my main inspiration in making the account. But I didn’t want to make what leroy made, necessarily, because it would be kinda the same. So I put my own spin on it. I made the carbine account…what, six months ago? And it’s already taken off, and I think it’s such a good outlook for me to put out stuff that’s, you know, dariacore-ish, but has my own spin on it.

How would you describe that ‘spin’? What do you think sets you apart from dariacore as a scene or sound?

For one, I think I make a lot more house songs than more dariacore artists. I want it to sound…richer. Some dariacore songs can be so compressed, and I want mine to sound more dynamic, and have a little more thought to it mix-wise, and arrangement-wise, too.

You mentioned that you were hearing some stuff, and you were like ‘oh, fuck, I think I can do this better.’ Is there a competitive aspect to how you make your music?

I’ve always been trying to outdo myself. If I have a good idea, I wanna do it the best I can. I guess I have a good ear for hearing what’s good and what’s not, so I’ll listen to other people’s tracks and go, “If they did this, it’d be so much better.” Obviously that’s just my own opinion, and how I critique other songs in my head. 

I even have that same mentality with my own songs, which is why putting out music is either such an impulsive, or such a thought-out thing for me. I am my worst critic when it comes to music. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced when making a song? Something that really stumped you, that you were trying to get past.

I’m always conscious about the way my mixes sound. If I don’t use the right sounds, or it doesn’t sound mixed…good, I just don’t put it out. I’d say like half of my SoundCloud is privated, just for that sole reason.

That’s a pretty crazy ratio. So sometimes, maybe the mix is too crowded?

Yeah, exactly. Like when I’m getting samples, the original sample will have too much going on in it, and it just doesn’t work with how I originally thought it out. And I’m like “Dang it! This sucks. Never mind.” and I just don’t put it out.

When you hear…let’s say, something like an Ella Mai song, what is it that makes you go “Fuck! I wanna sample those vocals”?

Songs like that are incredibly catchy. Everyone’s heard them before. So I’m like, “what if I put a different spin on this, and just shock everyone on how my take is on something that everyone’s heard before? I wanna put different spins on things that everyone’s been accustomed to. To make them hear it differently. And I can do that by flipping songs that everyone’s heard before.

Quinn used some of your drums on two different songs on drive-by lullabies. How did that make you feel?

I was honestly…incredibly shocked, and surprised. Because I had no idea that Quinn was even into my music like that. She even reached out to me, and said “Wow, your drumkit’s awesome!” and I was like “THANK YOU!” (laughs) It all happened at once, and I had no clue any of it was even happening until I heard the album. 

I still kinda can’t get over it (laughs). It’s something so…unrealistic. There was a lot of satisfaction within me, too, like, “Wow! I really made it this far! I have so much more to do.”

Like a milestone.


If you had to look ahead, what are some future milestones you’d like to achieve?

Well, with the year ending, I guess it’s a good time to set some milestones. I wanna hit, like, at least 5K by the end of 2022. Thinking about the year ahead, I wanna put out a lot more music. I think I wanna work with a lot more people, too, because that’s something I haven’t been doing – I’ve just been burning all my energy towards myself.

Who do you wanna work with?

I probably wanna work with my friends, like quannnic…I think I wanna do another song with lei, as well. Probably a few digicore people. If I ever have an idea, I’d wanna send it to them, because they can do something that I can’t do.

How do you get most of your drums?

A lot of it is processing my own drums in Ableton – starting off with a base. A lot of times, I’ll even resample my old tracks into new drums, which is what I did for the kit. I process like 80% of my own drums in my music. So I just figured I’d put everything I’d processed into a kit for people to use.

How many people do you think have bought the kit?

Well, I know the number, actually. It’s, I think, 160 so far?

That’s a shitton of people. After only a couple months.

I know. I didn’t expect it at all.

Thoughts? Let us know