The life (and death?) of sigilkore

Once a music scene that revolved around occult rituals and demonic entities, “sigilkore” has become a vague catch-all for all kinds of online rap. What does it even mean anymore?

Art by Tyler Farmer.

The other day, I was working at a cafe when an older guy started talking to me out of nowhere. He asked what I was doing; I said I was writing a piece about music. He then did the verbal equivalent of manspreading: unsolicited pontification about his past life as a music producer. “What are you writing about, anyway?” he concluded. “There’s nothing good or new nowadays.” I offered a list of music scenes and sounds. His eyes glazed over until I said “sigilkore,” which I explained involved a lot of ear-shredding distortion, rappers snarling and hissing like demons. I played him Luci4’s “All Eyez on Me” and his eyes started bugging out. His face began to bear a look of agonized constipation, as if he was close to giving birth. “God damn,” he said, scooting back into his chair, shaken. “This must be what Biden and the Satanic liberals are into.”

If Biden listened to sigilkore it would probably kill him. Yet this cafe bozo was right to seize on sigilkore as an intriguing aesthetic. There has been a sea of self-anointed subgenres over the last few years: robloxcore, sextrance, new jazz, dark plugg, hyperdrill, murderdrill, vamp plugg, spunk punk, the list goes on. Of all these labels, no new sound is as genuinely fresh and future-shocking as what listeners label sigilkore. Yet artists can’t stand the term. Still, they can’t throw it away entirely because of its sudden potency as a marketing device. They’ve tried to create new labels, but nothing is sticking. What has resulted is one of the more bizarre genre-labeling interactions of the digital era. Enter the genroboros.

islurwhenitalk & 4jay – “LOXXING ME”

Rewind to the start: Sigilkore was popularized by rapper-producers islurwhenitalk and Luci4 aka Axxturel. They used it in titles to mark songs they mixed, dating back to 2019 oddities like “LOXXING ME,” which flays squeaky vocals in a grinder of samples and scratches. As the two gained traction, the phrase became synonymous with their shadowy aesthetic and sound.

Sigilkore is a reference to sigils, a symbol associated with magic, deities, and occult rituals. Originally, the term was inspired by the artists and their collective Jewelxxet’s religious beliefs. According to digital archivist Arai, “They didn’t want anyone who didn’t worship demonic entities making their style of music.” This resulted in some tumultuous artist beefs, including an incident where Jewelxxet stopped working with another underground collective because they didn’t think worshiping demons was necessary to make this music, Arai told me. Incredible as it might seem, Jewelxxet ex-member sellasouls told me in 2021 that he thought his “mortal body is annoying” and that he yearned to “die at a young age.” When asked what inspired him to whisper-rap like a sickly ghost, he claimed it was a “pact with a deity.” One of Luci4’s first TikTok hits, the deliriously spectral “Ave Domina Lilith” ignited a miniature moral panic after religious onlookers claimed the song had Satanic energy and would cast a curse on listeners.

Comments on a TikTok using Luci4 – “Ave Domino Lilith.”

Whether they were just pretending to be cosmic bad boys or they actually believed they were, the music was innovative and weird as hell, especially compared to mainstream trap in the late 2010s. Instead of sing-rapping with a melodious Auto-Tune gloss, Luci4 was snarling over hurricanes of cavernous bass and rippling gunshots. Listening with headphones to tunes like sellasouls’ blistering “KILLSHIT,” it feels like your ears are locked in a brutal deathmatch with  dementors trying to claw at your soul. islurwhenitalk and Luci4’s “Stripper Party” calls to mind a Las Vegas casino floor where the slot machines have come alive and gone rabid, attacking the guests.

Luci4 – “Kurxxed Emeraldz”

As the artists blew up, the term sigilkore got detached from its sonic and sorcerous origins. Luci4’s massive hit “Kurxxed Emeraldz” really exploded everything. It spawned one of the biggest TikTok dance trends of summer 2021 and became the gateway for uninitiated artists and listeners, who started applying the word sigilkore to anything sped-up and murky. The death of “SoundCloud rap” as an umbrella term had left a semantic vacuum: certain subgenres like plugg and digicore were clearly defined but this dark realm was a linguistic hinterland. Even as artists tried to coin their own phrases like slung and maplekore, sigilkore slowly consumed everything.

In the context-less vortex of TikTok, where numerous Luci4 songs have sparked trends, the term has been cheapened and reduced. In comment sections, people mislabel songs when viewers inquire about them, e.g. calling something sigilkore when it’s just dark trap. Fans unconsciously misconstrue sigilkore through their ethereal gossip in these video comments—like haters repeatedly commenting “social outcast rap” and “Roblox music” and making shitpost videos pretending to hex people, which gradually makes passersby associate the music with tween geeks. When there’s little outside writing about the genre and the artists can’t be bothered to correct the record, false claims end up becoming the final narrative. The eventual effect is that many underground spectators treat sigilkore like a big gag, stained by its unfair relation with hexing roleplay and TikTok nerds. What was once a genuinely astonishing mutation of rap has become a laughingstock.

Part of the disgust with the term seems to be because of how it’s become synonymous with “TikTok music.” There’s been something like a bell curve in the reputation of TikTok-famous tracks. In the platform’s early days, shortly after it separated from the lip sync app, its top songs were widely considered cringe. Around the pandemic, there was a golden age where the app boosted all kinds of oddball chaos like doomer post-punk and sea shanties. There’s a reason why publications have mostly stopped writing articles about TikTok music phenoms: the novelty has worn off and the app’s biggest sonic exports have become vanilla and predictable.

Two of the app’s biggest breakouts this year are part of a new wave of what many listeners refer to as “sigilkore,” although their music is more like sigilshlock. Substitute teacher-turned-TikToker Odetari has nabbed the same amount of hits on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic chart as Marshmello and David Guetta, not to mention nine million monthly listeners. There’s also Lumi Athena, who has over 200 million streams and is an inescapable presence on TikTok. The artists’ music spews Auto-Tuned cries over amorphous ravey synths and throttling Jersey club beats. It’s like Soulcycle hyperpop fused with the queasy lyrical slop of Yung Gravy.

When Odetari and Lumi Athena started going viral, they didn’t have a nickname for their style, which is poorly executed but still sounds like a relatively new fusion of hyperpop, EDM, and Jersey club. Their music became conflated with Luci4 and sigilkore proper because TikTok listeners, who didn’t know how to describe the music, fell back on the nebulous version of the genre popularized on TikTok. Fans recycled the phrase “sigilkore” because of these artists’ speedy tempos, cyborgian melodies, and plastic beats.

Odetari feat. Trippie Redd & 9lives – “I LOVE YOU HOE”

But listen to Odetari’s new debut album DOOR TO DUSK and it’s obvious this music sounds nothing like old-school sigilkore’s incoherent vocals, terrifying effects, and listener-unfriendly mixes. Songs like the turgid glitch lightshow “I LOVE YOU HOE” and the cyborg-in-the-club title track are creatively barren and overly gussied up for mainstream ears. The nearest thing to a chilling demonic hiss is Odetari’s eerily whispered intro on “PURPLE HEART,” but then it explodes into a bombastic Jersey club beat with a grating Don Tolliver feature. Rather than sigilkore, the closest parallel is stuff like CMTEN’s “NEVER MET!,” one of the first viral hyperpop songs, that took the metallic PC Music sound and made it nauseating by primping it for an arena. Where you’d imagine the classic sigilkore soundtracking a shadowy cult ritual, Odetari’s music is what you’d play to cosplay as being cool—it’s like if A24 tried to craft a futuristic gumbo of niche internet subgenres. It’s no wonder his music is very popular with TikTok editors, who use the songs for videos where they ship Sonic the Hedgehog characters and fetishize Five Nights at Freddy’s animatronics. His fanbase seems to be heavily composed of teen gamers who use the word “blud” ironically. It’s people who think they’re #Different because they like this kind of music. 

Funnily, Odetari and Lumi Athena also despise the term sigilkore because they, like other TikTok users, associate it with cringe TikTok music. In April, Lumi Athena called people “braindead” for describing them as sigilkore. “We dont make sigilkore sped up tiktok roblox music… its insulting,” they wrote in a video. Odetari made TikToks with “NOT sigilkore” written in the description (though he has cheekily used the sigilkore hashtag in TikToks so the algorithm feeds them to sigilkore fans). The two were so vexed about fans using the label that they launched counter-offensives. Odetari started calling his style “Odecore,” which is the worst genre-name invention I’ve ever heard. Lumi Athena coined “krushclub” to describe the fusion of Jersey club and bitcrushing, but that didn’t catch on either. Earlier this year, Spotify exacerbated the confusion by creating a “sigilkore” playlist with a potpourri of artists that are overwhelmingly from this new-gen of fake sigilkore. Like its other curated catalogs, the playlist offered no description of the scene’s history, just a reductive tagline: “welcome to underworld.” (Spotify recently changed the playlist title to “hexxed,” hijacking another genre label: the bitcrushed hexD scene.)

Spotify’s official “hexxed” playlist (fka “sigilkore”).

As a result, basically no artists use the term sigilkore anymore. The real originators of the sound despise it, Arai told me, even though they sometimes still make what’s effectively classic sigilkore, but without such chaotic mixing and vocal methods. And the new wave of bootleg sigilkore also refuse to identify with the label even as fans, beatmakers, and Spotify hurls it at them. What’s intriguing about this situation is the now-total meaninglessness of the phrase sigilkore. No one wants to claim it, but it’s still used heavily by listeners, and I’m sure by industry execs trying to categorize musical trends. The word has become a ghost genre, a nebulous nothingness, a label with no referent. There are hundreds of fanmade sigilkore playlists and its TikTok tag has over 390 million views, which incentivizes musicians to keep using it as a kind of marketing device to rack up views. It feels similar to what Rebecca Jennings described as the “girlouboros” of TikTokers appending the word “girl” in front of made-up trends like “girl dinner,” “hot girl walk,” and “feral girl summer.” 

There’s a long history of genres being diluted as they gain traction and taxonomy sparking debate. Yet this situation feels unique to TikTok’s siloed subcultures. It reminds me of how corecore’s meaning was drawn up in real-time through the constantly unfurling discourse in comment sections and reaction videos. TikTok is both an abyss devoid of context and a kind of algorithmic archive, so videos with indexed hashtags like “sigilkore” will continue to be served up to viewers even after self-identifying sigilkore musicians stop using the phrase and the scene dies. It’s like the computer is dragging along a corpse, prompting new artists to recycle the sigilkore tag to collect more views.

I can’t think of a recent scene that successfully named itself and survived more than a year. The fractured structure of the internet makes it difficult for communities to agree on tags—they’re not in a physical space and can’t rally around things like regional pride. The viralscape also discourages musical growth. After an artist gains traction with a microgenre they’ve invented, there are two outcomes: they sign and the label helps them dilute the sound (e.g. hyperpop), or it becomes a “type beat” with endless derivative copies (rage rap, new jazz, etc.). The lifecycle of niche music blowing up has always been this way, but the internet accelerates the process to the point where the sounds being harvested aren’t even exciting nor do they stand for much of anything stylistically or culturally. Online, giving a scene in its infancy a name often transforms it into a quantitative aesthetic. The label flattens its depth into a buzzword tied to platform metrics like streams and followers. After it becomes a hashtag, it’s hard for a scene to progress beyond its most popular associations—aka the top TikTok sounds and streaming playlists, which supplant any other potential meaning for new listeners. The scenes are suffocated and formularized before they have a chance to truly evolve. It’s digital Darwinism — a survival of the shittest.

2 thoughts on “The life (and death?) of sigilkore”

  1. Hello! I really liked reading this cause it was very informative and i feel like I got the gist of what sigilkore is. One of the songs under the genre “hexxed” on Spotify has the song “Love game” under and I wanted to know if there’s anything out of the ordinary about it cause I really like the beat but at the end of the ion mess with anything demonic.

  2. Isn’t this inherent to the instant accessibility of scenes you used to have to go to a club or record store to hear, as well as the infinitely bigger TikTok occupying the role DatPiff or SoundCloud used to? (I fear we’re only a year away from Drake releasing a bruxaria song!)