The Emergence of Hyper-Rock
Out of the revivalist ashes of modern shoegaze, a new world of guitar music is set to take over in 2024.Photos by Brendon Burton, Daniel DeSlover/Shutterstock, & Vasso Vu Music Features Scene Report
Lately, it seems like everyone is talking about the return of shoegaze, a genre that first emerged in the late ’80s and early ’90s, characterized by dense layers of fuzzy guitar textures soaked in reverb. While relatively short-lived then, it is back in full-swing, thanks to TikTok and blossoming scenes in cities like Philadelphia. However, this resurgence is not strictly revivalism, instead standing on the shoulders of music that did not exist in the heyday of OG shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Duster. The generation propelling this era of the genre grew up alongside PC Music and Drain Gang, resulting in a wave of artists taking guitar music to previously uncharted territory. This emerging musicality has reinvigorated my excitement for modern rock music altogether and, while I love Slowdive‘s Souvlaki as much as the next chronically online music nerd, it is this development that is breathing new life into rock and roll.
I’m talking about “hyper-rock,” music that centers on rock guitars but is decorated with processed vocals (think auto-tuned, pitched up, formant shifted), glitchy textures and off-the-wall electronic detours. I first stumbled across the term when reading James Rettig’s review of feeble little horse’s Girl with Fish, where he coined hyper-rock in a tongue-in-cheek parenthetical. But while he didn’t seem to think of this new categorization as particularly revolutionary, it got me thinking about a broader phenomenon increasingly dominating indie music: a fusion of rock and electronic music distinct from the worlds of folktronica, indietronica and digital hardcore. When it seems like a cohesive sound is emerging that doesn’t quite fit under the current sub-genre umbrellas, perhaps that means it’s time for a new one.
One fascinating aspect of the emergence of hyper-rock is that it doesn’t appear linear or traceable to any singular scene. Sure, a renewed interest in shoegaze has been important and perhaps indispensable, but this new territory has evolved out of select hyper-pop pockets just as much as it has emerged from various shoegaze communities. That a cohesive sound has emerged at all is, perhaps, a function of our increasingly connected existence (God bless the World Wide Web), making it easier than ever for different scenes and artists to exhibit reciprocal influence and mutually converge with each other. Whatever the reason, the past couple of years have seen these disparate worlds coalesce, so it now seems time to unite them under one roof. Hyper-rock is here. Let’s talk about it.
The earliest experiments in this sonic universe unfolded a little over 20 years ago. Perhaps the first record worth mentioning is Sweet Trip’s Velocity : Design : Comfort, a fusion of IDM, glitch and shoegaze—the likes of which the world had never seen before and would never see again in quite the same way. It’s an album whose influence is hard to quantify, but putting it at the beginning of the hyper-rock story feels appropriate. In particular, “Fruitcake and Cookies” and “To All the Dancers of the World, a Round Form of Fantasy” feature evolutions of fragmented electronic soundscapes into euphoric releases of shoegaze guitars that are especially hyper-rock-coded and harbingers of a sound to come. Just a couple of years later, Sigur Rós’ “Sæglópur” further explored the explosive power of moving from sparse, glitchy beginnings to enveloping shoegaze guitars, this time in a way that feels almost like an early version of Parannoul (don’t worry, we’ll get to him).
Alongside Sweet Trip, M83 was also early to experiment with distorted guitar and electronic fusions, the first of which predate Velocity : Design : Comfort. Songs like “Kelly” and “0078H” stack guitar and synth layers over fragmented, manipulated vocals—a near essential aspect of what has become the hyper-rock sound. Later in the 2000s, Candy Claws would also experiment with processed vocals over (far more bizarre) shoegaze textures. The mystical and magical “Lantern Fish” is a perfect example.
All of this music from the 2000s showcases elements that would go on to crystallize in hyper-rock in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s on the way there, but it’s time to move on from proto-hyper-rock and dive into the meat of the genre. Recall that hyper-rock emerged out of initially disparate scenes, each contributing to the confluence of the sound in a unique way.
Let’s start with some shoegazers. Before the genre’s revival of the past few years, shoegaze got new life in the late 2000s/early 2010s with the development of blackgaze—a combination of the harsh, slowly evolving riffs of black metal with dreamy shoegaze textures. Notable pioneers include Alcest, a French metal outfit, and Deafheaven, who would push the sound into the limelight with the monumental record Sunbather. This evolution, alongside the development of other genres fusing metal aesthetics with trance and EDM (see Ozoi The Maid’s Wonderland) gave rise to one of the first compelling realizations of hyper-rock, Strawberry Hospital’s Grave Chimera in 2018.
Grave Chimera kicks off with a bellowing scream atop guitar riffs paired with a glistening synth line, which fall away to manipulated vocals and scattered programmed drums. The rock and electronic elements swirl around the mix and take turns in the foreground, never competing but rather complementing each other seamlessly. These fusions manifest in different ways throughout the short project, but ever-present are crystal clear synth leads and autotuned/pitch-shifted vocals paired with blackgaze guitars. This mode of vocal manipulation and synth texture blended with rock music sounds almost like a precursor to yeule’s softscars, a 2023 project that sits firmly in the hyper-rock universe with walls of guitars underpinning glitched-out production and vocals (see “sulky baby,” “4ui12” and “cyber meat”).
Likewise, Grave Chimera feels like the start of a convergence. It was soon followed by adjacent sonic experiments, such as Lilac’s “velvet” and “weluvurgirl,” and, since we’re on the topic of metal and electronic fusions, I’d be remiss not to give Bring Me The Horizon a shoutout. Their 2020 crossover with BABYMETAL, “Kingslayer,” features heavily processed and glitched-out screams, and 2019’s Music to listen to… contains a host of electronic detours of affected vocal textures that aren’t too far off from what would ultimately manifest in purer hyper-rock contexts.
While much of this music is basically hyper-rock, with Grave Chimera sitting most firmly in said new world, some newer shoegaze pockets more clearly articulate the sound. The aforementioned Philly shoegaze scene often incorporates electronic elements in its music, though the particular ways in which they manifest can vary from group to group. It’s most fitting to start with Alex G, whose mid-2010s lo-fi musings influenced so much music in Philly and the indie world as a whole. His recent endeavors have flirted heavily with hyper-rock, with 2022’s God Save the Animals being one of my favorite articulations of the sound. On the record, Alex G pitches his voice up, down and all around, playing with processed vocal textures over semi-live, semi-programmed instrumentals (see “Immunity,” “Cross the Sea” and “S.D.O.S”). Perhaps the boldest hyper-rock fusion on the project comes at the end of “No Bitterness,” where Alex G’s frantic auto-tune perfectly complements a blown-out, frantic beat. The record is strange and refreshing in a way only Alex G can conjure.
Also hailing from Philly, Full Body 2 and They Are Gutting a Body of Water (TAGABOW) are shoegaze groups making creative use of electronic textures. On the two groups’ collaborative Epcot EP, “Menthol Box” features infectious breaks and “Sprite Ocarina” contains synth layers and stuttering drums that perfectly blur the line between rock and electronica. Another Philly band, SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, have come at the sound from another angle, crafting a face-melting, psychedelic experience in the form of 2021’s ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH. It’s a disorienting collage of constantly shifting indie rock, weaving fragmented transitions through floating synths and mangled vocals (see “GIVE UP YOUR LIFE,” “THE SERVER IS IMMERSED” and “IT MIGHT TAKE SOME TIME”). Across the state in Pittsburgh, feeble little horse put their unique spin on hyper-rock last year, crafting a shapeshifting collection of subtly surreal indie rock fused with glitchy embellishments on Girl with Fish (check out “Heaven,” “Slide” and “Healing” to get a sense).
On the other side of the world, artists in a budding shoegaze scene in South Korea are also experimenting with electronic rock fusions. Parannoul has been pushing the boundaries of digital shoegaze since 2021’s To See the Next Part of the Dream, but it was really last year’s After the Magic that assumed hyper-rock in full form. Opener “Polaris” features an absolutely eargasmic explosion at the two-minute mark, layering bright synths and distorted guitar textures in a swirling release of electronic gaze. After such a gripping introduction, Parannoul doesn’t let go, weaving together sequenced drums and mind-expanding synth/guitar atmospheres that perfectly blur the line between dreamy rock and jittery electronica. After the Magic is incredible, but the Korean hyper-rock sound extends beyond just Parannoul. Asian Glow has been crafting similar glitchy ‘gaze fusions while leaning into more emo aesthetics (check out “Lit Lips the Bracken,” “Ashpit Nowhere” and “Pt.2345678Andstill”), and Della Zyr has reached euphoric heights layering glistening synth lines over distorted guitars (my absolute favorite is “여름: 모호함 속의 너 / 2악장 / 놓아줄 때가 되면 놓아주기 (Concerto)”).
So far, we’ve seen hyper-rock in guitar music that has begun incorporating more glitchiness, vocal processing, and electronics. However, it also emerged from the other direction, out of warped, autotuned music that endeavored to add more guitars. I’m talking about hyper-pop. PC Music, founded in 2013 by A.G. Cook, is the birthplace of hyper-pop in many respects. In its early years, the label became known for its bubblegum bass sound, a far-cry from anything guitar-oriented. It was bouncy and off the wall, reimagining pop music in a high-pitched, sped-up, danceable fever dream. As the label evolved, however, it began to incorporate a wider range of influences, and Cook began to experiment with guitars. This endeavor became especially apparent on his 2020 albums 7G and Apple. Sometimes, the cuts were more acoustic, autotuned singer-songwriter oriented (see “Haunted” and “Being Harsh”), not quite in the realm of hyper-rock, but many others featured more distorted guitar layers mixed with similarly auto-tuned vocals and PC-coded hyper-pop embellishments.
Some prime examples are “Beautiful Superstar,” “Undying,” and a cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” 2023 saw Cook take this style even further, collaborating with EASYFUN under the moniker Thy Slaughter to craft Soft Rock, a record filled to the brim with more hyper-rock explorations. Elsewhere, 100 gecs blew up with their tongue-in-cheek approach—throwing everything at the wall and never taking themselves too seriously. Their carefree energy and nasally, pitched-up vocals showcased a more fun, DIY side of hyper-pop that made waves through the genre and did much to influence its evolution. Their debut, 2019’s 1000 gecs, already saw them dabbling in hyper-rock aesthetics, with fuzzy, blown-out guitars forming the backbone of songs like “800db cloud” and “stupid horse.” They would collaborate with Fall Out Boy on the following remix record, 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues, solidifying their interest in blending hyper-pop with guitar music.
However, hyper-pop seems to have had a short shelf life, and many artists responsible for its rise to fame did not stay in the same lane for long. Perhaps part of this is due to the genre being somewhat subversive in nature—and, when it goes mainstream, it loses that appeal. Whatever the reason, 100 gecs took their time crafting a follow-up, and 2023’s 10,000 gecs made sure to progress past the dated hyper-pop aesthetic. One way of doing this was by leaning even more into hyper-rock and, on many cuts off the new record, that’s exactly what they did. “Dumbest Girl Alive” and “Hollywood Baby” rely on huge riffs more than 100 gecs ever have before—all while retaining the explosive, catchy and electrifying vibes from their breakout debut.
The hyper-pop rundown concludes with a scene that is more closely associated with digicore, but got off the ground with equally glitched-out production and mangled vocals. I’m talking about deadAir and friends: artists like Jane Remover, Quadeca and quannnic who are signed to the label and closely associated with acts like brakence and underscores. These artists have popularized a more angsty alternative to the aforementioned shades of hyper-pop, each finding their own path to the guitar and the world of hyper-rock.
Jane Remover dropped a monster of a debut with Frailty in 2021, one of my favorite records of the decade so far and a perfect distillation of teenage angst. While her music before this project was often more purely electronic, Frailty saw Jane spending a lot more time with the guitar and fusing it into almost every song. Cuts like “Movies For Guys” and “Search Party” revolve around evolving layers of bit-crushed guitars but retain the glitchy aesthetics Jane is such a wizard at creating. quannnic’s kenopsia, released the following year, brought to life similar sonic fusions, with tracks like “think with your lungs” and “sorry days” carrying the torch Frailty lit. Interestingly, however, both artists seem to be on their way out of the hyper-rock lane, dropping projects last year that moved away from such aesthetics. Jane Remover’s Census Designated took a turn towards full-on shoegaze and post-rock and, while many songs still feature autotune and buggy moments, these spots feel more peripheral, with walls of guitars and straight-up rock music taking center stage.
quannnic’s Stepdream is even more devoid of electronics. Perhaps hyper-rock, or at least this articulation, has a shelf life not dissimilar from hyper-pop. brakence is a bit of a different story. His music fused elements of rock music and hip-hop from the start, and some of his clearest hyper-rock cuts land on his debut, punk2, where he combined dubby, electro production with guitar-oriented songwriting and his trademark over-dramatic vocal approach. Check out “dropout” and “fwb” to get a sense.
It seems artists who came up dabbling in electronics have grown more interested in guitar music, and artists making rock and shoegaze have glimpsed the potential for imbuing glitches and vocal manipulation in their work. As a result, once-distinct worlds are meeting in the middle and contributing to a new genre. And the participating scenes go beyond shoegaze and hyper-pop. Some artists who previously worked in vaporwave have taken a newfound interest in the guitar, as exemplified by death’s dynamic shroud’s Darklife and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Again, both stellar articulations of hyper-rock in their own right. Kero Kero Bonito, a surprising contributor—given their original bubbly pop sound—took an early stab at the fusion with 2018’s Time ‘n’ Place, while Low’s work since post-2016 saw a slowcore band of 30 years find new life incorporating electronic sound design in their guitar-centered world, especially on their triumphant 2021 LP HEY WHAT.
It is time for hyper-rock—it has become somewhat inescapable, with more and more pockets of artists venturing into its wake and adding their own spin on the style. For every Jane Remover that leaves the genre behind, five more artists appear at its doorstep. I can barely keep track of all the artists contributing, and 2023 stands firmly as hyper-rock’s biggest year yet—including releases like Water From Your Eyes’ Everyone’s Crushed, ivri drop’s the star factory and Dorian Electra’s Fanfare. There is a deep, still-expanding treasure trove for fans of these sonic fusions—I know my appetite has been satisfied. All the same, I can’t wait to hear how the sound evolves. For as long as I can remember, the “death of guitar music” has been proclaimed by jaded rock and rollers, and while it’s a sentiment that has never sat right with me, I didn’t have the wherewithal to combat it. Finally, a coherent movement has emerged that is emphatically innovating and growing in popularity. Guitar music is on the cutting edge, dancing on its own supposed grave.
Check out a playlist of hyper-rock essentials, compiled by author David Feigelson, below.