- 18-year-old New Jersey native Zeke has millions of streams and just put out an album, “Frailty.”
- They make emo electronic music under the name dltzk and silly mashups under the name leroy.
- Zeke pioneered “dariacore,” a subgenre involving hyperspeed song mashups.
Zeke lives a double life online. The 18-year-old produces emo electronic compositions under one identity (dltzk) and goofy, genre-pulverizing mashups under another (leroy), reaching millions of streams across Spotify and SoundCloud.
They’ve also coined a subgenre that’s rising in popularity on SoundCloud and inspiring a wave of artists.
“I’m finally making the music I’ve wanted to make since I was 9,” Zeke, a New Jersey native who doesn’t disclose their last name because of privacy concerns, told Insider.
Under their second pseudonym, leroy, they’ve just begun the third project for “dariacore,” the eclectic microgenre they spearheaded from their childhood bedroom late last year.
Dariacore is “pop music on steroids in the best way possible,” Bill Bugara, a SoundCloud creative director and manager at Zeke’s label, deadAir, told Insider.
The sample-heavy subgenre revolves around “how one deconstructs pop and dance music into this amalgamation of controlled chaos,” added Bugara, who released a charity compilation on SoundCloud on Sunday featuring dariacore songs from about a dozen musicians including Zeke.
Zeke left for college near Philadelphia in August. (They said they hadn’t yet chosen what to study.) Almost all the songs they make now are about “crossing the barrier between childhood and adulthood,” they said.
Zeke’s influence among their peers in music hasn’t fully translated to real-world self-confidence yet: The artist said they were too insecure to record music within earshot of their parents or bring a microphone to college, where prying roommates could hear them sing.
Zeke has loved EDM since they were a kid
Like Quinn, whom Zeke cited as an influence, Zeke is at the vanguard of a fast-rising group of Zoomers making intimate, nervy music from their computers.
Zeke learned how to make electronic dance music at 9 after fiddling with iMaschine, a basic iPhone songwriting app. “I fucked around and found out” how to produce music, they said.
Zeke said they’d always loved loud, frenzied songs. “One of my most vivid memories from elementary school is asking my gym teacher to play Skrillex in class while we were playing dodgeball,” they recalled, adding that as a 9- or 10-year-old they would eagerly play homemade EDM mashups for kids and counselors at summer camp.
As a teen, they began producing trap beats and, eventually, hyperpop — a genre with experimental vocal techniques and chaotic beats that’s sometimes called digicore — around early 2020. Zeke’s first major break was “Teen Week,” an eight-track EP they self-released in March. Its electric digicore anthem “homeswitcher” amassed 100,000 plays on SoundCloud in its first two weeks.
‘Frailty’ is inspired by video-game music and nostalgia
Dltzk’s debut record, “Frailty,” released with deadAir, is full of ultra-detailed and texturally cluttered electronic music that draws on hyperpop and other genres like indie rock. The songs are emo symphonies, putting listeners on a roller coaster of gentle guitars, hazy distortion, wistful vocals, and poignant synths.
While many hyperpop musicians make one- to three-minute tracks, Zeke expands that hyperactive energy over four, five, or six minutes. Songs like “movies for guys,” “eyes off the wheel,” and “kodak moment,” packed with beat switches and ambient interludes, burn with the intensity of dance-floor bangers before chilling into lullabies at the end.
Across the album, Zeke sings about the slipperiness of time and personal anxieties. Many of the songs address an unidentified “you,” which Zeke told Insider was “current and past” versions of themselves as well as other unnamed people.
A crucial inspiration for the record’s dreamlike tone is video-game music, particularly the bucolic soundtracks from “Pokémon Diamond and Pearl” and “Pokémon Black and White,” which Zeke said reminded them “of being younger and having no responsibilities, of not even really having a conscience.”
Much of “Frailty” sounds pixelated or noisy like an old Nintendo DS game soundtrack, which Zeke said they accomplished with a bitcrusher, an effect that lowers the audio resolution to become charmingly fuzzy.
The video-game influence is especially apparent on tracks like “kodak moment.” The outro’s yearning piano notes and breezy electronic ambiance evoke the bittersweetness of the “Emotion” theme from “Black and White.”
“Emotion” was “one of the first songs I taught myself on the piano,” Zeke said. “I remember when I was really little and I first heard that song I think I cried.”
The sentiment at the core of the album, Zeke said, is realizing that despite the pressure to become an adult when you turn 18, you still have so much time left — and you can still do the things you used to do, like play video games.
“If someone were to take something from ‘Frailty,’ I think it would be to appreciate the moment,” Zeke said. “Adulthood is scary and inevitable, but it isn’t something that I should be worrying about right now.”
Zeke is credited with starting a music microgenre
Zeke has also gained traction with their wackier alias, leroy, under which they produce dariacore, weaving pop hits and meme sounds into a whirlwind of breakbeats, Jersey-club rhythms, and dubstep-like noise explosions.
Hit play on a dariacore track, and within two minutes you might hear PinkPantheress; a squeaky-bed sound effect; the YouTuber Fred Figglehorn hollering, “Hey, it’s Fred!”; a dolphin squealing; Vanessa Carlton making her way downtown; police sirens; the riff from Eyedress’ “Jealous,” but sped up so it sounds alien; and Yeat rapping, “She eat me up like it’s Benibachi.” The basic template is a breathless mishmash of recognizable songs pitch-shifted and layered over each other.
Dariacore is “electronic music that’s been filtered through over a decade of the internet’s love-hate relationship with big-stage EDM and dubstep,” Jesse Taconelli, the founder of deadAir, told Insider. Taconelli said that Zeke had pioneered a subgenre that samples older genres and rewires them into something beyond “people’s current understanding of them.”
While Zeke is credited with naming the subgenre “dariacore,” the only aspect related to “Daria,” the late-’90s animated TV show about an affectless teenage girl, is that every song’s thumbnail is a screenshot from the cartoon. Zeke referred to the subgenre’s name as “a joke that’s been going on for too long.”
Zeke said dariacore was musically inspired by the electronic artist Vektroid’s song-production livestreams and her mega-glitchy track “Sick & Panic,” and SoundClown music, an internet remix fad in the mid-2010s that featured artists combining disparate pop, rap, and video-game songs.
The subgenre has spread across SoundCloud, with Zeke’s leroy account — the only place they post dariacore tracks — amassing 800,000 plays.
There’s already a crop of new artists making diverse variations of the dariacore style of spliced sounds and berserk beats; many stylize their cover art after a different children’s cartoon (“The Amazing World of Gumball,” “Rolie Polie Olie“) and tag it on SoundCloud as dariacore.
Despite the scene’s growing popularity, Zeke said they didn’t feel any pressure to be its most visible or popular figure.
“The whole concept of leroy is doing whatever I want,” they said. “If that means dismantling the dariacore agenda, so be it.”