MUSIC: UNICORN KID (SUPERSUPER! VOL 2 #002)
Self-professed ‘DOLPHIN DANCE/LOL POP’ musician/composer Unicorn Kid (aka Oliver Sabin) has been galloping his way to success recently, with his latest release Tidal Rave proving a huge hit both online and off. First gaining attention at the tender age of 15 as a champion of the ‘chiptune’ genre, five years later he’s matured his sound, and gained a pretty sizeable #seapunk following to boot. We tracked down the elusive Unicorn Kid to discover the boy behind the horn…
Outside Camden’s Barfly venue, crowds are already gathering. Skinny jeans, piercings and hair every colour of the rainbow adorn the tweens, teens and not-teens-anymore-but-still-dressing-like-them huddle around the door (mega nonchalantly, obvs), all waiting to catch a glimpse of their true-life hero, electronic artist Unicorn Kid, as he prepares for his highly anticipated London gig later on tonight.Greeting me with a hug is the man himself – Oliver Sabin, a very (VERY) tall 19-year-old, topped off with that lavender hair of thousand Tumblr reblogs. Upstairs, away from the swelling mob of pretty, pouty fans, I jump right in: what’s the vibe behind Unicorn Kid’s new Tidal Rave EP?
In a soft Scottish accent, Oliver explains that the record marks the start of a dramatic shift for Unicorn Kid’s image and sound. “It’s the first statement of a whole new idea. With [Tidal Rave], I wanted to do something that’s important to me. It feels relevant, and something I can be genuinely proud of. For most of my career, which started when I was 15, there was no real focus on what I was doing. There are a lot of relics left behind on the Internet from my first years in the industry that I’m not too happy about existing…”
Back in 2007, the name ‘Unicorn Kid’ was synonymous with an iconic stuffed lion hat, not-quite-old-enough-to-shave skin and a roster of twinkly, games console-sampling tracks, such as debut single ‘We Had Eaten All The Animals, And Bartered All The Jewels’. I wonder if it’s been hard to disassociate himself from his 15-year-old image.
“It was really difficult, because there were never many peers in the kind of music I was making at the time. At the end of the day, I’m going to be 20 soon – I can’t still be wearing the lion hat and playing those kinds of songs, it just gets sad. I’m trying to grow up and develop, and have aesthetic focus in what I want to do, as opposed to just doing whatever. This is genuinely the start for me. [Tidal Rave] is less focused on that kind of chiptune concept… it feels a lot more refined and whole now.”
The EP certainly sees a much more mature sound, with three impressively produced, so-happy-I-can’t-take-it singles all stuffed to bursting with ‘90s rave beats and hyper-tropical vibez. Listening, it’s not hard to see why Unicorn Kid’s been caught in the rip tide of the ever growing ocean-inspired #seapunk movement (after all, how much more seapunk can you get than a name like Tidal Rave?).
Astonishingly, Unicorn Kid’s evolving aesthetic and the seapunk movement have both collided as the result of a (very happy) coincidence. “The ocean thing was something I’d been doing, and I was feeling the whole ‘90s rave revival [a key trend rippling across seapunk music] from Tumblr and other acts – I just mixed the two together.”
Pausing to chew thoughtfully on a fizzy crocodile sweet (no ridiculous backstage demands here, unless you have something against Haribo, or Walkers crisps), he describes how Albert [Redwine – aka @Ultrademon, the brains behind #seapunk label Coral Records] contacted him soon after (“Oh my God, you’re so seapunk!”) and brought him into the URL seapunk community, popularised by other artists like Zombelle and Lil Internet.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit! Everyone’s been doing the exact same thing as me!’ I spend about 13 hours a day on the Internet, so I get into that vibe super easily – I don’t have a clue what’s going on outside! I’ve also got dolphin posters and palm trees in my room, and a hologram picture of a tropical island.”
With Oliver now a fully-fledged ‘VERIFIED #SEAPUNK’, it’s time for #SRSTALK – unicorns or dolphins?
“Dolphins, definitely! I came up with the ‘Unicorn Kid’ thing when I was 15 – I thought it sounded really badass and cartoony, but it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I actually want to start another project, a kind of slowed-down Unicorn Kid called ‘Chrome Dolphins’, and a gang called ‘The Dolphin Boys’ – some of the people following seapunk are already asking if they can join the Dolphin Boys! Maybe I can use it as a marketing tool – like, the more Unicorn Kid stuff you buy, the higher you go up in the Dolphin Boys gang. You could get a free bottle of blue hair dye…”
Fancying a change of scene, we head to Cyberdog, Camden’s famous outlet for futuristic fashion and rave gear. It’s all new to Oliver, and he stares around excitedly, momentarily lost in a world of flashing spandex and UV smiley faces, before dropping a few tantalising hints about his upcoming first full-length album, set to release next year.
“IT’S GOING TO HAVE 11 TRACKS, ALL CENTRED AROUND THIS NEW IMAGE”, he shouts over the thumping techno. “I’m so excited! Some tracks are really pop-based, for radio, because pop’s what I really want to do. I want to be the King of Pop – to be really successful to a mainstream audience, but in my own way. It would be really fun to play around with that kind of pop budget and scale! I know that’s a shameful thing to want…”
Shameful how? In the way that all underground artists are supposed to run away screaming from anything (gasp) mainstream?
“Exactly. A lot of musicians have some sort of ‘holier-than-thou’ view of being underground, and it tends to be the fans that say the ‘selling out’ stuff – most of whom have no musical aspirations, so how are they supposed to understand? I want to develop this musical aesthetic and be really successful, just to show them!”
With plans to put out more free tracks and mixtapes, develop projects with the seapunks and even shoot his own teen drama (Unicorn Kids 90210???), it’s clear that we can expect to see a lot more from Unicorn Kid – and that we won’t have long to wait. With his characteristic face-splitting grin, he assures me that even the coming 2012 apocalypse won’t be getting in the way of his rise to SUPRSTR PWR.
“It’s fate that the album’s coming out in 2012. It’ll either save the world or it’ll be the soundtrack to everyone’s demise – in a really positive way. Get a packet of sweets, stick on an episode of Baywatch and put Unicorn Kid on, and it’ll be fine!”
There are certainly worse ways to go.
Words: Charlotte McManus