Pop-grunge sensation contradash is back with new music after a year of mostly radio silence. Last Lollapalooza, the performer took the stage for his first major performance and was met with a crowd of fans singing his lyrics back to him. Since then, the somber bleach-blonde has been putting together his best work to date. His new single “beep” hit streaming services on Friday, and more singles and an EP from his deep reserve of demos are on the way.
The microphone-twirling Interscope rapper might be a new name to the music-consuming public, but he is no secret to the industry of music blogs and journalism, who generally regard him as a rare gem and a ticking time-bomb headed to stardom. But don’t get me wrong, his fanbase is loyal and intense, creating a cult-like following and banding together on Twitter and Discord. His musical peers on Spotify’s “contradash radio” include Brevin Kim, Chase Atlantic, and girlfriends among others, a group of musicians emerging as one of the many colorful sub-genres of alt-rock, grunge and static pop that is becoming increasingly popular with Gen Z (while being a reminiscent and welcome new spin on the 2000s alternative soundscape for millennial listeners).
For all the time I’ve been listening to contradash (I’m a longtime superfan), I’ve been trying to crack the code on what makes his music and persona so addictive. He’s got an undeniable “it” factor, something that supersedes his label cosign, his beautiful self-directed visuals, and his impeccable sense of personal styling. His brand of the nonchalant, melancholy sad boy combined with his aloof persona allows him to present as an effortless talent while he meticulously moves behind the scenes. When it comes to his music, the Inland Empire artist’s quick-worded melodies roll over the track, his mix of speak-singing feels natural and second-natured, and his ability to impart meaning into even the most trivial modern-day problems with the slightest inflections is transcendent. Additionally, his songwriting is near-Shakespearian (something he doesn’t take enough credit for), rhyming tightly-wound lyrics together into satisfying, cascading refrains.
“It's over now, i hope it goes south for ya / Drown in the deep end, build you up just to break you down”
I read contradash’s lyrics back to him on Thursday, AKA New Music Friday’s Eve, as we connect for a phone interview — we intended to meet at his new recording space in Echo Park, but the studio is not quite ready and time has gotten away from us. The lyrics are from “beep,” his single that is releasing in less than 6 hours by the time we get on the phone. The lyrics are melancholy, and a far cry from the recent trends of “toxic positivity” where people encourage well-wishing towards everyone and everything.
contradash weighs in, “Half the time, I don't even realize what I'm saying until afterwards. It's kind of like a tattoo- when you first get it, it might not mean anything, but after a while it does. When people split there's always the hopes of staying on good terms. But this was the complete opposite intention.”
contradash’s ability to ruminate on negative emotions in his music has always been a part of his draw. The new song opens with a sickly-sweet, delicate acoustic guitar that plucks the opening notes on “beep”, followed by a skip-lagging beat that starts in tandem with contradash’s signature grungy-mechanical vocals. “beep” and the new, unreleased demos — that contradash was kind enough to send over to me — are still poppy, electronic and melancholy, but now the artist is using the acoustic guitar and presenting more delicate vocals than ever before.
Taking a step back to his beginnings, the Corona, CA born artist has an incredible story. Like many musical luminaries, contradash is a multi-hyphenate artist who has laser-focused on creating a personal brand. contradash got his start in music through graphic design when he won an A$AP Ferg cover art competition, and his skills in graphics led him to develop a relationship with Dominic Fike.
Aside from having one of the most talented collaborators, mentors and friends in Dominic Fike, there’s one more thing I’ve been dying to ask the artist about. His signature brand is a circle-shaped scope with curves inside of it and has appeared in all of his cover art and is even tattooed on his arm. It’s a gorgeously simple design, and I want to know the story of its conception. He laughs modestly when I ask him and says, “It's my spray painted version of a symbol from COD. I moved around a lot when I was younger and didn’t have a lot of friends where I was living, so I spent a lot of time on the internet. The symbol is from Call of Duty, when you get a headshot. So Call of Duty got me into graphic design and editing, graphic design and editing got me into cover art, and cover art is what got me into meeting music people which got me into making music myself. It's a symbol that represents the root of it all."
Which leads to the new cover art for “beep," a beautifully rendered metal symbol on a chain link fence, one of three possible covers created by dash that fans voted on. Everything that goes on contradash’s page is edited for sound and visual quality and tells a linear story, so it’s clear he puts thought into everything his fans see.
“This gaming thing was like, literally 12 years ago. I'm very big on reminiscing. I draw inspiration from my own childhood, because it's just what I know best. There's some photoshopping there, and there's some 3D rendering in this program called Cinema 4D. To be able to translate an idea or branding or even a screen is a huge privilege."
Beyond his visual art, contradash has a strong grasp on his personal style as well — another talent he modestly contested. His look is put together in grayscale with an occasional pop of color, with blue, pink and orange popping up in monochromatic bursts on his Instagram grid. Not surprisingly, contradash has been popping up in AllSaints, a timeless and trendy brand known for their slouchy neutrals and basics, a pairing that couldn’t be more on-the-nose for the singer.
“Oh, honestly, I give all that credit to my friend, Noah. He's been a friend since high school, and he's always just dressed cooler than me. So when I'm looking for clothes, I literally just call him and I'm like, yo, is this sick or not? I am recommended a lot of pieces by Noah. He sends me links to stuff and he'll be like, ‘Yo, buy this and let’s do photo shoots.' Recently, the folks over at All Saints have been showing love, and they've come in and let me try pieces on and I get to leave with whatever I want and they have a ton of cool stuff."
Among his other ‘artistic privileges’, contradash has made huge leaps and bounds in his own production style, stripped back the vocal alterations, and brought out the acoustics on his new music.
“I've learned that I have to be pointing somewhere. As I've expanded into learning instruments and producing a lot of my own stuff, I try to stick with things that are unique to me versus being a Swiss army knife. Before, I would lean into autotune and a lot of effects because I was insecure about my voice. I hadn't really practiced singing or doing anything other than making music in my talking voice, so I would try to alter it as much as possible. Now I straight up don't use any reverb anymore or distortion unless it's tasteful. I try to keep my voice at the forefront of the music. I'm trying to be more honest and authentic with my real voice because that's what translates to singing in front of people.”
Speaking of shows, contradash picked up the guitar a few years ago to learn to play live, along with the drums and other aforementioned instruments. Most recently he played at the Moroccan Lounge in LA, and he’s been thinking about how the new music will be received by a live audience,
“I can't play guitar on every song because it makes it harder to jump with people, and people like jumping. My favorite part about live music is a chance to showcase what I’m actually capable of as a musician. When I did my first couple of shows I could only play one song on guitar. I would let the crowd know, ‘Hey, guys, I am a beginner here, I'm really going to try to play this song for you guys. If I mess up, don't be mad.' That creates empathy within the crowd they can relate to.
“I would let the crowd know, ‘Hey, guys, I am a beginner here, I'm really going to try to play this song for you guys. If I mess up, don't be mad’ and that kind of creates empathy within the crowd”
With all the intention that contradash puts into everything he does, his songwriting and studio sessions remain spontaneous.
“I was in a studio session last year, and there was a big sign on the wall that said, “first thought, best thought," and I was like, wow. I've come to realize that a lot of times, the very first thing you think of is the thing you should trust. I've tried to see through all my ideas, and really finish everything that I've started, instead of having a bunch of unfinished ideas."
When I ask him for more information on “beep” and all the beautiful SoundCloud demos he has in a private file, he becomes honest and vulnerable about his label and what his intentions are for his new music,
“‘beep’ is the first song that we made that made me realize how much I believe in this. I don't even know if I even want to put this on record. But I'll just keep it 1000 with you. I was with a label for the majority of my career. Whether my music does good or bad or whatever, you kind of have this cushion under you of validation. Because you're a major label, artist, and other people aren't, and they want to see how you did it. And there's moments where everyone believes in you- but you, and everyone's proud of you- but you, but the realistic part of it is, when that goes away- and when your team goes away, and it's just you at the end of the day, and there's no one there to validate you- how much do you believe in yourself? And I think “beep” was the first song that I really realized, wow, no matter what, I believe in this more than I believe in anything else. I've never believed in anything as much as I believe in this. And I just tried to keep that feeling in mind while making the rest of the songs."
“beep” is out now. You can follow contradash on Instagram for his frequent lives where he previews new music and announces music drops.