Sophie Walker charts the rise of 19-year-old digicore pioneer and glaive-collaborator ericdoa.
To the untrained eye, ericdoa is of this world, yet the reality is the dimension he moves through is entirely different. Carving a space for himself in the URL rather than the IRL, the fabric of his life is woven from a torrent of .wav files, group chats and DoorDash, all tied together by 140 characters or less. His music is like a ball of neon elastic bands: flashes of colour knotted together from a never-ending index of online influences from the unlikeliest of places and the furthest extremities. “Like, when I meet somebody, they’re like ‘Oh, you’re that hyperpop motherfucker!’, or, ‘Oh, you’re that digicore kid!’”, he shrugs, but those throwing around those chewable, travel-sized labels means that when it comes to capturing his essence, you’re only getting colder – and besides, they never fitted him or his friends anyway. Try “a bunch of degenerate teenagers making music on Discord”, he says, and this time, you’re not just warm. You’re white hot.
Though the 19-year-old is a Connecticut native by circumstance, his real home turf is a Discord server; though he is Eric George Lopez by birth, but to the online underworld, he operates under the username ericdoa. Though there is an Atlantic Ocean between us, thousands of miles are reduced to a link here, a click there: you barely have to lift a finger for instant connectivity. It’s this sense of limitlessness – creativity without borders – that defines the scene in which he not only belongs, but ultimately pioneered. This wave of impossibly young artists aren’t anchored to any single place, any one city. Here, the barrier for entry is not only low – in fact, there isn’t one. It’s free.
He and his Interscope labelmate glaive (pictured below, right) are the poster boys of a strain of sound that’s far from the cellophane-wrapped ‘hyperpop’ of PC Music that they are so often confused with. This is something far more white-knuckled and feverish with frustration, hormones coursing through its veins, caught in a freefall of love and agony before flatlining with Gen Z indifference. It’s pop with a nosebleed; emo but this time, it’s in on the joke.
Trying to track Lopez’s short, yet sprawling career as an artist so far would be far easier if you mapped it out on a wall, running red tape from project to project, artist to artist, until each point is swallowed up in overlapping lines. While ericdoa’s fingerprints can be found as early as 2017 when he was just 15 years old, it was his 2020 album COA that catapulted not only himself into online notoriety, but the scene itself. The likes of key players glaive, osquinn, aldn and midwxst all saw their experimental, blown-out sounds reaching alpine altitudes in the space of a year with their “quarantine music”, created from a need for connection and expression as the world fell apart around them through a lens of disrupted youth.
“It’s just us throwing shit at the wall until it sticks, until it sounds cool,” Lopez explains. “We’re pressing buttons, but we’re pressing buttons in a cool way – not like the way that other people press buttons. We’re pressing buttons our own way. Put that in bold letters. It’s sick, it’s niche and it’s fire – and the way that they be doing it is corny.”
Even though he is contained to 227 pixels-per-inch on a screen, it’s clear Lopez is larger than life. Animated to the core, his personality and features reach cartoonish extremities: he stands at 5’7 to glaive’s equally exaggerated 6’4 (“I went to the doctors and they told me I would be 5’7 for the rest of my life, and I almost bawled my eyes out. I was like, ‘Y’all can’t give me just a little bit more?’”), his hair is a loud tangle of curls reaching the kind of volume your can of hairspray wouldn’t dare to promise, his dark eyes are wide with excitement – his glasses wider still – and his smile burns as brightly as his sense of humour which communicates itself as tweet-worthy, self-deprecating wit. “Last night, I was like, ‘Damn, I should shave my head and go to therapy’. And I was like, ‘That’s such a mentally ill thought! Like, why would I ever think that?’, he laughs. “And then I thought, ‘That’s a tweet right there’.”
Lopez has just returned to his room in Atlanta after rehearsing for his upcoming shows with glaive, his long-time collaborator and close friend, at his home in North Carolina. “No disrespect, that’s one of the worst places of all time,” confesses Lopez. “I did not enjoy that at all. It’s beautiful if you’re about to die, retire there, or close your eyes for the rest of your life. But I’m 19, I don’t give a fuck about a tree or a rock. I need to get DoorDash past 7pm,” he says, chowing down on his Chick-Fil-A order, “so that’s not gonna happen in North Carolina. I’m very happy to be back in these four walls.”
Lopez has just released his latest in a dynasty of collaborations with glaive, their EP then i’ll be happy. While the name of the game in their scene is to collaborate at warp speed, Ash Gutierrez and Eric George Lopez have both found their twin flame in each other. The project’s artwork expresses their duality and oneness: split equally down the middle, both fitted in black and white against contrasting back drops, the yin to each other’s yan. “I came up with that idea,” Lopez smiles. Across the EP’s eight tracks, as well as their seminal loosie “cloak n dagger”, the pair have been the voices behind the scene’s defining duets, their frenetic, choked-up voices and preternatural gift for melodies bleeding into each other seamlessly. “Ash took me to pick out my first pair of Doc Martens for that cover. I love them because they make me feel tall – well, they make me feel not small,” he laughs. “I’m like 5’8 and-a-half in platforms.”
Lopez’s success, and the success of his community, is accelerating at a whiplash-inducing speed. They went to bed as high schoolers, more comfortable in their bedrooms than the world outside their door, and woke up in a world of touring, major labels, millions of streams and coverage in the highest echelons of the music press. They’re standing on the precipice of fame, daring each other to look over the edge and not feel too sick about the view. “I’m just as confused as you are!” he tells me. “Every thirty seconds, there’s another extreme life change I have to adapt to. My entire life has… completely changed,” he struggles for words, “… to an unbelievable degree, compared to what it was two years ago.”
And his music has changed with it. While his back catalogue reaches back only a handful of years, his sound has moved through many incarnations. Delve into the depths of his SoundCloud, and you’ll find that his earliest tracks are rap verses over skittering trap beats with gut-punching basslines, all tinged with that hollow, emo-indebted sound that has become the tradition of SoundCloud rappers from Thouxandbanfauni and UnoTheActivist who Lopez spent his high school years listening to. A year or so down the line, there was a sense that Lopez had found his sound, where he wasn’t serving his influencers as much as he was serving himself. In 2020, he released two albums: Public Enemy and COA, and the contrast between them couldn’t be clearer. Swapping out swampy vocal distortion and low-pitch despondency of Public Enemy, Lopez learned to ride atop the beat by pitching up and playing with influences on COA, as if he was riding waves. Underneath the rubble and all that pressure, there was a pop diamond – a god-given gift for melody and groove that couldn’t be imitated. COA was a testament to his versality, one moment being the soundtrack to Dance Dance Revolution on Hero Level, the next a perfect encapsulation of Hot Topic angst.
His latest projects, however, including then i’ll be happy and single “Fantasize”, show that more than ever, Lopez is straying further from his riled-up SoundCloud experimentations, instead leaning into the low-hanging fruit of pop primed to hack your mind and top the charts. It makes sense – albeit probably last on your list of guesses – that Lopez is just as influenced by Gwen Stefani (“She’s fire. I hope that when people peek at my music, they’re like, ‘Damn, I can hear a bit of Gwen in there’”), Mariah Carey (“Cold, so cold”) and Teena Marie (“In my eyes, she’s literally the coldest female pop star of all time”), as he is any SoundCloud veteran.
Despite this sonic shift, Lopez insists, “I’m still the same Eric. I see a lot of people and they’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t hyperpop! This isn’t the stuff you used to make!’ But I’m still in that same mindset that I was in two or three years ago. I want to make music that makes people angry. I want to make music that doesn’t make sense but is digestible. I want it to be confusing, yet you can understand it. But there’s so much music I’m making that sounds so different. This shit is what I’ve been wanting to make for a really long time, but it has just been held captive in my phone. And in my brain.”
The rise of the digicore scene is contested. Born from the internet’s birth right of self-definition, an agreed name feels restrictive when its borders, rules and sensibilities are so blurred. “You know what? I don’t… I don’t know,” Lopez shrugs. “At this point, we be just calling it music. We’re just making shit. I don’t like to put labels on things, but I know labels are there to make people not scared. I’m all for making people comfortable and not making people terrified, but I fucking hate that shit so much, when people come up with some crazy word for our music.”
While ‘digicore’ has been a reluctantly accepted term which had arisen out of a need to chart and describe its meteoric success, its artists have found their own successes have been staggered, winning attention for often entirely different sounds and reasons. “We all have our own side of when we think this got popular,” explains Lopez. “We thought ‘popular’ was like 10,000 people seeing it, but then when it got to the point where there were millions of kids knowing one of our friends, or knowing us in general, it was wild.”
He recalls how 16-year-old osquinn (previously known by her deadname p4rkr, under which she is still recognised on streaming services) was one of the first key players to make an impact with her seminal 2019 track “i don’t want that many friends in the first place”. Lopez says, “She’s extremely important to everything we do, because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be as popular as we are. She was only like, what, fifteen at the time? Super young.” Lopez himself has only just turned nineteen, and yet compared to his friends, he’s something of a scene elder. “I was a year away from graduating high school, and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, I need to turn up like these motherfuckers are turning up’. It was crazy, I was like, ‘I know them! I know that person!’ And it became a situation where eventually, it was me in the conversation, and I was happy, but also, like, you know, feeling left out, like always… I don’t know,” he shrugs, “it’s probably some bullshit, but it was good, to feel like people finally cared about me after four years of making music.”
“The real pivotal point for me was being able to show my family that I can eat off having fun, and I can eat off something that I love.”
With external attention testing the bonds of the digicore community, one of the pressure points is the fact that many of its artists, still yet to come to light, feel left behind. “I feel like with any scene, someone’s gonna feel some type of way and they’re gonna want recognition and to be heard, because we’re all doing the same thing,” Lopez says. “That’s something that I learned very quickly. I never want it to seem like I was like, ‘I want my moment!’, being a diva about it. I’ve known people who’ve been upset about wanting to be heard – it sucks when you’re making something, putting it out in front of billions of people, and you still feel so unheard. But I understand it more now, and it doesn’t matter: people are gonna hear you anyway, just because of how large the platform is and how crazy it is to meet so many people through just uploading a fucking file.”
Even though Lopez has found a rapidly growing audience, he is just as much a part of the community than ever, embodying a pay-it-forward mindset. He tells me, “I want to be able to put my friends in a position where they’re able to pay their rent, to eat, shit like that.” Earlier this year, he set up a Google Classroom to help demystify the music industry, signing and management. He tweeted: “i wanna be able to make sure none of u are ever left in the dark and confused.”
For Lopez, he feels his own success truly kicked in after releasing COA. “People listened to it, and then they had to listen to it again,” he tells me. “Then, after listening to it one more time, people finally got it.” Signing to Interscope off the back of its success, “Fantasize”, one of his first ventures under the label, outperforming his entire back catalogue almost effortlessly. “I feel like when that came out, people realised I could jump from genre to genre”, he says. “But the real pivotal point for me was being able to show my family that I can eat off having fun, and I can eat off something that I love.”
He and glaive have become the unintended ‘faces’ of digicore. “It’s terrifying! It’s scary!” he admits. “I never wanted to be the face of anything. I never wanted to show my face, anyway.” The fact of being online afforded Lopez and his friends a level of anonymity, and with that came a sense of creative freedom. “You know how artists are mad artist-y? Like, they’re good-looking and can lay in bed with all their shit off and they still look good? I’m like one of those artists that are like, ‘Damn, I wish I had that’. I turn my mirror that’s over there around, sometimes. I don’t like to look at myself…” he says, his words melting into nervous laughter.
Being forced to be visible is one of the most uncomfortable aspects of his career – in fact, he’d rather just not be perceived at all: “Nope. I’m not real. ericdoa’s a mindset. You’re dreaming.” Fame, in particular, is something that scares him. “Being famous is so overrated,” he tells me. “If you have anxiety, being famous is not good for you. It’s not. I pull myself away from social gatherings, and stuff like that. I would consider myself as ‘that kid’. I don’t think that’s being famous; I just think people recognise me a little bit. But I just wanna be in my room, I don’t wanna leave.”
Being one of the frontmen of his community might be an unintended consequence, but it’s a welcome one. “It’s cool. To me, it’s fucking sick. Like the fact that kids are putting us at such a position where we’re being recognised for pioneering an area of music is amazing. Oh my god, my voice just cracked so hard…” he laughs. “I’m glad that we’re seen as people who are taking a step and trying to get rid of contemporary pop music – because god, it’s so terrible.”
Lopez’s last extensive interview in 2020 with Lyrical Lemonade was titled ‘The Art of Being Down Bad’. This time last year, his life was trapped in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral which all played out online. “Dude, I was wearing the same clothes every day, couldn’t eat and I didn’t have a place to sleep,” he says. “But I was a little bitch. I was complaining too much in that interview – I was a dickhead at that shit. I wish I could wipe that interview off the face of the earth because I was so annoying, bro. Even though I was homeless, and I didn’t have any money in my bank account, it doesn’t matter. Man, that shit was annoying.” But now, the 2021 incarnation of ericdoa is in a much better place. “I still wear the same clothes, but I have food and I have a place to go to bed, so that’s fine,” he says brightly.
“I wake up at 3pm every day, I order food and I make music. This isn’t a job. I’m getting paid to be me.”
As much being very online was Lopez’s liberator, the keys to not only the friends he loves so much he calls them “family”, but his entire career as an artist, social media and the weight of being perceived keeps him in a chokehold. “I’m definitely in a better place, and I’m very happy, but people, Jesus…” he sighs, “it sucks, because I never want to seem like I’m complaining, but I just don’t have the brain to be an artist. I’ve never been someone who was like, ‘Oh, look at me! Attention! Attention!’ I’m more of the hiding type, the ‘I want to be in my room’ ass person. I’ve been trying to code switch when I need to, to turn myself on and off again for music. I don’t want to seem like I’m faking my personality or faking a way of life because I’m being looked at constantly. But it comes with the job. I can’t complain about it – I’m doing something amazing. This shit’s fire. I’m getting paid to do something I love. At the same time, it’s terrifying and I’m constantly scared every single day of my life. But whatever,” he smiles. “Music, am I right?”
On the days when the pressure mounts, Lopez runs himself an Epsom salt bath, shuts off his phone and deletes social media. The only music he listens to is at 432 Hz (“You know, like birds chirping and vibration shit”) – a palette cleanser from the fizzy head rush of his own.
He tries to keep music sacred, even though the excitement in his life is proportional to its complications. “Once you start to overthink it, it’s not fun. It’s not a hobby,” he believes. Is it even possible to still see it as a hobby when you’ve signed the dotted line? “Of course. You have to,” he insists. “Once you turn it into a job, where you’re clocking in the music every day, that’s never fun. You don’t want to make something that is supposed to be a creative process of you expressing yourself as something you’re now on a wage for. This thing is very sacred, it’s a way of life. You can’t fuck this up. You can’t make it annoying.” Even though the admin of being a musician is a necessity (“I vowed to myself I would never open another Google Doc for my entire life after I graduate”), it’s worth paying the price. “I wake up at 3pm every day, I order food and I make music. This isn’t a job. I’m getting paid to be me.”
When it comes to the future, Lopez finds it’s easier to create it when you’re not thinking too far ahead. His intentions are pure, and no matter how much is life has changed, those values have remained the same: “I think music should be inclusive, and whenever I used to listen to music as a kid, I never felt included because there weren’t people I knew making music who looked like me,” he explains. “I always wanted people to listen to my music and think, ‘Damn, there’s a piece of this for me’. Music is a language that everyone can understand, no matter where the fuck you are. This shit is very fickle, yet also the biggest thing on the planet. I want to understand what people are going to want in the future, but for right now, I’m on a straight path of: how can I get the radio so mad? I wanna stress them out playing my loud ass songs for the next two minutes and twelve seconds.”
One thing that surprises about Lopez, despite the chaos around him, is his eloquence. His definition of success isn’t something he takes long to think about, nor does it trip him up, even for a moment: “Success is when the thing that everybody said that you couldn’t do is right in front of you and you’re able to grab it, pick it up, look at it and put it back out. I can see it in front of me now. It’s not so far away as it used to be. Success is about it being completely in front of you, clear as day, and you’re about to just touch that shit… and it’s fire.”