Daine: meet the future emo icon mentored by Charli XCX
Daine has always been obsessed with community. Growing up, the Filipino-Australian artist felt understood by US emo bands like American Football, Basement and Turnstile that she discovered on Tumblr before finding herself an IRL home within Melbourne’s hardcore music scene.
After a few failed high school bands, Daine retreated to her bedroom and started working out what she could create by herself. Now, the 18-year-old is a future emo icon, with Charli XCX as a mentor and a waiting list of collaborators including Into It. Over It, Trophy Eyes and Born Free (she’s still waiting for Turnstile to get in touch, though).
“I’m making music that is very outwardly pop but is [still] connecting with emo kids,” Daine tells NME over Zoom. Her 2020 debut single ‘Picking Flowers’ was a moody, ethereal break-up track, while the likes of ‘My Way Out’ and ‘Ascension’ blended trap beats, chiming guitars and hopeless lyrics (“Demons coming forward to hollow out my heart / It’s making room for light / But I feel like I’ma die”). Earlier this year, she dabbled with hyperpop via ‘Dainecore’ and the choppy ‘Boys Wanna Txt’, which features Ericdoa.
Latest single ‘SALT’, a furious collaboration with Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes, sees Daine return to her aggressive roots while keeping one eye on the future. The track won’t be featured on the “project” that’s coming next and has been three years in the making, yet Daine believes that it was “a trailblazing moment” in her career. “It’s the start of a new era that will feel a lot more like me and less like a genre,” she explains. “I can’t be boxed in. I used to be really scared of that, but I’ve realised it’s an irrational fear. It’s not a conscious thing, I just write what I feel like writing.”
At the start of this chapter, we spoke to Daine about working with Charli XCX and Oli Sykes, growing up in the hardcore scene and the future of emo.
How inspiring was your local hardcore scene?
“I went to Invasion Fest, which is a local, all-ages hardcore festival in Melbourne, when I was 13 and I was hooked from that point. I was really involved with going to shows; it’s the thing that kept me going, but I wanted to experience the other side of it. It was a very inclusive scene even though all the bands were male-fronted. I didn’t feel accepted as such; I felt more like a little kid trying to be cool but it was definitely a very welcoming environment.”
How did that influence your music?
“Being part of that hardcore scene gave me an intensity. I needed that outlet: I needed a setting that was very political, angry and physical. I’ve always carried that while making music. It might not translate in [my] sound, but hopefully people can feel it in that sense of community that I try to foster. I hope I still give off that underground vibe even though I’m a major label artist now.”
Where did your love of emo come from?
“It’s such an online scene. It came from me being a socially isolated teen, spending all day on Tumblr and YouTube and really getting into the depths of the genre. It’s the same as hyperpop: it’s very much this world of niche micro-celebrities. For ages, my criteria for making friends was based upon them knowing certain emo artists, because it revealed so much about their personality.”
So how on earth did you end up making pop bangers?
“I never wanted to make pop music – I never even wanted to make music by myself. I always wanted to be in a band, but in high school everyone just wanted to be in surf-rock or indie bands, and that wasn’t for me. I just started recording my own guitar and putting heaps of autotune on my vocals because I wasn’t confident in them at all. Everything I did just turned out to be pop. I’m surprised by how it has connected with emo kids: I thought they’d think it was way too pop. But at the same time, it is great, so maybe I’m not that surprised.”
Does it still feel like you’re figuring out your sound?
“Absolutely. All the songs that are out at the moment I wrote when I was 15 or 16, and I’m definitely finding my feet. With the next few songs that I’m releasing, I wrote them when I was young but I’ve carried them with me and really refined them. They’re still in the same world as what’s come before, but I think these next few months are going to define the rest of my career. No-one else is making music like this. It’s this whole new wave and I’ve never heard music like it. Some people might say it’s nostalgic but to me, it’s a whole new genre.”
Tell us the story behind your Oli Sykes collaboration, ‘SALT’…
“Oli just hit me up on Instagram. We’d been mutuals for a couple of months and he asked if I wanted to make a song with him. I knew exactly which one to show him and he sent his verse back overnight. The song is about someone you love really betraying you, and when I hear it, I hear an anthem. I hope other people feel that way about it because it means so much to me. Going forward, I wouldn’t say my new songs are going to be as heavy – this is probably the first and last time people will hear me screaming for a little while.”
I take it you’re a Bring Me The Horizon fan, then?
“Totally. I have two siblings who are 12 years older than me so, as you can imagine, during literal infancy there were Bring Me The Horizon CDs playing in my house. They’re such an inspiring band. I feel like me and Oli have a similar vision for the way we see emo music evolving. We’re both experimental and progressive in our music. Even with people saying, ‘this isn’t heavy’ or ‘this is pop garbage’, we both have a clear vision of where to go. It feels like I’m following in a lot of peoples’ footsteps, like BMTH or Code Orange, who are such a forward-thinking, genre-bending hardcore band.”
Charli XCX has called you her “protégé”…
“I think she’s a fucking genius. She’s taught me so much about work ethic, and she’s really helped me out, so I’ll take it. We met through a mutual friend at Laneway Festival in 2019, then we played mini golf in Sydney together. People think they’ve figured her out, but she’s always one step ahead. Her approach to everything is so smart – I really want to follow in her footsteps.”
Is your music deliberately escapist?
“I want Daine to represent a world to escape to, where people can go and not feel trapped in the horrible, capitalist machine that is real life. Writing music blocks everything out for me and I really hope I can be that coping mechanism for other people. I don’t want people to see me as this relatable person, though. We have so many people to relate to on the internet because everyone overshares everything. When they listen to my music, I want people to feel like they’re escaping to the future or this different realm.”
So, you’re not an “industry plant”, then?
“There’s nothing wrong with someone using pre-existing money and fame, as long as you own that. I get mad about being called an industry plant, though, because I don’t want people derailing my story. I didn’t have anything. I was at a horrible public school, crying every day. Music was my lifeline to get out and I held onto that for dear life. I tried so hard to find a label and find the support to make music my job. There was no pre-existing clout. I’m signed to a major label and people ask how I can do that unless I’ve got connections, but nope, I just make good music.”
How has the lack of live shows affected your music?
“So much. I’ve had my first shows rescheduled five times now and it feels like a big chunk of what I do is missing. I find myself asking, ‘Am I a proper artist?’ or ‘Am I able to do this in a real-life setting, or am I just a niche internet person?’ There’s a little bit of imposter syndrome, but that’s a common theme with a lot of the kids who have launched their careers during COVID. It’s so crazy to see these pandemic babies whose first shows are massive gigs like Lollapalooza. I feel like I’m on that arc, so hopefully that imposter syndrome goes away. As soon as Australia opens up, I’m going to book way bigger venues and really push myself. I really need to go at it.”
How confident are you?
“When I’m recording and writing I have my moments, but I also have months where I am terrified of stepping up to the mic. In terms of creative direction, though, I’m super-confident. I know exactly how I want to push things forward. I think this project is going to be pretty massive. It might take a long time, but I’ve got a clear vision of where it will go.”
Daine’s new single ‘SALT’ (featuring Oli Sykes) is out now