$lick King has been making music for as long as they can remember. At six years old, the artist got an electric organ and at eight, their first guitar. A native of Newcastle, England, the 23-year-old, nonbinary artist calls South Florida home, the place where they're focused on distorting and celebrating their eclectic sound.
Back in Newcastle, they'd been in a few different bands as a teenager. King's favorite was Static Blue.
“We called it post-indie, but that was because we hated people our age being into Oasis," they say. "It just didn’t make much sense. Blue was sort of like a Talking Heads sort of deal.”
King eventually landed at Newcastle College, where they studied music. It was a short-lived experience — King was kicked out of the music school for using too much reverb.
This led them to their future mentor, Paul Harvey, a former member of the punk band Penetration and an artist and member of the Stuckist movement. Harvey helped a young King develop their artistry.
Coming from a deeply working-class background, King grew up with a sense of anti-intellectualism. But Harvey, a bona fide musician from the glory days of the UK punk scene and a well-respected artist and professor, showed King how to embrace knowledge.
“He taught me you can be academic and smart and still be punky and rebellious," King says. "He’s got a Ph.D., and he’s a punk rocker from the ’70s and ’80s."
In 2016, King moved to Los Angeles, where they couch-surfed and scrambled to make do as a freelance graphic designer.
“I thought I’d go there, and they’d be like, ‘Oh shit, a British person,' but evidently there are already too many British people in LA now,” King observes.
About a year ago — King isn't too sure where; they blame their copious marijuana consumption — King moved out to Miami. Though, they admit, they haven't really been able to explore what the Magic City has to offer.
“To be fair, I’m still in a bit of a hermit phase from Los Angeles because I do freelance design, so I don’t go to an office," King explains. "I’ve been very productive as a musician, but in terms of getting out there, I’m still trying to work out my live set with all the vocal effects and things I use.
“If only I had stayed in Newcastle College for music production," King says sarcastically.
Though King started as a typical punk kid, their sound began to evolve as a teenager when they encountered vaporwave, a microgenre of electronic music. In vaporwave, King found a scene that felt fresh and new — something that didn't belong to the previous generations. But as their sound palette expanded, King eschewed vaporwave's slowed-down style, opting instead for something faster.
Encountering King’s work for the first time, one notices the sheer quantity of music they've produced. From hip-hop to manic pop, it is almost as if King records whatever inspiration hits them at that specific moment.
“It’s like a manic act. All the songs on $lick King’s Bandcamp are recorded in one day," King says. "They are all snapshots of mania and how I’m feeling that day. I have really bad long-term memory, so it’s really handy for me to grab these manic moments and listen back to them. They’re more like snapshots of my mind just doing its thing, I guess.”
Like other hyperpop acts, King sees rigid genre boundaries as things to be crushed and churned into a mad dash of electronic percussion. King attributes their use of electro kickdrums to Afrika Bambaataa, who along with the likes of Grandmaster Flash and other early hip-hop producers have had a major influence on them as an artist.
“Punk is about carving out a little chaotic bubble for yourself to live in. That’s what $lick King is — this little spot on Bandcamp for nearly five years now,” King says.
Despite the breakneck pace of their output, King admits they prefer to work light. Unlike other producers and artists who have entire external hard drives filled with half-finished songs and beat loops, King doesn't like to archive their work.
“People call it the creative's curse — when you do something and don’t think it’s good enough, so you go back and end up getting stuck in this loop to get things perfect. I’m the total opposite. If something isn’t going well or I need to go get coffee or something, I’ll just delete it,” King says, laughing.
King’s EP, Keep Me Sane, is a beautiful, four-track mess of subcultures that bangs on with a deeply pop sentiment that makes the record inherently danceable. On tracks like "You’re Not Cooler Than Me," Bambaataa’s influence is evident in the drums and breaks throughout.
But what is most evident through the vocal distortions, manic beats, and frenzied build-ups is that this is just who King is. What you hear through the artist's work is an interpretation of the influences they've gathered over the years — even those King admits they don't fully comprehend.
“The things that are often the best bits are the stuff I don’t understand,” King says.
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