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From the Digital Shadows: the Rapid Rise of 9lives

Merging trap production with hyperpop and ethereal aesthetics, the 20-year-old artist/producer is reshaping the sound of global underground music from his home in New Zealand.

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In the fast-evolving and genre-fusing landscape of internet-driven underground music, few names are making a buzz in the same way as New Zealand’s 9lives. Hailing from Hawkes Bay, the 20-year-old producer and artist has managed to capture a global audience, amassing over 600 million streams and becoming the #4 highest-streaming New Zealand artist worldwide. His unconventional success can largely be attributed to social media communities, where his music has connected with listeners around the world, leading to online virality and high-profile collaborations.

9lives is one of the artists pioneering a sound known as sigilkore, a genre that blends trap, cloud rap, hyperpop, and electronic music, underscored by dark, ethereal aesthetics inspired by video games and anime. His eclectic, genre-defying productions have not only earned him a dedicated following but also the respect of established artists. In just two short years 9lives has dropped collaborations with artists like Lil Nas X, Trippie Redd, skaiwater and Odetari; brushing shoulders with iconic US producers like BNYX and Zaytoven as he begins cementing his spot as a go-to producer in the underground trap scene.

Despite his rapid rise, 9lives remains humble and grounded, embodying the quintessential laid-back New Zealander ethos. As he continues to carve out his niche and push the boundaries of his sound, 9lives stands to carve his name into the global music landscape.

9lives, it’s good to be in touch. I heard you were just in the US and you’re back home in New Zealand currently, right? Are you bouncing between both places at the moment?
Yeah. Kind of the same as last year. We’re in between mostly here and LA, but just the most recent trip that we got back from, it was a bit of a round-trip, so like LA, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and back to LA. So it was like a West to East Coast trip. It was pretty full-on and intense, but it was super sick.

Would you say you have any favourite cities in the States?
I’d have to say New York, man. I love the vibe and the culture there. The fashion is insane, bro. I love it. I was there with my parents as well, so it was such a sick time. We both got to experience New York for the first time together.

Your music is often associated with the term Sigilkore. Would you say that accurately captures your sound and vibe right now?
I mean, yeah, I’d say so now. As of recently, I’ve kind of been delving into different lanes of hip-hop and trap and just even like in my own spare time, I would just experiment with stuff and see what I can make out of it. But yeah, I would say as far as the Sigilkore, it’s definitely more dark, more ambient and almost angelic sounding at the same time. I don’t know how to describe it. Very ethereal sounding.

How would you describe Sigilkore to somebody who doesn’t really know? What would you say are the main characteristics of the genre?
I’d say it’s definitely on the darker side of trap for sure. And then the mixing style is a bit different to your standard kind of industry sound. It’s a bit more saturated in a way; there’s more colour to it. And heavy use of effects and stuff, phasers and bitcrushing and all that. Then there’s a pretty popular trick or mixing style where they’ll have the sped-up and slowed-down version in the song if that makes sense. They’ll have a slowed-down outro, or they’ll have like a vinyl start where it starts off slow, and then it slowly speeds up. That’s a very big style in that genre.

There’s a real aesthetic and visual identity to it too, right? Can you tell me about some of the things you draw inspiration from on the visual side?
Yeah, I definitely agree with you. They do go hand in hand. You can’t really have one without the other in this scene because they kind of complement each other and it gives something for the fans to relate to or be a part of. Even down to the way they will edit videos and stuff and use the song in the background and all of that. But what I draw inspiration from is definitely a lot of 2000s video games, like Silent Hill and Kingdom Hearts and also a bunch of anime and TV shows as well because I do get inspired from visuals a lot rather than just sound and audio. Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D too, things that just have that vibe where it’s super dark but the worlds are very dreamlike and ethereal. Stuff like Berserk.

So, taking it back to growing up in New Zealand, how did you first get started making music? What first got you interested in music production?
I grew up in a musical family. My dad played the piano, my oldest brother was a guitarist, and one of my other brothers played the piano as well. I started off playing drums when I was four or five. I was a drummer, and I used to do covers and stuff of heavy metal music. My oldest brother and I listened to heavy metal a lot. I had double kicks. I had probably 10 pairs of broken drumsticks—that was my vibe. Then throughout high school, I was just listening to a bunch of different music and seeing what I connected with. I guess that’s how I started getting into production through my first discovery of trap music, like Future and Young Thug and that kind of stuff. Future’s DS2 is probably one of my most listened-to and most inspirational albums in terms of production.

So I would say that’s when I started getting into production and then when I really started getting into production was that prime era of Cardi and Pi’erre Bourne. Like the Die Lit era and I was like yeah, I need to start making shit like this — it was so simple, but something about it that always keeps you coming back, you know?

When would you say was the point that sorta crossed over from making beats for fun and realised that you were on the cusp of something bigger?
Man, I was still very much embedded in the underground when I was making beats. I was big into Duwap Kaine and early Slayworld and then I started listening to this guy called Luci4. He was kind of popping in that 2020-2021 era and he basically founded that Sigilkore sound in a way. He was the first to do it and kind of put it on the map. Then I started really getting into it because it’s just so different from everything else that was in the mainstream at the time. I was like — this shit is crazy, I’ve literally never heard anything like it before. But it was still kind of accessible like it wasn’t so different to where you’re like, oh shit, this is like way out of my comfort zone.

So yeah, I started making that kind of stuff around 2021, kind of my end of high school to my university era and then at the end of 2022, I put out an instrumental tape on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, all that. And then that’s when TikTok did its thing. People started making edits and doing dance trends and stuff to it. It just kind of got an insane amount of traction within such a short amount of time. I was like, holy shit, this is actually happening. I put that instrumental tape out for fun, like for friends to listen to and then all of a sudden, it’s going viral on TikTok. I was like holy shit.

Do you feel like being from a smaller country like New Zealand or Australia makes it hard for artists to reach the right audience, or do you feel like we live in a time when it doesn’t matter so much because you can make up for it with the way you move online?
I would definitely say the second option. It’s obviously hard being from a small country and getting your name out there. But just this age of the internet where literally you can post a 10-second snippet on TikTok, and it could go crazy, so you just never know. I’d say it’s definitely a blessing and a curse kind of thing. Obviously I’ve become pretty popular in the last couple of years, but I can still walk around my town, and no one really comes up to me that much; you know, I’m still just a regular dude, which is really nice to have honestly, I’m blessed to have that. I can just be a normal person in society and not have to worry about anything, you know.


Obviously a huge moment in your journey so far has been working with Trippie Redd. How did that come about?
Yeah, that was a really crazy moment. Pretty much it all got set up through my management and label and stuff because we have a really good connection with Trippie’s label. So we kind of got set up that way. We were chatting about it, and then maybe two or three days later, we had to fly out. So I was like, oh shit, it’s actually happening. We got on the flight and then the next day, we were in the session with Trippie, and it was such a surreal moment. Like being in New Zealand and then a couple of days later, being in the room with one of the artists that kind of inspired me as a teenager. He’s such a super down-to-earth guy, really tapped in with the underground. And he’s always open-minded to new shit, which I find really inspirational. Also, him being at that level and still being able to get on other people’s levels and be like, yo, you’re sick, let’s work.

It must have been surreal to be in rooms with artists like Trippie or some of the other US artists you’ve worked with. Did you ever feel intimidated coming into that world, having grown up in such a different place, or has it all felt pretty organic?
Oh, for sure. I mean, because I’d never really travelled much apart from between NZ and Australia. So the US was my first overseas trip, and the fact that I was meeting with these people on my first trip, I was like, holy shit, how do I act around these people? Like, what do I say? I think it was a really good lesson for me because it was like— just be yourself and people will fuck with you. You don’t have to be a different person, you just have to be yourself and be true to who you are. It was definitely a really cool experience going around, meeting all these new artists and meeting people whose music you already like; it was really sick.

You’ve got a track called ‘Light’ with skaiwater and Lil Nas X. What can you tell us about that particular track?
Yeah, so that track was made in November of last year, I think. It was made in person in a studio. It was me and skai’s session and then midwxst actually pulled through so it was a super cool dynamic. We ended up making that beat from scratch, and I was like alright your guy’s turn. They went fucking crazy on it, and then the Lil Nas X feature situation is pretty insane because I think it’s the first-ever feature he’s done on a song. I think it got leaked a couple of months beforehand, which was kind of annoying, but we ended up dropping it anyway. And then obviously the whole music video and stuff came out. So yeah, super sick. Super sick experience.

I saw you may have something in the works with Ski Mask as well. Did you have some sessions with him? How was that?
I love that guy. He’s so cool. That was a really cool experience as well because, I mean, he was part of that whole prime era of like X and Ski and Trippie and that whole SoundCloud era where everyone was just going crazy. Yeah, just seeing that, he’s like still around today and still doing himself, you know, super cool to see. He’s such a gamer guy at heart, he loves playing like Apex Legends and shit so we had so much stuff to relate on from the jump.

Given your success at a young age, what advice would you give to aspiring producers trying to find their place, especially in such a crowded digital landscape?
Yeah, that’s a funny question because I feel like I’m not qualified to give advice. I’m literally like 20 and I’m still figuring shit out myself. But from what I’ve experienced, I would say the best way to like be a producer in this day and age is just to find something that’s different because I was a type-beat producer and it’s really hard to get yourself out there and make a statement for yourself. So I think kind of creating your own lane is probably the the best way to put your name out there because no one’s really doing it like you. 

Lastly man, what’s on the horizon for 9lives? What are you working on?
I definitely want to drop a project end of this year. The way we’re kind of planning it out is like a Metro Boomin type thing where it’s obviously my project but just bringing on a bunch of dope artists and kind of showing and displaying my diversity in a project. I think that’s the big, the big goal of this year for sure. I think that’s always where I’ve wanted to be, like an in-the-background type of dude but really the master behind it at the same time.

Follow 9lives here for more and stream the new single ‘NUK3’ ft. Luci4 & LAZER DIM 700 here.

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