About a month ago, Oliver Sabin, who has been producing as Unicorn Kid since he was 15, tweeted, “Can I just erase my pre-2011 internet presence or something… Haven’t googled myself in like a year because I can’t deal with the photos that come up.” He’s 20 now, but as a teenager, the Leith, Scotland native made a sizable name for himself crafting high-energy electronica while wearing a stuffed lion hat with a velcro chinstrap. After officially remixing a Pet Shop Boys single over Easter vacation, he left high school a year early to sign with the British dance label Ministry of Sound. “They had a template for a successful artist,” he says. “But every time they tried to apply it I’d say, No, that’s stupid, I don’t want to do that, it’s a shitty idea and it doesn’t work for me.” Shortly after ordering a thousand Chinese-manufactured lion hats with blinking LED eyes to sell as merchandise, Sabin looked over at his own sweaty icon of childhood naiveté and, four years too late, decided it looked terrible. After a period of silence at the end of 2010, Ministry of Sound released him from his contract.
Feeling liberated, Sabin put up a holographic dolphin poster in his bedroom, dyed his hair the rainbow colors of a CD-R, shaved a yin-yang in the back and recorded the three best consecutive songs of his half-decade career. Released online for free, his 2011 Tidal Rave EP refigured Sabin’s primitive, synthesized, vintage arcade console version of happy hardcore alongside an equally nostalgic, “Peace-Love-Unity-Respect” world of actual ecstasy and piano house. A true child of the entrepreneurial ’90s, Sabin describes his career in terms of identity and branding, and he attributes the success of Tidal Rave, in part, to refined aesthetics mined from end-of-the-millennium rave culture. The EP was accompanied by a self-produced VHS video of coral reefs and topless shots of Sabin blowing smoke rings. “It was kind of passé that I kept dying my hair, so I wanted to go blonde. Blonde was fine, classic,” he says. “Then I was like, a subtle peach isn’t so bad. Not too in your face.”
Maybe the truest growth of Tidal Rave was the addition of vocalists, encouraged by Sabin to shout manifestos of positivity—We are the true love fantasy/ We are the whispers of ecstasy dreams—like they’re a game of Marco Polo in a YMCA pool. He’s making pop music now, unabashedly. “You always see people talking about Rihanna and Lady Gaga as these unattainable celebrity icons,” Sabin says, “and I just really want to make music that could sit side by side with that.” An LP never materialized during his Ministry of Sound days, but his tie-dyed fit of productivity has yielded a full album, largely comprised of stadium-sized vocal collaborations, primed for a summer release. Unicorn Kid’s default speed is spastic, and the tireless joy of his tropical eight-bit sound set can border on comical, but that sheer, smiling force is more urgent than nearly anything else on the radio. With luck, Oliver Sabin could become the world’s first mainstream pop producer born of the internet generation.
Stream: Unicorn Kid, Tidal Rave EP