Music Producer and DJ JMU Brings Hyperpop to Harrisonburg | Culture
“Don’t overthink shit” – these are the words on a felt letter board in the music studio of Media Arts and Design (SMAD) student Zack Lipshultz. The sentiment is appropriate for the space — a guest bedroom in Lipshultz’s apartment that’s been turned into a makeshift studio. The room is equipped with a barrage of recording equipment, instruments and vinyl records. Beneath a large solar lamp sits Lipshultz’s computer, filled with around 300 files of unreleased song ideas – an appropriate amount for careful consideration.
Although Lipshultz said he has an overflowing amount of unreleased material, he just released his debut single “Ache” on April 20 as “ZNL.”
“Ache” is a glitchy hyperpop track where Lipshultz’s high-pitched voice laments “being frustrated with the way things are going and that they’re not really working out,” he said.
“I’m a perfectionist, overthinking, anxious — whatever you want to call it,” Lipshultz said, noting that he often favors creating new projects over finishing old ones. “I definitely fall into the trap of ‘Oh no, I don’t really like that’, and I listen to something for too long and my ears get tired.”
According to Lipshultz, her passion for music started in the womb – literally. He said his mother claimed that while he was attending a concert pregnant, he started kicking to the beat of the song. His musical development continued throughout his childhood, with his father playing singer-songwriters Jack Johnson and Tracy Chapman in the house. After discovering Skrillex and electronic dance music (EDM) at age 11, Lipshultz downloaded Ableton music software and began producing his own music.
Upon entering JMU, Lipshultz joined the EDM club and began mixing other artists’ music. Lipshultz said he discovered he had a knack for anticipating what an audience wanted to hear. Lipshultz’s friend, Jess Balick Goodman, had this experience in the basement of their freshman dorm. He said Lipshultz would show him the mashups he created.
“It allowed us to play this freshman game where we would shuffle my music library, take two songs and mix them together,” Goodman said. “[When I saw] how fast he was able to do it and how good it would sound, it was the first time I realized ‘Yeah, this kid is going to do some really cool things’.
Lipshultz said his experience with “Ache” was markedly different from other songs because he produced the song quickly, giving him no time to tire. The song is aggressive and abrasive yet upbeat and addictively catchy – a staple of the hyperpop genre.
Hyperpop – said to have been popularized by Spotify’s playlist of the same name, according to the New York Times – is a musical genre defined by an avant-garde and extremist vision of pop music. Sonically, the genre features catchy melodies, auto-tuned or pitch-altered vocals, and distorted electronic instrumentals. The genre has gained immense popularity in recent years, particularly within the LGBTQ community, with The Atlantic dubbing it “the countercultural sound of the 2020s”.
Although the genre is trending, many artists labeled as hyperpop often express a disconnect with being categorized as such. Popstar Charli XCX, who is often considered one of the earliest founders of hyperpop, said she felt “locked in by the fact that people can sum up [her] catalog using a three-syllable word. Lipshultz expressed similar feelings about being placed in a genre.
“Even if this term [hyperpop] is very vague and constantly changing, it always feels like a box,” Lipshultz said. “I was sharing songs in my songwriting class and…one of the last songs I did was a punk song, and my teacher was like, ‘I’m curious, why didn’t you aren’t you doing an electronic song? I was like, ‘Well, I didn’t mean to do that.’
Adapt to challenges
Although he has produced music with analog instruments, Lipshultz has a theory as to why his preferences lean towards hyperpop and electronic music. As a child, Lipshultz said he was diagnosed with “cookie bite” hearing loss, which means he cannot hear midrange frequencies between 500 Hz and 2,000 Hz. Cookie bite hearing loss may have difficulty hearing medium tones, which can decrease understanding of speech and music. Instead of letting it limit his self-confidence as a producer, Lipshultz said he believed the condition informed his artistry.
“The reason I’m doing this dry vocal sound is because it’s a lot easier for me to hear that,” Lipshultz said. He explained that his production style refrains from adding too much echo or reverb to vocals and allows them to exist “upstream” in the mix, so he can hear them better.
Lipshultz cites his ADHD as another unexpected influence on his music.
“ADHD is a dopamine deficiency, in theory,” Lipshultz explained. “Our brains love patterns and they love being able to recognize things because it gives them a controlled amount of dopamine. But when you listen to new music, it’s like so much dopamine that the brain doesn’t know what to do with it. But for me, someone who lacks dopamine… I want to hear something new.
Lipshultz described electronic music as a place where he can “hear things I’ve never heard before in my life” and “think about music differently”. He said he also enjoys sampling, a production technique that reuses outsourced pre-existing sound — another element influenced by his “dopamine-deprived” brain. In his music, he included samples of everything from old One Direction songs to Pokémon sound effects.
Although Lipshultz is known for his musical talents, those close to him cite his kind demeanor as being as important as his musicianship.
“It was just a super, super fun time,” said freshman communications student DC Sellin, describing his collaboration with Lipshultz on a song. “He’s a super talented guy and he knows so much about so many different things… At the end of the day, he’s really humble.”
Lipshultz says he wants to be known as an all-around creative because he’s also passionate about photography and video production, but music is what always draws him in, he said.
“I’m definitely happiest when everything I do is music-related, whether it’s making a poster for a show or shooting a video or taking pictures of other people mixing for an EDM club,” he said. said Lipshultz. “He always seems to come back to the music.”
Contact Jake Dodohara at [email protected] To learn more about the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the Culture Bureau on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.