How Roblox Sparked a Chaotic Music Scene
Artists, label bosses and industry insiders know that success in popular music these days requires playing games on TikTok and streaming services. But there’s another, unlikely, platform that’s gaining traction: Roblox.
Roblox is a game creation engine, first released in 2006, that allows players to customize their own sandbox worlds, create mini-games on multiplayer servers, and enjoy a second life online as square beings called Robloxians. Unlike Minecraft, a game that takes users into a fantastic “other world”, Roblox’s most popular mini-games (or, as Roblox calls them, “Experiences”) are rooted in real life. They are “role-playing games”, which means that the player is performing a certain persona. You can be a sheriff, a parent adopting a child, a pizza maker.
Last year the platform spawned its own genre of music – Robloxcore. Mostly done by young teenagers, it’s a kind of chaotic, profane rap that’s overloaded with hectic sound effects. Melodies like “Threat” by lieu, a 13-year-old musician, mimick that they’re in a digital dimension, where every bass beat and synth shake you pass by, every stuttering voice and short-circuited squeak is an enemy avoiding a new obstacle. The scene made waves in the underground music community and earned Phoebe Bridgers a nod on Twitter.
Music has become such a large part of the Roblox community for one important reason: Beginning in late 2013, users were able to upload their own MP3s to the platform for other players to purchase. In Worlds, you can equip an item called a “boombox” – a sparkling gold speaker system – and broadcast the music to the players around you. The closer you are to another user, the louder the music is to them.
While the platform’s creators praised the fact that music has become one of their trademarks – “the fact that Roblox is spawning a new music subgenre speaks for Roblox’s current generational and cultural ubiquity,” wrote Jon Vlassopulos, its global music director. In an email, in fact, many of its young users are doing things that should be prohibited, like hacking illegal music into the game.
Originally, the founders of the platform set a filter for profanity, as this should be child-friendly. However, inventive users have developed a workaround. “Audio bypassing” refers to a technique by which people distort or obscure an audio file so that it can slide through recognition systems to filter out objectionable language and copyrighted tracks. (Methods include overlaying a song 32 times to make the lyrics deafening and indecipherable, or intentionally raising or lowering the pitch to make it sound incoherent to presenters before readjusting it in-game.)
While many players bypass tame mainstream music that would otherwise have been blocked due to copyright issues, a large contingent of users makes for intense, explosively packed underground rap music. So, in part, Robloxcore exploded after dozens of players uploaded these types of tracks and trumpeted with their boombox items, inspiring other users in the same in-game worlds to listen to music and share it too.
Lieu, a Robloxcore pioneer and longtime Roblox player whose pronouns they are, said when they participate in games they hear people playing their music. “It’s crazy because none of that was ever my goal. I just wanted to make music and be funny,” wrote Lieu of Discord, the app for speaking and writing text messages popular with gamers. Without the game, Lieu said, they doubted the music would ever be popular, “or at least nowhere near as popular as it is now.”
So who are these mysterious, influential players who handle music in Roblox?
They call themselves Roblox Audio Maker. Known for their devious evasion methods and their taste for aggressive rap, they mostly gather on Discord in secret groups and chats run by exclusive collectives. Audio makers sell methods of sneaking songs like stealthy gun dealers on Roblox. Some can go for thousands of Robux, or around $ 20-40.
“The community can be very dangerous at times,” a Robloxer named DigitalCrimes (14) told Discord that aggravating the wrong person can lead to dire consequences – if your personal information is leaked or worse, players call a SWAT team to raid your house.
Skipped tunes began circulating in the mid-2010s, around the same time as Roblox’s demographics were changing; The kids who grew up playing the game in the 2000s turned into teenagers and adults with a penchant for restricted content. All of a sudden there was a slew of outlaws who were purposely circumventing Roblox rules to blow blown rap music out of their boomboxes.
“When I first played there was no distorted rap – the worst you might hear was Eminem’s ‘Rap God’. and everything was censored, ”said mart_yred, who has been playing for over nine years. “You started listening to bypassed audio in late 2015 and then there was a really big spike in 2017.”
The scene really started in 2021 when popular audio makers on Roblox like DigitalAngels and CriminalViolence opened a store on the giant video sharing platform TikTok and established a whole subgenre of audio maker-themed videos. Roblox has always had a strong presence on TikTok – users post gameplay material, flashy animations, and quick changes – but this content is different. Audio makers rate each other, brag about how much influence they have, and create slideshows of codes that let you download the freshest bypassed audio in the game.
In the past few months, the most successful bypass TikTokers have attracted tens of thousands of followers and brought a group of newbies into the shady world of audio making. And some of the tracks they use as audio for TikToks flow into the wider TikTok pool.
The biggest so far is Lungenkull’s “Foreign”. The 15-year-old Parisian started out as an audio maker bypassing other people’s tracks, but has been making his own distorted rap songs since 2020. After one of his Roblox friends used “Foreign” in a TikTok video at the end of 2020, the melody had a small moment and has now set over 45,000 TikTok videos to music. Eventually the song seeped beyond the gamer realm and became the backdrop for goth girl memes and a video of a cockroach attempting to evade insect repellent.
Other tracks that were originally raised by Roblox players and then stretched across the wider TikTok horizon include Axxturel’s creepy “Ave Domina Lilith,” which grew in popularity after a Roblox TikToker posted a video with a group of male avatars, who wore cat ears and maid costumes who danced to the dance song entitled “Me n the Boys”. More recently, user cybyrbae has created a video that helped promote Yameii Online’s “Baby My Phone,” which hit # 2 on the Spotify Viral 50 playlist in March.
While none of these songs fall into any defined genre, they are linked by their unusual vocal styles and a sense of lo-fi incompleteness – a decaying quality similar to that of bypassed melodies. Many fans call the amorphous sound social rejection music, which captures their ironic self-image as the lowest of the lowest and playfully dissolves one another because it devours such inferior, deafening, rough rap melodies.
“When I wasn’t so well known, I thought it was crazy that people would play my music on Roblox – sometimes I would go up to them and say something funny like, ‘Hey, what song is this? ‘like I’m just a random player,’ Lungenschädel said of Discord. But ultimately, the game offered him something bigger than an audience: “I’ve met so many friends from Discord and the audio community.”