Please, Kids. Help Us: What Is “Phonk”?
Soundcloud says it’s the sound of Generation Z, but have teens actually heard of it?
The online streaming service Soundcloud recently released data on its user's listening habits. Alongside the more standard fare – Chance The Rapper's Colouring Book being the most popular album in 2016; London, New York, and LA being the three most creative cities in the world – something stands out. It's name is "phonk" and Soundcloud claim the genre is one of the most prominent and exciting new "buzz" sounds on the service, racking up plays next to your favourite "cloud-rap" and "vaporwave" classics. But what, exactly, is "phonk"? Is it like "phat"? Or could it be a new revolution in the archaic form of psychiatry known as "phantasy", in audio form?
Not quite. For those unversed in the universe of "phonk", the term was popularised by SpaceGhostPurrp back in 2011 when he released tracks like "Pheel Tha Phonk", "Bringin' Tha Phonk", "Keep Bringin' Tha Phonk" and the ever popular "PHONK". To describe how the genre sounds in one sentence: phonk is the aural equivalent of taking an irresponsible amount of Xanax, washing it down with a 40oz, smoking a blunt, and putting some trap drums on top. So far, so browsing through the r/hiphopheads backpages in the early 2010s. It's a specific sound, heralded by a specific person, from a very specific time and trend of yesteryear – i.e something to live and die on its sword, having only been heard by a few hundred stoned rap fans.
Or so we thought. A few weeks ago writer Gavin Haynes wrote a piece that ran under the headline "What the phonk? The genre that's gripping generation Z." Here at Noisey we like to think we know what music teens are into – e.g Stormzy or Ed Sheeran or both. But we also agree The Guardian are a bastion of well-informed music criticism and thought it unlikely they'd been Brass Eye'd to fuck on a Friday afternoon. So maybe they were right. Perhaps "phonk" is the the sound of Generation Z. Maybe it had survived to live another day, to become the hot sound of the youth.
To test this hypothesis we ventured onto the streets of what some may describe as the coolest area of London – Shoreditch, of course! – in search of some teenagers. Unfortunately most of them were at school or Snapchatting pictures of their bare arses or whatever teenagers do, so what follows are the louts who were skipping classes on coastal erosion to go shopping (and end up accosted by our camera en route). If we're doing this properly (which we are), the grand tradition of consumer research ensures that anyone reading this piece can take our sample as cold, hard fact.
So *lowers sunglasses*, tell us, fellow kids: What is the "phonk"?
Hey guys, wait. Quick question: what is phonk?
Brody: I guess it's sort of like funk but different. More grimey?
Georgia: Maybe it's quite edgy?
Is it the sound of this generation?
Georgia: I have no idea what it is.
Brody: Same. It could be something … but it's not anything yet.
Georgia: It sounds like indie. That's the vibe I get.
What is the sound of this generation?
Brody: It depends where you are. Around this region, east London, it's grime, rap, that sort of thing.
My friends, hello. Tell me about the "phonk" and why people your age love it so.
It's a genre. It's music.
William: Well, I suppose it's related to funk. It probably has the same groove.
Arya: Maybe it's a mix of jazz, funk, electro. Are there tracks people can hear?
I don't think so.
William: So why are you out here?
Honestly? I need you to tell me what you you know about "phonk". That's all.
Arya: We've never heard about it and we're into music – we're music students. They're producers and I'm a rapper.
Is "phonk" not the sound of 2016 then? Or potentially 2017?
William: I don't know.
Edward: We'll wait to see, innit.
Arya: I feel a lot of things are fusing together; a lot of electronic music.
William: Music is a loop. Drum 'n' bass, jump up – they're going to come back. Even psytrance: that's big in India.
Edward: Trap is going alternative. They're changing the vocals to sound like rock music.
So, just to be clear, you don't know anything about "phonk"?
Arya: Nah, it's a cool name though.
William: It's not a four-on-the-floor, that's for sure. Is it electronic? Is it live instruments that make it? Is it rapping? Is it singing? I don't know.
Ladies. Bring me the phonk.
The phonk. But spelt with the letters p, h and o.
Yeah, that's right. What do you reckon it sounds like?
Something between funk and… I don't know?! Rock?! Something harder.
It's been called the sound of a generation.
Where do people your age go to hear "phonk".
Maybe it would be played in some kind of alternative bar or club or something. Something spacey.
What do people your age listen to then?
I listen to indie rock.
Hey… hey. What do you know about popular and up-and-coming music genre "phonk"?
Annabel: I don't know… it sounds like a mixture of punk and funk, with a bit of pop as well. Like a fusion?
Where do people play it?
Rebecca: If you explain what kind of music it is, then we can tell you.
I don't know what it is. I need your help.
Niamh: We've never heard of phonk.
Annabel: I reckon they play it in places around here. If I heard it, I would think it was quite cool. Maybe it's played in small pubs and clubs. There's places like that in Richmond, maybe they play it.
Rebecca: It wouldn't be played live though, it would be DJs.
What do you listen to?
Annabel: Well, we go to a college so we listen to a lot of indie music.
Niamh: Whoever is playing at Reading.
Bro… do you know about "phonk"?
Nadim: Oh… I've never heard of it before. Shall I look it up?
Go on then.
*looks it up*.
What do you think it sounds like?
There's probably some Bruno Mars flair to it.
Where do people go to "phonk" the "phonk" out?
My mum uses words like "arty farty" so when I think of "phonk" that's what I think of. Maybe it's some sort of spin-off of that.
What is the sound of this generation?
Grime. Hip-hop is quite big. Nothing else will get to that stage right now. If there's going to be a new thing, I would have already heard about it.
Hello there, one question please. What do you think of "phonk"?
Shaun: I don't give a shit.
OK, no worries. Can I take a photo of your face?
OK bye, thanks for taking part in the survey.
You can talk to Ryan about phonk in 2017 on Twitter.