We’ve all had those nights out. You know the ones: phone dead (or even worse, lost), friends nowhere to be found, and you’ve spilled a drink on the person you’ve been eyeing all night from the other side of the club. Head home, ears still ringing and brain still spinning, to text your ex a maudlin message and wait breathlessly for their reply—which of course never comes. You swear this is the last time, but let’s be honest, being a bit messy is just too much fun, regardless of the consequences.
At its core, Whirlwind of Malevolence, the second album by London-based producer, DJ, and songwriter SONNIKU chronicles one of these epic nights, where everything–the music, the vibes, the people–come together in the just right ways. From the in-your-face busy-signal bounce of album opener “Enter the Chat” to the Eurotrance heartache of “Lipstick Stain”, Whirlwind of Malevolence takes the listener on a journey through a gamut of emotions, all of are masterfully illustrated by intricate beats, high octane melodies, and a true bevy of stellar guest appearances.
“I feel like the album is chronologically about a night out,” explains SONIKKU, with a knowing grin. “It starts off with “Enter the Chat”, and you're introduced to this world, you have fun, and then as the album progresses, it ends with the more heartfelt, more reflective songs, like “Runaway" and "Lipstick Stain”. You're looking back at the people you've met on this particular journey—or maybe you're on a comedown and thinking about an ex-flame who hasn't responded to your message. It's definitely a whirlwind, hence the title.”
After moving from Derby to London at the age of 18 and subsequently cutting his teeth in the capital's underground dance music scene, SONIKKU had already cemented his status as a DJ before releasing his debut album, Joyful Death, in 2020. Behind SONIKKU’s technical savvy is an extraordinarily wide breadth of knowledge of both UK and US dance and electronic music, and he’s able to fold these styles together whether behind the decks or in the studio. “My DJing has definitely informed this album,” he explains. “In a way, it’s been quite a transatlantic relationship with this record—the New York party SKSKSKSK has been really supportive, and I’ve been going to New York and LA quite a lot, to play parties like ShopHeaven and Subculture. Even though I am UK-based, I find a lot of influence in American dance music as well as UK culture.”
Track by track, Whirlwind of Malevolence speaks to this global trajectory, since the recording of the album saw SONIKKU bouncing around the US and Europe to make his dream list of collaborators become a reality. From the Australian dancefloor maverick PartiBoi69 (who lends his vocals to lead single “Debaucherous”), to Brooklyn-based R&B songstress Bayli on “Enter the Chat”, to Spanish underground icon Raky Ripper on the bilingual “Wonky”, the record is an excellent example of SONIKKU’s prowess as a producer—each track, while embodying its own identify and flair, fits neatly into a cohesive whole.
“Most of the collabs always start in the DMs,” says SONIKKU on how he’s able to connect with so many like-minded artists. “An artist will approach you—like with Terror Jr, we wrote “Twisted” and a bunch of other songs in LA together, and it's always fun to travel and be in a room writing with other people. The writing session for “Lipstick Stain”, which I think is my favorite track from the album, was me and Miss Madeline just talking—she was recently having trouble with this boy, and in the recording studio, she was like, ‘Yeah I'm seeing this guy and like he's not really replying to my messages!’ It's inspiring to have a conversation before you write a song, and to use that emotion. It’s why I think that track is a highlight on the album, for sure.”
What makes “Lipstick Stain” a particularly important track on Whirlwind of Malevolence isn’t just that it closes the album, or that it’s an ultra-catchy, super sleek slice of dance pop. As underlined by the track’s origin, there’s an emotional center to the song that signals a new era in SONIKKU’s sound: it’s the comedown after the turn up, when the lights get turned on and it’s time to face the ride home. It’s a facet of SONIKKU that hasn’t quite manifested itself before, and it represents an evolutionary step in his repertoire. Along those same lines is “Runaway”, a thumping, driving track featuring Los Angeles-based singer Gia Woods, a song that depicts the heady flutters of a fast love.
“”Lipstick Stain” and “Run Away” are both songs with a lot of heart,” says SONIKKU. “They’re the sincere moments at the end of the album. “Runaway” is about escaping; those fleeting moments where you feel like you want to run away with someone, and you have this fantasy of escaping the city and just leaving. It's about meeting someone and having this really intense connection and just wanting to uproot yourself, like a Bonnie and Clyde situation. They’re more heartfelt songs, but still have a dance edge to them—it's not like a ballad, it's not “Live to Tell” by Madonna,” he laughs, “but they have more of an emotional core to them than the rest of the album.”
This isn’t to say that SONIKKU doesn’t put his whole talent into every track he makes. It’s just that, well, sometimes he likes to celebrate the deeply unserious. He cribbed the title Whirlwind of Malevolence from the book The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (“It has no deeper meaning,” he quips), and much of his inspiration stems from words he finds quirky or unique. “I like to start off with a word or a vibe,” he explains about his songwriting process. “For “Debaucherous”, I came across a sound bite from the beginning of the song by this YouTuber, Miss Jason, who goes to this gay rave called Chapter 10 with a microphone interviewing people. He interviews this girl and when she asks what she thinks of the party, she goes ‘absolute debauchery!’ The whole tone of the interview informs the song.”
“Debaucherous”, like much of Whirlwind of Malevolence, is sonically akin to mid-to-late 2000s electro—SONIKKU cites tracks like “Yeah Yeah” by Bodyrox as a direct inspiration. It’s particular synth stabs and crisp, snappy drum beats recall the best moments of that era of UK dance music, while eschewing total nostalgia. “The instrumental is really playful and it has a beat to it, so there was a lot of room for PartiBoi69 to do his thing,” he states. “He wrote his verse really quickly in Australia and then he came to London and we mixed it together. Everything came together really perfectly for this song, because it really encapsulates that fun, humourous vibe—it was a match made in heaven.” PartiBoi69’s booming vocal, somewhere between a rapper and the most hyped-up bouncer you’ve ever met, gives the track a searing edge that cuts through the frothiness.
While “Debacuherous” has light hip-hop undertones, there are tracks on the album that really lean into the genre—another first in SONIKKU’s discography. “I'm working with rappers for the first time,” he says enthusiastically. “I've always wanted to do more R&B and hip-hop, and tracks like “Enter the Chat”, “Nail Shop” and “Unhinged” really speak to my hip-hop fandom, so it felt great to express myself and do something I hadn't done before.” “Unhinged” features the Lagos, Nigeria-based rapper Deto Black, and her presence catapults the song into a late-’90s, contemporary R&B vibe that meshes seamlessly with SONIKKU’s signature sound. “I've predominantly done dance music. I loved using the sound palette I already have and experimenting with different genres of music people hadn't heard from me before. Deto Black was so cool to work with, Bayli is amazing. Even though the album isn't all one genre, it's produced by me, so there's a consistency there, despite the fact that I am working with a lot of different collaborators—the album naturally became a mixture of club music, pop music, and hip-hop.”
“Unhinged” also features vocals by experimental electronic artist DJ_Dave, and as such the track follows the sweet chorus/salty verse structure of so many hip-hop and R&B classics. Deto’s rhymes are fierce and funny, making the track even more upbeat and sultry—but in the end, it’s still solidly SONIKKU. “I never set out to make hip-hop tracks, I was just inspired by the music that I like,” he explains. “I knew that I wasn't going to make a purist hip-hop song. I think it's really interesting how futuristic hip-hop can be: I listen to a lot of '90s hip-hop, like Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Busta Rhymes, I love Timbaland's production. I kind of took that as the basis of those tracks, but seen through the lens of SONIKKU.”
Remember that night out? The one where you had the time of your life, despite the, well, whirlwind that occurred? That journey is also seen through the lens of SONIKKU, and you can take this album as an invitation to do it all again next week. In his world, there’s no such thing as too hedonistic. “It’s been incredible to work with this eclectic cast of characters on this project,” he says. “Ultimately, the theme running through this record is just having fun. Even down to the song titles, these weird words that kind of portray a kind of irreverence: "Debaucherous", “Unhinged”, “Wonky”. It’s all sort of amusing and silly, right? More than anything, I just wanted to show that I'm coming from a place of genuine fun.”