Nerdcore, a genre of music that by definition speaks to niche interests, does not tend to be a place where you look for budding stars. The Taiwanese-American musician and rapper Alex Sun Liu, who performs under the name LEX the Lexicon Artist, might be an exception.
Her spastic, wordy and highly self-aware lyrical content and flow make her a natural fit in the nerdcore scene. As does dropping EPs based entirely on the themes and characters of an anime show. But the heart of Liu’s music is really a mode of personal interrogation that is deeply relatable, even universal, in the way it explores the specificities of her identity.
“I think that the music that I listened to when I was younger helped me feel not so alone,” says Liu, who discovered early-2000s rap and rap-rock artists as a preteen living in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. “And that’s the reason that I make the music I make, so that other people who are listening to it, maybe my age, maybe younger, maybe older, can hear something in there that they can relate to and also not feel so alone.”
Though the music she makes now draws from indie rock and traditional nerdcore sounds as much as the rap and rock that kickstarted Lieu’s creativity, the spirit and cadence of her songs are steeped in those formative styles. Her own lyrical sensibility was keyed by her journey to understand what she was hearing.
“I didn’t really understand the lyrical content as much, because at the time I was still an English learner,” she explains. “I think what really spoke to me was the cadence of it and the aggressiveness and this freedom of expression that it seemed to be delivering through a very confident and very exciting medium. I could really kind of absorb that. And it kind of planted the seeds in my head, both becoming interested in this kind of music and also the very first seeds that allowed me to internalize the way that rap works.”
A classically trained musician, Liu gradually got more into rap music as her teen years progressed, including joining a club in middle school and competing in beatboxing competitions, but didn’t start making original music in earnest until after college in the Bay Area. It was then that she first discovered the nerdcore genre.
“It was something that I had been aware of, just kind of cursorily,” she explains. “I’ve always been considered a nerd and an outcast. So I figured that nerdcore hip-hop listeners would really like me.”
Within that space, Liu forged an exceptionally reflective kind of vulnerability, writing about social awkwardness and bullying with real emotional uplift. Despite its more niche-driven elements, the power of her message and knack for genuine hooks suggests the possibility of a broader appeal.
“Obviously it is a way for me to express my feelings in an articulate way that isn’t kind of just expressing it [negatively],” she explains. “But I’m using music as a way to sublimate bad things that have happened to me and turning into a positive force, and a positive force for other people, as well.”
From building a following in the Bay area, Liu has turned an opening slot on an MC Chris tour and a steady diet of anime, music and gaming festivals into gradual audience expansion. Now, on a joint headlining tour with Super Smack (“The Nintendo Switch of Rappers”), Liu’s open to any avenue that brings her music to larger audiences.
“I started on a music path that was very traditional and was kind of drawn into the niche factor by my own accord, because I thought that it would be a good target audience for me to reach,” she admits. “As I continue to expand, I’m looking for more audiences that I can reach that are beyond just nerdcore fans, because you know there are a lot of people who may not necessarily listen. There’s just a lot of people in the world and they all live in different pockets. So that’s kind of my goal right now.”
What: LEX the Lexicon Artist
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m.
With: Super Smack, H3RO, Autocorrect
Price: $10 (18-plus only)
More: 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com