Yes, that barely visible person in the window is Victor. Credit: Andrea Reyes

Late last year, Victor Cervantes began posting gauzy, sweetly melancholy bedroom-pop tracks to Soundcloud and Bandcamp, adopting his first name as his nom de upload (he styles it with a terminal exclamation point). Last month the 17-year-old Chicagoan made his physical-media debut with the CD-only EP Glitter98, a self-released collection of six songs that he sold for $10 (the deluxe version, which includes bonus tracks and a lyric booklet, cost $15). In its small way, the EP did spectacularly well. “I made nearly $2,000 in less than a week,” Cervantes says. “They sold out that same week.”

I was one of Cervantes’s customers myself—I’d started following his work after hearing his alluring, aching tune “Suburb Boy” earlier this year. The single’s gently humming synth melody hooked me instantly, and I wanted to know more—who is this person, who seems better than me at expressing his emotions even though he’s barely more than half my age?  “I just came into the scene in the winter,” Cervantes tells me. “I just popped up out of nowhere.”

Cervantes started playing music in church: he picked up the drums at Centro Cristiano la Victoria in Bolingbrook, and these days he sings and plays guitar at Vida Abundante Cicero, where his uncle leads worship. His father is a mariachi musician, and his mother played in a pop group called Ecstasis when she lived in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero. Throughout his childhood, Cervantes soaked up Latin love songs like a sponge. “I did grow up in that environment, listening to a lot of mariachi, boleros, bachata,” he says. “A lot of that inspires my work. I like writing about heartbreak, love, and all these things.”

Cervantes listened to contemporary Christian music as well, and when he was 13 he started to get deeper in church music after joining Vida Abundante’s youth group (then called Rcklss Youth, now Vida Youth). “I kind of started writing songs for youth,” he says. “But then I didn’t really like it.” He branched out from religious music by listening on YouTube, falling down rabbit holes while looking for music by the likes of Mac DeMarco and Homeshake. “I started listening to a lot of synth-y stuff,” he says. “I picked up on [LA singer-songwriter] Cuco, and I noticed there was a bunch of artists coming from the LA scene—a lot of brown boys making music.”
Last summer Cervantes began making nonreligious music, inviting his church friends to freestyle over trap beats he’d build in FL Studio. “I was never good at rapping because I’m really awkward,” he says. “I don’t think rapping would suit me.” When it came time to record vocals for his own songs, he did what he knew best: he sang. Not only had he gotten plenty of practice in church, he’d also taken voice classes during the 2016-’17 school year as a sophomore at the Chicago High School for the Arts.

Despite attending an arts school and remaining involved in his church’s music programming, Cervantes didn’t encounter a like-minded musical community till late last year, when he attended Open Mike, the bimonthly series run by Social Works. (Chance the Rapper cofounded the series in 2014 to honor his mentor, Brother Mike, and to help young people learn how to perform and find collaborators.) At Open Mike, Cervantes ran into an aspiring rapper who records as Blake Saint David. “He told me, ‘Hey, I like your shirt’—I was wearing a Brockhampton shirt,” Cervantes says. “He found my Soundcloud link, listened to it, and he really liked it. He invited me to perform at his show, which was my first show.”

That gig with Blake Saint David introduced Cervantes to a network of musical peers, many of whom you can find on a Soundcloud playlist he’s assembled—it consists of songs he’s produced for friends, friends’ singles that feature him, and even a remix of one of his tracks.
Cervantes is still tinkering with his live setup—for now he usually just sings to backing tracks or borrows a Roland sampling pad from his church, though he’s hoping to put together a band soon. He’s performing on Friday at a DIY show thrown by new event-promotion company 6ferns—the Reader can’t share any more info than that, but you can e-mail for details. He’s only played live a handful of times in his extremely new career, but that hasn’t prevented him from reaching the ears of the people he most wants to inspire. “I have a lot of Hispanic kids DM me on Twitter, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, dude, I really love this, I’m trying to make my own music,'” he says. “Sometimes they’ll send me little demos. I think it’s cool—if I can make kids feel a little bit confident about themselves, that’s what matters to me.”