This young Kuala Lumpur-bred Korean started out as a hip hop DJ when he first attended a Raising The Bar gig a few years ago, but he soon became disillusioned by the banality of scratching, which then slowly led him to making ambient, atmospheric music. Currently, Dae Kim still works closely with Jin Hackman – but more importantly though, he’s since released his debut album </3? (read below for proper pronunciation) that marked his transition as a musician rather than just a hip hop DJ at gigs. Despite the maudlin theme of his album, JUICE soon discovered his one-of-a-kind sense of humour (he’s closer to Hannibal Buress than Jin is to Eric Andre) as we spoke to him about his album, scratching, and the Korean culture of Ge Mo Im, among many other topics.
We were curious as to why the flow of the album was arranged the way that it did — the tone of the album goes up and down. Was it a reflection of how one would feel being in love/going through heartbreak?
Actually, it’s the whole process of [being in] a relationship. As a whole flow, everything is up and down. I always like ups and downs because it makes you emotional I guess (laughs). So, I tried to create a certain flow that’s not too generic and also not too boring. So when people are listening, they can feel a variety of emotions.
We’re assuming this album is incredibly personal to you, how was it allowing others into the process of making such an intimate album?
At first I was quite scared of people’s opinions, especially when people asked, “What is this song about?” I was shy to answer that (laughs). But I tried not to care about what people were thinking. One person who helped me a lot during this process was Seikan from Dirgahayu. He kind of helped me by constantly telling me to work on it and at the same time, he was like the project manager, like he made sure that I actually released it. He listened to it the most and some of my friends like Jin Hackman… Jin’s girlfriend actually cried listening to one of the songs, ‘Firework in the Middle of Summer’. Some people have said bad things about it, but I didn’t care. I only wanted to make a good song and what was in my mind.
But how was it working and sharing with the collaborators?
Especially with the Supa Mojo song, ‘Tao’, we actually sat down and talked a lot because I wanted to make something different for this song, so there’s a point of view from the girl’s side. When you break up with a guy and he’ll stalk you all around town (laughs). So, I wanted to have a female perspective because I know how annoying it is.
Why did you use so many languages – Mandarin, English, a bit of Malay, instrumental – to express heartbreak?
At first I didn’t really care, my intention was that so a lot of people can listen to my songs and my album. Yeah, I just liked how different people can tell their story in different ways. Like I can tell my story in an instrumental, like Supa Mojo can tell her story in Chinese, but the message is still very vivid even if you don’t understand Chinese, you’ll know she’s talking about these kind of things. So that was pretty cool, but I think I could enjoy ‘Baby Blue’ more because it was in English, so that was more fun, I guess.
How was it singing on a track ‘Hmm…’? Were you confident in your vocal ability?
Yeah, that was embarrassing (laughs). Definitely not, I really hated it. I just wanted it to sound cool like I was just chilling in the studio. I was there one day and I just made that song and I was lazy to call people [to sing over it] too. I also thought I might not get someone I want for that song, I was just thinking, “What if I tried it myself?” After I recorded it, you know those singing skill… like toilet singing? Like [singing in the shower?] It sounded like that to me. I just put a lot of effects to escape the [embarrassment]. I just wanted it to sound like an instrument; that was like my main objective. I just wanted a certain flow besides using synthesisers, that kind of thing.
Was it also a way to add a more personal touch because it was your voice rather than your musical capability?
Yeah, I thought I could make it sadder. I just really wanted that feeling. I was having that emotion, so I recorded it overnight in the studio.
There are two distinct musical sides to the album—hip hop and ambient electronica—was it difficult for you to seamlessly incorporate those two genres into such a short span of an album?
Oh, this was one of things that I regretted about the album. I think I could have made it smoother, like it doesn’t have to be such a rough transition. Something like rap music for me, generally, is like angry music, [whereas] the ambient electronica scene [represents] my soft, sad side. Hip hop songs are the angry side of me (laughs). Yeah, something like that. It sounds really gay I know, but yeah. I really wanted the emotional change in the songs.
The album has a pretty strong theme—and that’s heartbreak—so did that sort of allow you to experiment with the individual tracks?
Yeah, for me, it was easier for me to work with the theme on top of everything.
Because it seemed that you worked more on the theme and the emotions for the album.
Yeah, that was the theme that I wanted to portray in the album, like more truthful kind of music, to [reflect] what I was going through at the time. I’m done with it now (laughs). The point of what I am trying to say was to make truthful music for myself; the theme was what I was strongly going through last year.
Your bio states that you are an electronica musician, but do you identify yourself as a hip hop DJ?
I started out as a DJ who used to scratch, but I realised it was so boring for me. What I have to do basically for a show is press play, which is the playback of the songs and just scratch a bit. That’s all the rappers would ask you to do. Like the only person who was different on the concept was Jin Hackman because he wants you to experiment this way or that way, he just wants you to have fun, that’s why I really enjoy playing with him. I just got really bored with just general scratching on hip hop beats, that was why I really started with my own album so I’d have my own materials when I perform. And so I don’t have to DJ anymore (laughs).
So you wouldn’t want to scratch anymore in the future?
I still love it sometimes, but I wanna use it as more like an instrument, I’ll use it more on my own songs rather than for other people. I want it to be exclusive and original, because scratching has been done for like 20 years or so, like, (imitates scratching).
Do you think it’s important for a hip hop DJ to know how to scratch then?
Probably definitely. But if you’re a good DJ, then you wouldn’t need to learn necessarily, but I think it depends on the DJ actually. If he wants to be more of a production DJ, he must know how to scratch. Like if you’re a club DJ, you don’t have to but it’s more like an add-on points for you, like A-Trak, he can scratch super good. It just becomes an extra characteristic for you.
Is it an easy switch between making glitch-y, atmospheric beats and hip hop beats?
Oh, not really actually. I suffered a lot in that sense because it’s so different for me. If I wanted to make trip hop, it’ll be a little easier because it’s in a similar lane of music. I suffered so much to make that Supa Mojo song, like [it took] five to six months because I couldn’t come up with the chorus! I was like “Oh my god! How am I gonna finish this song?!” Like the mood is so different and I was making ambient music throughout that time. After that, I was trying to make hip hop songs from time to time, it was so difficult. The key was just to suffer, self-torture, and watching a lot of The Simpsons. Yeah, I was watching a crazy amount of it (laughs).
You seem to be the right hand man of Jin Hackman. How did you start working with him and his studio Jiniusatwork?
I’m quite shy though… When I was first starting out, I really wanted to perform at a show. That time, I didn’t want to play at a club because I hate clubs – no harm to those club owners out there, I still want to play sometimes (laughs). But yeah, I really wanted a show, I practised for a year or so, I thought, “I’m ready to perform now.” So, my friend—who I don’t talk to anymore—asked me like, “Hey, do you wanna go to this hip hop show?” I was like, “Oh, alright.” I didn’t think much of it, I just wanted to be cool. I went to the show at PJ Trade Centre, which was at Ecobar. I didn’t know it was a Raising the Bar (RTB) event. I realised it was the only hip hop show in KL and I really enjoyed it and I told myself that I really wanna perform here. [It was] do or die. Then after that I was so nervous, I was waiting outside, like, “When is he gonna come out?” When he came out, I just ran to him (laughs). I just waited for him to talk to him, I know that sounds pretty gay… I asked him if I could play at RTB, do some scratching. He said, “Yeah, can, can!” But I thought he was lying. After a few weeks, he messaged me. He told me way later, like last year, that he actually contacted DJ Fuzz because I learnt from him. Then I got to perform at RTB, it was my first show, but it was like so bad. When I think about it now, it was so boring. People were watching a guy scratching, for god’s sake! (Laughs) I was also thankful when I had to intern. I interned at RTB, that was when I got closer to Jin. He told me he wanted to make an album, like last year. We worked really closely and recorded his stuff.
Your humour is very interesting; do you think people get your jokes?
No, actually. I realised half of the people actually hate it (laughs). But I love comedy and I love stand-ups, that’s really one of my dreams. I really wanna do like a whole show of like weird stuff going on, like music, comedy — an overall show. Like talking during the shows is like practising for the future (laughs). But, I’m really serious about it, that’s how much I love comedy. Also, I really work hard to talk during shows because I’m really shy. My album launch was actually the first time I spoke on the mic in 55 years of my life, but… (laughs). I actually try to write down material and stuff, but most of them are actually spontaneous. So, I’ll just see the crowd and see what’s annoying from them and say sh!t about it (laughs), that’s the basic concept. Comedy is awesome (laughs).
Can you explain to us your bromance with Emir Hermono and Rizki Maulana?
I don’t have a bromance with Rizki though. Rizki was just this weird dude who comes up to shows and tells you a bunch of things about music. His music knowledge is pretty crazy, like I was so shocked. We were talking about Tyler’s [the Creator] album, the Wolf Album, I’ve never met anyone who listened to Tyler’s album so closely as much as me. This guy is just too hipster for me to handle, like how Emir is this hip hop and r’n’b guy, Rizki is just too hipster… bundle shopping and shit and wearing weird clothes. But he’s a damn awesome dude. He was the first one to arrive at my album launch, like the venue was not even open. Yeah, we also share the same love for ‘It G Ma’, which was awesome. On the other hand, I knew Emir since a long time ago, he was a staff at the college I studied at. I spoke to him here and there, like, “Eh yo, I make hip hop beats too, man.” Blah, blah, blah. One day, he asked me to join a beat battle. The first battle of the night was me against Emir, so I was like, this is a planned game by him, there’s something fishy about Emir. Like we battled each other… that sounds really wrong, goddamn! We had like a lot of draws but in the end, he won.
How is the joint album with Emir coming along? Will it still revolve around the themes of love and heartbreak like the Songs about </3?! mix?
It will be a bit more house-y, like future house, also a bit electronica and some r’n’b chords… but it’ll be like way later, we’re just exchanging songs now. We actually wanna grow up a bit; just like at least for once, enough with the heartbreak. Maybe we wanna do a bit of different emotions, like happy, sad, like more variety of feelings.
How do you actually pronounce </3?
Less than stroke three question mark.
How is life as a Korean based in Malaysia? What are some of the local culture that you love/ hate?
Awesome! But I do have a love-hate relationship with Malaysia. I really like the vibe of Malaysia, like KL. I like how raw the city is, it’s not too organised and planned. Like how there’s an old building and beside it, there’s like a fucking huge building – stuff like that. I really hate constructions actually, like everywhere I go, there’s a construction going on to build condos and I just feel so sad, like, why can’t they just leave [the piece of land] for another 10 years so that people can enjoy the view for 10 more years? It’s just so sad to see so much development.
We’re curious about your stage outfit, why do you dress that way?
It actually came in randomly from my friend Seikan. So that [outfit] gives me confidence, it’s like a mask for me.
What was the most mindless thing people have said to you when they discovered that you’re Korean?
Minus all the K-pop stuff, because that’s really common nowadays, like they talk about K-pop bands that I don’t even know about. But there are a lot of weird people who are like, “Are you from North Korea?”, “Are you the son of Kim Jong-un?”, “Do you hate Japan?” This kind of weird stuff.
What is the most underrated thing about Korean culture that you think JUICE readers should know? Other than, like, Mukbang.
(Laughs) Mukbang, that’s so weird. Korean has a lot of weird stuff because Koreans are really weird. Like you know, Mukbang, who wants to see people eating for two hours straight? That’s so weird for me! The coolest thing about Korea… Oh! For this, anyone can do… Korean artistes gather who they think are cool. So, like in your case, there are Rizki, Alif, Emir, and just a bunch of really, really cool people (laughs)… and me. So, what you guys would do is collect a certain amount money from each other; it’s like a club. So, let’s say you’re the boss, you’d collect a monthly instalment, and what you guys would do is go for group activities, travelling overseas… you know, this sweet stuff. But the thing is everything must be the same. So, let’s say you go to a coffee shop, everyone will order the same exact thing. And when you pay for the bill, you’d have to pay with the exact amount. It’s called Ge Mo Im (laughs)… oh my god, why am I talking about Ge Mo Im?! Yeah, it can be many things, like Ge Mo Im for kids, Ge Mo Im for single people, Ge Mo Im for hipsters… can you ask me about my future projects?
Oh! What do you have planned in the future?
(Laughs) I wanna have five kids, with a lovely house behind a mountain… no lah! Okay, okay, seriously, I’m going to release some new stuff and I have a new band, it’s called The Midnight Grocerer. [It’ll consist of] me and Jocelyn Stemilyn. I think I’ve found my sound more, so it’ll be a little weird but catchy, lovely melodies and stuff. And I’ll release my own album but it’ll come with another thing, which I’m not allowed to say (laughs).
</3? Is out now via self-distribution.