Self-Portrait: Closet Yi

Listening to Closet Yi‘s mix, it seems rather remarkable that she’s only just releasing her first EP into the world. Perhaps it’s the sense of vision that’s palpable in her productions or the way she talks about her relationship with music that would make you think she had a healthy discography behind her already.

Based in South Korea’s capital of Seoul, as a DJ she’s become a regular player around the city making moves into production a few years ago. After a track contribution for local label Honey Badger Records’ second compilation last year, she makes her solo debut on Hollick and Gabriel Szatan’s No Bad Days label with her Tam Tam Land EP (watch this space).

Ahead of the release, she steps up for our Self-Portrait mix series to explore recordings she’s composed over the past two years, none of which have seen the light of day yet. It’s a blissful introduction to her personal take on house and techno…

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

I used to spend a lot of time with my older sister after school because my parents both worked until late. She used to play a lot of computer games such as Sonic, Starcraft, Aion, and I would sit next to her and just watch it the whole day.

The music that was playing in the background, or the opening theme was always a big thing to me. It was nothing like the music I would listen to on Korean television. I liked how it depicted certain sceneries and atmospheres, and would ask my sister if there’s any animation films related to them.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

Not that I’m aware of. I used to play the flute, but I don’t think that relates much to what I do now.

What led you into music production?

It is still a very blurry period for me when I started making tracks. It was around the time when my father passed away, and I had a strong desire of doing something that felt meaningful for myself after finishing school. Creating music was one of the rare things that I had full control of, and I could easily concentrate on it which I never felt when I was studying academics. It made me feel good about myself, and about the time when I realised I was good at some part of it I was playing them in clubs and at events.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

Telephones, Roman Flügel and Avalon Emerson. They should be protected at all costs.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

No 🙂

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

No, and in fact I should say I kind of gave up trying to make music inspired by something that I picture visually in my mind. I think the word ‘destination’ implies a physical place that you can actually see or at least imagine visually, and in that case visual stimulations don’t give me much inspiration. Sound is the strongest source that makes me write music, and because sound evolves through time it is hard to pinpoint a moment that I want to create. For example, ‘Honeymoon Junction’ which is the last track of my mix has a very hallow ambience in the middle of the track. I didn’t intend the structure of the track to be like that from the beginning, but as I was making it the pads and the timescape felt natural to be like that. I enjoy the part when those sounds bring each person to a different destination.

Are you the type of producer to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

I’m impulsive but I’ve built up a state of endurance to create something meaningful out of it. Once I start I try to finish the track regardless of how long the work takes, which I think has worked quite efficiently so far. In that way I can feel that I haven’t wasted my time, but sometimes it can mean I wrap up things too quickly and miss some details that I thought of in the first place. Actually my goal this year is to slow down things a bit and spend more time with each and every piece of music.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

It’s usually divides into two ways… When I find a key sample or when I have a certain mood that I want to deliver. In this case it’s easy to arrange the rhythms, but I find it harder to mix the sounds. The other case is more of an experiment I think. Sometimes I start with distorted pads, sometimes starting with a basic Ableton operator. I haven’t found a fixed style yet. I’m still working on it.

How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

I like to use organic sounds, effects, and foleys a lot, but realistically it’s hard to record everything on the field so I find most of those samples from the internet. Whether it’s a sample or a synthesized sound I like, distorting and filtering them into something that doesn’t sound familiar. I like how producers like DJ Koze and Powder reconstruct samples. I believe they try to dissolve the sample as much as they can to the other sounds of the track and it becomes like the broth of a soup. They completely own it and recreate it into an original vibe which is the direction of how I want to use samples.

What’s the most important bits of kit that make an Closet Yi track?

I enjoy the ambiguity of my tracks. If someone listens to it I think it will be hard for them to guess who I am, where I come from, or what I look like, etc. It really doesn’t fit into a certain distinguishable style. For example the rhythm could be electro, but the sounds I put on top would be far more Balearic, like the track ‘When Tigers Used To Smoke”. But it actually relates to who I am, since I was never categorized into a certain group, but at the same time I was never a complete outsider either.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Closet Yi material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

I was so excited about this mix when I was asked because it’s such a precious way to capture a period of my career. To be honest I had some challenges with the mixing between tracks, but I’m happy with the finished product and I hope the listeners can feel something from it. Most
of the music is made from 2018 – 2019, but I won’t tell you which tracks were made first because I’m very curious if people can guess.

“Basalt” was made on a very weird summer night. I didn’t have a studio at that time, and was living with my parents so I was in my room keeping it as quiet as possible trying not to wake them up in the middle of the night. I still try not to forget about those feelings: the pure
fun and passion of creating something.

“Bmore Baby” has a little bit of hint of where I come from. I used to live in Baltimore when I was young, and I try to learn more about the city these days. All the memories are vague, but that’s why I’m more fascinated about getting to know the culture and also about the music scene there. “Bmore Baby” was made a few weeks after I started digging Baltimore club and Jersey club music, and I guess I wanted to make something related to it but with more of my texture.

Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?

I still clearly remember the day when I was going through Juno for new releases and ordered a record from No Bad Days label. I never imagined that my first EP would come out on there a few years later! The release dates are not announced yet, but I can tell you it’s gonna be real soon. Also I’m working on another EP with a Seoul-based label called Honey Badger records, and that will also be released this year. Lastly, I’m expecting my very first 7 hour long set in Pistil Seoul on Feb 28th, so fingers crossed for that one!

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