Self-Portrait: Sunju Hargun

Initially immersed in the wonders of music and art from a young age, thanks to his parent’s early influence, Thailand-based DJ and producer Sunju Hargun‘s life has continued to be guided by these creative mediums.

One of the minds behind Thai imprint Siamese Twins Records — alongside his fellow Karma Klique party founders Johan and Taychin and 禁JIN‘s Yoshi — Sunju’s on a mission to put local Asian artists on the global map, embracing the sounds and styles rooted in his surroundings. Authenticity is key and it’s apparent through the organic output which swirls around psychedelic, tribal-driven rhythms and spiritual ambient atmospheres, coming courtesy of a roster that includes Khun Fluff, Sơn FM, Yantra Mandir and, of course, Sunju himself, both solo and as part of his Mogambo project.

Equal parts label material and personal productions, he gives us a window into the sounds that fuel Siamese Twins, mixed with a batch of upcoming solo releases. This sits alongside an indepth interview into his production processes, his inspirations and the inner workings of the label which is working hard to put Thailand’s underground music scene on people’s radar.

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

The Black Album of Metallica would be high up there as the first memory. It also led me to have an interest in playing the drums. I got my first kit at the age of nine which was the “TAMA Imperialstar” — the double bass drums were also used by Lars Ulrich (Metallica’s drummer). Come to think of it now, I’m sure our neighbours were not very pleased 🙂

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

100%. A strong connection was through my father’s music collection and being a pro guitarist amongst the local Thai circuit in the 90s. He also ran a music business, importing custom-made guitars, selling instruments, accessories, CDs and Records from the U.S. and Japan. I would spend most of my afternoons after high school shuffling through all the new arrivals and that’s how I would say my first experiences of ‘listening to music’ came about. I was mainly a heavy metal / alternative / “I want to headbang to everything” child, but I did in time discover other soundtracks from 60s – 80s counterculture with their colorful combinations of genres including blues, folk, and psychedelic rock. On the other hand, my mother is an artistic and creatively-driven woman who shares a huge passion for Indian art, music and culture. I feel blessed to have the best of both worlds today. 

What led you into music production?

I was living with my brother at the time, who used to dabble with FL Studio years ago. I would watch him piece loops and instruments together which definitely sparked the initial curiosity. He had a lot of magazines and tutorial videos lying around which helped me to understand the basics of how to navigate the software, but the rest was all self-taught through errors, mistakes and long nights of practice.

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

The connections with artists I had over the early years have certainly shaped the way I create music today. This dates back to when I was living in Shanghai during my late teen years, purely raving to local artists in the city that I was heavily inspired by. DJ Tadi was one of them. We were brought back in connection after more than 15 years by Vladimir Ivkovic, who released Tadi on his offen music label. Truly amazing, and it’s moments like these that remind me how universal the power of music can be when we least expect it. In the Asia region I would have to say Yoshi Nori, Johnathan Kusuma, S.O.N.S, and The Dude of Stratosphear who helped to get my creative energy flowing again with my Mogambo project, after a long period of writer’s block.

There are also quality festivals like Organik run by the Smoke Machine crew, which is located on the shores of Hualien in East Taiwan. My first experience had a mysterious impact on the way I heard music after: it was pure brain and ear therapy. The high quality music approach of clubs like Savage and Observatory also pushed the bar in South-East Asia and gave me inspiration.

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

A 10 minute body stretch before and after. During work sessions a cup of Oolong tea puts me in the right state of mind.

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?

There are those rare moments when everything falls into place flawlessly by surprise, then there are times where nothing clicks at all – in such cases it’s best to step away from it, then come back when it feels right and fall in love again. Balance is everything as too much perfection can also lead to nowhere. I find that beauty lies in the first session, it’s good to keep things raw, honest with the mindset of less is more – Wabi Sabi!

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

Depending on the mood I’m going for, usually the atmospheric elements and textures come first. If I can get that right, everything else just flows like water.

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

I’m a bit of both. Although my golden rule with sampling is that I spend quality time processing, layering and effecting it to the maximum so it has zero connection with the original source. My heart also lies in the surprise element of live jam recordings as well, mistakes are simply irreplaceable and I see that as something to appreciate – it’s expressed in the moment.

What’s the most important bit of kit that makes a Sunju Hargun track?

It would probably be a combination of working in and out of the box. Lately my main go-to-tools would be the NI Reaktor for almost anything in atmos/soundscapes, Roland SPDX for drum grooves, Kontakt for percussion and VCV, which is an open-source virtual modular synthesizer, to get those mind-bending sequences – all these routed through my Korg Minilogue & a delay pedal. Over the years I have also been building a library of presets FX and EQ plugins like Soundtoys and Fabfilter; this helps to achieve quick and creative results in workflow.

You run a label too called Siamese Twins. Can you tell us a bit about where the idea came from to launch it? 

There are a couple of moments that led to the decision, but the foundation was built upon mutual connections and friendships. At the time, we were already five years deep into hosting our parties here in Bangkok under the umbrella “Karma Klique”, which connects global artists with the Asian electronic music community using atypical locations like boats, castles and warehouses, with the earnings going back to local NGOs.

By doing these events we connected with a lot of artists across the region. On a regional level there is a strong scene growing here with mutual respect and collaboration between those hosting events, owning clubs, record stores or labels with the same ethos. We would invite those artists and sometimes they would share their music with us. Lots of it deserved to be heard by a much bigger audience, hence the idea of the label being to focus on Asian artists in an attempt to give a wider platform for their art. 

What’s the philosophy behind it? How has that philosophy evolved since you launched?

From the beginning the idea was always to embrace Asian identity and try not to attach ourselves to something we are not. To reach for sounds that are rooted in our surroundings and not replicate something that already exists. And at the same time provide a platform to artists that might not otherwise be on the radar. 

Taychin Dunnvatanachit, our creative designer and label co-founder, created a unique appearance for the label using traditional designs paying homage to the Sak Yant tattoo culture. Creating cultures between music, we shared a collaboration with a local artist Chucheewa to recite a Thai poem by Angkard Ganlayamuporn in our previous release, and then combined it with a remix from the amazing Full Circle, who turned the tides on their “lost in translation re-interpretation”. The latter being the kind of inter-cultural dialogues we are looking for. 

There is a thriving art scene in Bangkok, and we are excited to play our part in it. Thailand has such a culturally rich and powerful past which is being rediscovered. Besides musicians there’s also a bunch of young designers embracing traditional craftsmanship of cloth making and fabric, while being ethically conscious. We just recently collaborated with one of them for some specially-made label merch (I’m wearing the pants in the picture) using traditional hand tailored techniques, high quality local materials and working with self-employed tailors who sew each piece from start to finish and are paid fairly. We are proud of featuring those elements of Thailand, a country which is more known for being a popular holiday destination.

Since starting the label what has been the greatest difficulty you’ve had to overcome?

We try our best to work in moderation. All of us in the label collective have side projects happening as well, so it’s really important to balance the two. We also learnt to have a lot of patience with the pressing and to educate ourselves on different physical production techniques to achieve the highest sound quality. Luckily our distribution partner, Colin from One Eye Witness, has been a great advisor on the latter.

And the greatest achievement?

The most rewarding part about running the label is to work with close friends and the community. The mutual respect and earning the trust of artists who we really believe in, and the other way around, is gratifying. We also focus on new names (often their first release) and build a roster, as we believe it gives us an identity and character, rather than focusing on names that are already established elsewhere. We pair them with some of our favorite producers around the world for remixes to create a unique dialogue. There is always a special story built around releasing someone’s first record and working closely together with others involved to make everything grow. 

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about starting a label with a similar ethos to yours?

I don’t feel we are in a position to advise much but I think using your intuition and going your own route with no rush always helps. Have fun, stay real.

This mix is comprised of 50% Sunju Hargun material and 50% Siamese Twins label material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

I feel very happy and grateful to be sharing this mix as it highlights some of the forthcoming and exciting things happening on the label’s sound palette, and also hinting at a collection of future things to come. It’s difficult to find a particular piece as they all feel honest and special to me, but if I had to pick one then it would be the opening track as the journey of discovering this one is a story that I will treasure for a long time to come.

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

There’s a few personal bits in the pipeline for the year that include some music for a very special label in Berlin, which I’m really excited about; a solo EP on 禁 JIN in Taipei; and another one for a Hong Kong based collective Mihn ( 宀 ), which is the label of the excellent club with the same name. Lastly a debut full-length album is currently in the works and will hopefully see the light of day in 2022.

On the label side of things, we have a few more albums coming up that we’re really excited about from family members and we’re welcoming new ones as well. Up next will be our second V.A on Cassette which features a collection of psychedelic ambient music from around the Asia region; then an EP from Mogambo; followed by our first double LP from a very special duo in Vietnam; and lastly a Khun Fluff mini album to close out the year. A shout out to Johan, Tay, Yoshi and Moo ping.

Ying Shui Di Jiang – 英水帝江 (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Sơn FM – Between Points Of Light (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Temple Rat – The Garden of Earthly Delights (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Khun Fluff – Dāw (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Khun Fluff – The Call of Fluff (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Nic Ford – Cyberd (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Khun Fluff – Yant (forthcoming on Siamese Twins Records)
Mogambo – Untitled (unreleased)
Sunju Hargun – Rigel (unreleased)
Sunju Hargun – หมูปิ้ง (forthcoming on 宀)
Sunju Hargun – Phaya Naga (unreleased)
Sunju Hargun – フーイズ カサンドラ (forthcoming on 禁 JIN)

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