Project: Future Sounds website
Team: Sam Lu, Shaun Antonio, Sean Oh
Role: Digital branding, web design, user interface design, research, concept ideation, prototyping, photo editing, experience design
“We are Chapel Sound: a collective of artists who’ve come from a variety of backgrounds and joined together in Vancouver to push creative expression forward without boundaries or prejudice. We use music as the vessel, but we aim to inspire and unite all artists, regardless of their medium of choice.”
Future Sounds is a website exploring the idea of online “immersion”, featuring an interview with Chapel Sound Crew from Vancouver.
To push the boundaries of online + virtual space and what that means in online music. To create an “immersive” space that showcases Asian-Canadian beatmakers and their story.
My process began by questioning the future of websites and the overlap between “reality” and the virtual. How far can we go online? Can virtual spaces be created and lived in? Can we create a new reality? What if music was added? And a more human element – like an interview?
One website that inspired my process was yoursrtu.ly and the careful attention they paid to spotlighting the content of the artists they would interview. The web design was so simple and typographically focused that it felt like you were talking to the artists themselves and the “third wall” was broken.
Seeing this as an opportunity to explore online space, I wanted to play with the idea of “complete immersion”. Could I create a new reality online? What content could I feature?
Sam Lu, a Montreal-based DJ and artist who I was working with at the time for Yellow Noise Magazine, had recently done an interview with Chapel Sound Crew – an Asian-Canadian beatmaker collective from Vancouver, Canada. We met up with them at a bubble tea cafe in Vancouver and had really relaxed chat about the online music scene, producing music, the potential of underground nightlife in Vancouver and the Asian-Canadian identity relating to this (if at all). Using the transcripted content of this interview done by Sam Lu and selecting songs from Chapel’s SoundCloud, as well as using background videos from Beeple (a motion graphics artist who has worked with the likes of Flying Lotus and Skrillex), Future Sounds aimed to showcase this idea of “immersion”.
*2017 update: Due to technical difficulties, the website no longer functions. The following is a copy of the interview, previously found on the site.
Streaming music online has become more accessible than ever and genres like EDM are at an all-time peak. Through mediums such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp, Asian North-American beatmakers have begun to emerge more and more to represent minority voices in EDM and Hip Hop around the world. As genres begin to blend, the message remains the same– to share music and love, bring people together, and to create new paths into the future. This site will showcase Chapel Sound Crew from Vancouver Canada, one out of many multicultural beatmaker crews that are continuously pushing boundaries in music.
Words: Sam Lu
That was a common question I heard from the few other token Asians I ran into in the art and underground music scenes in Vancouver. For a city so heavily Asian that it has long been xenophobically referred to as “Hongcouver”, you wouldn’t have guessed it in many of these spaces. Exploring the arts and music scenes as an Asian, I always felt like an outsider or tokenized. I’ve overheard shit like a younger white dude speculating to his white friends on whether someone was “an Oriental”. And as usual I’ll be one of two or three visible minorities at the space so I just laugh at his ignorance. But then one night I was taken to a Chapel Sound party. Instead of the usual rooms of predominantly white faces I grew to accept as the norm, here I found an even mix of kids of all hues dancing into the early morning to future funk beats of reworked hip-hop and RnB. So this is where we were.
I felt comfortable in this space; I didn’t feel like the odd one out or tokenized. Eventually I was introduced to many of the artists who make up Chapel Sound, a label I found to be as ethnically diverse as the parties it throws. All the artists are linked by their love for hip-hop. Sean (DJ Silence) is the mastermind who put in motion all the events that ultimately led to the creation of Chapel Sound. He was born and raised in Korea and came over to North America after finishing an architecture degree over a decade ago. He lived in a few different cities before ending up in Vancouver.
A few weeks later, I got tea with Sean in Chinatown, curious as to what drew a Korean growing up in the 90s to be so drawn to hip-hop, a black American art form, that he would eventually form a collective around that music. We talked shortly and made plans to meet with a few other Chapel Sound members of Asian descent to have a larger discussion later about the intersection of Asian identity and this vein of hip-hop influenced electronic music.
I met Sean, Brian (Wsuptiger), and Shaun (Shaunic) at a bubble tea cafe close by their headquarters the next night. Our talk was very lighthearted and full of joking around. I later found out that Sean is Korean, Shaun is Filipino Canadian, and Brian is Vietnamese Canadian. Though they were all seen as “Asian”, each comes from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, drawn to hip-hop through different roads. To me, these guys reflected a slice of the diversity of the Asian experience in North America that too often is perceived as homogenous on first glance.
This LA connection seemed to be vital to Sean’s interest in hip-hop as well. It was his gateway into hip-hop despite growing up in Korea in the 80s and 90s. “My cousin, who was born and raised in LA, visited Korea. He went to my house and left a cassette tape, De La Soul, Three Feet High [and Rising]. I put that in my cassette tape [player] and, I think that that BPM and the beat itself is a lot like your heartbeat. That beat is very appealing.”
You could hear the LA sound in the mixes and songs put out by the Chapel Sound roster. The “post-Dilla” sounds of the hugely successful Brainfeeder crew out of LA could be found popping up in the unquantized rhythms and jazzy synth droplets on their Soundcloud page, albeit with more of a trap feel. A west coast city with a large population of East and Southeast Asians living in proximity to and participating in a long history of black and Latino cultural production, it comes as no surprise that LA’s influence was pivotal for inspiring this new generation of Vancouver based Asian hip-hop artists.
For Brian, hip-hop was a way of rebelling against the model minority stereotype he felt was prevalent in media growing up. “Universally hip-hop is like a struggle. Being Asian-Canadian, there’s always a struggle because Asians are such a minority. Through media and culture, Asians are perceived in this nerdy, cookie cutter way like Data from the Goonies, or emasculated, like Jackie Chan never getting the girl. Asian males are seen as super weak and Asian women are totally fetishized.”
He brings up the origins of hip-hop, where “those parties happened because it’s the slums in New York and there’s nothing good. And they make this crazy thing: hip-hop.” Hip-hop as giving a voice to the underrepresented and the oppressed resonated with him. Not only does he see that as oppressive force as the driver of good artistry, but also marking hip-hop itself as something inherently political: “We’re always rebelling against some form of struggleâ€¦ You can just see it something surface level like I want some cool sneakers. But subconsciously there’s something you want to express, something you want to do.”
The added fact that there were respected Asian artists to look up to in this genre seemed to be a major draw for them to the genre of hip-hop and also a source of pride. They referred many times to DJ Q-Bert, an influential San Diego based Filipino American scratch DJ, with Shaun joking, that “as Asian males we got DJ Q-Bert”.
Not only that, but the obscuring of identities as an electronic producer online allows the music to come through, without being judged based on race or ethnicity. For Shaun “[music] doesn’t really have a face or colour these days. I barely know how old or what someone looks like when I’m getting into them. I could be getting into them for months, and they’re just like a name on Soundcloudâ€¦ but when I find out someone is Asian, I’m like ‘Yea! Yo did you know he’s Asian?'” Brian interjects with shout outs like “Sweater Beats, yea! Girrafage, yea!”
For Sean, Shaun, and Brian, hip-hop is a genre that is a meritocracy, one where hard work and dedication to the craft translates to success, even if you are an Asian artist. For Brian, “it’s the hip-hop dream.” Sean quickly reworks it as “Jiro dreams of hip-hop.”
I sensed that as Asians in North America, Sean, Brian, and Shaun all felt a lack of avenues for self-expression within mainstream culture but also within their parents’ cultural expectations. Sean says, “we had to work harder, our parents had to work harder, and there’s some sort of a thing we want to express but can’t really express.”
Hip-hop culture for them was a way for them to put their feelings and their own aspirations out into the world. Then they reworked elements of it to make it their own. It was a way for them to say what they wanted to say without having preconceived racial perceptions or their parents dictate their lives. As Shaun jokes, “No ma, I don’t want to be a nurse, I just want to spin on my head”.
For me, these musicians from Chapel Sound were a much-needed injection of colour into a Vancouver art and music scene that has not always felt representative of the demographics of the city. Though not a conscious political decision, they have set the groundwork for a more inclusive music scene in Vancouver, proving that there is room for more than just the token Asian in Vancouver’s cultural production. Hopefully they will inspire more Asian musicians, much like DJ Q-Bert did for Brian: “You can identify with [DJ Q-Bert], because he’s also Asian. He’s yellow like me!”