VAN046: Salang

For this feature in our guest mix series, I had written a really long introduction. While writing it, I was watching Barry in bed because I saw Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live won an Emmy for it and Hiro Murai, the guy that directed Atlanta, one of my favourite series, also directed a couple episodes. My mind was in two places. I was like halfway through the interview, and on episode 7 of Barry, and I don’t know what key I pressed on my rickety laptop, but everything deleted. Gone before my eyes. I hit the undo button so many times, but I couldn’t recover it. Funnily at the same time, Bill Hader was having an emotional meltdown on the screen, screaming and tossing chairs. I could relate.

So this is is my second stab at writing the introduction for one my favourite interviews to date, The same way I could relate to Bill literally screaming so loudly I had to turn the volume down, is the same way I can I say I felt when I listened to bedroom talk, Salang’s latest release on Childsplay. I could relate. What does this mean? I related to Bill because I too was screaming at myself and swearing for being such a cretin, but that doesn’t come close to the emotional connection I felt when I listened to bedroom talk. It was a Sunday morning, and I was alone in the house. I was laying in bed, and scrolling through soundcloud, the sun peeking through the curtain. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. I was comfortable and content. Bedroom talk came on, and it was like it was the soundtrack to my life, or at least the soundtrack to that very moment. The keys fluttering, reminiscent of light breeze, floaty pads comforting you, putting at you ease, and a percussion line like a faint distant heartbeat keeping you in rhythm. It was pure bliss.

Of course we immediately reached out to Salang for a feature and she immediately said yes, and I was so surprised at her humility, She seemed shocked that we would approach her, like “Oh really? Me?”, as if she didn’t deserve the praise and accolade she was receiving. So here is probably one of most in-depth interviews till date, with no further ado, Salang.

The name Salang. What’s the story behind that? We googled it and Wikipedia gave us a multitude of translations, definitions and what not. Where did the name come from, and what does it mean to you?

Well, Salang (사랑) means "love" in Korean, and my real name Aiko literally means "love(Ai)-child(ko)". I had been using my real name as my DJ/producer alias for years, and for the few people who are familiar with Asian or Japanese culture, it would be very easy to tell that I am a woman and Japanese by my real name. I first thought that using my real name was cool because I am a feminist and I thought I would be able to let people know that there was a skilled Asian woman far from the center of dance music scene, but since there has been numerous feminist movements going on for the last couple years, movements which I really and respect, I decided I just wanted to be more neutral from any aspects (gender/ nationality/ ethnicity) so that people can't judge me from my name.

These days people don't judge you by your name or gender anymore, even though I think there is still a bias but in both a good and bad way by seeing your name or artist picture or what not. I'm not Korean but I used to live in Seoul over 10 years ago and I like their language and culture, that's one of the reasons why I use the name. Also my parents named my name hoping I would be loved by many people and I really appreciate that they chose the name and want to cherish it. So, in a nutshell, I use salang because I want to be more mysterious, but also like what my real name means too.

We read you started your music career in Osaka, before moving to Tokyo. What was that transition like? Many of our favourite electronic musicians are from or are based in Japan, Fumiya Tanaka, Groove Patrol, Goth-Trad and obviously you! What was it like being based in place exporting tons of talent across numerous genres?

I was born and raised in Kansai area, which is generally around Osaka. I started djing in Osaka when I was 18 and I was a college student there. I then moved to Tokyo because of my job, and started djing there a couple years later.

I didn't really intend to move to Tokyo for my music career. But as I kept djing a lot of places from bars to clubs, I met lots of talented djs and producers like Gonno, Tomoki Tamura, Yoshitaca, Stereociti, Kuniyuki Takahashi and so on. I also started getting involved with a house party called "Eureka!," which booked some DJs like Reel People, Detroit Swindles, Nachtbraker, Ge-Ology, Mad Mats from overseas. Because of this, I was basically exposed to great local djs/ producers and international djs/ producers at the same time. It was a really good experience for me to acknowledge myself about underground dance music.

I was really into New York House at that time and there was my favorite club called Eleven in Tokyo, which hold really great partiesbbringing in acts like Danny Krivit, Timmy Regisford, Kim Lightfoot, Francois K and so on. They had lots of techno parties too. I went to Eleven almost every weekend and danced till 8-9 in the morning, or even 3-4pm in the afternoon. The club really gave me lots of musical experience and I met lots of my friends there. The experience still motivates me to make good music and pursue my music career.

The concept underlying all of your music is something you describe as “Unconscious Rhythm”. It’s something we can definitely relate to, and feel in all your productions. Could you explain this concept further? It’s deep house yes, but pardon the pun, it feels like it’s deeper than house.

When I started djing in 2004, I thought I wanted to make songs that were resembled a heartbeat, which is unconsciously beating and creating a rhythm that makes you want to dance. You don't want to be forced to dance, you want to dance because the beat or rhythm, or music that you're listening to makes you feel really good, right? That's what the concept "Unconscious Rhythm" came from. I like tracks that don't have so many up-side down moments, but rather tracks that make me want to dance gradually and unconsciously, and allow me to feel like I am alive.

The reason why we were so keen to have you on the station was because of your recent Childsplay release, bedroom talk. A keen soundcloud commenter calls it the perfect track and we couldn’t agree less. It’s sleazy, chilling and full of Sunday morning vibes. What’s the story behind that chiller?

First of all, thank you for giving me this great opportunity, I really appreciate that you found the track and like it. Actually I originally named the track "emotional contagion" while I was making it because there was an image in my mind that there were two people dancing and having a same musical experience at a club for many hours, and at the end of the party, they finally felt something mutual without talking. It's like emotions that each person has start mixing and melting in the air, and I imagined a very sweet and romantic mood.

I then sent the track to Childsplay, and they asked me if they could change the name to "bedroom talk," and I liked the idea! It is because the two people might end up going to one of their places and have a good time after the party probably in the morning, right? It's a really good ending of the night, and I think Childsplay felt something like that from the track and I could say that is also "emotional contagion" from me to them!

Musically, what’s it like in Brooklyn? Us Europeans always associate New York with the hip-hop, and real Vandelay heads know our HQ is at 129 West 81st Street (Seinfeld joke), but really what’s it like being a musician in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world?

I like that joke!! I wish I could have a studio in such a nice neighborhood. Living in New York, especially in Brooklyn now is really inspiring to me to make music. There is a lot of great venues/ DIY parties/ collectives here and if you know a lot of people, you'll have really great experiences here! I live in Bushwick, which has great access to many venues like Nowadays, Bossa Nova Civic Club, Elsewhere etc, and the easy access allows me to go to parties to have good musical experience very often. Also lots of rising talents like Yaejii, and the Discwoman crew live in this neighborhood too.

There are also many free/relatively reasonable concerts where you can see jazz musicians like Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Roy Ayres, Robert Glasper etc, and R&B artists like Lauryn Hill, SZA, H.E.R etc. Of course loads of  Hip-Hop as well. When I was in Japan, it would cost loads of money to see their live performances, which I couldn't afford. There are also some strong Latin cultures here in Brooklyn, which I wouldn't be exposed to if I hadn't move to New York. I am so happy that I've learned so many cultural aspects from this diverse environment not only musically but also culturally, historically, and politically.

A tricky one. We recently discussed the lack of female talent on our roster, but acknowledged there were now numerous platforms promoting gender equality in the electronic music scene. However, being an asian woman, what do you think of the disparities in the scene right not, not just women being a minority, but anyone that isn’t white, male or straight being a minority also?

Well, as you mentioned, I've seen there are now many platforms that encourage people in minority groups to speak up and promote gender equality. And now many talented djs and producers who are minorities have been getting proper attentions and have strong influences on the electronic music scene. But sometimes I see their ethnicity, sexuality or appearance are more focused than their music that is supposed to be focused first. It is ok as long as the musician doesn't care and their music activities inspire other minority people, but as a musician, my ideal scene is that musicality is first and the uniqueness of them is second. I think it will still take years to get to the ideal scene but I'd like to contribute to make it happen by producing more good music.

There are also really talented Japanese female artists like Powder, Sapphire Slows, Akiko Kiyama touring all over the world, and I am really glad to see them getting good attentions from overseas. I hope more female minority DJs/producers in Japan will go overseas to have lots of experiences and bring them back to Japan to make the club scene more exciting. On the other hand, there's a huge gender inequality and conservative system in Japan, same sex marriage is still illegal, advertisements and magazines that contains child pornography are all over the place, and moreover, sexual abuse at workplace and home are often tolerated and ignored. I think those social issues have kept so many talented women or gender minorities from getting proper attentions and doing musical activities in Japan. As a Japanese artist, I think I should be more active to change the current situation like that in Japan too.

Finally, a question we like to ask all our guests. What are your favourite songs of 2018? Or even more critical, what is your favourite song?

Well, Javonntte "Searchin", Skymark "Find A Place In This Crazy World (Ron Trent Mix)", and Haider "Dreams Of U" are my favorite songs so far in 2018. And my all time favourite song is so difficult since I have so many favourites. But if I have to pick one, that would be Mr. Fingers "What About This Love."

Many many many many thanks to Salang for the response, it was pleasure and I wish you many success with all your endeavours.

Check her out on soundcloud, and go support:

*words edited for clarity

Vandelay Team