The solo artist from New Zealand talks faceless internet fame as he reveals himself and his new track.
Matthew Young is an artist who has amassed nearly 150K plays on Soundcloud, but until recently no one knew what he looked like. His profile photo showed the back of his head and shoulders, draped in a Stolen Girlfriends Club blanket and drew on his love of K-Pop's minimal aesthetic.
Matthew started quietly uploading his seductive future-pop songs six months ago, quickly catching the attention of blogs and brands including Urban Outfitters. The songs were the result of two years' work with producer Djeisan Suskov.
Fans began asking who the mystery musician behind the romantic R&B was, but Matthew stayed secretive, drip-feeding even more abstract images - the South Korean flag, a bottle of Pepsi blue, a swathe of silk billowing over his head.
Then he started a slow reveal. In March, he showed his right eye, the rest of him still shrouded in silk. And in April on the Sniffers blog, he showed even more of his face.
Now i-D can reveal not only Matthew's whole visage, but also his first video. As he prepares to release his debut EP DIVE via Sony, Matthew talks about his love of fashion, having a collection named after his song 'Lean Close', and working with creative director Thistle Brown to build up a wall of online mystique, only to tear it down.
i-D: Hi Matthew! You've said you kept your physical identity a secret because you wanted people to focus on the music, but it seems like the secrecy has drawn people to focus even more on your identity. When people started asking who you were, did you feel like your plan had backfired?
Matthew Young: The plan was always to show my face in due time, but give the music a chance to breathe and be the first impression. Pop music is about equal parts music, personality and image, so you could say that creating a sense of mystery around your identity is almost like begging people to focus on finding out who you are over your music. I wouldn't say it backfired - it's all good for drawing people in.
These days pop artists are so exposed online, and you've mentioned your love for Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, who all rose to prominence pre-internet. Was your obscuring of your identity a reaction to the overexposure of artists nowadays?
I'm all for the overexposure of artists, if I'm telling the truth! Without the internet, I think artists coming out of New Zealand would still be pretty much unheard of, so I'm thankful for this new technological era.
Why did you obscure your face but not your name?
Mostly because I wanted to avoid choosing some moniker that I'd end up getting sick of. Having as few regrets as possible is my goal, creatively, and my process starts with figuring out what I don't want to do.
What made you want to finally reveal your face?
I knew going into this that my face would become the brand for my whole career, it's just the nature of being in pop music. You just gotta be cool with that, unless you want to go full Daft Punk, but then singing through the mask becomes an issue and those helmets look like they seal in the heat something nasty! No disrespect to DP.
You've been developing your music for two years - what prompted you to start putting it out?
I have a bad habit of forever trying to perfect something, even when it's definitely finished, so I try to release things as soon as I get to a place where I'm 100% satisfied. That can take a while, but without releasing anything you can't have a career in music, and I'm terrible at being employed by other people, so it was really the only option.
How did you come to team up with Thistle Brown for your visual creative direction?
I was looking for the right person to help enhance the visual aesthetic I was working on with Lizzie from Sony Music. She showed me some of Thistle's work online and it immediately clicked. I love his eye for tone, colour and shape. He's been instrumental in creating the aesthetic for everything I've done up until this point, except for the 'Magic' video. He's really good at identifying how to perfect an idea and do it well. He's truly talented.
You used a number of New Zealand designers' pieces in your photos, including Zambesi, Stolen Girlfriend's Club and Harman Grubiša. Do those labels have any special sentimental value to you, or do their pieces simply serve your aesthetic purpose?
I remember when I was 17 or 18 I saved up enough money to buy a black suede bag from Zambesi, which I had up until it was run over by a rental van, destroying the bag and the contents inside it. It was my own fault for opening the sliding side-door from the inside while we were driving down a country road where it slipped out and was crushed by the back right-side tire. I loved that bag but I guess it served me right for being so reckless, so there is definitely something sentimental about Zambesi for me. Thistle was working with Stolen Girlfriends Club before moving to NYC, so that was the connection there. I do love their sunglasses. Harman Grubiša has been used mostly as layering pieces thus far as they're solely making women's clothing. They're making great work and are definitely on top of their game.
Harman Grubiša named their Autumn/Winter 2015 collection after your track 'Lean Close'. How do you feel about that? Were you aware they were doing that at the time?
I had no idea until after they had released the look book and I love it! It's a real honour. It's great to know that someone appreciates what you do, and I love what they're doing, so it's a mutual respect.
I hear you are a big fan of South Korean designers - which ones specifically? And how did you become aware of them?
I have a friend, originally from South Korea, who dresses immaculately and got me searching in the first place. I think because a lot of clothing design in Korea feels like a re-appropriation of American or European streetwear, it naturally takes on something inherently South Korean, which gives it a unique point of difference. Hyegin Hamm and lower-price-point brands like HI-FI FNK are what I'm drawn to. South Korea feels like the Asian parallel of New Zealand for me - where a lot of great creative shit is happening, but due to the location, or maybe our lack of self-promotion, we're both a little underrated.
Matthew Young's debut EP DIVE is out 12 June via Sony.
Text Sarah Gooding
Photography Frances Carter