yeule is the singapore producer crafting a dark post-pop dream world
i-D premieres her new video for 'Pocky Boy,' a trippy critique of today's gender-based consumer culture.
Photography Kelly Lu
While 88 Rising is putting Asian hip-hop artists in the global spotlight, Zoom Lens is delving into the dreamy underworld of East and Southeast Asian post-pop. One of the most exciting artists on the label’s roster is London-via-Singapore producer Nat Ćmiel, a.k.a. Yeule. Think Yaeji-style club beats layered with video game scores, galactic shoegaze, and Ćmiel's own ethereal vocals. After winning acclaim for her 2017 EP Coma, Yeule is back with a new single “Pocky Boy,” the video for which premieres on i-D today. “Pocky Boy,” named for the kawaii biscuit stick snacks, is a darkly transcendent critique of today's gender-based consumer culture. “I guess using this as a starting point, we could open up dialogues about how promotional tools and consumer culture have contributed to the associations we may subconsciously project onto certain marketing schemes,” Ćmiel explains. “And itʼs important because it sticks to the kids who see it growing up you know? Especially if itʼs marketing for a snack or a toy. So letʼs start with Pocky.”
"Pocky Boy" is set in an abandoned school after civilization has been wiped out by an alien race, imagining the dawn of a new age where childlike non-binary beings exist free from the confines of today's societal pressure. It's a spacey collage of schoolgirl goth looks, online chat convos, and the idea of psychic death. “I was already planning to reinvent myself, I wanted it to be almost like the death of that era of my identity,” Ćmiel says. “I was diving into ideas of delusions, illusions, and the inability to grasp being different selves in the memory of others. In the video, I was projecting an ego death almost — I wanted to kill the self that I had created in my own head.”
We talked to the artist about snack food sexism, 2000s internet, and cybernetic fashion.
Who is the boy youʼre talking to on chat? Is he based on someone in real life?
My director Hebe (Rabbit Sashimi) was the one who came up with the idea. The both of us talked before about the notion of online relationships and how it builds through texts, creating these connections and memories with another person that only exists in the digital sphere. It‘s always been a curious one to me, because these online memories coexist with the real ones, and in this digital age we have the power to live inside this other reality that shapes our personal/social life. The chat acts like a digital manifestation of talking to yourself in your head, or talking to... something. I am the boy and the boy is me. These interactions are as real as the conversations I have with people I talk to online. I guess I always try to understand how we build relationships through these mediums. Itʼs almost like wanting to take hold of it, instead of losing control of who I am both in reality and online. I wrote the song as a playful affirmation to the existence of Pocky Boy!
You did the OST for Nina Freemanʼs game Lost Memories Dot Net , about early 2000s teen chat. What is so interesting to you about this particular era of the internet?
I can only answer for the era I started being integrated into the internet — when I always on MySpace, Friendster, and playing these MMORPGs. I remember being isolated a lot — I mean, I would go out and I was exposed to the outside world as any kid would be too, but it was like a whole different world in there, you know? Group chats on MSN were intimate and special to us and us only. Having multiple identities, multiple avatars, being able to not be the you that youʼre stuck with. Now weʼre so deeply integrated because of the interfaces we have available — and I think it destroys the exclusivity of what it was in the past. I kind of miss that, but Iʼm not complaining — people are going offline on that side, but people come online on the other.
Apparently there is a flavor of Pocky called Pocky Menʼs. What does the snack say about gender stereotypes?
Yeah, isnʼt that the shorter and thicker version of regular Pocky? I find it odd but I guess thatʼs just gendered marketing for you. I mean you might think we shouldnʼt go that deep for a snack, but I just want to put it out there. I think more often than so, pocky is often associated with a culture, not necessarily Japanese culture as we know it, but one that implies an aesthetic towards visual cuteness and sweetness, both literally in its taste and metaphorically in its relationship with ‘kawaiiʼ aesthetics we know of today. It stands out as a snack based on visual and association-based style, I think. One might project associations to it which carry motifs similar to the idea of drinking milk and the implication of innocence. Like you could ask to what extent are we associating gender bias on the things we own, the colors we wear? Is strawberry Pocky just too ‘girlyʼ for you? Why do we call half push-ups girl push-ups? What do you mean by “for girls” and “for boys”? “Iʼm not gonna wear that ‘cause itʼs too gay.” Heʼs wearing mascara? Yeah heʼs wearing make-up, shit, itʼs 2018, and if he wants to contour, let him.
Why do you think East and Southeast Asia are breeding grounds for innovative digital DIY music?
I guess Iʼd seen first hand how the electronic scene started off as an internet phenomena — it was a community that wasnʼt that concentrated in a small country like Singapore, but scattered around the world. Thatʼs how I found out about producers like XXYYXX, Holy Other, Grimes, Purity Ring, and (early) Crystal Castles. And the internet is weird yʼknow? Itʼs like, weʼre oceans away but have the same drive, same interests, same creative output, and all of this is because we have access the same wormhole of internet music culture. I learned everything about music production through the internet and through my online friends. I guess the spark of DAW made a lot of independent musicians realize the possibilities — I mean, for me, I could do it on a low budget in a tiny bedroom. And itʼs sick to see so many SEA/EA artists getting their music out independently. The community of singer-songwriter/producers are growing and we all inspire each other to create, one way or another. Thereʼs just so many permutations of experimental music going on out here as compared to before. It might seem that no one is paying attention in this visual-heavy era, but as artists we are always evolving and reinventing, so it never gets boring.
What is the underground electronic scene like in Singapore?
When I started doing shows as Yeule in Singapore, I think I was 15. I would go to these indie gigs as well as music festivals a lot — I couldnʼt afford tickets so sometimes Iʼd sneak into the venue. I mean, only the big ones like Laneway or Ultra, ‘cause I always support independent artists and DIY shows. During that time I met a friend, weʼre both sneaking into Laneway, and I found out later she works with the team who organizes these independently run gigs. It was ironic but also so sick cause she was really into my music at the time too. I got exposed to a lot of the underground scene through her. There were a lot of new wave sounding bands, a lot of alternative punk, but only a few electronic producers. I remember the hardcore scene pretty well, there was a huge community — my brother would go to almost all of them, so I was exposed to that through him. I did a show once at The Velvet Underground, which was a room part of a club that used to be there, it was called Zouk or something. At the velvet room they were known to play a lot of old school techno, leaning towards more alt-core electronic music and EDM. It was fun ‘cause they housed mad DJs there who had way polished sets. I would also go to vinyl sets at Kult as well — I do love analog sets, you need to finesse that style, you know? I really respect that.
What brought you over to London?
After I graduated from high school, I applied to Central Saint Martins to study fashion communication and womenswear. I didnʼt take myself seriously as a designer at the time, ‘cause my work was more experimental. I submitted my music production, paintings, clothing samples — I used to design these bodysuits and armor; arm guards, headpieces, and accessories etcetera in high school. I really wanted to make cybernetic garments, but never had the resources or money, because I often source expensive fabrics like velvet, latex, white gold, and other precious minerals. Maybe I make it hard for myself ‘cause a lot of my inspiration comes from video games characters, like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. Them outfits are too crazy for real life. But Iʼm lucky though, because now I have access to resources at my uni. I met Rabbit Sashimi at CSM too, sheʼs my director and editor for “Pocky Boy.” Hebeʼs been my muse and my creative inspiration for a lot of the projects we do together. We always push each other to put out anything we create. Sheʼs always there to give me straight up criticism — and its hard to find someone who can be real with you like that. It took me much experimentation, failure and disappointment to be where I am now. And as creatives, we always want to shift and evolve, to realize your state of mind and where to shift towards almost, right? What even am I saying. I always thought I was a loner but I realized I just havenʼt met the people who are into the same stuff, you know?
What artists did you grow up listening to? What else inspires your sound?
I grew up listening to so much music from jazz to metal to 80s J-pop — and I was lucky, causeʼ my dad collects CDs, had this sick gramophone, he would always bring me crate digging. I would get lost in those boxes for hours. My taste of music in high school was heavily rotated around bands like The Teenagers, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, Portishead, and Massive Attack. I guess these were the most significant to me ‘cause they inspired the sound of my first band, and that was when I started writing music. I remember we were called Riot Diet, and it was funny, ‘cause I sang in a jazz band at the time as well. Afternoons I would be going hard at Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker — then in the evenings weʼd be covering Bauhaus and a lot of The Pixies. I can appreciate different aspects of every genre I get exposed to. I think a little bit of shoegaze and boom bap mixed with Nobuo Uematsu witch house is how I would describe my vibe.
Back then on Tumblr we had these playlists on ‘trntblʼ and thatʼs how we shared music to each other. Trntbl doesnʼt exist anymore, so all of those playlists of mine have disappeared into the void. I had a lot of shoegaze in there — My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo, Weekend, Bowery Electric, Slowdive. Iʼm also really into avant garde Nico; Patti Smith and Mazzy Star inspired my early sound a lot. With anything being created through art though, I can only really say how much I value emotional honesty, and capture to capture a feeling as honest as I can can even if it makes me feel vulnerable. So many people have reached out to me about how my music helps them get through, and it makes me feel not so alone in all of this, you know?