South Korean producer, Justin OH, recently released the newest track from his forthcoming City of OZ album, “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The bass-heavy glitch track debuted at Ultra Korea and Tomorrowland to a crowd before it quickly making its way online and into the sleuthing hands of the citizens of Oz. Pouring over each and every song release, following every tweet, tracking any visible online activity as they try and figure out what each and every lyric means in the greater story of Oz in his upcoming album. Your EDM had a chance to take their questions straight to the source in an interview with Monstercat’s resident cyberpunk genre-fluid songwriting wizard.
“Don’t Bring Me Down” made its debut at Ultra Korea and Tomorrowland. Both of which are iconic festivals both in Asia and in Europe. Can you tell me a little bit about those experiences? The similarities and differences of the crowds? What was the reaction to the track?
Great for both! It was first tested out in Ultra Korea earlier this year (I uploaded a video clip of it a while back). Sometimes, I like to tease and test tracks out before I finish them. I was actually finishing my set and I played my last track “U&ME” (which is a song I usually close with) and my friend Josh Pan was getting ready to go up to play next after me. He said to me “Dude, play one more song. You still have some time. All good!” I was super stoked and that was a homie move. So, I got to debut an early demo of “Don’t Bring Me Down” at Ultra Korea and it went off! Fast forward to my Europe tour and I was fortunate enough to be able to be invited to play the Monstercat stage at Tomorrowland. Such an amazing experience and the crowd loved the track as well there too! I remember after playing it in Tomorrowland and posting a video of it on the gram, the Monstercat team and I were super hyped on the release because we JUST announced that it will be coming out the week after Tomorrowland. It’s a good feeling to see both Asia and Europe connecting to the song! Very special.
The cover art for “Don’t Bring Me Down” is very similar to the cover art for “She’s a Killer” which was released last year in June. What’s the link between the two songs?
Yeah, that was done on purpose. Sound design-wise, they have a similar sound and vibe that they are both going for. I mean, I don’t ever like to make the same song twice and that’s not what I did with “Don’t Bring Me Down”. But, I wanted to build off of what “She’s A Killer” did and show it off as part of the same DNA and story voice. Even the lyric music video we uploaded to Youtube showed that I think. That’s really satisfying as an artist to have that continuity because “She’s A Killer” was arguably my most impactful song last year and it got a lot of love from the Monstercat community enough to make the “Best Of 2018”! I wanted to re-visit that for 2019.
During your AMA on Reddit last year, you went into a lot of detail with how you created the effects for “She’s a Killer” and the process you took for the sound design. And it was a really interesting kind of peak into the world that is inside your head when making tracks. And then on Facebook, I also saw you describe “Don’t Bring Me Down” as the most detailed and intricate track you have ever made. Since the process, you described for “She’s a Killer” seemed pretty complicated itself (you later reference Mongolian throat singing as an influence) I can only imagine what it would be like to take that and make it sound like it’s “on steroids”. Can you go into that process a little bit and describe the approach you took with the sound design and what made it more detailed?
Haha, yeah. There is this mid-bass in “She’s A Killer” on the drop layered underneath the chaotic chord and flutter chiptune arps. The mid-bass has this robot daft punk style vowel vocal box type movement that hits two notes and harmonics at the same time which sounded kind of like Mongolian throat singing. I was Youtube surfing one day and I ended up somehow on a Mongolian throat singing binge for a couple of hours and thought it was interesting which I guess, convinced me to incorporate it into my sound design! But, with “Don’t Bring Me Down” I use the same top layers, (chaotic chords & flutter chiptune arps) in the first drop. When I was sound designing, I wanted to create something that sounded like a lot of data being moved around and being absorbed. When you think about, there is all this data flying around in everyday life from smartphones, tv, AM/FM radio, cars, BlueTooth, satellite, GPS, etc. Pictures and videos and text that get turned into code and bundled together to be sent to the other side of the world through these huge underwater cables or bounced off satellites. It feels crazy and amazing at the same time. That is kind of the concept behind that sound design I used for “She’s A Killer” (0:49) and “Don’t Bring Me Down” (1:06). That chaotic flow of code that even a short glimpse of it, to us feels overwhelming. With “Don’t Bring Me Down” I took that a step further and used a lot of glitch and machine sounds to create melodic fills in between the music. There’s a ton of small details in the song that makes it feel like organized chaos.
The music video for “Loving Her Loving U” was made before the song. Because of that the sound design and arrangement was done to match the flow of the video, like a film score. And you have been quoted as comparing the process to Disney’s Fantasia. Is this an approach you would like to do more with? The City of OZ can also be seen as a Disney reference. Are you a fan? How does that kind of tie in with your cyberpunk sensibilities and inspiration behind your music?
One of the artists I respect the most is Eric Prydz. Paraphrasing what he’s said before is that when he makes a track, he is picturing it and placing it to where it fits in his DJ sets and inside that limitation, he creates the song that best serves the overall flow of his DJ set. That is pretty much my philosophy when I’m making music for this City Of OZ concept. With “Loving Her Loving U”, the process was very much where I knew the video idea I wanted to make and where it would be placed and fit in this big story. It takes place earlier in the story. And having that understanding and limitations changes how you approach that song. It is meant to serve the bigger picture. So, the song is meant to be lower on the spectrum sonically and pacing but still slapping hard in a live set! I wanted “Loving Her Loving U” to feel like a rumble on the drop like a volcano making noise before explosion or thunder before the lightning and rain. This helps set the stage for whatever song comes afterward. Without giving away too much, I think there’s a lot of fun and interesting theories floating around on the internet about the City Of OZ which is great! The cyberpunk and hackerpunk aesthetics is just something that I vibe with a lot. You can definitely hear it in my sound design choices with the machine sounds and retro glitch art. I want my sound to feel retrofuture. Perfect futuristic ideas with imperfect retro technology.
“Don’t Bring Me Down” is being released as the 6th installment for “The City of Oz.” Can you tell me and those who might not be familiar with this alternate reality that you’ve created behind your music a little more about “The City of Oz” and what Oz means in reference to your music? You’ve previously described it as “Cool, dystopian, world, concept.” but can you delve into that a little bit? The inspiration behind it and maybe break down the 6 parts that have been released so far?
I think it is like working on a puzzle. Each song is a piece of the story and hopefully, in the end, the whole will feel greater than the sum of its parts. Without giving away too much, “Rearview Mirror” is more like a prologue. “Loving Her Loving U” takes place much earlier than “She’s A Killer.” “Feel Alright” is more of a finale to an act. So yeah, to confirm, the songs aren’t released in a story timeline order. I’m doing it this way because I want people to take their time to get into the story and create a more rewarding listening experience the deeper you follow the white rabbit. I vibe with stuff like The Matrix, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Planet Of The Apes, Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Westworld, Futurama, and Metropolis to name a few. I think you can definitely see some of those influences shape my style and how I see things. A couple of years ago when I first introduced the concept to Monstercat, I had the whole story pretty much done already so it has been a fun journey so far and great to see it out there. Earlier this year I posted on my social media that the story will wrap up to an end this year. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, that is still the case.
Who is the person or non-humanoid identity that you refer to as “Her”? i.e from your AMA ” She seems kind at first but then sometimes She has a dark side to Her. i’m trying to figure Her out myself… the more i meet Her, the more i learn about Her.”
All I’ve figured out so far is… “She” is not a robot.
I tend to cover mostly house and techno artists so I had to pull quite a bit of my research from your fans on Reddit for this interview. Your fans seem to dissect your lyrics and videos with almost as much vigor as Game of Throne’s fans trying to figure out who was going to be on the iron throne. This theory in particular about “She’s a Killer” by Reddit User “SyntheticMemez” on the Monstercat Reddit page caught my eye the most.
What do you think? Are they on the mark? How much of the world-building you do with your whole concept comes from or even gets inspired by the fan theories and what’s it like to read the amount of excitement and thought they have for the concept?
I’ve never seen Game Of Thrones but I think people creating their own theories and fan art is amazing! That is what you want as an artist, to put something out there and let other people take it as their own and interpret it how it makes them feel. I mentioned earlier that the story has been already pre-written for a while now and everything is pretty much done. However, I definitely pay attention to the crowd reaction and community input. It may not have influence over the narrative but it helps me make other decisions. For example) which song to release next, how to make the next music video, etc. One thing we did was how the Monstercat community impacted the “dream pill”. At first, the “dream pill” was meant to be a small motif in the background. Nothing crazy important but something that just helps the story. But people really latched on to it and there was a growing interest in it so we gave it more presence. We even added “dream pill” easter eggs in the “Don’t Bring Me Down” music video which was really fun and rewarding.
What’s the expected release frame for the rest of “The City of OZ” album story? Any tour plans you can share? Any special stage designs or visuals you’ve been working on? Or if a tour hasn’t been locked in could you maybe tease us with a little idea of what you would like to do if you were able to create your dream tour?
I said earlier this year the City Of OZ story will end this year. If all goes as plan, I think that’s what will happen and we’ll get to see it all conclude. I’ve been testing some City Of OZ elements in my live show and it’s been going great and the reaction has been amazing. We’ve tested all over Asia and we can definitely see some places really ready and the crowd going crazy over the concept. We were surprised to see how well it worked in places like Bangkok, Seoul, parts of China, Tokyo, and even India. Hopefully, when everything is ready, we’ll be able to introduce the live show to the USA sometime next year!
What festivals, show dates, and releases do you have coming up I can share for anyone who reads this and wants to check out what this whole world you created is all about?
I just finished touring Asia and Europe this summer so I’m planning to take a break for a bit and focus on getting the last pieces of the City Of OZ out there. Will definitely be busy with that over the next little while! I’m also pretty bad at social media but I’ll be posting updates and announcements when ready there including the BIG one.