Korean-American DJ, producer, and vocalist SOHMI launched her career in Los Angeles with a self-released promo mix in 2018. In one short year, she quickly rose through the ranks to perform regularly at top underground nightclub Sound, followed by impressive festival bookings including globally renowned Ultra Music Festival in her native South Korea. As a DJ, her sound has been described as a dark and enchanting blend of minimal house and techno, while her productions often feature her memorable, R&B and pop-inspired vocals.
We caught with SOHMI to talk about her debut EP ‘Again’ and other musical topics.
Electronic Groove: Hi SOHMI and welcome to EG. Tell us, where are you right now and what have you been up to these past days?
SOHMI: Hi guys, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Right now at this exact moment, I’m at home in my studio/bedroom eating some homemade pasta and drinking a coffee (two of my favorite things!). I’ve had an eventful last couple of days, as I released my debut EP exactly one week ago and was also just announced as one of the final additions to March’s CRSSD Fest lineup in San Diego. So I suppose I’ve been putting in a lot of work to promote the EP and also the upcoming shows I have.
EG: Tell us about your history with music? Where did it all begin and how did electronic music come into your life?
SOHMI: I’ve had a long history with music, basically for as long as I can remember. I began singing and playing the piano from a very young age – according to my mom, I was 3. We were living in Tokyo at the time but moved shortly after to Hong Kong where I started to study classical piano very seriously. At 8, I had competed and placed nationally in a number of competitions in Hong Kong, and then my family and I moved to Seoul. This was when I was introduced to a wide range of ‘fun’ music outside the realm of classical music, from 90’s K-pop to musical theater to American R&B and pop. Honestly, these genres probably dominated my listening habits all the way through and even for years after college; in the grand scheme of my personal musical history, electronic music didn’t come along until quite late.
Though I had obviously been exposed to mainstream EDM throughout its rise in the early 2010s, it wasn’t until I moved to LA in 2016 that I was really exposed to underground dance music. I took very quickly to it though, never really looking back after the first festival I went to, which was also in 2016 (again, I know quite late! It’s hard to believe I was 28 when I went to my first festival). But like I said, underground electronic music basically took over my life as soon as I moved to Los Angeles, and I think it’s because it was introduced to me by a whole new set of friends in a new context, during a heavily transitional period of my life when I was basically lost and yearning to reclaim a sense of identity and rebuild a new life in a new city. Electronic music – in and of itself, as well as the culture surrounding it – gave me the inspiration and courage to do that. It was my lifeline, in many ways.
EG: You’re currently based in Los Angeles, but have lived in lots of different places including Hong Kong, Seoul, and New York. How do you feel like those experiences have impacted your tastes in music or inspired you as an artist?
SOHMI: You know, there was a brief period of time during these last four years of living in LA and discovering underground dance music that I almost resented having spent my formative years abroad in a place like Seoul, where there was no such thing as raves or warehouse culture and we were always behind in adopting music from the US or Europe. Like where would I be today if I’d grown up going to warehouse parties? Would I have started DJing much
earlier? Would my musical tastes be “edgier”? But I realize and appreciate now that we all have our own journeys, and that’s what makes every artist’s tastes, sounds, and vision unique.
For example, having grown up attending international schools where there was a ton of racial diversity but also at times a lot of clique-ishness between social groups, I remember making it a point to sit with different groups of people at lunch and in a way, trying to bridge these different groups together (because at a small school of 100 students per grade, the athletes are also the drama students who are also in the visual arts club – so why were we segregating ourselves based on our extracurricular interests when they all overlapped anyway?) And I think that experience always stuck with me, as I find myself trying to push that same mission through my musical choices as a DJ or the music I create myself as a producer. That’s to say, I feel like what drives my purpose as an artist is that desire to bridge different genres and sounds together, much the same way I was always trying to bridge different groups of people together and to overturn their expectations of what “should be” to make them see instead
what “can be”.
Can someone visually present themselves with the eye-catching, whimsical ethos of K-pop but play leftfield house and dark, minimal techno? Can techno be bright and euphoric vs. dark and hard-hitting? Can catchy pop-inspired hooks make their way into a credible house track? To me, the answer is yes.
EG: What are you interested in achieving as a DJ, as a producer, and as a vocalist?
SOHMI: As I touched upon in my answer to the previous question, as an artist overall, I’m interested in opening people’s minds up to the idea that we need not be so arbitrarily genre-specific when it comes to choosing what we do or how we experience it. It so happens that I’ve chosen dance music to promote and explore this idea, but it could be examined through the lens of basically any other artform or even life experience. A painting’s value in the eye of the beholder, for example, doesn’t come just from the fact that it’s been labeled a ‘post-Impressionistic work’, but rather, from whether or not that painting appeals to the viewer’s visual senses in some way. Maybe it simply looks good to them and makes them feel something. That’s how I feel music should be evaluated as well – “Does it sound good? Does it make you feel something?”, Great, then let’s get past all the labels and genre-pinning. Let’s not listen to something just because it can’t easily be identified as ‘techno’, or shut something out because it’s not tagged as ‘tech-house’ on Beatport. We wouldn’t do that when it comes to evaluating people, would we? Or food? And music, to me, is as vital of an experience as both developing relationships with other people and also eating food. There’s so much to discover and appreciate, so many endless combinations of sounds and grooves and ideas, why would you limit yourself to what’s ‘expected’?
To that end, I would say that what I’m always trying to achieve as a DJ, producer, and even as a vocalist to deliver the unexpected. Despite being a dance music producer and DJ now, I’m a classically trained, K-pop bred, American R&B-loving girl at heart. I used to belt out Mariah Carey’s greatest hits in the shower when I was 9 years old. What could I do with all that? How can I imbue a little bit (or maybe a lot) of each of these influences in my DJ sets? In my
productions? In my vocal work? I don’t know if I have the definitive answer yet, but I feel like that’s what the rest of my career will be spent trying to figure out and create. And whatever that ends up sounding like, I hope it brings just a little more magic, emotion, and positivity into the world.
“I’m always trying to achieve as a DJ, producer, and even as a vocalist to deliver the unexpected”
Electronic Groove: Tell us about your first EP, ‘Again’. Where did the inspiration come from and what can you tell us about the production process?
SOHMI: So I just released my first EP, ‘Again’, last week with Understated Recordings. With this release, I wanted to make a succinct statement (the EP is basically just two tracks plus an extended mix), an introduction if you will, and piece of dance music that captured and represented everything that I talked about previously – the blending of genres, blurring of genre lines, my eclectic musical background, etc. Sonically, I was inspired by everyone from Cassie and Aaliyah to Four Tet, Sasha, Marc Romboy and Omar-S. I’d say one artist who somehow sounds like the successful amalgamation of all these similar influences is Maceo Plex – who is obviously therefore a huge inspiration and musical hero of mine. So sonically, the inspiration for this EP came from the R&B artists I grew up listening to – particularly in the vocals – as well as the aforementioned dance music DJs and producers. Thematically, I’d say a handful of deeply personal experiences inspired the EP. The title track, ‘Again’, is about the experience of addiction and being stuck in a cycle that you know deep down isn’t good for you. From 21 to 23, I went through a fairly dark period of depression and alcohol addiction, and over the years have been in and out of relationships that I look back on now and realize were like bad addictions themselves – hard to walk away from, and terribly toxic. One particular situation like this a few years ago left me nearly completely broken, and it was out of my desperation to pick myself up and out of it that I poured everything I had into learning how to DJ and produce music. So I suppose I wrote ‘Again’ so I could remember what it took to get to this point, where I’m producing music now and feeling empowered by the progress I’ve made since that dark period of my life while accepting at the same time that… We are all only human. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in similar situations again… but hopefully, we can be strong and navigate ourselves out of them. I don’t know why bad things are seductive to us, but they so often are.
‘In Love’, on the flip side, is my sonic interpretation of what happiness sounds like. Getting my alcohol addiction under control, leaving behind the toxic relationships of my past, fully pursuing music now which I love so much… I’ve been able to experience a lot of high moments and happiness. So I wanted to capture that feeling – maybe it’s how you feel when you’re in love with someone, but maybe it’s also how you feel when you’re just in love with the life you are living and building for yourself.
EG: Do you have any dates coming up to promote the EP?
SOHMI: I have a handful of gigs coming up that I’m very excited about, including my first club gig at Spin Nightclub in San Diego on Feb. 29th with the incredible Maya Jane Coles, CRSSD Fest on March 8th, and Art of the Wild in Las Vegas the following weekend. You’ll definitely catch me dropping at least one of the tracks from my EP at these shows!
Electronic Groove: Do you have plans to do live performances or shows down the road?
SOHMI: I would absolutely love to evolve my DJ sets down the road to something that toes the line between DJ set and live performance, most likely including live singing/vocal loop pedals and perhaps even playing the piano/keys/synthesizers live. I also want to collaborate with other live acts and have a handful of artists I dream about being able to bring out as guest performers in my shows someday (Billie Eilish, Miguel, if you’re reading this…)
Electronic Groove: What are some of the challenges you find when producing an EP like ‘Again’? How did you overcome them?
SOHMI: I’d say the biggest challenge I encountered was feeling and having to overcome impostor syndrome. I’ve had some incredible opportunities to showcase my DJing before ever even putting out an EP, so I felt a lot of pressure to put out something great that could live up to that. Furthermore, I didn’t use any VSTs, plugins, or samples outside of Ableton’s native options to produce this EP because I wanted to stay focused and challenge myself to adhere to minimalism / make memorable music with simple tools, but this did make me worry at times too. Eventually though, I realized it’s silly to worry about being judged for not using fancy plugins, or imagining that everyone who’s listening to my EP is doing so trying to figure out which plugins I did or didn’t use. That’s not how people experience music. And the positive response I’ve received so far on the EP has helped alleviate some of those feelings of impostor syndrome for sure :) we’re so often our own worst critics by far measure.
EG: Moving into DJing, what is your dream location to play at? Small club, boat party, massive venue? And why?
SOHMI: One of my dreams for sure is to perform and record a Cercle set someday. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly one of these might take place because their sets tend to be done in crazy and unexpected locations! But the thought has crossed my mind recently, what if I got to do one somewhere crazy back home in Seoul, or elsewhere in Korea? Maybe at a landmark or on a mountain top? I think that would be so, so special and incredibly meaningful, as a Korean-American who grew up in Seoul and always questioned whether I really belonged, wondering if there was even a place for someone like me who was too American to be fully Korean, too Korean to be truly American, and with ‘silly’ dreams to be a performer in a country where parents largely discouraged this as a career path for their children. I would love to be able to come back home and show my people, you should strive for and dream whatever you want to – don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
Electronic Groove: Can you share a classic tune you can’t live without? One that really made an impact on you?
SOHMI: There are so many classics and great songs that have had an impact on me over the years, but one that currently comes to mind is ‘Your Song’ by Elton John. I think it sticks out because my dad used to love Elton John so much when I was growing up, and would often play and sing along to ‘Your Song’ as well as other records on Sundays while the whole family was getting ready to go out to brunch together. His love for strong, melody-driven, and often sentimental songs had a huge impact on what would eventually become my own songwriting style.
I’m just going to add briefly also that ‘Entrance Song’ by Eats Everything turned my world upside down the first time I heard it.
EG: Many thanks and we wish you nothing but the best!
SOHMI: Thank you guys so much! Much love to you :)
SOHMI’s ‘Again’ is now available via Understated Recordings. Stream and buy here.