There was a particular time around the mid 2010’s where artists exhibited a sense of rebellion towards industry norms, a time where they not only established a fan-base but also communities around their craft. If you haven’t guessed by now… I’m talking about the notorious Soundcloud Era. When most people hear the word Soundcloud they think about rappers, although we can’t forget that Soundcloud was how most of us became acquainted with the sounds of KAYTRANADA, Soulection, and other forms of left-field Electronica that eventually bloomed into the mainstream.
One of my most cherished discoveries from that era, and from the Alternative Beat Scene (Shlohmo, XXYYXX, Shigeto) is U.S.-based producer Giraffage (aka Charlie Yin). Even though he traverses a wide variety of different genres in his catalog, a distinct sound emblazoned with stunning sampling techniques and luminous synth works shadows his craft. Charlie has released with labels such as Fool’s Gold, Alpha Pup, and Dim Mak; though 2017’s album Too Real released via Counter Records was his most notable as the growth and the virtuosity in his crafted reached new heights. Nowadays he’s not only known as a producer but also an artist who DJs, cooks, and runs the treadmill simultaneously. In our long-awaited interview with Giraffage, he explains how he does this, his creative process during the lockdown, what he cherished most about the Soundcloud Era, and much more.
When you started making music during your teens, did you intend on making a career out of it from the beginning, or would you say the idea to pursue a career sparked as you were gaining notoriety?
It was definitely an afterthought — never in my wildest dreams did I consider doing music as a full-time career.
Who were some of the Asian artists you looked up to when you were younger and made you believe that it's possible?
I was obsessed with the band Thrice, mostly because of its Asian guitarist Teppei Teranishi. I even bought the exact same model and color-way of guitar as him and would spend a good amount of my formative years learning to play the lead guitar parts that he would play.
I noticed you decided not to release any music between 2017 and 2020. What encouraged you to take a break from releasing music for this lengthy period?
Stay up to date.
I spent a lot of this time touring and just being busy with general life things. I made a move from San Francisco to Austin during this period as well. I also found that the way to release music has changed significantly, whereas before it wouldn’t be too out of place to make a song and immediately upload it to Soundcloud a few hours later. Now there is a whole process with DSP ingestion, record labels, etc for better or for worse.
What's great about your sound is the fact that 'genre' doesn't seem to matter to you and in your most recent releases, you've adopted an Acid House influenced aesthetic. How do you personally find a balance between prioritizing your evolution as an artist while making sure you're not polarizing your listeners too much?
The ethos of the Giraffage project has always been to just make music that I personally enjoy. Throughout the years, my taste has changed so much that the sound of Giraffage has naturally evolved with it. I try not to think about the listener because as an artist, I’m never going to please everyone, and getting caught up in that mindset is counter to creative freedom and exploration. It is totally fine and is a viable career strategy to try and cast the widest possible net and please the largest amount of people, but that was never my intention.
What are some of the studio habits you developed during the creation of your last album Too Real that you still practice to this day?
I used a fair amount of hardware and recorded sounds during the creation of that album and that habit has definitely carried over to this day. My studio has since expanded pretty significantly and subsequently, there are now a few pieces of hardware that are staples of my workflow that I can’t imaging making a song without today.
Soundcloud was a vital platform in your early days, especially when you didn't have a label. What are some of the things you cherished most about the Soundcloud era?
The agency it gave to small artists, and the immediacy of everything. There are way too many barriers to entry these days for a new artist — I can’t even comprehend the best way to release music now whereas before it was as simple as uploading the track you just completed to Soundcloud and doing a post on your social media accounts. I miss the chaotic and wild west nature of Soundcloud which birthed so many cool sounds / genres / collectives that you just can’t really get these days from an algorithmically generated Spotify playlist.
I'm sure this is a question on everyone's mind right now... What inspired the idea to cook, play chess, cycle (am I forgetting anything?), whilst you DJ?
Let’s Paint TV was a huge influence on the initial idea. I’m also just a chronic multitasker by nature and so making a stream wherein I attempt to do all these things at once makes sense and appeals to the reptilian part of my brain that wants to maximize efficiency and squeeze as many activities in as little time as possible.
I'm curious as to how your creative process started to change when lockdown hit?
I underwent a few existential crises as the lockdown first went down. I spent the first few months not really making much music at all but instead became obsessed with learning new skills from coding to rug making to video editing. After a while, I came back to making music and felt a renewed sense of creativity. Spending time exercising different parts of my brain by learning all these new different skills was an extremely important process for me and I’m currently in a really great, free-flowing creative state.
Your visuals are very distinctive considering the regular use of clouds and the vivid details when it comes to the animation. In which ways does your unique visual aesthetic relate to your sound?
There’s something calming about clouds that I really enjoy. There’s also something really chaotic about them as well in terms of their shapes/movement/randomness. I tend to gravitate towards these juxtapositions in my music — a lot of time is spent making sounds that wouldn’t normally fit together work.
Apart from music, what other activities do you partake in as a form of catharsis?
I was doing a lot of ceramics before the lockdown which I am itching to get back to once I get vaccinated.
Okay so, 1) an artist/band you’d love to have a D.M.C (deep meaningful conversation) with 2) an artist you think would be rad to party with 3) an artist you would love to spend a week within the studio. You’re welcome to select from artists who are dead/retired.
1. Claude Debussy