Interview: Beat Culture
The first time I met Sunik Kim, aka Beat Culture, the venue had been too dark to see his face. Back lit by the city of Austin at 2 a.m, it was minutes past intros until I was able to see who stood before me. With the rush of having flown from California that morning, I will humbly admit that I had no idea the man I just became friends with had also provided the recent background music for moments in my life. The 19-year-old musician who now calls the campus of Yale University home, has a background as eclectic as a vintage National Geographic- he doesn’t promote his storied life, but carries himself with a confidence only those who’re well versed in a language of many interests can speak. Tucked in the corner of an abandoned portion of a library many weeks later, Kim and I spoke over the phone about his life, the influence of the Internet, and the nature of pop music.
Kick Kick Snare: What was the origin behind Beat Culture? As someone who studies English in college was there any kind of cheeky link to the Beat Culture movement from the 50s for you?
Beat Culture: (laughs) Funnily enough there’s no connection at all. Basically this is how it happened: I sat down with one of my good friends in high school in my dorm room and we went online to a bunch of name generators- just doing shit like that, trying to come up with a cool name. I don’t know, we just settled on this name, but there’s no meaning at all. I’ve had a ton of people ask me if I was referencing Kerouac (laughs) there’s really no meaning.
KKS: I mean, I guess if you’re at a cocktail party (I’m assuming that’s where stuff like this comes up besides in an interview) you could mess with someone really pretentious?
BC: Yeah, exactly! I don’t mind that connection at all, so it’s pretty cool.
KKS: Have you been on the Wu-Tang name generator before?
BC: (laughs) No, I can’t say that I have!
KKS: Oh, man. That is a life must and a generator I’ve used for plenty of weird situations. That’s where acts like Childish Gambino got his name.
BC: No way!
KKS: (laughs) Yeah! Just to give some background for our readers- you’ve lived in Hong Kong and then moved to the US, the East Coast specifically, to go to boarding school and now Yale for college?
BC: Yeah, I went to American or International schools wherever we were living at the time, which is why I still have an American accent.
KKS: Has living in different countries affected your music?
BC: I honestly don’t know if its affected it that much- but, I guess in the sense of exposure to local culture’s and their music has helped me to figure out where I want to take my sound, but I wouldn’t say that a specific country has affected my music. And it’s all on the Internet; honestly- that’s where I got all of my influence.
KKS: Lovely how the World Wide Web is worldwide.
BC: Yeah, exactly. So I’ve never identified with any kind of particular scene in and any particular place because everything has happened on the Internet.
KKS: I have to say, I was surprised to learn that your music has been described as “post-dub”, granted this was a couple years ago, but do you still agree with that? For instance the collaboration with Psychic Twin- how would you break that down genre-wise? Genre’s can be hard to discuss.
BC: Oh no, not at all! That’s how I defined myself two years ago. My biggest influences then were Burial and the xx. I’ve gone through a lot of influences since then- it started off with Gold Panda and stuff like that. I tried doing darker stuff, which didn’t really go that well, so now I’m in a weird noise complex. Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t categorize myself as post dubstep now.
KKS: I thought it was interesting with this latest EP that you put out in January seemed to be your most accessible body of work.
BC: Yeah! So I started out in a more beat oriented place and now I want to make pop music. I’ve been playing around with traditional pop structure lately. Before that I used to say, “Oh, that’s so dumb. I hate all that pop shit,” but that was just me being 16-years-old. Now I just want to make pop music that’s as weird and messed up as possible. That’s how I would describe where I am now- weird, fucked up pop music.
KKS: Exactly, well there is something to be said about pop music and general upbeat feelings it garners. Since you are so Internet oriented, and you were doing all of this predominately in a dorm room, how did you first start expanding your audience?
BC: Blogs who were doing their own separate thing, who have now come together to create the blog Portals, were really a huge support initially as far as traction. Back when I first started, tracks of mine would climb Hype Machine- at the time that felt like a big deal. It really was just the world of blogs and word of mouth.
One blog in particular, Flashlight Tag, was crazy because one of my first EP’s, which has long since been deleted from the Internet, ended up doing a post on that. That was a trip to find online. I was 17 and thought that no one besides my friends and family would hear it. That totally blew my mind that he’d found it. Also the blog Pasta Primavera has always been a huge support.
KKS: You mentioned before that you have an interest in sub-genres. Are there any in particular that you’re fascinated with right now? Besides the newly created “fucked up pop” genre?
BC: (laughs) I don’t know- I don’t really think about genre’s that much. The only time I do is when I’m making fun of “chill wave” ever being a thing. I don’t like defining stuff that much.
KKS: I could see why. There’s this fear that defining something can end up to be quite limiting in the long run of it all.
KKS: I found it interesting that someone would even think to ask you about sub-genres. I enjoy going back and reading old interviews- it’s a nice compare and contrast to see how someone’s grown even in the short space of a year. For instance when you were 17 and talking about sub genres.
BC: Yeah, I know- Oh, God. I was in a very different place back then compared to now.
KKS: 17 to 19-years-old is a scary amount of time with room to change.
BC: I’m sure in two years I’ll look back and think 19-year-old me was silly, too, so we’ll see what happens.
KKS: Long live the Internet for being able to document our lives?
BC: Oh god, yeah totally.
KKS: What is coming up next for you?
BC: I’m doing some dates in the summer (see below). I get out of school in May and then I have two or three months to finish an album. It’s in the planning stages now, but hopefully it’ll get done before I get back to school because once school starts every thing goes to shit as you know.
KKS: I wish you could see me now, I’m in the empty part of my university’s library right now.
BC: I was writing an essay right before you called! It’s kind of nice to be in school though- it’s a nice safe space to flesh and bounce off ideas without the hinderings of reality.
You can catch Beat Culture on tour this summer with Blackbird Blackbird.