James Chae’s List List List

I asked James Chae, the first person to write an essay for Issue 01. What is your list. His list, list, list.

What kinds of devices did you have and long for?

Well, the specific devices I’ve forgotten the names of and weren’t very popular models. At the time, there were so many different models of everything that there weren’t many singularly special ones. This is different from the way smartphones are branded today. Unlike the iPhone or Galaxy line of phones, companies like Sony made Walkmans for all different price ranges and uses. Here are some commercials of the popular cassette, MD and MP3 players.

Nippon Retro – Iconic Sony Walkman in 1979 TV ad

Sony Walkman TPS-L2 commercial

Graphic designer and writer Ray Masaki writes about the strange phenomenon of Anglo-saxon models appearing in Japanese commercial culture and how it’s complicit in white supremacy. This is another example of such behavior and it’s a weird one for sure.

Nippon Retro – Iconic Sony Walkman in 1979 TV ad

Curve – Sony MiniDisc – full length advert 1997

Action-packed Sony MD commercial

One of the key features of MiniDiscs were that they didn’t skip, like CD players did. MiniDiscs still used a laser and spinning motor to play, but the size and compact nature of the devices allowed for such stunt-like moves shown in this commercial.

Curve – Sony MiniDisc – full length advert 1997

First iPod Commercial 2001

The first Apple iPod commercial from 2001

It’s funny that this commercial touts the ease of managing a MP3 library. It shows the promise of a convenient present from the future where your whole CD collection fits in the palm of your hand. It also prefeatures the San Francisco tech bro in all his plain khaki glory.

First iPod Commercial 2001

What are some tracks that still stick with you from all those mixtapes you made?

I was really into pop punk music during the time I made cassette mixtapes. Honestly, I don’t listen to that music much anymore, so it’s hard to revisit. Not really because the music hasn’t aged well, in fact the sound is so full of integrity that it brings me right back to my angsty teenage years. That’s why it’s hard to listen, because rarely does one want to reach back and relive the horrors that was puberty.

Little Honda

The Queers – Little Honda

This song is a great track in the tradition of bebop punk. It’s a short love story about a motorcycle of little significance. It’s not about a roaring Harley, or a sporty Kawasaki, but a 500cc Honda. I must admit that my mid-life crisis is going to be purchasing one of these little babies.

Little Honda

Sheena Is a Punk Rocker (2001 Remaster)

The Ramones – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker

The classic four piece Rockaway group, the Ramones, really created a definitive sound. Although not purely original in structure, they created their own universe of punk, which was both edgy and approachable. Pretty cool for some kids from Rockaway, a weird little enclave in the south end of Brooklyn.

Sheena Is a Punk Rocker (2001 Remaster)

Phonographic Memory – Asian Man Records

Interview with Mike Park from Asian Man Records

Mike Park was a god to me. A mini god, but still a god. To be a Korean American whose peers were in to Kpop and RnB, I stood out. But Mike Park showed me that you could eat kimchi at the table and be proud of it. He was a singular identity within a predominantly universe and showed me it was ok to like this music and be against.

Phonographic Memory – Asian Man Records

You said that you lost so many MP3 player playlists that you collected before due to the death of a computer hard drive. Can you introduce some songs that come to mind depending on your memory?

아직도 자주 생각나는 음반들은 많죠. 유튜브를 활용하면 아마 그 곡들을 떠올리는 데 큰 문제는 없을 거예요. 제가 대학생일 때 친구들의 도움으로 수많은 음악 파일을 모을 수 있었기에 하드드라이브와 함께 지워진 음악이 아까워서 가슴이 아파요. 친구들과 밤새 노래를 들으며 파일을 교환하고 토론하던 기억들도 함께 사라진 거잖아요. 그때 제 음악 취향이 발달하면서 음악을 감상하는 태도에 다양성이 생겼어요. 친구들에게 많이 고마운 부분이에요.

Dump – Raspberry Beret

Dump – Raspberry Beret

In college I fell in love with the smooth, somber tones of Yo La Tengo. But their music can be somewhat esoteric at times and a bit too NPR. Dump was a fun project by the band’s bassist James McNew. They were just his private four-track recordings, but the lo-fi quality really delivered an earnest passion for pop, which he probably couldn’t explore within the confines of Yo La Tengo.

Dump – Raspberry Beret

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

사실 이 곡은 지금 들으려고 하면 무척 힘들게 다가와요. 대학교 2학년 때인가 춥고 외로운 겨울을 보낸 적이 있었어요. 친구와 저, 둘이서 차 안에서 이 음반을 들었는데, 제프 매그넘의 가사를 음미하며 우울하고 아름다운 삶의 아픔을 함께 고민했어요. 슬픈 기억들이 담긴 곡입니다.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Arab On Radar – Queen Hygiene II LP Full Album (1997)

Arab On Radar – Queen Hygiene II LP Full Album 1997

Providence, RI is known for its Italian and Portugese American food, the mafia, and noise music. Arab on Radar wasn’t a big band on the scene, but they crafted a more unique sound in comparison to the guitar mashing and drum crashing groups around them. This album was also lost in the epic post-graduation hard drive crash.

Arab On Radar – Queen Hygiene II LP Full Album (1997)

Are there any genres that you’ve gotten to enjoy thanks to streaming platforms?

Well, to be honest I’ve lately been falling in love with K-pop, which has greatly benefitted from streaming. I don’t like all K-pop, but I consider myself a Blink and prefer YG groups over JYP groups or SM groups. Today Kpop production reminds me of the sugary goodness of J-pop. Specifically groups like Perfume and Capsule, both produced by Nakata Yasutaka. But unlike J-pop, which is much more classical in song structure and presentation, K-pop is really all over the place. There are anthem choruses next to raps and huge dramatic peaks and valleys. This hodge podge (짬뽕) mix is super appealing to a shorten attention span, which streaming is designed for (or prolonged, honey dripping Muzak that puts you in a trance state). Here are some tracks that have been on constant rotation in my streaming mix.

BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE) M/V

BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE) M/V

Blackpink’s debut single is a wonder. The spare and minimal beat is compelling to the point of confusion. It is a genius move on the part of Teddy, the main in-house producer at YG and who’s responsible for much of Blackpink’s sound. The reason is because the track really highlights each member and their talents, while creating a strong harmony between the four.

BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE) M/V

TWICE – Feel Special M/V

TWICE – Feel Special M/V

Twice is a JYP group and their song writing is diverse. This track was introduced to my Tokyo-based designer Ray Masaki. He wrote a compelling essay about how he escapes into Twice when he feels overwhelmed by how much his design work is ensnared by capitalist enterprise. I agree that this bubbly song is a salve to such trauma.

TWICE – Feel Special M/V

CL – SPICY (Official Video)

CL – SPICY (Official Video)

After CL’s controversial break from her management, she’s returned with a highly representative track of Kpop kimchi goodness. When I heard this track, I smell aged kimchi jjigae and haemul sunndubu jjigae. CL is interesting to me also because she’s not quite a Korean American or a purely native Korean. She’s been able to craft an identity out of both and has become singular, like Beyoncé, which is incredibly hard to do within the idol structure.

CL – SPICY (Official Video)

You credit the Spotify playlists Rap Caviar and K-Pop Daebaek in your opinion piece for breaking certain artists. Could you share some of the artists from that playlist that you consider worthy of this success.

Well, I don’t personally pay much attention to those playlists. Also, they change weekly so I can really only pick through the recent crop. These playlists are also human-curated and crafted based on popularity and an amount of discovery. So, they’re a bit more trustworthy and try to describe a moment more than just create an algorithmic vibe.

Pop Smoke – Tell The Vision (Audio) ft. Kanye West, Pusha T

Pop Smoke – Tell The Vision (Audio) ft. Kanye West, Pusha T

Pop Smoke was a raspy voiced rapper from the Bronx. He unfortunately passed away right at the rise of his stardom. This posthumous track encapsulates his “vision” and also solidly places him amongst rap greats.

Pop Smoke – Tell The Vision (Audio) ft. Kanye West, Pusha T

Sleepy Hallow – 2055 (Official Video)

Sleepy Hallow – 2055

I know nothing of this rapper, but he seems to be working in the tradition of the sadly passed away rapper Juice World. There’s a mix of hard edged rap flow with a sing-songy teenage angst. His flow is also reminiscent of peer rapper Lil Tjay.

Sleepy Hallow – 2055 (Official Video)

AKMU – 낙하 (NAKKA) (with IU) OFFICIAL VIDEO

AKMU – 낙하 (NAKKA) with IU

I think AKMU is interesting because they’re sort of uniquely situated between Kpop and the indie scene. Also, I love how singer Lee Su-hyun preserves a really basic appearance. I think she looks “normal” seems like a pretty punk statement in Korea.

AKMU – 낙하 (NAKKA) (with IU) OFFICIAL VIDEO

Writer

James Chae is a Korean-American designer living in Seoul. He is working as an educator while working on design. He is an assistant professor of design convergence at Hongik University and is considering the role of design and designer between commerce and art.

Streaming killed the radio star

From MP3’s to the cloud. How we’ve been trapped in the walled gardens of streaming.

Streaming kills creativity. That’s it. Plain and simple. It strangles the artists with a petty payment structure. It constrains listeners in walled-gardens and makes media intangible. Mp3’s made music media immaterial, but streaming makes them even more ephemeral and transient. I can only speak as a music listener, albeit a power listener, so my opinions come from that experience.

Primarily, streaming limits creativity by highly controlling the listening process. It severs the connection that can be formed with the music and segments them into easily digestible bits and pieces. Curation is relinquished to the algorithm, which ultimately affects the music creation process, which I find to be a disservice to the listener as well. But with any shift in media, there are pros and cons, and this essay will try to unpact what I see as major drawbacks to the streaming music economy.

As a person born in the mid-80’s and having formed most of my music taste in the late 90’s and early 00’s, I am firmly a mixtape kid. As mentioned in my previous essay, I grew up making physical mixtapes of pop-punk music and pouring my heart out into these compilations. As I sat in front of the stereo with a CD and tape deck, my hand on the play and pause buttons, I cataloged and sequenced as I listened to the transferring tracks. The distinguishing factor of cassette mixtapes was this real time process. Unlike burning a CD mixtape or organizing an MP3 playlist, one has to sit through the whole song while it’s recording on to the cassette. This reviewing process was what really allowed me to form a deeper bond with the music.

All the stacks have gone. Original photo by Matthew Hurst.

Even in the digital era of MP3’s the need to manage one’s library kept a connection to the music alive, albeit an annoying one. The digital convenience of streaming has, for better or for worse, relieved us of this connection. Sure, there is a resurgence of vinyl collecting, but even this is a niche activity for curious and dedicated collectors. I think the only living physical music product is the Kpop Idol CD package, which sells more for the special books and photographs than the music itself. Most of the people who buy these products probably don’t even have a CD player!

To be fair, let me make an argument about one aspect of streaming that has grown and somewhat benefitted the listener, curation. Back during the CD era Columbia Records created a direct-to-consumer service called Columbia House Records. One could sign up for a monthly subscription and receive a variety of records according to the genres they wished to accumulate. Each month, a member would receive a stack of records for free. They could enjoy the music fully and then return whichever ones they weren’t into. All they had to do was fulfill a certain order requirement by the end of the year. This way, Columbia House curated a record collection that the consumer would build overtime, much like how one builds their digital streaming collection.

Spotify’s Rap Caviar and K-pop Daebak have broke open many artists.

What streaming services have begun to do in earnest is create curated collections of music. This goes a bit beyond the algorithm settings that underlie these services. Sometimes these lists are machine built, but increasingly they are hand picked and are becoming industry driving tastemaking products. Some groups and artists have greatly benefited from these lists. The Spotify playlist “Rap Caviar” comes to mind. Here the latest and greatest hip hop tracks compete like an MC battle to top each other. Another more local example is the “K-Pop Daebak” playlist, which has made some careers such as the singer songwriter Demian (who appeared as a contestant on the audition program Super Band II). Because these lists are moving beasts they must be checked constantly and they provide a feed to new music, which adds to the benefit of subscribing to the select streaming service.

But there’s also a dark edge to these lists and the algorithm driven structure of streaming, it dictates the form of the music. Because streaming and social media go so heavily hand-in-hand, artists are now driven to make music that caters to the way music is consumed now. The two examples I can think of is the emergence of genres such as “Spotify-core” and the Drake hit “Toosie Slide”. Spotify-core is an umbrella term for music that gets heavy rotation on Spotify for being moody and perfect for endless background listening. “Tootside Slide” was engineered to be a viral hit and included literal instructions on the moon walk, (but this was disguised Drake demonstrating a different move in his video).

The one major thing that these curated lists solve is the overwhelming anxiety that comes from the bounty of music to choose from. This anxiety had been building for years with the MP3 era, but now there is just too much to choose from. This is where algorithmic listening comes in handy because you can just select an artist or genre to suit your mood and let the robotic DJ take control. But what else are these platforms offering in terms of enhancing the listening experience?

Information has started to invade the listening space. Lyrics that move along with the song, which can be found on Korean streaming provider Melon. Genius, the lyric database site, has teamed up with Spotify to provide lyrical and background information attached to certain tracks (admittedly this is a pretty fun feature). Artist bios are attached to their profiles and related artists are conveniently attached. But information and data don’t define experiences. They just merely extend the data-driven rabbit hole rather than offer true discovery.

Image curation sites have flattened the landscape of visual culture.

A parallel problem has been going on in the image making economy as well. As a designer, I have lamented, but also participated, in some of the algorithm alchemy of image sites. The number one perpetrator of a flattening image economy is Pinterest. With their admittedly super powerful image algorithm, one can dive in and find endless examples of design, crafts, art, and photography. The convenience of Pinterest is that it literally provides a wall of “inspiration”. Although there is a slight sense of joy in the discoverability found in early Pinterest boards, there is a dominating, almost suffocating force to Pinterest’s system. Search a simple term like “graphic design” and the user is presented with thousands of examples, but these examples are limited to the most pinned and viewed, which doesn’t provide an accurate definition of the term. The same problem happens with Google Image search. Also, the Pinterest system works on visually similar results so one is not able to really dive into diverse examples. Rather, they get stuck in the same rabbit hole of visually similar examples. All this limits creativity and encourages carrot and stick like behavior amongst creatives.

Instagram has been the most violent platform for this reason. The walled garden of Instagram and its visual-only format has made it an undeniable force where people rarely search out portfolio sites anymore. Creative professionals have migrated to IG for self promotion and by being able to offer a window into their lifestyles they can market themselves in new ways. But these ways are damaging to the professional acumen of design and imagemaking. It distracts people from what’s important, and that’s the creation of good, quality, and diverse images! What results is the content of images is cheapened and everyone is thrown into a rat race of attention grabbing.

So what am I saying with these thoughts? First, streaming limits creativity both for the listener and the artist. Another heavily problematic point is the walled-garden of these streaming services. They lock listeners into the limited licensing that each can provide. This leads to competitors like TIDAL, who try to offer a more hip-hop-centric service with exclusives from its owners like Jay-Z. But also, the locked system creates scandals like the disappearance of thousands of K-Pop tracks due to unknown licensing disagreements. The listeners are the ones at a loss here because they are beholden to whatever licenses that the services can offer. This is much like the disappearance of the speciality record store where one could find obscure records. Now, the experience is much like shopping for records at the megastores. For example, I haven’t listened to the Beatles in years because they are not available on any streaming platform but Apple Music, (albet I guess YouTube’s illegal uploads).

Another major problem, which wasn’t discussed here but many have written about, is the unfair economy of streaming for artists. Again, this is a system where artists are having to compete for listeners to earn proper compensation, rather than focus on good music for their audience. They’re having to fight back for the attention that the services now pick and choose within the wider pool of subscribers. This leads to things like the aforementioned Rap Caviar and Spotify-core issues.

Maybe I’m averse to machine-driven listening, or maybe I’m just too nostalgic for my past listening experiences. Whatever the reason, there definitely is a lack of humanity in today’s listening environment, and frankly I want it back.

Writer

James Chae is a Korean-American designer living in Seoul. He is working as an educator while working on design. He is an assistant professor of design convergence at Hongik University and is considering the role of design and designer between commerce and art.

Natural wine bar loft run by Postpoetics.

김재훈

제임스 채James Chae, List

James Chae's List List List

James Chae

Streaming killed the radio star

James Chae

Itaewon Vinyl's Holy Land, Record, Mmm Records.

오은별

Itaewon Vinyl’s Holy Land, Record, Mmm Records.

음 레코드 외관 사진
음레코드 전경. 빨간색 소파가 있다.
음 레코드 내부 전경 데스크
음 레코드 네온 사인 No music No life
음 레코드 내부 전경 홀
음 레코드 턴 테이블

Usadan-ro in Itaewon is what we’ve now come to know as a very “Gram-able” spot, perfect for our social media obsessed generation. I tend to stay away from places like there, where couples come to take photos and show off their dates filled with hashtags. Mostly, this is because I’m ultimately disappointed by these destinations, but also I like to find more genuine and original spots. So, when I came to Om Records, which is located in the heart of Usadan-ro, I was really surprised by how natural it felt. More than a hipster destination, it feels like a neighborhood meeting place where locals enjoy music while relaxing on the soft, weathered sofas. You can feel the cool oozing out of the walls. Taking a look around the space, you can see people enjoying soft City Pop tunes and I naturally melted into this background, actually I layed limplessly on a sofa!. The interior is decorated with cassette tapes and old TV’s hooked up to VHS players. It reminded me of my childhood days when I would watch the anime series ‘Wedding Peach’ on repeat. Om Records is a spot that really brings one back to a soft spot in their mind and where you can get lost in time.

Place

Mmm Recores: 145, Usadan-ro 10-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea

@mmmrecords

Natural wine bar loft run by Postpoetics.

김재훈

제임스 채James Chae, List

James Chae's List List List

James Chae

Streaming killed the radio star

James Chae

Itaewon Vinyl's Holy Land, Record, Mmm Records.

오은별