Yaeji gives house music Korean American home at 1015 Folsom

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Younghoon Kim/Courtesy

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There’s very little about EDM’s sound that feels like home. It’s a reality that is utterly unfamiliar outside of dark nightclubs, raves or festivals.

Emphatic basslines and dopamine-releasing drops are made inside an application of a computer program, and the visuals that often accompany the DJ’s set include intricate patterns, shapes and colors rarely found in nature. If there’s a human voice, it is modified to have a glossy finish and an echo that travels through an unknown, infinite void. In other words, EDM is a genre closely associated with that which is unreal, artificial and fantasy — and listeners love it.

But Yaeji, one of the few (if not only) prominent female Korean American hip-house DJs/producers/singers/rappers, firmly establishes an intimacy in her live performances. Through her performances, she reveals how every part of her music, from the lyrics to the visuals, are closely connected to herself and her heritage.

Last year, the artist collaborated with New York’s Korean fried-chicken restaurant, Kichin, for her Curry In No Hurry Project. During a 12-hour lineup of lowkey DJs, the audience was served homemade curries —  not only merging the listener’s sense of sound with taste, but also representing Yaeji’s own Korean culture, in which meals are a cherished, communal experience.

Though there was an unfortunate lack of curry in her last stop of her “Make It Rain Tour”  before she returned to Indio, California, for the second weekend of Coachella, Yaeji maintained a similar intimacy during her set at 1015 Folsom on Thursday.

Hair tied in a bun, clad in wire-framed glasses, an oversized, white T-shirt and deliberately ripped pants making diamond-shaped patterns, Yaeji had the look of a relaxed librarian-meets-skater-meets-rocker-girl. With a green paper wristband, the kind commonly used for admission to a club or concert, strapped to her right wrist, Yaeji offset the lofty image of artistry. Instead, she immersed herself as a member of the audience — she was just another clubgoer.

Ironically, this lack of outlandishness might make her one of the most unconventional DJs, not only of EDM, but also its subset of house music.

The outset of her performance was straightforward, starting with her most popular single, “raingurl” — a song that showcases her unique voice as she introspects in Korean and demands girls to “make it rain” in English — and its official music video on display. However, by her reprisal of “raingurl,” Yaeji reminded her fans and herself that she is just as much a visual artist as she is a DJ.

When it wasn’t her own face on screen, then her name was projected above, acknowledging that most, if not all, of the visuals accompanying her music were of her own design.

Here’s where Yaeji essentially transformed the nightclub into an impromptu exhibit. Multiple videos simultaneously played as they overlapped each other just by the corners, showcasing some of her own artwork. The color scheme of her videos complemented the dark and neon colors of a nightclub, putting dancers in a trance.

But by “New York 93,” her very first single, Yaeji switched the mood to near-jarring effect. On screen were snippets of herself gleefully dancing, commuting on a subway and, most notably, a video of an aging couple, presumably her parents in South Korea, waving hello — all of which appeared as untouched footage. Considering how the subway and her heritage are sources of inspiration for her lyrics, the onscreen videos were Yaeji’s visual cues to illustrate how her identity is imbued into the often faceless genre.

For a moment, the captured natural light of the videos illuminated the entire dancefloor and the faces of every clubgoer. The crowd cheered at the clips of Yaeji dancing alone, being herself.

Though the internet and streaming services have helped electronic dance music quickly  transform into a global phenomenon, Yaeji’s approach to the genre involves adding context to her music, interweaving her background and making it all her own.

Concerning her live performance, there is no need to use the catch-all phrase, “It was lit,” to describe that Thursday night. Instead, we could use her language — Yaeji waskraeji.”

Contact Lloyd Lee at [email protected].