UC Berkeley alumnus, EDM artist Giraffage talks turning production to performance

Beverly Pan/Staff

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When you ask an electronic producer about the inspirations for their latest album, you don’t normally expect to hear “The Strokes” and “Interpol.” But when you listen to Too Real, the first label-released LP from San Francisco-based UC Berkeley alumnus Charlie Yin (stage name Giraffage), it starts making sense. Not insofar as that the album feels entirely like an indie or garage rock album, but in that it organizes itself around flowing chord progressions and melodies.

Yin — who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 — has always been a bit of an introvert. You can sense that in his music; far from the bombastic drops and heavily-layered synths of his counterparts, Giraffage has a decidedly more melodic, subtle production style. It sits at a nexus between the indie synthpop of M83, canonical EDM and chillwave-style ambient soundscapes. You can also see it in his performances; he tends to stay somewhat isolated from the crowd in his own world, working intently with his production setup.

He is the definition of a bedroom producer, and he has been since his days on campus as a political science major. “I wasn’t the most ideal student,” he laughed. “I spent a lot time making music instead of studying.”

At the time, Yin was working mostly with samples, self-releasing his music along with remixes of popular R&B tracks. But the last few years have seen an explosion for his music, which led to a monthlong European and North American tour. “The fact that people from across the world were into my music, that was a huge turning point for me,” Yin explained. “That was my ‘Oh, shit’ moment.”

Perhaps a smaller, but no less impressive, one came last week, when the Bay Area native headlined a sold-out show at the Fillmore. “It was definitely a weird, cool feeling,” Yin said. “That was my first time playing the Fillmore — but I’ve gone there a bunch as a spectator, to watch a lot of bands, (when I was) growing up.”

As his music blew up, transitioning from creator to performer has brought its own challenges. I definitely am more of a producer than I am a performer,” Yin admitted. “It’s still kind of weird for me to get on stage in front of thousands of people.”

Not to mention that his music isn’t what one would normally expect from an EDM show. There are few big drops and not much in the way of pulsing, thickly layered synths. Yin had to edit almost every song from Too Real to bring it to the stage. But talking to him, you get the impression that the best way to consume his music is the way he wrote it: alone in your bedroom, with a good pair of headphones.

In fact, even Too Real — which found him working with vocalists for the first time— was produced that way. “I honestly haven’t even met a lot of them in real life yet, because all of the collaborations were done via the internet,” Yin explained. “Every single song was basically just like, the vocalist sending me an idea; I would send back an idea; they would send back an idea.” He paused for a moment before continuing: “I think that’s the way I prefer working.”

It makes sense. Every sound effect on Too Real feels precisely placed, toyed and experimented with until it suited him. “I could spend two hours just tuning a kick drum,” Yin laughed. He’s been working on this album for almost two years — that kind of attention to detail doesn’t lend itself to having someone look over your shoulder.

He now lives and works in the busy metropolis of San Francisco, but feels the city still provides a similar sense of isolation — he rarely goes out to shows or clubs, preferring to stay locked up in his room, writing. “I think it helps me create a lot of songs I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to create,” Yin explained.

So what’s next for Giraffage? According to Yin, the influences of his high-school favorites such as the Strokes and Interpol aren’t disappearing — in fact, we might get ourselves a bit of electric guitar shredding from him (It was one of his first instruments). “I feel like their song structures are pretty different from traditional song structures in electronic music,” Yin explained, referring to those indie rock bands. “I have a lot of songs that didn’t quite make (Too Real) but that featured me playing a lot of guitar,” he continued. “I think I’m definitely steering towards that, so I think for future releases you can probably expect me playing a bunch of guitar.”

Whatever direction he chooses, Yin’s direction musically — and his path from producer to performer — will be one to watch.

Imad Pasha covers music. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @prappleizer.