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Fresh Kicks 157: Closet Yi

Seoul’s Closet Yi records a cosmic mix of propulsive prog house, dreamstate techno and electro for the Fresh Kicks series, and chats to Eoin Murray about the influence of video game music on her sound, and her new EP on Silk Road Sounds

As a child, Closet Yi spent hours watching her sister play computer games. Absorbed in the vivid worlds of Final Fantasy, Aion, Starcraft and Sonic, she often found herself focussing on the music and sound effects that helped their stories unfold. It laid the foundation for her love of instrumental and electronic music and, soon, she was buying video game soundtracks on CD, immersing herself fully in the emotional melodies and colourful atmospheres of their on-screen environments. 

“That escalated to where I am now,” says the Seoul-based DJ and producer, whose musical output bears a similar sense of vibrancy and drama. Her DJ sets — adventures through house and techno, with flourishes of trance and breakbeat — leap from high-energy peaks into deep, rolling valleys and back again. Murmurs of birdsong, mysterious voices and quietly sizzling electronics frequently set the scene for a Closet Yi mix, while eruptions of melody, supercharged bass and ramped-up beats will mark climactic chapters in sets that feel electrifying and intentional.

Crucially though, Closet Yi’s sets are just a whole lot of fun. “The biggest charm of DJing is that you can introduce hidden or forgotten music to people without cramming it into them,” she says. “It’s fascinating that the cheesiest, most-surprising songs can become the perfect gem depending on the mixing and build up. I think AI will never be able to catch up to that kind of sorcery!”

In her productions too, Closet Yi is always worldbuilding. On her debut EP, ‘Tam Tam Land’, released in March 2020 via London’s No Bad Days label, she created a hazy island vibe with soft, cascading melodies, rolling grooves and one “acid-tropische-prog-banger”. On ‘Ruminate’, released via Seoul’s Honey Badger Records two months later, the sounds of sirens and robotic commands meet acid basslines and tough techno rhythms for a sci-fi dancefloor fracas. 

Closet Yi’s forthcoming EP, ‘Speed Heals’, will be released in August through Hong Kong-via-London collective Yeti Out’s Silk Road Sounds imprint and is, as she describes it, “a story about mobility”. Produced over the past 12 months, the four-track release is an ode to movement in a time of stillness, to long drives through the city and beyond, and features some of her most energetic club music to date.

“‘Speed Heals’ is about our countless journeys that we spent in cars, feeling the full energy of gasoline power and motor engines,” she says. “Going up the east side mountains, winding back down, speeding 120km/h across the Han River, and passing through foggy countryside roads before the summer sunrise. [These] are the pictures I intended to record.” 

Lead single, ‘Pikes Pique (Hill Climbing)’, embodies the feeling perfectly: a radiant, broken prog techno cut that will sound as euphoric when played through car speakers as it will through a massive club soundsystem. ‘Riverside Pawn Shop’, which landed in June, is equally propulsive, dousing its hefty breakbeats and glimmering synths in a tough acid lead.  

Closet Yi cut her teeth as a DJ in Seoul’s Pistil venue: a chilled space where she also got to meet and play alongside numerous international selectors she admires, including Patrick Holland, Esa, Benedek and Folamour. “It was the perfect place for house music and Balearic, cosy, wooden sounds,” she says. “And I learned a lot from the crowd there. I was never a resident, but Sam [Swanson, venue director] booked me often as a warm-up DJ, which gave me the confidence that I can build up the energy for whomever the next DJ is. Pistil is just a lovely part of my life where I could make friends and always feel safe.”

As well as Pistil, Closet Yi shouts out other venues, like Ring Seoul and Modeci, and friends such as fellow DJ Naone, that have helped turn the local scene into a bustling community in recent years. “The pie has never been big enough, so it’s always a bit competitive, but I think that gives us a good energy to work harder,” she explains. “Despite the lack of raves and big DJ festivals, or huge record stores, we try to stick together in small parties and support each other.”

Looking ahead, Closet Yi has a few more surprises in store for the coming months. “I have a full list of remixes and compilations coming up that still give me goosebumps,” she says. “One thing I wanna shout out is the annual compilation album from Honey Badger Records, which will be out around summer this year. It’s my third time joining the line-up, and I can assure you that it’s one of the best ways to find new talent from Korea if you’re digging it!” 

In the meantime, you can listen to Closet Yi’s Fresh Kicks mix below. Describing the cosmic 60-minute club mix, she says: “I went more through my old files and rooted out tracks that I live by, which is a mixture of techno and house (but not tech house?). I also added some of my favourite key labels that I keep an eye on all the time; Seven Hills Records, Public Possession, Isla, This Is Our Time, and All My Thoughts.”

Check out Fresh Kicks mixes from Byron Yeates and Stem

Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's deputy digital editor. You can follow him on Twitter @eoin_murraye