With 2019 almost in the books for Yu Su, the Vancouver-based, China-born-and-raised producer has been on fire, releasing two wildly different yet equally excellent records, Watermelon Woman and Rolling With the Punches. As the end-of-year holidays approach, she’s heading home to China for a brief tour, with sets in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and... Xining.
We linked up with the producer extraordinaire to talk about her interest in Daoism, her favorite Chinese food and her ongoing struggles with visas and the immigration office.
Image via Yu Su
Can you talk about your roots in China? How was it growing up in Henan province and when did you move to Canada?
It was quite relaxing, generally speaking, growing up in Kaifeng. The city is rather small and I surely didn't have the same kind of stress as I would living in a city like Shanghai or Beijing. Henan is at the bottom of the list when it comes to economy and everything, so I sadly didn't have great surroundings or inspiration for music, though there was still the internet, which was my only access to Western music and art. I moved to Canada in 2013 to attend ‘The University of Billions of Chinese.’
What was your experience of making and playing music in China? When did you become inspired to start producing?
I studied the piano quite seriously from age 3 to 16. While I know that most Chinese kids had a similar experience with the piano, I was one of the few who continued doing it into adolescence, which has had quite an impact since I started developing some of my own musical taste. I was curious about making music before moving to Vancouver but was never determined enough to try it out until I finally moved.
Some of your earlier releases were made under the name ‘you’re me’ with Scott Gailey. Can you talk about that process of collaboration, and how did you and Scott impact each other musically?
Yes, Scott is my partner. We’ve been together for four years and that’s how long I have been producing. Our first date began with us jamming and it all started from there. The collaboration just came together and we never really planned anything or where the direction should go. He had experience playing in bands before and I didn’t, so I think that kind of helped with our flow weirdly.
I see you will visit Xining on this tour. I was there recently and it’s beautiful, but not exactly a hotbed for electronic music. Why did you want to play there?
I know! I'm going really deep west. A promoter in Xi’an hooked it up for me and the club in Xining seems quite nice! The promoter there has quite a good knowledge of what’s up, so I’m also curious to see what the scene will be like. I'm also really into the food there, so this is an excuse for me to go for a short visit as well.
The posters for your China tour reference Daoist peaks and Chinese inksticks – why did you choose this imagery?
I studied Daoism in university, and although Daoism isnt the most accurate representation of the spiritual side of China, I try to play around with my orientalist point of view when it comes to talking about Chinese culture. It was the designer PJ’s idea to use imagery of inksticks, which really worked with the imagery of the peaks.
We see you are a massive foodie and have combined cooking with music a few times. What’s your favorite type of food? Is there a specific region of China whose food you enjoy most?
How can you not be a foodie growing up in China? I don't think anyone would call themselves a foodie here since everyone is into food; it is a huge part of the culture. I love everything really, except things like steak, or just some piece of meat with weird sauce on it. I love Hangzhou food a lot – also things from the Northwest.
“I want to express that sense of fluidity and the endless Daoist cycle of yin and yang turning into each other”
We’ve heard that the Chinese cuisine in Vancouver is excellent...
Yes, I dont know if you have been to Sydney, but Chinese cuisine in Sydney reminds me a lot of Vancouver as well. You have a good combination of everything because of the history of Chinese immigration.
Boiler Room introduced you as Canadian when you did their Sugar Mountain show earlier this year, which you corrected on Twitter, saying you’re Chinese. Do people often think you’re Canadian, rather than Chinese?
I know, and NTS had just labeled me as from ‘Vancouver,’ which I’ll have to tell them to change. People always refer to me as a Canadian artist which I never really cared about, but I don’t even have a permanent residency in Canada yet. It has been a crazy annoying experience applying for all this visa and immigration stuff. I’ve also realized that my peers and most people don't realize the privilege they have when it comes to international travel, so now I try to make it clear about my nationality – just a reminder to the others that things like nationalities can be a privilege for musicians who travel for work, and we should all be appreciative of the opportunities we get.
You take your inspiration from a variety of different sources. What is currently inspiring you in your production and your performances?
Right now, nothing in particular, but I’m reading this book about eavesdropping published by City Gallery Wellington and it’s very fascinating. The things I'm currently working on have gone darker and darker, so maybe this book has inspired me somehow.
It’s quite hard to categorize your music: While Watermelon Woman could be described as being a bit house-y, Roll With the Punches plays around with ambience and atmospherics, with Asian strings included in there, and was described as resembling a film score by Pitchfork. How do you personally describe your style of music to people?
It is true – the music I deal with and put out is always all over the place. I have a hard time describing the style as well, but I would just say that my music is genre-fluid and it takes influence from everything that I like. It is a true representation of me. I want to express that sense of fluidity and the endless Daoist cycle of yin and yang turning into each other.
Those two releases made a big impact this year, while you also had excellent sets on Boiler Room and at Dekmantel. How do you reflect on 2019? Are there any moments that stand out?
Thank you! I am really glad those releases resonated with people. I think 2019 was really great. I started working with amazing agents, labels and other musicians, and have met so many amazing people through music. I would say that this tour in China will stand out the most!
[Cover image via Yu Su]