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[Herald Interview] Valo dreams of creating ambiance with atmospheric sounds

DJ producer opens up about being on audition program “Super Band 2” and techno music

DJ producer Valo (SGM Records)
DJ producer Valo (SGM Records)

While many musicians find fame through chart-topping songs, Valo is one of the lucky few who have made it big in the industry taking a less conventional route.

The DJ producer, whose name wasn't even listed on music platforms, burst onto the music scene when he started disc jockeying in Cakeshop, a club that is dubbed the home of Itaewon’s music. He earned his stripes by producing the runway soundtrack for fashion brand Xperimnt for Seoul Fashion Week and boy band Mirae’s teaser song.

And last year, the 26-year-old featured on JTBC’s audition program “Super Band 2,” where he was able to open the door to more mainstream music opportunities.

“I was a student at Berklee (College of Music) who flocked to Korea in 2019 to endeavor more about music that’s being done here. My music was far from being mainstream, so I carved my path by performing in local clubs, and being on the show was a life-altering moment.”

Reflecting on how he first got his foot in the program, Valo said he was on the horns of a dilemma. The artist said he had worried about how other musicians would think of him since his main playground was the underground music scene.

Valo went on to say that since the demand for DJs and their music are low, he thinks DJs play a pivotal role in maintaining and shaping the niche underground sound and its subculture. He labels himself as a musician who pursues minor music, but he also fears being seen as an artist who caters to commercial music.

Another worry was that people would judge him based on his looks, not music.

“People tend to judge me based on my appearance, and the same happened again when I was on the show. But I tried to be myself as much as possible by focusing and showing how I arrange songs and the different sounds I can make with other instruments as a producer,” he said.

Although being on the show felt like a whirlwind, the budding musician said he enjoyed his journey because he thinks he had proved who “Valo” is as a musician. But he was honest about how the show wasn’t able to fully cater to his purpose of being “musically experimental” because it was also an entertainment show.

“I have a solid music style, and at times, it’s hard to meld in my sonic texture with other instruments and songs,” he said, reminiscing about the struggles he had faced.

The versatile artist made his self-introduction by rearranging Schubert’s “Der Erlkonig” with electronic elements -- a guitar, performance pad and keyboard piano. Although he got eliminated in round four, he has branched out.

Valo peppered a lot of electronic elements for round two when he performed “Time is running out.” The 26-year-old also picked round four, where he performed Exo’s “Growl,” as the most experimental music he had done.

Going back to his introductory stage, he said his remix of “Der Erlkonig” best represents his musical personality. Speaking about his version of the piece, Valo said he saw some similarities to the original track.

“The song sounds powerful, but on the inside, I think the composer has a soft heart, and the same applies to my music. People think techno and electronic elements are rough and powerful, but it could sound pretty as the pitch goes up and when the sound amplifies. I want people to delve into the duality music carries,” he added.

The musician also gave more details about how he felt when the program ended and remembered how he couldn’t stop and smell the roses right afterward. “I was musically lost,” he said.

“I didn’t know what kind of music I had to do. My fandom was created through the show, so I thought I gained fame through my looks, but I knew where I belonged,” Valo said, referring to the underground scene.

“I was contemplating whether to continue making music I had done before or songs that are more widely heard.”

All in all, Valo said being on the program was a “valuable experience.” When asked why, the 26-year-old said he learned about the cross-pollination of music because he had little knowledge about commercial music.

“I filled my knowledge by learning other sides of music, music that’s widely heard among all ages and gender," Valo added.

Also, his experience of being on the show became an inspiration for his upcoming body of work. For his new album, he said it can be characterized by two words: happiness and thankfulness.

“I want to express how thankful and happy I am for the surrounding things, like my fans. I hope to bring people together with my music because we all make up one community, so it’s important to have a bond. That’s the main message of my music, and my way of spreading love is by putting out good music.”

Talking about his soon-to-be-released tracks, Valo said he wants his music to speak for itself but at the same time wants listeners to think outside the box.

“I usually visualize a certain scene when I make songs. That’s the output of my music, and I want people to feel the same as I do,” he said.

Valo also opened up about his thoughts about music as a DJ producer.

“Ambiance holds a special place in my music, and I dream of making atmospheric sounds,” he said.

Valo described his “ambient music style” as music that is able to resonate with visitors and reflect the venue in some way.

“Some perceive DJs as a person who turns on music to fill in the background music of a particular setting, which is not true. I play music depending on the mood the place gives and the people there. I even consider the lights that decorate the venue,” he said.

The musician described how his atmospheric sound depends on the venue’s tone. He said the ambiance would increase in roomy spaces, so he makes the music sound simple and clear. Valo also said it’s important to get a feeling for the place since he feels that the space itself, and everything in it, speaks to him personally.

The DJ producer added that he studies the venue in advance to bring out the best tune for the night for visitors.

“By layering sounds, melding in the soundscapes of the nightspot and collaging and sequencing different elements, I try to fill in the ambiance with atmospheric sounds. I know how to pack a song segment that could genuinely make people happy and when to let them breathe," he said.

Among his many musical talents, the musician said song selection stands out as one of his strengths. Asked why, Valo said there’s a clear difference between adding some joy to the atmosphere and making people happy.

“People have to feel that they are genuinely blissful even if they’re sitting by listening to music, and I think that’s my job. I know many songs that could make them feel on cloud nine,” he said, laughing.

And as a DJ producer, Valo dreams of sharing his emotions with listeners and believes music is a medium that conveys his spirit.

“I’m a person by emotions, and it’s hard to express feelings through techno sounds. But I add an emotional touch to my music by using characters like reverb that change the song’s mood. Hopefully, my euphonic would land well with people.”

By Park Jun-hee (