Spotlight #2: Yung Bae

by Will Cafferky

Discovering new genres is really great: that epiphany where you realise you haven’t a clue what you’re listening to, but know that you want to hear more. I had one when I was listening to Yung Bae. All of a sudden my speakers were blaring out this confused mash of wavy funky riffs and sporadic samples. After the first play I was intrigued, by the third I was hooked.

Many of you, more cultured and musically travelled than I, will view my little moment with disparaging disinterest. Whilst it’s almost impossible to pin any one artist to a single genre, it’s probably fair to describe Yung Bae’s music as nu-disco. It’s a genre that has been growing steadily since the early 2000s, and whose mainstream manifestations are perhaps most evident in Daft Punk’s recent earworm, Get Lucky. Step away from the limelight however, and it’s easy to find a rich vein of nu-disco music that is simultaneously innovative and infectious.

There are a couple of reasons why I’ve elected to focus this month’s Spotlight on Yung Bae. Firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, he was my first conscious interaction with nu-disco. Secondly, he fits the profile for this column perfectly. Whilst fresh enough to the scene to be considered an emerging artist, his body of work and trajectory certainly warrant getting excited over.

So who is Yung Bae? Aside from knowing that he’s a guy from Portland making disco tracks, I’m not entirely sure. I’m somewhat loathe to indulge in unrequited curiosity, as in this instance it does little to shed light on what is already some really intriguing and exciting music.

What matters most is his already considerable body of work. I’m a real sucker for any artist who has an ear for sampling, and Yung Bae does so extensively with commendable variety and chemistry. It is, in my opinion, an underappreciated art. To take a wide range of pieces and layer them in a seamless way isn’t something anyone can do, as is occasionally claimed by its critics. It’s something that has been utilised by some of my favourite artists, perhaps most prolifically DJ Shadow and MF DOOM. Both have built massively successful and varied careers around, amongst other skills, their ability to carefully select and combine samples in their tracks.

Probably the most notable stylistic aspect of Yung Bae’s work is his use of Japanese culture. Whilst not entirely alien to this kind of music, the way in which Yung Bae uses it, especially in terms of his samples, is the most seamless and aesthetically pleasing example I’m aware of. Many of his tracks heavily feature Japanese voice samples and hooks, with some of them being released under Japanese titles. At the risk of sounding patronising, it serves to give his work a lovely sense of authenticity. This isn’t a gimmick: it’s a guy with an appreciation of Japanese pop culture, channelling that passion into his music.

So, where next for Yung Bae? Well, after all my hyperbole surrounding his disco music it may be somewhat surprising to hear that he’s momentarily leaving the genre behind. Whilst the exact direction isn’t clear, he has intimated that he plans to work more within hip-hop and trap with his newer pieces.

Even though I’m barely scratching the surface of nu-disco, I’m excited to see what Yung Bae has planned with his forays into new pastures, hip-hop especially. I’m particularly interested to see whether his extensive use of Japanese music and sampling carries over into his newer work, and if so, what kinds of sounds he starts to create with it. I can see some parallels between his style and those of aforementioned artists, MF DOOM and DJ Shadow, both of whom are hip-hop and trip-hop mainstays respectively. Such comparisons are probably a tad premature, but they go some way towards explaining why his trajectory is potentially so exciting.