You’ve probably heard Shawn Wasabi’s remix of ‘Clear’ on repeat, which has become TikTok’s viral audio of May. It’s actually a track from 2016 — the multi-faceted music artist has a new song out, inspired by late 2000’s club music!
Once again, Shawn Wasabi is finding himself at the center of viral attention thanks to the fact that his 2016 remix of the Pusher track “Clear” has found its way into the upper echelon of TikTok sounds, making it now one of the most “Shazamed” songs ever (No. 16, to be exact). But you may remember Shawn on YouTube six or so years ago — especially his hands. They dazzled tens of millions of YouTube viewers as they flew across a rainbow-lit controller equipped with 64 buttons that he co-invented, with each button producing a unique sample from the other, called the Midi 64 Fighter. It was like watching Mozart play a piano of the future, an analogy that can only be understood by watching his video for “Marble Soda” below, a mashup that used over 150 samples and put Shawn on the map (and has given him over 35 million YouTube views). That was in 2015. While Shawn has gone on to focus on more music endeavors — like releasing his debut album, MANGOTALE, amid the pandemic and regularly producing beats for other artists — the 25-year-old producer decided to revisit his passion for toying around with samples in his most recent single, “i dip,” that came out on March 25.
Shawn said the creative process that went into making “i dip” was “a combination” of “nostalgia and having fun,” just like how he “used to produce back in the day where [he] was just taking samples and finding ways to manipulate them,” the Los Angeles-based music artist EXCLUSIVELY told HollywoodLife. This led Shawn to explore “old 808 samples” from the “original drum machines” and “deep house” from the era of blog house music (a subgenre of electro music that DJs played in clubs in the mid to late aughts). Essentially, Shawn said he wanted to recreate the experience of listening to the 2010 club anthem “Like A G6” on the radio when he was in high school.
“I really tried to make stuff that made me feel like…I was 16 again,” Shawn said, laughing at this confession. But “i dip” wasn’t purely an attempt at engineering a throwback piece of bouncy electronic music. Shawn said he still found a way to “integrate” his “current techniques and methodology” into making “i dip,” in addition to using his Ableton workflow to piece it all together (Ableton Live is a popular digital audio workstation [DAW] that many producers use to create and mix music).
DAWs weren’t new to the era of music that Shawn used as his sonic muse, though. “The late 2000’s is when, like, music software really started to be popular with kids who are growing up. And especially for me, playing Dance Dance Revolution was also really huge for me,” Shawn told HollywoodLife, referring to the video game-turned-dancing stage that was a go-to pit stop for every ’90s kid visiting an arcade center like Fun Factory.
While “i dip” is a result of Shawn’s experimentation with a darker undercurrent of electronic music, it’s actually a slight deviation from his usual work that has a signature bubbliness to it. Artist Ann Alfonso gave each single from his debut album that dropped in May of 2020, MANGOTALE, its own unique illustrated cover that can be compared to the sweet pastel styles of animations like Steven Universe and Bee and Puppycat, since each track tells the story of a character that serves the lore of Shawn’s Mangotale Island. The conception of these colorfully-depicted islands didn’t purely stem from the imagination of Shawn, though, who is Filipino-American and has family on the Philippines (which is actually made up of over 7,000 islands). Shawn recalled that to access the country’s city of Cebu, you have to cross a bridge from the airport — on the way over, Shawn said you’ll see a town painted with murals with “a very specific flavor of pastel.”
“I really like [Cebu’s] taste for colors and art. And in terms of the MANGOTALE art, I’ve always like, gravitated towards like those specific colors or like color palettes and [they also] remind me of like, seeing my family back at home,” Shawn explained. He later added, “I guess my whole MANGOTALE album was kind of me channeling what it’s like living on like — being on — those islands, and like hanging out with family and even just playing music in general.” This is also reflected in the many food themes across the album — one of the song titles, “HALO HALO,” is even named after the Philippines’ claim-to-fame in the dessert world — which is symbolic of the “warm, fuzzy feeling” that Shawn gets from gathering at the dinner table with his family.
But not all of the subtle influences from Shawn’s Filipino culture is this tangible. Some of these influences are deeply rooted in his subconscious. The subject of whether the Filipino culture has played a role in Shawn’s songs unlocked a “deep memory” for Shawn: watching Filipino television. Particularly, Wowowee, a variety show that dominated Philippines’ noontime airwaves between 2005-2010.
“[Wowowee] use[d] like a collection of sounds from this particular soundboard — I can like hear it from a mile away — and I always get weirdly triggered when I hear the laugh they play a lot,” Shawn joked as he laughed at the memory. He continued, “There’s like the slide whistle sound [too]…there’s like a bunch of weird sounds that are in this particular palette, that I associate with Filipino TV and culture a lot.” While Shawn may not be actively incorporating these sounds into the music he makes today, he did admit that these audio remnants of his childhood are “subconsciously” part of what he “hear[s] in [his] head.”
There are certain sounds, though, that Shawn actively tries to replicate — particularly ones that were blasted onto the streets of the Southern Philippines from cars. “They’re, like, modified so that they have speakers blaring out the back and they play just like, this crazy a** music,” Shawn said, likening the roads’ soundtracks to “really bouncy” and “high energy” electronic house music. “It sounds like some siren on top of like a kick drum that goes really fast,” Shawn added, who called the experience “weirdly hypnotic.” This has led Shawn to his present day challenge; he asked himself, “How the heck do I channel that?”
Whether Shawn is tuning into the blog house days of 2000’s club music, a sample from a video game (Shawn is an avid gamer, who is currently tackling Resident Evil Village), or his physical surroundings (whether that be in the Philippines or in LA), Shawn has a trained ear that picks up on these unique sounds and translates them to beautifully engineered music. This is not something anyone can do, contrary to what critics wary of this 21st century genre may think. “It’s not just like you push one key on the computer, and the A.I. [creates] the whole entire song structure and composition, [and] all the melodies and chord progressions in the drums,” Shawn, who was actually trained in classical music before falling into the art of beatmaking, pointed out. It’s Shawn who is doing all this meticulous work, with newer technology like Ableton and his Midi Fighter 64 simply being the new age versions of instruments like the piano and violin (both of which Shawn actually played) to create songs like “i dip” that generations past couldn’t before.
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