Beatport Next: Closet Yi and the Underground Sound of Seoul

Seoul-based DJ/producer and Beatport Next star Closet Yi discusses her city’s underground culture and her ever-evolving dance floor productions.

10 min
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May 19, 2023
Cameron Holbrook

An avid student of the South Korean capital’s club culture, Closet Yi — the Seoul-based DJ/producer and member of our Beatport Next Class of 2023 — has her city’s underground scene on lock. She’s been hitting the decks and bolstering her epic vinyl collection for the better part of eight years, eagerly locking down bookings around Seoul’s best dance venues and always jumping at the opportunity to open for international selectors who would come to visit.

It wasn’t long before Closet Yi became a staple of her city’s underground electronic community, building a loyal fanbase who appeared in droves to hear her regale the dance floor with rare cuts and adventurous grooves filled with ramped-up heights and dazzling ravines. A natural crate digger, Closet Yi and her multifarious music knowledge and track arsenal landed her a job as a librarian and resident DJ at Seoul’s Hyundai Card Music Library — a remarkable space that holds over 10,000 records and allows visitors to search, spin, and enjoy their archival collection.

It was in 2019 that Closet Yi first leaped into production, and her innate ability to compose everything from blissed-out electronica to spellbinding breaks, colossal club weapons, attentive techno, and more caught on with labels both at home and abroad. She now boasts releases and remixes on Seb Wildblood’s All My Thoughts, Anfisa Letyago’s N:S:DA, Scuba’s Hotflush Recordings, SOS MUSIC, Ninja Tune, Curving Track, and most recently, Peggy Gou’s Gudu Records.

With the arrival of her single “Sonder” on the label’s debut V/A, Gudu & Friends Vol. 1, we caught up with Closet Yi to learn more about Korea’s underground dance floor community, how her productions have evolved over the years, her plans for the summer, and more.

Check out Closet Yi’s most recent Beatport chart.

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Thanks for joining us! How has 2023 been treating you thus far?

Honestly can’t believe it’s half past May already. I’ve been keeping my cycle quite ok, healthy and lively, but also with some unexpected news and bookings as well! 2023 has been kind so far, but the first quarter was actually a prep phase, making lots of music and planning this and that with the team so I’m more excited than ever.

Bring us back to the moment when dance music first captured your imagination and how this eventually informed your journey into DJing.

It’s funny because where I grew up in Seoul, it was mostly about K-pop and some kind of MTV pop music, but I remember listening to more atmospheric and new age style like moby, ryuichi sakamoto, and game soundtracks. It comes from my older sister who actually was a heavy gamer at that time, and I think this led me to feel comfortable when I got more exposed to electronic dance music. So for me I would say dance music was ‘home music’ even before I actually knew that it was DJ music.

What is your earliest or best dance floor memory from when you first started going to clubs? Tell us about Pistil Seoul and some of your biggest takeaways from your nights spent there.

From the first day I went to Cakeshop Seoul and the first all-night-long DJ set that I played in Pistil, it’s all connected as the golden era of the 2010s in Seoul’s club scene. House music was thriving, the guest lists were always flooding, and people were kind. I always stayed in the clubs from the start to the end, and learned the magic of filling out the crowd, building a vibe, and touching people’s hearts with unexpected tracks from infamous musicians.

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In addition to growing up in Seoul, you also spent some of your childhood living in Baltimore, which undoubtedly helped inspire your Bmore Baby EP. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Bmore Baby is about finding out the path that I walked pass, whether it was on my intention or not. After I became a grown up I realized the rich legacy and amazing stories of where I went to school and ate hot dogs, so I wanted to have a moment to study the music and play with it in my own way. It certainly isn’t the typical Baltimore taste, but would be great if the fans can cope with it as my little study project!

How would you describe the current state and attitude of Korea’s electronic music community? What underground sounds and artists currently dominate the airwaves in and around your city?

I would say the community survived through the hard times, and now has quite a broad spectrum within the dance culture. If you seek to figure out a certain scene when you visit, you’ll be able to locate it. I think it’s safe enough to say that dubstep, drum&bass, and juke safely settled down here, and also influenced the major k-pop scene as well. However, I feel that there’s still not enough producers or young kids who are throwing out their works to the world. I wish there were more self made labels rooted here.

Since first hitting us with your release on Seb Wildblood’s All My Thoughts back in 2020, how has your music production mindset and approach changed over the past three years?

Since then, I have tried different ways, both technical and emotion-wise, but I feel like I always end up in the very end at the same place in my heart. The Simmer EP was a hard breakthrough for me trying to develop the sound that I aimed for at that time. I think I finally felt comfortable about myself where I was after finishing that EP, which is obscure but somewhere between UK bass, techno, house, balearic and everything. Before, I kept asking myself, ‘are you this type or that genre producer?’ But now I’m over that and more enjoying the time making something.

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How does it feel to be a part of the Beatport Next Class of 2023?

At first it almost didn’t feel realistic, but if you think of actually being one of ‘eight’ producers in the field I feel butterflies everytime. Sometimes this path can be a lonely journey, and I definitely had some moments having doubts on myself, but these are what makes you go one step ahead from that and keep pushing so I’m really grateful about it.

Tell us about the track that you made for the Gudu & Friends – Vol. 1 compilation. How did you get linked up with Peggy Gou for this?

Well, we all know how well she made her own path through the industry, so I’ve been following up her stories way before she got to know me, I’m sure! “Sonder” is a happy track filled with hope, and I thought it goes well with Peggy and Gudu’s positive energy. Sometimes it’s quite hard to make a happy track, and when you make it, you wanna play it with the right people.

What are you most looking forward to this summer and do you have any upcoming releases we should know about?

Going back to Europe and catching up with my friends, I guess! I try to be there regularly in the summer, and this time I have some gigs booked for France and other cities, so hopefully, it’s gonna be a good one. I do have a new EP. Actually… two EPs! Aiming for release before summer fades, so fingers crossed.

Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American Editor. Find him on Twitter or Instagram.

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