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Music across borders

Singer-songwriter, producer and deejay Shelhiel plays electronic pop beats influenced by the digital sound wave and beyond

Article from the Sun daily by Jason Lim (posted on 21 Apr 2020)

THIS Malaysian pop star took the music industry by storm when he made his break in 2013 as the first runner-up in 8TV’s The Ultimate Song competition.

Since then, Shelhiel continues to make waves in the regional English and Chinese electronic-pop scene, and has built a reputation for his energetic gigs, opening for international artistes including FKJ, Tennyson, Hyukoh and Crystal Castles.

The 27-year-old lad also won the Best Arranger Award at the prestigious Malaysia PWH Music Award 2018 for the song Extrication in collaboration with Malaysian singers Shio and Miss Ko. Later, Extrication was picked as the theme song for the Netflix Original series The Ghost Bride.

It’s been a whirlwind ride for Shelhiel himself. He shares: “The journey has been an exciting one, just like unwrapping presents where it reveals parts of what you can grasp, and expanding your skillset, letting you grow as an artiste, as well as a person.”

What is music to you?

“It’s the art of emotional provocation compacted in a sound energy capsule. It has got to make you feel some type of way, right? And of course, my answer changes a lot as I grow older.”

How would you describe the style or genre of your music?

“The kind of music I play is definitely greatly influenced by electronic music. Growing up in church, I took up classical piano lessons, however, my family at the time couldn’t afford to get any PlayStation consoles or even GameBoy (though I was given one when I was 16), so all I was playing were computer games on Windows 98 and XP, as well as old 8-bit, 16-bit & 32-bit games like Street Of Rage 1, 2 and 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Metal Slug and Pokemon.

“I didn’t realise how much ‘raving’ I was already doing since I was around age 12 up until the end of high school, listening to hardcore, funky, techno, house 8-bit music by Yuzo Koshiro. And, no one can ever forget the iconic Pokemon game’s background music. When Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex came out [in 2010] is around when I started to learn how to produce music.

“You can imagine how much I was able to finally express my music aptitude, combining classical piano, church music and the sound of computer games. I’d say that I’m playing pop music now, but I’m always up for playing with different genres. Life is too short, so you’ve got to do them all!”

Would you say that you’re still experimenting with the kind of music you play?

“I think I’ve found ways to categorise my different types of music into various projects, it’s like keeping new books on different shelves.

“The toughest challenge now is not about finding my ‘sound’ but how to curate and present it in a song and be visually-appealing. As a maximalist myself, my work now is to find purpose in every single sound existing in a track; to create a balance between randomness versus pre-planning, just like writing music based on commercial versus cultural values.”

As you write a song, how do you know when it’s completed?

“That’s what you have to learn during your years as an artiste – when to stop, and when to know it’s done. Instinct and tastefulness matter so much in decision making and visualising, it might even be more vital than the amount of skillsets you have as a creative.

“I think I can always write a song no matter when or how, but the challenge is knowing if it’s going to be a good one or a repetitive one. Though I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, but I would say that I take breaks in between creating music to get the creative juices fresh and poppin’.”

Having collaborated with different artistes over the years, what do you think collaborations between artistes mean today?

“Collaborations between artistes have evolved so much. I’ve directed my first music video during the Movement Control Order – Fashion Angel (ASIA REMIX) featuring Laze, SOWUT, jiafeng, Orang Malaya and Ninjaboi.

“As we were all self-isolating while I was stuck in my hometown in Kedah, I had to be constantly on Instagram, WhatsApp and WeChat to get everyone right on their parts.

“Everyone had to send me their videos and verses from all over the world [including] Malaysia, China, UK, Taiwan and Indonesia, and not forgetting my video team from Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru. There are really no boundaries now, so do whatever you’ve got to do to express your work to the fullest.”


What are your thoughts on the current music scene in Malaysia?

“Not the fastest, yet not the slowest-paced, but it’s always so interesting. We’re so pampered by the diversity of our cultures, languages and music styles. And honestly, I’m not entirely mad if sometimes we get segregated because of certain genres or communities. It’s just a matter of time where everything is going to come together as one.

“I was talking to a few younger artistes in my friend’s studio and I could feel their enthusiasm, which is amazing. They’re a fearless generation ready to create art, and unafraid to make mistakes while still having fun. It has come to a point where big music labels don’t really matter anymore, where everyone can just release their own music in their own right.”

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