Introspective beats from the Chinese-German artist.
Uplifting open-air techno with pentatonic scales; bouncy nu-disco with woodwinds; nimble plucked strings against broken beats; pensive traditional Chinese instrumentation formed into ambient haze. These are some of the things you'll hear on Sam Goku's debut album, East Dimensional Riddims, released this month on Atomnation. It's a lush, rewarding album that brings together both strands of the Chinese-German artist's upbringing, carefully folding in Chinese instrumentation, samples and musical ideas in an irresistibly seamless way. Put short, it's downright beautiful.
Sam Goku's music is so touching in part because it's largely inspired by his goal to recreate memories and evoke old feelings from throughout his life, sepia-toned snapshots of certain places and certain times. It's warm and welcoming, like a hug, even at its clubbiest. His RA Podcast was inspired specifically by a year living in China with his grandparents, with a patio "full of flowers and plants." It's a simple but lovely image whose feeling comes across in the mix, which starts with gentle, patient tracks from artists like Ana Roxane and Facta, sounding content and relaxed.
The music rises in pitch and feeling over the course of its hour-and-change, turning into what Sam Goku imagines his sets might sound like post-pandemic. But the sense of steadiness, of calm, is still there, embodied by highlights from Call Super & Parris, Bufiman and, of course, Sam Goku himself. He's one of those artists whose music sounds familiar, almost comforting, that the feeling is hard to describe. You just have to listen for yourself, and hopefully you'll understand.
What have you been up to recently?
I’m on a little break from making music, trying to regain creative energy. Recording mixes has given me lots of inspiration, though. Aside from that: taking walks, listening to music, keeping our new home and reading. In the time writing this, I'm also waiting for my debut album to be released.
How and where was the mix recorded?
Recently, I've purchased a pair of XDJ-700s and borrowed a two-band rotary mixer from my friend. I moved into a new home with my girlfriend and I set up a little home studio in what's supposed to be the children's room one day—that's where I recorded the mix.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Like with a lot of my music, I try to recollect memories and feelings from the past and put them into sounds. When I was little, I lived with my grandparents in China for a year. They had a classic Oriental patio full of flowers and plants, where aunts and uncles lived too. That's the starting point for this mix. The second part is probably more a wishful imagination of music I would play if we can dance together again.
Your new album, East Dimensional Riddims, incorporates Chinese sounds and instruments. Can you explain more about how you work these elements into dance music?
I created a sample bank with a lot of Asian instrument and drum samples, field recordings and other interesting bits and pieces like chanting monks and street festival recordings. I try to experiment with them and use them in a way that favors the rhythm, groove and spirit of the track. It helps me a lot to think of music in more abstract terms like tone and shape, rather than thinking of classic dance music components like hi-hats, toms or pads. I feel like this way, dance music patterns can be translated into new and exciting forms without losing its foundation, which to me is its functionality.
Why is it important to you to represent your heritage in electronic music? Do you feel connected to the flourishing club music scene in China right now?
Both my parents are from mainland China and came to Germany when they were in their mid-20s as part of a student exchange program. I was born in Germany but lived with my grandparents in China for a while when I was little. Also with both my parents being relatively new to German culture when I was born, I'd say my upbringing—especially in the first couple of years—was Chinese for the most part. Only later when I got into Kindergarten, I learned to speak German, and with the language came the understanding of German culture and mentality. So to a certain degree, I experienced both ways at a young age. I learned to try and see things from different perspectives.
I have the feeling that a lot of tension in the world is created when people think they are right while the others are wrong or even have supposedly bad intentions. For me, it can't be that simple. We should communicate on a human level and talk about the problems rather than pointing fingers. I know it is a difficult task and I often find myself failing to live up to it in everyday life, but it is a utopia that I find worth striving for. These are some of the thoughts that go through my head, which I am trying to express through my work.
When I visit China, most of the time, I am visiting family overseas so I haven't been able to really explore China's emergent young scene but I've certainly heard and read a lot of very exciting things. Hopefully I can explore it more, when the pandemic subsides.
What are you up to next?
I'm starting to feel inspired again. I'm going to sit down and write music, also record some more mixes. Our new home needs some more furnishings too. An agency has started working with me and there are a lot of new things to take in so I'm actually pretty excited for the things to come!