Oscar Key Sung is a musical hub. He’s an artist that is simultaneously exploring R&B’s nostalgic past while pushing the boundaries of pop music’s future. His music is all about movement whether it tugs, pushes, or pulls your emotions or your limbs. With widespread references, from classical composer Arvo Pärt right up to Drake, Oscar Key Sung’s music is all about inclusion. It’s this attitude that makes Oscar’s work, not to mention the man himself, so likeable. Ahead of the release of his second EP Altruism we tracked down Oscar to talk about his new music and how being a part of the internet generation made that music possible.
You’ve described your new EP Altruism as “a bit of a mess,” why is that?
What I mean by that is that there’s a seemingly multidimensional element to the project that makes it kind of a bit hard to get your head around. I’m the type of person who likes acoustic versions of songs that are really gentle but then I’m also really in to making heavy dance edits of songs, really aggressive music. There’s this duality and the sense that it’s not clear-cut. A lot of artists are marketed as one-dimensional and easier to digest, whereas my projects are nothing like that.
You released the track ‘Premonition’ and then a couple of weeks later you released a remix of it, are you someone who struggles with letting something be finished?
To me the finished version is the darker one that I put out first. I definitely really challenged myself to make it as sparse and as dark as possible. I just thought it would be really funny to do an edit of it where it’s very emotionally explicit and melodic. I thought it would be interesting to flip it. My point was you can say the same sentence with sixty different variations and they create different meaning.
You play a lot of shows either as your self or as a DJ, do you consciously do that because you work better feeding off a crowd?
I did a residency last year and I found that really useful. That was less about the crowd and more about me putting things to a crowd. Seeing what worked and seeing what didn’t and trying ideas out. I think there’s a real symbiosis between the audience and whoever’s making music. If I was making music just for myself than I wouldn’t show it at all. Like, if I’m going to show it then I should get a sense of what people think about it.
You’ve been quoted saying you’re a part of a “generation of oversaturation,” what does that mean to you?
It’s very literal, I’m not reinventing the wheel with this observation. We’ve grown up with the internet and are able to access the past and things that are geographically far away in a way that people couldn’t before. I think that has a few effects, like one is that you have a shorter attention span because you’re used to having a lot of media. Then there’s also that thing where you have less of an illusion about exoticism. You’re not like, “I’m going to reference an Oriental kind of edge as well as a European thing, and that’s going to be so crazy.” Since the internet exists you don’t glorify those things as much—you see them for what they are, which is another culture.
In turn does that changes the way you make music?
What it means is that the way stuff becomes hybrid is in really bizarre layered ways. You end up picking and choosing elements of so many different things you like and claiming them in your own way. I think that the type of music that’s being made at the moment is really an outcome of that, as well as the music I make.
You’ve referenced classical composer Arvo Pärt right up to Drake as influences, how does such wide-ranging taste influence you?
They’re two of my biggest influences. I listen to Arvo Pärt all the time, and while you listen to something that you’re interested in you deconstruct it intuitively. You get to know something and it starts to inform what you do and don’t like. What you do and don’t like then forms your decisions as you’re making something because you’ll be thinking, “I don’t like bass that sits in that range, I like it here,” and suddenly you’ve referenced something without even meaning to.
Is there pressure to be influenced or reference what people consider “good” music or “cool” music?
To me the worst thing that you could do is only reference cool stuff, it’s so predictable. It’s not a challenge either. It’s probably something that I’ve done more now than I have in the past. I think I often felt a little more alienated from pop culture but in the last couple of years I’ve felt more aligned with it. Things will be in the charts and I’m like, “oh I like this”, whereas in the past I was more interested in stuff that was on the fringe. I think it’s important to go, “bongos are really uncool, I’m going to put them in my song and I’m going to do it in a way that I like”. I think it’s cool to create those challenges and do something daggy.
Hip-hop is such an amazing example of that because it draws in so many new influences but it brings it in to that hip-hop world, in to that context and energy. That’s why it’s such an amazing on-going culture that’s able to reinvent itself.
Everyone in the local music scene is really supportive of one another, does that support ever feel claustrophobic?
Claustrophobia is an interesting word to use because there’s this sense that if you keep things within a circle there isn’t any room for expansion. Many times I’ve stepped outside of the implicit guidelines and unwritten rules of a scene or style and suddenly there’s this thought, “I’ve broken the rules”, but then it’s also refreshing. I went to billions of schools growing up, so I’ve always been someone who moves between groups of friends and can’t stick with one. I think that’s reflected in the way I traverse music scenes in Australia.
On the other hand I really like the idea of some of my kin in Australia collectively branching out and becoming next level together.
Altruism is out May 1st on Warner Music Australia