The 28-year-old Los Angeles native Jason Chung, known to most of the world as producer Nosaj Thing, has been an integral component to southern California’s burgeoning synth-laden post-dance movement. For the unfamiliar, Chung’s music exists at the intersecting paths of rapidly evolving technology and digital music production, often incorporating a tranquil assortment of synthesized sounds, echoes, syncopated percussion, and mesmerizing vocals that produce a full body experience that feels as though it’s approaching you from all directions. The production’s styling is often likened to fellow Los Angeles based producer Flying Lotus, more likely for proximity and friendship than actual composition, and exists in contrast to the pulsating build-ups and drops of popular electronic/dub-step artists. He just refers to his work as “Beat music.”[i]
Music has always been a major component in Chung’s life. It started out as experimentation with instruments: the Sax in grade school, the clarinet in in junior high, and the drum line in high-school. At the impressionable age of 12, Chung was introduced to turntables and the tenants of DJing by a friend’s older brother. In the late 90s came the first wave of widely available music production software, and in a conversation with Michaelangelo Matos he explains, “A friend gave me a bootleg version of some music-production software. I installed it in my dad's computer, and I never looked back. It was just having a little bit of musical background and being really familiar with software and programs. It's easy to for me to figure out the software and start doing music. It's pretty much all I did.”[ii] It was a passion transferred to digital.
Nosaj Thing @ Club Arkham
After nearly a decade of low key electronic hip-hop production and stints at L.A. locales like Smell, Nosaj self-released his debut EP “Views/Octopus” in 2006. The EP was the first showcase of his modular sound for a mass audience. Nosaj compiled and played each of the unique sounds heard on the album. In a genre that is best known for its samples and mashups of borrowed sounds, finding an artist “creating” with real instruments is something special. The track “Aquarium” was eventually sampled by Kid Cudi as the basis for “Man on the Moon.”[iii]
Following the positive reception of “Views/Octopus” Nosaj continued to hone his production skills producing collaboratively with his Los Angeles compatriots and building an impassioned following performing at Low End Theory (the younger brother and successor to Smell). [iv] The venue that played home base to Daddy Kev (the longtime L.A. producer), FlyLo’s Brainfeeder imprint, Ras G, and Daedelus, was integral to collecting like-minded artists and planting them in an environment conducive to growing and expanding their unique sound while simultaneously providing the necessary exposure to thrive. Eventually this led to the release of “Drift”, Chung’s first studio release.
The 36-minute long “Drift” was compiled with cuts produced over a 3-year span and released in 2009 on Alpha Pup Records to critical acclaim. Metacritic lists the album with a composite score of 83, and Pitchfork praised the work for its composition, especially the often overlooked elements of Chung’s production, writing, “There are sonic Easter Eggs for a thousand listens here, and it would take six pairs of headphones and an equal number of high-grade strains of weed to track them all down.”[v] More importantly, this album, like the works of his contemporaries, helped to take electronic instrumental hip-hop to a level not previously experienced, which is to say, it stood up on its own without the help of an MC.
Nosaj Thing @ Club Arkham
In the 4-years between the releases of “Drift” and “Home”, Chung has racked up a number of notable collaborations working with some of the biggest names in music. Originally entering the game as a hip-hop aficionado with exemplary electronic production skills and an ear for obscure sounds, by mid-2013 Chung’s canon included remixes for Radiohead, Drake, The xx, and Portishead; and production credits for Trinidad James, Kid Cudi, and Kendrick Lamar. It’s no surprise that there was a great deal of anticipation for the producer’s next solo venture.
On January 22, 2013, “Home,” the second studio album from Nosaj was released. The work’s reception was mostly positive and similarly to the first received favorable reviews from most major publications. To the chagrin of some and praise of other the album was softer and more accessible. The album maintains a slow and methodical feel through and utilizes the vocals of Toro Y Moi and Kazu Makino to reinforce the down tempo and relaxing feel, which is notably less discordant than sounds experienced on “Drift.” This is not meant to detract from the complexity and nuances of the album, where synthesizers, bass lines, and slow breaks are seamlessly woven together creating an ethereal and distinctly evocative sound. Its meant to emphasize the evolution of the sound.
Nosaj’s sound is unique. His sound is complex. His sound is soothing. His sound is composed of the everyday. If his work is something you’ve chosen to overlook in the past, or he’s just flow under your radar while your ear has continued to experience the popularity of electronic music, it’s about time to change gears and listen to a collection of solid beats and production which are likely to leave you anticipating his next release, which sadly you may have to wait some time for.
Produced by: Dan Hwang