Friday night I had the opportunity to see Seoul-based electronic producer-singer CIFIKA perform at Virgin Hotel in Chicago. She’s in the middle of a United States tour that is the longest ever stretch for a Korean musician. Two weeks ago she released her second EP, Prism, and performed at South By Southwest to rave reviews last week.
I found her to be very warm and engaging. I could’ve talked to her for much longer, but her schedule for these dates is tight so I didn’t want to hold her up any longer than necessary. Below, find our brief chat as well as some photos from her show.
You spent time here in the US when you were younger. How did your time living in the United States influence you?
I was actually born and raised in Korea until I was 15 years old, which is up through Junior High. And then I moved to the States by myself and went to an American High School without speaking any English. That’s where my second cultural background kind of built up. So, I’m like, multicultural and bilingual but I’m not perfect. I’m not a fluent speaker in English or Korean. I’m, like in the middle. I don’t belong to anywhere-the universe.
A citizen of Earth.
Yes. But I want to emigrate to Mars or Europa.
Seoul is known as one of the biggest tech cities in the world. Has that environment influenced your songwriting and approach to music?
That’s very interesting. I started making music when I was in LA. I would say at that time I tended to make chill, slower beat music. After I moved to Korea, my beats got more intense and dark. More cold. And I think the city plays a really big part.
People are less friendly-in a good way. They’re very individual, like New Yorkers. We don’t have a hugging culture. We don’t hug people when we meet. We shake hands or we just bow down. So that to me was really weird, because I’m such a hugging person. I felt like everything was kind of distant and cold and very individual. You kind of isolate yourself. So that kind of emerges from my music on my first EP. But second EP I think I got used to that environment so I utilized that vibe and transformed back to my warm music, my warm world.
You sing in both English and Korean in your music, often switching back and forth multiple times in a song. Is this a way to keep the listener in a different world? One not so tethered to reality?
Yeah that’s the most honest way for me to express myself. I don’t want to look up a word that I don’t know of and use it. That’s why it became half Korean half English.
The visuals in your videos for “MOMOM” and “Intelligensia” are very striking. Do you have any interest in making short films with your music?
I’m actually from a graphic design background. I majored in Communication Design. That plays a really big part, because I first visualize my music and then transform it into music. I actually play a part in production. We have a lot of meetings to come up with ideas.
You’ve released 2 EP’s and a few singles in the last couple years. Can we expect a full-length album is coming soon?
I do want to do a full-length. I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel like I had enough power to convince myself to actually put all the music into one album because it’s not cohesive yet. I haven’t built my style yet. Now I want to try because I’ve done two EP’s and singles. Yeah.
Do you feel like the tour is helping put everything together?
Yeah. Very much.
You’re right in the middle of the longest US tour by a Korean artist. Why hasn’t Korean music (or Asian music in any form, really) become more popular here in the States?
Well it was always my dream to perform in America, which is my second home. It’s fun to perform as an artist both in Korean and in English. Once my tour agency suggested to have the longest tour, I was like “Hell yeah!” It was small clubs so it was more intimate and I could reach out to local people to get my music known. I thought it was really interesting.
You’ve received comparisons to some very talented artists like Bjork and Drake since your performance at South by Southwest last weekend. Do comments like that hinder your creativity?
Not really. I love to listen to Bjork and Drake, but I don’t think they’re similar to me. I take it as a compliment. I still listen to Bjork and James Blake and other artists that I’ve been compared with. So it doesn’t really block me or limit me from making music.