Like many young musicians, Los Angeles–based beatmaker Jason Chung (aka Nosaj Thing) isn’t much more than the sum of his influences. What’s remarkable about Chung is how deftly he distills and commingles secondhand sounds, borrowing from Aphex Twin his harmonic intricacy, from Christian Fennesz an interest in degraded digital textures, and from Boards of Canada a woozy, dreamlike ambience. Chung’s Europhilic approach to melody and atmosphere is offset in nearly all of his tracks by a thoroughly American rhythmic sensibility, a thumping soul-clap that betrays his former life as a hip-hop scratch nerd.
The producer’s first album, last year’s Drift, is among the best releases yet from the emergent Los Angeles beat-music scene, home to left-field mavericks like Flying Lotus and Samiyam. Nosaj Thing might be the most tuneful of his SoCal cohorts, his shimmering synth parts erecting fields of totemic ice-sculptures in the mind’s eye. A computer musician, Chung shares with most laptop producers an obsession with beautiful sound-making over proper songcraft.
“I can’t imagine another style of music where you have complete control over every single noise,” says the producer, reached at his home in Pasadena. “When I started listening to electronic music, I was just drawn to hearing sounds I’d never heard before. Usually when I start a song, I don’t really think too much about what I’m going to make or how I’m going to do it. It’s kind of therapeutic for me; I keep my mind blank and just go straight from feel.”
At 25, Chung’s a typical second-wave laptop artist, less interested in the recursive sound design experiments that characterized the Clicks & Cuts generation than with the pop-psychedelic energies of 21st-century club culture. In developing his live shows, for instance, Chung cites a greater affinity with riotous L.A. noise makers like HEALTH and Abe Vigoda than with any of the eggheads playing Mutek this year.
“Most electronic shows are pretty boring, especially when you just see someone behind their laptop not really doing anything,” he says. “When I was in high school, I used to go to this venue called the Smell downtown, which was this DIY punk and experimental-noise venue. I saw so many acts there that gave some of the best performances I’ve seen with very little equipment—just guitar pedals, talk boxes, and cheap Casio synthesizers. That scene and those shows really inspired me in what I try to do live.”
Last December, Nosaj Thing debuted a special audio-visual performance for a hometown audience; YouTube clips depict him as a tiny figure set against a cinema screen, pixelated bursts of colour falling around him like so much digital confetti. It’s a gorgeous-looking presentation, but one, unfortunately, that cost constraints will prevent him from lugging around on his current North American jaunt. With remixes in the can for Radiohead, Drake, and the xx, though, the budget to fund Chung’s touring multimedia extravaganza can’t be far behind.
“When I first started making music, I’d never really imagined performing what I made,” he says. “Now, I actually really enjoy doing live shows. Seeing acts like Cornelius, Daft Punk and Daedelus—that inspired me to take the live performance to the next level. With the visuals show, it feels like I’m getting there.”
Nosaj Thing plays Fortune Sound Club on Tuesday (February 9).