Tzekin champions a remarkable international community with ‘Skyline Death Remixes’

TZEKIN (aka Sydney-based producer and Eternal Dragonz co-founder Justin Tam) has released Skyline Death Remixes, a continuation of his triumphant debut LP Skyline Death, released last year. Where Skyline Death presented a signature palette of experimental Asian trance, R&B and club music featuring an all-Asian vocal team, the remix LP expands on the themes presented eight months ago, exploring concomitant sounds and directions.

The record features an all-star cast on remix duties: Sam Rui, et aliae, Sonia Calico, Kelvin T and Ao Wu; Eternal Dragonz collaborators x/o and MANIIK; and local Australian friends Strict Face and Tracy Chen. As Tam explains, “they’ve all become close collaborators and friends I’ve met in recent years touring Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan. It’s a personal documenting of each similar scene that’s flourishing there, and I want to share those scenes.”

The remixes focus on five of the eleven Skyline Death tracks: with three remixes each for ‘Sunset Spot (feat. Slodown)’, ‘Hush (feat. Alice Vicious)’, and ‘Lonely (feat. MOLDY)’; a remix and cover of ‘Skyline Death’, and one remix of ‘Suicide Doors’. It makes sense to focus on a number of key tracks in a large-scale project like this, giving listeners the chance to hear different approaches to the same material.

A confident opening, Strict Face’s ‘Re-Strict’ of ‘Sunset Spot’ refracts the original through his signature left-of-centre grime, layering metallic synths and stuttering drum patterns.

The three remixes of ‘Hush’ come via x/o, et aliae, and Ao Wu respectively. x/o and et aliae take similar approaches, opting for seductive club mixes, but there’s a satisfying difference in how x/o takes ‘Hush’ into the after-hours, whereas et aliae calibrates things for peak-hour. On the other hand, Ao Wu incorporates abstract synth work and percussion, pushing and pulling at Alice Vicious’ smooth cadence.

Tzekin himself contributes two remixes, a ‘QQ Remix’ of ‘Skyline Death’ and an ‘NG+ Remix’ of ‘Lonely’, track-listed back to back. In the former he largely strips away the prowling low end, replacing it with scattered kicks and plucks, clattering samples and pitch-twisted vocal clips. Similar vocal processing crosses over into his flip of ‘Lonely,’ bending MOLDY’s precise, hypnotic rap around the listener’s head over a tough beat.

Kelvin T remixes ‘Lonely’ twice – in ‘Slime Green’ with hectic, gabber-esque percussion, and ‘Dying Magenta’ with its glitchy textures and doomy downtempo. The ‘Slime Green’ version is easily the hardest moment on the record, but Sonia Calico’s incredible, trance-ish treatment of ‘Suicide Doors’ is a close second. Coming to a complete standstill about half-way through before propelling into a gurgling bassline, breaks-y topper, and euphoric synths makes for an easy highlight.

MANIIK’s cover of ‘Skyline Death’ is a radiant interpretation, bringing the percussion down a notch and the rich chords up in the mix. There’s something particularly resonant in both this cover and Sam Rui’s version of ‘Sunset Spot’, eking out a space within the yearning of contemporary RnB that’s entirely unique, led by strong Asian voices and unique diasporic perspectives. Placing Sam Rui’s version next to Tracy Chen’s remix of the same track is a canny decision- Chen tenderly chops and screws the original into the realm of sound collage, contributing a blissful outro.

An urban melancholy oozes out of these tracks, to fantastic effect. This is a soundtrack to teenage years spent bored in suburbs amidst identarian unrest, late nights in karaoke bars and underground club nights, internet deep-dives and pan-genre scavenging. There’s a distinct sense of narrative to the sounds presented here, a behind-the-scenes drama to which we’re not quite invited, but whose aftereffects are felt keenly.

In my original write-up for Tzekin‘s Skyline Death, I wrote that the album was “electic yet internally consistent, ambitious yet endearingly DIY, powerful and direct yet also subtle.” The same can easily be said for Skyline Death Remixes, with a more significant flavour of mutation to this collection – playfully, sincerely warping the sonic environment so many ethnic kids come up in, sounds of the mainstream warped to fit alternate minority worlds. It’s clear that Tzekin and co. trade in these kinds of popular references without eye-rolling or post-ironic posturing.

As with the original Skyline Death, Skyline Death Remixes is a wonderful genuine fake; a tongue-in-cheek yet sincere recapitulation of the contextual elements informing contemporary diasporic existence. I find it deeply refreshing to be given the opportunity (again!) to glimpse into the world of Tzekin, his friends and collaborators, who are evidently operating within a remarkable international community of creativity and collaboration.

Photo by Boudist

Words by MICHAEL STRATFORD HUTCH

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One-time cellist, ballroom dance champion, youth cult leader, Cocteau Twins superfan, and karate kid, now bringing you the best in new Australian music (at least until I get into clown school).