Photo By Yenny Park
Cloaked in a white hoodie two sizes too big in an illegal smoke cafe in Hong Kong, Toronto artist JIIN looks like a scientist as he taps his fingers to a beat soundtracking a silent clip from an old Japanese movie. “Everytime I watch something, I automatically soundtrack it in my mind, and vice versa. It can be a voice note or a weird thing I watched years ago. Probably why I can never sleep.” After years of experimenting with art, Jiin spends his summer in Asia picking up gigs like VJing for Korean artist Xin Seha—though he’s technically on vacation. He pulls up the solo opus he’s recently completed, a very personal solo EP called Cult Hymns, and plays it over his laptop. The sounds emitted from the speakers reminds you of something you would expect to hear in post-apocalyptic ruins. While he plays the music, he cues the accompanying visuals and the silhouetted features of a madman appear behind the white glare of the computer screen.
Taking inspiration from an array of themes, Jiin stays up at night watching old samurai movies like Sword of Doom, and listening to The Supremes while pairing them with visual concepts that capture the cyberpunk backdrop of Akira. In an age where the internet’s accessibility has nurtured ADHD attention spans and rewards instant gratifications, Jiin takes time to give breath to the details of every beat. What evolves from this type of craft is the ease at which a listener can dive into the song, embracing the setting created by Jiin without needing to be spoon fed the fantasy.
The Cult Hymns EP comes from years of wanting something more, a feeling that Jiin is familiar with, growing up isolated in Pickering, Ontario. “There’s nothing to do in there, unless you want to be married with a kid at 21.” Growing up and going to school, Jiin took up classical piano, taking weekend art classes and Chinese school as part of his parent’s desire that he be culturally enriched. “I couldn’t do formal theory, and I didn’t like art classes because I had to sit there and draw whatever I was told to.” These curricular activities allowed him to realize the dualism of art progression, one that could give him a diploma, and one that could put him in a place of endless inventive conceptualizations. Following the footsteps of past high school alumni such as Boi1da, Jordan Evans, and T Minus, Jiin realized that his success laid in the big city.
Learning the value of hard work in order to fund his vision, he took up odd jobs playing in video game competitions to win money, and was employed as a server at a Chinese restaurant. If he could just slowly build up the money for equipment, these odd jobs would all be worth it. “My parents knew I was committed to my craft, and even though they weren’t sure of it, there was nothing they could do if I paid for it myself.” After cleaning off lazy susans and beating opponents online, he had saved enough money to strip down his garage and transform it into a sanctuary of creations—without his parent’s consent. After nurturing his own artistry, he left Pickering behind with all the support he needed to go and pursue his artistic dream in the big city.
He moved out to Toronto to gather the technical means to pursue his work further and to study architecture. Missing prerequisites and professional requirements, Jiin's unwavering attitude to prove people wrong landed him some of his greatest work, creating visual projections for a number of well-known accounts. "When someone asks me to do something in three days, I do it in two. I like the challenge." Setting up an installation for Nuit Blanche, sound-tracking videos, creating visual projections for retailers, and working alongside the rise of Toronto’s music scene with Daniel Caesar, Jiin’s work ethic hasn’t ceased since he moved to the metropolis. Three years after silently perfecting his first independent project, Cult Hymns is the product of Jiin blending the industrial with the ethereal.
Within the seven tracks, JIIN—alongside the support of his friends and local Toronto artists Carlo Panuncialman and Norman Wong—has produced and directed a video for “Cult Logic” that mystifies you into a drunken and sultry state. Shot by Kevin Li in Toronto, a new world appears with karaoke subtitles and sensual background dancers transcending the everyday streets and buildings into a place of otherworldly presence. In it, JIIN steps out of the shadows to present a fresh experience for all the senses that challenge mainstream music. Remaining humble, he knows that reaching the top isn’t his goal. “It’s not about making it and stopping, it’s seeing how far it can go, what more can be created.”
Evelyn Kwong is a writer living in Toronto - @EVYSTADIUM