K-Pop has arrived and we don't know what to do with it. If you're old and exhausted by the sensory overload, chances are you'll take the slightly bemused, "Aren't these Asian people crazy?" approach to K-Pop's bizarre antics… at least until they get really, really weird. If you're of the millenial persuasion, you probably either hate the genre's highly stylized guts, or you devour it like a pop narcotic. Western media coverage has been mostly lackluster, relying heavily on unfortunate East-meets-West rhetoric; see Complex Magazine's recent cover story on BIGBANG member and ascendant K-Pop star G-Dragon for a taste of lazy exoticism.
But for real though, K-Pop is weird. It's a behemoth that weds saccharine hooks and dubstep drops with a sort of unified fandom and commercial success that must make major labels in the US wistful for the days of TRL (or wish we hadn't been so mean when Jay-Z tried to NSA our phones). But the Korean Wave, also known as hallyu, certainly has its own seedy underbelly: rampant plastic surgery, training regimens often referred to as "slave contracts," and suicide rates so persistent the South Korean government set up support centers for abused performers.
Still, we tend to throw our hands up, resigned to the idea that K-Pop is a mysterious alien force, or part of that general relinquishing of criticality in the face of a tweaked-out Asian Other from the future. If this feels unsatisfying, that's probably because it's reductive as fuck.
Enter Tzechar, the anonymous champion of the K-pop remix. I first came across their YouTube videos during the initial crest of North American Mainstream K-Pop Awareness—I'd say, late summer of 2012. Displaying the cultural literacy and experimental knack we laud producers like Ryan Hemsworth or Evian Christ for, Tzechar is an insanely intelligent weirdo remixer of K-Pop. Take the following bootleg of G-Dragon and T.O.P.'s Diplo-produced hit "Knockout"—a rap song that samples Cajmere's "Percolator" noises and comes with a sticky, nonsensical hook about double trouble and bubble gum:
Tzechar doesn't just add an extra bassline or some hi-hats. He breaks the song down piece-by-piece and flips the tone completely, then cannibalizes the original video, re-editing one frame at a time to string together micro-expressions. The result is a fast-paced flipbook of mascara'd winks, manicured handwave, high drama pop and locks, and gender-amiguous hair cuts. Unlike the typical 2NE1 groupie, Tzechar spits out K-Pop's cultural technology in a totally mutant form.
Like all good things on the internet, Tzechar is a massive time sink. There's the Soundcloud, confusingly named Lam Suet after the Luis Guzman-esque Hong Kong actor and Stephen Chow associate. Tracks include this fast-talking version of G-Dragon's "One of A Kind," which is all ricocheting woodblock percussion, 1930s Chinese Jazz singer Zhou Xuan samples, and a non-sequitur transition to a loop of an auction caller.
There's also a "night bus music" mix for the record label Hush Hush that pairs more Zhou Xuan with Deus Ex OSTs and Swedish post-metal band Cult of Luna. A Tumblr posts GIFs in the same stuttering style of the videos, responding to questions about Tzechar's identity with pictures of a dyed toy poodle. On top of all that, there's the overwhelming YouTube channel, which has an alternablast-meets-Tim-and-Eric series of videos called "Meanwhiles." Go check it out, if only to watch BIGBANG's Seungri mangle the words "Genoa Ceviche" for five minutes as that Jeff Koons statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the Monkey floats around, superimposed on the background.
There is also this, which I am blissfully without reference for.
Like many good things on the internet, Tzechar is diffusive and mysterious. No Twitter presence, no angry streak of Youtube comments on Inkigayo channels, no selfies with other producers, no organizational associations other than a mix for the Seattle label Hush Hush. It's as contextless as possible in the Wiki era, allowing one to contemplate whether Tzechar is a superfan, a secret troll, or possibly an algorithmic creation resembling a Soundcloud producer in a reverse Horse_ebooks situation. In any case, there's actual anonymity and actual agency at work—a flip of the K-Pop blank-zombie-fan archetype.
There's always the urge to pull back the curtain, of course, and on that impulse I emailed the address listed on the Soundcloud. Surprisingly, Tzechar was more than happy to answer questions, but only on Gchat. The first shocker was that Tzechar is actually two people: Lam Suet, a male secret scientist (he apologized for not being able to say more) who does all the music, and Self-Obsessed, a female artist who does everything else. Tzechar is also the name of a Singaporean cuisine that's "a little bit of everything," according to them. Both in their mid-twenties and of Asian descent—probably Chinese—the pair lives together in Australia. She claimed to be mentally ill and in need of a guardian, but sarcasm and trolling is hard to tell on Gchat, so who knows. Regardless, they admitted to a hermeticism so stringent that none of their IRL acquaintances knew about Tzechar.
Lam Suet elaborated that what drove him to make the remixes was speculating on what would happen "if K-Pop didn't re-appropriate 'Western' genres the same way it does now, but if in rural Korea in 1980, some kids got 808s and synths. It would develop in a completely different trajectory." This idea of an alternate history of Asian dance music comes to full fruition with Tzechar's later tracks, many of which are featured on their Celestial mixtape. There's also "Dai Lo," which rips out the G-Dragon vocals from the "One of A Kind" remix, and "Fire and Thieves," which chops up the sound of a man grunting into a descending melody over ghostly throat singing.
Describing their ideal audience as an "incidental" one, the two seemed pleased when I pointed out that I found their work without the usual tag-cloud of context hovering around it and that I had sensed some sort of Chinese musical influence but didn't really have any references to back it up. Upon signing out of my two-hour Gchat session with the couple, I still couldn't be asked to explain the deeper meaning behind their entire project, but I certainly felt a sense of validation. They'd cemented themselves not only as the hyper-intelligent, (somewhat) humanized K-Pop fans that I'd been looking for, but also as a distorted mirror image to K-Pop's technologicla agenda—one that is just as meticulously thought out, but with visual glitches where sparkling perfection usually reigns. While hallyu so often seems transparently desperate for your attention, Tzechar's remixes retreat into an enticingly opaque, if entirely surreal, alternative musical history.