FG Feature｜An Interview with Rapper Turned Producer Machi DiDi
Nov 21st | by Cindy Chang
Author: 李宗唐, Translator: Will | November 15th, 2019
For those familiar with him, a mention of the name Machi DiDi and you would automatically conjure up images of the bright-eyed 13-year-old rapper that he was 16 years ago. However, since then much has changed. Now Machi DiDi is back with a new album which sees him take a wildly different direction from his previous work. Consisting of 10 tracks, My Wave straddles multiple genres, incorporating vocal and instrumental tracks whilst bouncing between hip-hop, EDM, trap and so on.
If you haven't heard of him already, US-born Taiwanese musician Machi DiDi (real name Andrew Chou) rose to fame back in the early noughties as part of hip hop group Machi— of which he was the youngest member. Although the group disbanded in 2007, Machi DiDi's passion for creating music never died down, so he pushed himself to learn new skills and experiment with new styles. Following a long hiatus (during which he attended college in the US), Machi DiDi moved back to Taiwan in 2015 and soon after announced his official comeback, uploading a new single Machi DiDi is Back to YouTube.
This move would not only signify his return to rap, but also his entry into the world of electronic music production. In November, the rapper-cum-producer came to the FestGround studio to discuss his change in direction, as well as the release of his first full-length studio album My Wave.
Breaking Away From his Childhood Image
In the past, Machi DiDi gained a reputation for his lightning fast rap skills, noticeable in tracks like the classic Pi Li Pa La. However, following an extended break he began to rebrand himself by gradually posting remixes of other artists' work— showing the full extent of his talent as an electronic music producer. Since then, Machi DiDi has been invited to play at nightclubs and music festivals, whilst at the same time working with popular singers like to produce a myriad of highly acclaimed tracks. But one might wonder, why choose to go down the EDM route after all this time— why choose a completely different path and not stick to what you're known for?
"I still really like rap, but at the moment I’m more interested in instrumental sounds, removing the lyrics and vocals from songs." He adds that EDM is the best type of music to make people happy, which is one of the outcomes he strives for most as a producer.
It's clear that Machi DiDi wants to push his limits and showcase his versatility as a musician, proving how much he's grown as an artist since those days as a member of Machi. When asked how he would describe his music and what genre of artist he is, Machi DiDi emphasises that he doesn't wish to be forced into a specific category. "I identify just as a musician because I do a lot of stuff. I can do hip hop, I can DJ, I can produce music as well— for myself and for other people. DJ/producer is probably the closest thing, but I do wear a lot of hats."
Experimenting with New Styles
Earlier this year we saw the release of My Wave, an album which blends electronic music and hip-hop, exhibiting a rich and varied music style with EDM acting as a common theme throughout. Within the album, Machi DiDi keeps things interesting by making sure you never know what's coming next: some tracks show off his vocal abilities, whilst other are purely instrumental. There are also songs which see him take on the role of producer, for which he invited other singers to lend their voices and use their interpretation to influence the tone of the music. In Taiwan's music scene this is considered a fairly rare way to produce an album, but it's exactly what makes this fusion of EDM and hip-hop so forward-thinking.
"Taking the song 'Holding On' for example, I invited Su Shengxi to sing whilst I produced, through her explosive vocals I was able to show the type of music that I want to express. In addition to this, for the track "Sweet" lots of people were really looking forward to me adding vocals once it was finished, but I chose not to because I don’t want to restrict the music too much." Machi DiDi wants to push the boundaries of what music is and pull away from conventional songs that rely on lyrics. "Music is not only passive listening, you can also change it according to your current mood and everyone has different ways of feeling and interpreting. This is the beauty of music in my opinion."
The Challenges of Being an Independent Producer
Surprisingly, he revealed that this time round the biggest challenge was in fact not making music itself, but rather the intricacies surrounding the rest of the process. "Due to me being an independent producer, almost all of the details are done by me personally, for example I'll need to communicate with a designer about the packaging style or go to the printers to check that the colouring is correct. I even had to take acting classes after being instructed to do so by the music video director, which means I have to learn a lot more than just how to make music. Even though they’re things that I’m not familiar with, I still have a lot of fun and enjoy doing them."
Finding Inspiration in Everyday Life
For many musicians, one of the things they fear the most is getting writers block and being unable to compose, but for Machi DiDi this isn't an issue. He claims that the secret to keeping the ink flowing is by drawing inspiration from everyday situations, no matter how mundane they may appear.
"The biggest frustration in doing music is when you get stuck on a certain part and you don’t know what to do, and a lot of people just quit there. The trick to getting past this is just trying a gazillion things and not being afraid of deleting... You just try a hundred different things and you might delete garbage 99 times, but eventually you’ll find something that works. Inspiration is always ubiquitous. It will jump out of every moment in life, be it during a meal with friends or a video game marathon at home, a catchy melody will suddenly appear. Creativity is closely linked to the goings on in everyday life, not necessarily through any specific process or ritual."
Before My Wave was released, Machi DiDi had already established his name within the electronic music circles, and earlier this year he earned the title of No. 20 on Pyro’s list of the top 100 DJs in China. When asked about who his biggest influences are in EDM, there's no hesitation in his reply:
"Ever since 2010, Skrillex has been my biggest influence and I like him because he’s really always pushing the envelope on the music genre. Whatever genre he decides to do, be it dubstep or other genres, I really like how he just switches genres and always reaches the pinnacle of everything he touches. When I first heard him do his other genres I was concerned because his dubstep is so awesome, you know? But after listening to the new genre, I found that I was just as impressed with that as I was with his earlier work."
The Changing Scene in Taiwan
Taiwan’s electronic music scene has begun to take off in recent years. Aside from international brands like Ultra, Creamfields and S2O travelling to the island, companies like ticketing platform FestGround are helping to promote EDM domestically. In addition to buying tickets, you can also find out the latest news about EDM and large-scale music festivals, which helps to gradually raise the profile. When asked his opinion on the growing trend of EDM culture, Machi DiDi expressed that whilst it's great that globally celebrated acts come to Taiwan perform, he wants to see more local talent achieving the same levels of success.
"One of the things I hope for is that at these festivals we can not only have international DJs but also our own DJs. Not only that, but I hope that our own Taiwan DJs or DJs from Asia can be on the same level, so they can give a performance that would be on par to the foreign DJs at least. That’s something important that I would like to see happen."
"I don’t think that event organisers are showing favouritism, they’re just objectively looking at it and being like this person deserves to be in that spot because it’s a better-quality show. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. One of the things that I think we lack is the stage lighting and visuals. If you look at the foreign DJs when they come, they bring all their own lighting, they run a really tight set-up with everything and that contributes a large factor. When you go to a festival, it’s not just the music... All your senses are in there and they’re all important, so that’s one of the things that I see."
Looking Towards the Future
Having played at Ultra Taiwan before, Machi DiDi hopes to be invited to more and more large-scale music festivals. For the time being, he will continue to make the music he wants to make in the hope that it brings joy to his audiences, whether they're old or new.
"Although my approach is very unconventional, today's music style is changing constantly. From the image to marketing, it's all become a part of the music. The market is forever changing and unpredictable, the only thing that hasn't changed is the desire to make music. At my current stage, I'm going to put EDM production as my main focus. EDM represents an extremely broad category, which includes the heavier subcategories but can also be presented in a soft or more comfortable form and integrated into pop music."
"I just want to make people happy through my music, it’s really just as simple as that. I think that people are stressed enough as it is, so if I can make some people want to dance because they hear my songs—and then they just have fun with their friends partying or whatever—that’s what I want, that makes me happy too."