Music label. Party throwers. Apparel brand. Yeti Out’s twin brothers Tom and Arthur are in Saigon for a Valentine’s Day pop-up at Bam Bam promoting their SS20 Yeti Out collection (which you’ll be able to pick up at Saigon concept store There VND Then) and to drop some tracks also at Bam Bam the same evening. So we asked for ten tracks that present the truth about Valentine’s.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
“I first came to Saigon on a school trip,” Arthur says squinting into the bright sunlight on Nguyen Hue Street outside Saigon concept store There VND Then.” The half-Chinese half-English Bray brothers grew up in Hong Kong, and both moved to the UK at 18 to attend different universities. “I went to Manchester and Arthur went to Brighton,” Tom explains.
In the ten years or so since graduation, they’ve launched the record label Silk Road Sounds, and the apparel line Yeti Out, while making parties in Hong Kong cool. Not easy in the uptight nation that’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet. And one that’s reeling from pro-independence activism and coronavirus shutdown.
“Hong Kong’s been picking up culturally and kids are doing cool stuff,” Arthur muses, “but there’s the age-old issue of high-rents and cost of living and now all this. That’s why we expanded into Asia. If one city can’t provide an appetite for the things you need, spread out, go to Bangkok, come to Saigon. The way we operate and the way it should be is kinda like the United States of Asia…”
Despite a host of collaborations (with brands like Under Armour, Coach…) and juggling roles from A&R men to clothing designers (plus Arthur still finds time to write for magazines like High Snobiety and Hypebeast) everything they touch still retains their DNA.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” Arthur explains thoughtfully. “It’s like if you’re doing music you have to leave the house wearing something in the morning – we all make these decisions in life. So, it’s like, why don’t we amplify those decisions and turn it into curation.”
“If you understand something, for Yeti Out it’s club and dance culture – you can break a genre like that down more. Club and dance culture is about letting loose, exploration, adventure. By breaking it down, suddenly the genre becomes more emotive, and those pillars can be represented in everything: music products you put out, in graphics…” Tom adds.
What was the first music you remember buying?
Arthur: I remember going into Blockbuster and finding The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia on the sale rack because no one in Hong Kong was interested in it. And I got home and listened to it and thought, this is great.
We were thirteen or fourteen and drinking and trying to get into Hong Kong clubs. And latching on to any subculture we could find. I’d head to newsagents in Soho after school to pick up copies of i-D Magazine and Dazed.
Tom: But looking back, Hong Kong has a lot of culture. Clothing stores like I.T and D-mop, and toy culture like the Barebrick stuff and people like Michael Lau who gets called “the godfather of toy figures“.
Arthur: We really got into hip hop through playing basketball. In the pages of basketball magazines, every sneaker advert would have a rapper in it – Funkmaster Flex would be sandwiched in the middle or there’d be ads for Dipset albums. So then we started buying hip hop magazines.
There was a place in Wan Chai where we grew up, essentially a naval docks, where US servicemen could pick up all the snacks from home and magazines like The Source and XXL. We’d save up and buy them, despite their inflated prices. And that’s where we discovered ODB, Wu Tang Clan, Mase, Diddy, Bad Boy. Actually, I remember Arthur would battle rap the marines coming off the boats. Guys from Connecticut and Michigan…
You came up through lots of changes in how music is distributed…
Arthur: We grew up during the download era. First, playing CDs on our PlayStation One…
Tom: Then came Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa and then Limewire. Downloading opened us up to everything. We got into Thievery Corporation, Bristol electronic music duo Way Out West; actually trip-hop for the longest time.
Tom: Mo’ Wax stuff. Unkle stuff. And a lot of dancey stuff like Squarepusher. And we were like “What the f*ck is this?”
How did moving to the UK from Hong Kong change the kind of music you listened to?
Arthur: I remember discovering all these subgenres -– garage, 2step, breaks, and it was nuts.
Tom: I was in Manchester, with more of a house and techno scene with places like Sankey’s and Arthur was in Brighton with a heavier Caribbean dub and roots scene, as well as a strong hip hop culture.
Arthur: And we’d meet up and exchange. He’d give me this minimal dance stuff. And I’d be listening to more Brighton music. I worked at Brighton music label Tru Thoughts for a while and its hip hop imprint Zebra Traffic and gradually got into UK hip hop. People like Task Force, Skinnyman and Jehst….
What’s one track you would play people to understand Yeti Out?
Arthur: I would say Prodigy’s “Firestarter” is very much synonymous with Yeti Out. I don’t know if Tom would agree, but I think my early experience of going to Gatecrasher [UK rave brand] and hearing “Firestarter” there was super-inspiring. They’re in a league of their own. It’s goose-bump music.
And which one track from Silk Road Sounds do you think best represents your label?
Tom: For me, the YoungQueenz & N.O.L.Y track “YAT PIT”. He’s from Hong Kong, he’s a Hong Kong rapper, and he’s rapping about a Hong Kong fashion designer. American’s rap about Hennessey. But that’s not Asian culture. Tracks like this show a progression in the scene. And it’s a banger…
Arthur: And Demonslayer’s track Nat Het Roi was on our last compilation. The compilation celebrates multiple identities: you’re from Asia but you rep Brighton, or you’re from LA but you rep Vietnam. Before you had to be from one place and one place only. It’s 2020. It’s a mélange. You can be whatever…
Tom: So let’s embrace the confusion. And the embracing part comes out in the art you make or the music you produce. Demonslayer puts out footwork stuff and it’s club-driven but it’s still got Vietnamese samples in it. There’s a whole east meets west thing going on too…
Tell us about the ten tracks you’ve chosen for this special Yeti Out Valentine’s Day mix…
Tom: In our sets in Asia, like at Bam Bam, we play grime, garage, while being mindful of keeping audiences attention by mixing it up. Shanks & Bigfoot’s “Sweet Like Chocolate” is a garage classic. And that “sweet like chocolate, you bring me so much joy” line is very Valentine’s.
Arthur: The Gil Scott Heron and Jamie XX track “New York Is Killing Me” is kind of melancholy, dark and sombre. It’s not the most lovey-dovey track but it’s emotional and that’s probably what Valentine Day’s should be about.
And after that, the rave classic “Sweet Harmony” by Liquid. That piano break and the looping “in sweet harmony” lyric…
Tom: Then T2’s “Heartbroken”. Another darker track, but it’s still upbeat and hopeful somehow. And after that, FKJ’s “Tadow”. We’ve invited him to Shanghai for shows a few times. The crowd at the front is usually ten rows deep with ladies. I’ve seen tears…
Next, “Toast” by Koffee. Poppy, afrobeat. It’s celebratory too. And that’s followed by Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” from his Blonde/Blond album. It’s soft but it packs a punch.
Arthur: I once interviewed Travis Scott. One of the hardest interviews I’ve done with his security watching over us and Travis barely audible. I’m still choosing his “Highest in the Room” because it captures that dizzy, romantic feeling.
Tom: And the last two tracks are Steve Lacy’s “Ryd” and OutKast’s “Roses”, the second track from their Speakerboxxx / Love Below album – in fact, it’s two albums, one by Andre 3000 and one by Big Boi, put out as a double album when their relationship was supposed to be falling apart (it’s the only song on The Love Below that features Big Boi).
Arthur: We thought about choosing Ms. Jackson, but went for “Roses” instead – a song about a beautiful girl with an attitude. We’re giving you all sides of Valentine’s Day – chocolate, sweetness and harmony, darkness, heartbreak, and beautiful but hard-to-be-with people…
Photos by Khooa Nguyen and Nam Tran Duy