Living Large With Melbourne R&B/Dance Lord Oscar Key Sung
Eat your heart out.
Oscar Key Sung is pretty known around the Melbourne traps for his R&B-infused, emotional dance music and plenty fun vibes. He's also one talented guy, having mastered singing, song-writing and producing on the casual.
He's about to fly the coop to do the whole LA thing, so while we still had the chance, we sent our mate James J Robinson to pal around with him at an all-you-can-eat diner in Melbourne. Then we called him up to chat about everything from his upcoming adventure to his mad as dance skills. Get familiar below, and get some dining inspo via the gallery above.
Madeleine Woon: Hey Oscar! So you said you're playing a show in Sydney tonight — what's your favourite thing about performing live?
Oscar Key Sung: I guess I really like how loud it is [laughs]. I think that it's great being amplified to that level, and really inhabiting a room. I don't want to use the word "power", but it really feels like you've extended or duplicated yourself into this bigger form. It's interesting — it's like this avatar/stage version of you.Yeah, you're the master of the vibes.
In a way you're a different you — you're a different version of yourself. Do you know what I mean? You're different than your day-to-day you.
Yeah, I get that. It's kind of lame, but I was talking to a friend the other day about how different you feel when you're travelling — you're like this better, more fun and less inhibited version of yourself.
So true [laughs]. It's like that when you're up on-stage.
Do you have a favourite spot to play?
I don't think I have one. I think so much of what makes a night enjoyable is the context — of the people there, how well you play, and everything around it, you know? I've played in tiny little fucked-up abandoned houses that have been set up with a terrible sound system, but have had an incredible show, and in a way had a better time than playing at a massive festival. I'm going to sit on the fence for that one.
If you were forced to play to a crowd of five, who'd be in it?
A crowd of five? Wow [laughs]. Such a weird question…
I don't know about you — but for me, the thought of playing, or speaking, to such an intimate crowd is way more anxiety-inducing than a crowd of a thousand...
True! I think it would be, for sure. I don't know? Like, all my exes, so it would just be incredibly awkward.
Brutal. So the video clip for 'Hands' is really cool — how did you come to link up with Bhenji Ra, Sara Aiken and the other dancers?
I first met Bhenji when they were dancing as part of a show in Sydney years ago, and I was playing in the support act. Benji and I had this moment which has become the genesis of a lot of my collaborative relationships, where I just ran up to him and was like, "Oh my god, you're amazing!", and then it was just on.
It was pretty similar with Sara — I was helping my friend Angie who had her in a film clip she was doing, and then I went to her dance performances and kept in touch. When I was putting together the video, I was working with Tristan Jalleh, and I used a video that he did, called 'A Meditation on Violence and Movement', as the basis of the idea. I wanted to do a video that was about movement and decay and delay. There was like the delay of the hands when I'm dancing, and then in a way Bhenji's dance style has this feeling of patterns and repetitions. The idea for Sara's piece is all about corrupted repetitions, where she would enact something, and then one after another two others dancers would follow that movement, but slowly it would decay and change a little bit. I thought of them as a way to expand on the idea that Tristan and I had for the video. And I think, often if I meet a dancer or designer, I'll be thinking of how I can collaborate with them at some point, and things will slowly come together.
How much control do you like to have over your visuals?
A lot. I think a lot of musicians hate the idea of being a brand or an aesthetic, but personally I think it's interesting, and I'd like to go even further into that.
I guess it's also pretty important to have visuals that match what you envision the song looking like. I think my favourite video clip of yours is 'Altruism', purely based on your sick dance moves at the end. Who taught you how to dance like that?
[Laughs] I don't really dance that much, but there was one point when I was younger and more psycho — well, not a psycho, just more weird — and there was this girl that I was obsessed with and in love with, and we had been together and we broke up, and within a few weeks she was dating this really cool dude who was a dancer. And I feel like I really started trying to take dance more seriously at that point, to be honest [laughs]. Just out of this weird feeling of, "What does he have that I don't?"
So you were pretty much living out some teenage rom-com musical plot?
Full teenage rom-com vibes. I got really into it. I've always really loved dancing — I really like to put on music and get into my undies and just spend a few hours doing weird moves, and getting on YouTube and watching dance tutorials, and getting inspiration from stuff like that.
You're about to jet over to LA, will this be your first stint there?
I've been there twice. The first time I went, I just playing a few shows, and hanging out and stuff. The second time I went there, I was considering going down the route of being a pop writer. I was getting in the studio and writing really basic pop songs for this agency. I sort of threw in the towel and decided that [writing pop songs] wasn't really for me. This time I'm just going to go and hang out, basically.
And focus on music?
Yeah, I always like to focus on music.
How's the scene in Melbourne for you?
I can't complain, I think it's good. I definitely feel like when I've spent time in Berlin and London though, I've thought to myself, like, "Fuck, why have I spent all this time in Melbourne?" because there's so much more happening over there. But at the same time, there is a vibe in Melbourne, and there is stuff happening here.
How do you think your approach to music has evolved since you started out?
I think when I started out I was really into the physicality of music, and the process in art in general. So, like, I would never in a million years do something that couldn't be played live. I was making an album when I was 17, and when I performed it live it was with a five-piece band, and each member had like five instruments — it was ridiculous. Whereas now I almost perform like a rapper, with a DJ and just me running the microphone. I think I'm much more accepting of music as this mixed, produced thing rather than being live and being authentic, or whatever. My approach is really different, I think. That's a really core value change. I still think it's something I'm unpacking.
How do you think the internet has played into that shift?
A big change happened for me... I think I took myself really seriously when I was younger; I remember when me and my friend Martin put out our first album together, and everyone just downloaded it, and no one actually bought it, and I remember thinking that was weird. That kind of changed my whole idea of value. And not even in relation to money, something just changed for me then. Other than that, I think that the internet is cool because heaps of music that I'm into, it will sound fresh for a few weeks, but there's this constant push for progression. Especially in electronic music and hip-hop, it's just relentlessly changing, you know?
It's just become standard for artists to put out free music. Do you find that disheartening?
Nah, not at all. It's just a quantum shift, you know, it's just a new paradigm.
That's a positive way to view it. Last question: If you could only listen to one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh, Jesus. The rest of my life? How long will I live for?
The way things are going RN, probably until you're 100. You've gotta look out for your older self here.
I think something really broad, like classical music. That's such a pragmatic answer [laughs]. I just feel like I'll listen to it more and more as I get older.
I feel like you might go a little bit psychotic only listening to classical, though?
Yeah, I guess so. Well, what would you listen to?
Hip-hop [laughs]. No, I actually don't know!
That would be kind of cool though actually, because you could keep listening to new stuff. Listening to classical, there wouldn't be as much regeneration. Oh god, I don't know. I can't answer that.
You'd choose death?
Yep, I would rather die.