Camiele’s SXSW Experience—Day 1: Spotify House
Going in, I wasn’t 100 percent sold on Dean (stylized as DΞΔN), insofar as I didn’t really give him a fair shake. Everyone kept sort of lumping him together with Zion. T in one way or another, and really, Zion. T has never impressed me (stay tuned to find out how long that notion lasted during the five-day festival).
But Tuesday at SXSW gave me a new insight into just what kind of R&B South Korea is capable of. The stage area was packed with his fans, mostly young women who’d heard his English tracks and his collaboration with Zico and had fallen headfirst. Of course, you stay in the Korean music scene long enough, you notice the fan demographic, especially international fans, consists mainly of women all in a fervor over the pretty-faced singers. But I digress.
Jenna Rowe, Rock ‘N Seoul’s Rebecca Cronan, and ATK Magazine’s Cindy Zimmerman, and I had arrived at the venue about thirty minutes before the show was to start. After about twenty-five minutes, I saw him coming down the stairs to make his way to the patio stage. At first I didn’t think it was him, but seeing a random Korean walking to the backstage area squad deep sort of gave him away. I must have been one of only a few who actually saw him enter and walk around the back because there was no furor over his presence—hence why I wasn’t exactly sure if it was him until he actually went backstage. I was actually surprised by how young he looked: a fresh-faced cherub in too big clothes and a very quiet presence that belied the energy I’d seen in passing from a clip of his performance on Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook .
After waiting for another five minutes, the MC came on to introduce this, the first Korean artist to ever play the Spotify House stage. It became apparent this kid was a big deal far outside the reaches of Seoul, that he’d, in fact, earned himself quite the reputation in the States (I would learn later on that he’d actually been staying in the States for a couple years, honing his craft, collaborating with some hefty names in modern R&B, and touring). When he alighted the stage, smile wide and eyes bright, the reaction was instantaneous. It was like a swelling, a purge of energy that made the back patio of the Spotify House ripple.
His speaking voice was soft, his practiced introduction a bit tentative but nonetheless excited. Then the music started, a sultry track with one of my favorite artists today, Anderson Paak, oozing through the speakers. As he sang the first twang-heavy notes of Put My Hands On You… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed. No. Impressed isn’t the word. I was absolutely hypnotized. The spell was cast, and I was caught up in some sort of rapture. I’d never heard anything like this coming from SK: legitimate smooth R&B with hints of something a bit deeper, a little thicker around the edges. The composition takes cues from nu-jazz—the kind of music artists like Jay Denes or even the late Nujabes would absolutely love to sink their teeth into. Though this song crackles with Anderson’s presence, the track is all Dean. It absolutely drips with sensuality, an easy sort of sway that set the stage for the rest of his performance.
And then I was absolutely violated by the throb and warble of Pour Up [MV]. It was more than just the track itself—which was just cloying with the sexy stuff. It was the young man’s energy. He’s not an idol; no one would put him in that category. There wasn’t any of the put-on sexuality of grinding on the stage or the obligatory fly girls and homeboys who try their best to be flirtatious on stage (and just end up looking more silly than sexy). Despite the syrupy twine of the track, Dean was all energy, filling the stage up with his ministrations. He reminded me a bit of Jamiroquai’s enigmatic brainchild Jay Kay: letting the music get inside his limbs and carry him whither and there without any care of how it may look. That sort of earnestness is not only apparent in the music he makes, his voice and how it croons each and every note. He’s a genuine artist who makes the stage his playground, while each song becomes another canvas for him to show the audience just what his voice can do and how he gets it to go where he directs it.