Five Favourites: Sui Zhen

Set to release her upcoming third album in September, Melbourne artist Sui Zhen has recently captivated our ears with latest single ‘Perfect Place’. Inspired by how we exist in the digital age, the track flows with glitchy, playful beats and twinkling, ‘80s-inspired hooks alongside Zhen’s quirky, honey-sweet vocals. An instantly infectious slice of sparkling alt-pop.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a new band/artist is by asking them what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Sui to talk about her ‘Five Favourites’ – five albums or tracks that have influenced her songwriting techniques, or simply take her back to a specific feeling or time. Read about her choices here…

Strawberry Switchblade – Strawberry Switchblade 
This album has been a staple in my record bag since it was gifted to me by a friend in Koenji, Tokyo. I love how the songs are naive and saccharine but sad and melancholic underneath, expressed in a synth-pop style with layered reverberant vocals reminiscent of an upbeat Cocteau Twins. My favourite is the banality captured in ‘Who Knows What Love Is’ – it’s totally nostalgic for a crush that once was. It reminds me of the first time I smelt the pages of Dolly Mag, peeling back the ‘Sealed Section’ section. I enjoy the instrumental arrangements and danceable aspect of this kind of pop music and love to mix this in a set to get people feeling warm and fuzzy.

The Eurythmics – ‘Love Is A Stranger’
It’s really difficult to choose songs by Annie Lennox – my Mum loved her music, so her solo albums Diva and Medusa hold a very special place in my heart, but for me it would have started with The Eurythmics – ‘Love Is A Stranger’. I don’t know how many times I have listened to this song, particularly the part “And it wrenches you up and you’re left like a zombie!” when her voice is wild and so expressive, but the beat remains hard, driving yet restrained. The hooks feel so natural – it’s the kind of songwriting I aspire to make someday. I also love how the track just fades out. Like, seeya my job here is done.

Antena – Camino Del Sol
I think the first moment I properly was able to hear how I could complement my songwriting style with drum machine beats came with listening to Antena over and over. Prior to that I experimented with electronic production based on the music I enjoyed hearing at clubs, but couldn’t work out the best approach when I would go to work on something. An audience member told me to check Isabelle Antena’s music because they thought it would be a good reference point, but I couldn’t easily find it at the time (mid-2000s). It wasn’t until I started record shopping in Japan that I was able to connect more with the ‘neo-folk’ synth-pop of Antena and other artists like Anna Domino and Scribble. The bossa nova style guitar over a thumping kick is something I have carried into my productions thanks to this band.

CAN – ‘Future Days’
This is literally my go to take-off music. I listen to Can or Dunkelziffer when flying, there’s something about krautrock that settles me and helps me when drifting in and out of sleep. I find the stream of consciousness flow and spontaneity in the music so dreamlike and also very comforting, grounded in unfiltered expression. Emotion is throughout, but not the centrepiece, and I like that. There’s a free kind of optimism to this track too which makes it so listenable. 

Sugar Cubes – ‘Deus’
I absolutely slammed the Sugar Cubes in my teenage years. I had exhausted Bjork’s back catalogue from way too many listens and moved into her previous work and found I enjoyed it more on repeat listen. It had a bit more space, was a bit looser, less intensely emotional and uncomfortable. I love the pairing of male & female vocal in this track. I don’t listen to Bjork at all these days, even though at the time I thought there was no better artist. I remember trying to sing like her in the shower and Mum making fun of me for trying to do that iconic guttural thing. It was definitely around this time, aged fifteen, I subconsciously decided to pursue music.

Massive thanks to Sui for taking the time to discuss her choices. However, as she found it difficult to pick just five, we’ve also put together a little playlist of all the songs that she felt have impacted her work in some way – listen on Spotify now!

Losing, Linda, the upcoming album from Sui Zhen, is out 27th September via Cascine. Watch the video for latest single ‘Perfect Place’ below:

Photo Credit: Agnieszka Chabros

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