A creative polymath with a curious mind, Vietnamese-Canadian producer, vocalist and filmmaker x/o creates cinematic electronic soundscapes exploring the revelations and challenges that come with undergoing a personal metamorphosis. Their debut album, Chaos Butterfly, is an altruistic journey towards self-acceptance, full of eclectic beats, urgent vocals and a myriad of synthetic sounds. We caught up with x/o to talk about their new record, what inspired the sound of Chaos Butterfly, and the importance of duality within their work…
What are your earliest memories of making music? Can you remember who or what inspired you to start creating your own sounds?
When I was little, my family introduced me to karaoke and Vietnamese variety shows like Paris by Night and I was obsessed. I remember telling my mom I wanted to either be a singer on Paris by Night or a computer programmer. It’s funny how producing electronic music in the present day still makes sense to my childhood dreams. But strangely enough, as obsessed with music as I was, I never did take any music/band classes in school.
It wasn’t till I was 19 or so, that I heard you could make music on garage band and was curious about playing with the software. I had to get my first laptop for school, so ended up getting a basic MacBook and tinkered from there. I tend to have a lot of DIY energy when it comes to learning new software and I had previously taught myself how to use photoshop. The inspiration came from the accessibility of instruments and tools in the software that I didn’t have prior. The idea of limitless possibilities was very exciting to me.
It’s nice to hear that you’re living some of your childhood dreams through music!
You’ve recently released your debut album Chaos Butterfly. It’s loosely based around the narrative of “an anti-hero navigating trauma…a vengeful spirit who finds true strength in inner healing and forgiveness.” Can you elaborate on this concept? How did you translate this narrative into the music for the record?
Chaos Butterfly is the parallel sequel to my previous EP, Cocoon Egg. Parallel in the sense that both works deal with healing over adversity, and a sequel in the sense that the butterfly is the evolved form. But the narrative came from wanting to portray duality in contrast with the previous EP. I often play with different visual and sonic elements – soft/hard, masculine/feminine, light/dark, external/internal, etc. – and experiment with the loose narrative from there.
When I work on an album or EP, I love the idea of it being a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Meant to be listened to from front to back, the narrative is translated through the emotional journey in each passing track with the song titles as additional hints for your imagination.
Your music is very cinematic. I know you’ve also described Chaos Butterfly as “a journey of self-acceptance and reflection…towards your non-binary identity.” Was creating the album an empowering process because of this?
Because I wrote this over five years, the process was one that grew as I grew. When I began I was still figuring it out myself and questioning a lot of things, but with time it was like a slow building of confidence and self-acceptance that led me to find this empowerment through music to be comfortable in my own skin in my own way.
With the project x/o, it had been a safe haven for me to express and explore gender in this way long before I had the actual words to articulate what it meant to me. It took a long time to have the courage to talk about my gender fluidity. So in many ways, the evolution of the project really is a transformative butterfly experience for me.
What would you say are you most proud of about this record? Do you have a favourite track?
‘Hea11ng Ca11’ is one of my favourite tracks. It’s the ending of the album and there’s a wave of relief that washes over you after having listened to the intensity of the journey prior. It’s also parallel to the ending of Cocoon Egg’s ‘love and reb1111rth’ – a hopeful path towards healing and growth.
I’m really proud to have pushed my skill sets to the limit and to have challenged myself a lot during this project. It was important to me to produce, record, and mix the project myself but also explore other avenues like screenwriting, film and art direction for the project. For instance, writing and directing for music video/short film ‘Red Alert’, the animated visualizer series ‘Chrysalis Wrath’ and ‘Initiation Relic’. I’m excited to share more visual world-building explorations very soon.
Speaking about visuals, can you talk us through the concepts behind your beautiful videos for singles ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Chrysalis Wrath’?
As duality is a key theme in my work, ‘Red Alert’ was a great opportunity for me to explore these themes in a visual context. In the music video/short film, the lead character is fearfully confronted by numerous red signs. This eventually consumes them as they become the colour red itself. There’s an interesting dynamic between white vs red selves being safe vs dangerous/angel vs devil, the different levels of subconscious, and instinct/intuition at play. I worked with a small talented film crew to make it happen.
For ‘Chrysalis Wrath’, for a long time now I have been interested in both feminine and masculine tropes in my practice as another extension of duality, and in particular subverting seemingly “feminine iconography” like eggs and butterflies in a way that gives it a more “masculine” energy. I worked with fantasy illustrator NicoSaba to make these ideas come to life.
Do you have any plans to perform your new album live this year?
Yes, I just had the opportunity to perform with Brussels collectives He4rtbroken and Slagwerk at Listen Festival, and I am planning to perform a number of dates in Europe where I will be based for the next few months.
That’s exciting! Finally, as we’re a new music blog, we always ask artists to recommend a band or another artist that they’ve been listening to. Can you recommend someone to us?
Definitely check out artist Bela. They are an incredible electronic artist from South Korea and their EP Guidelines released on Editions Apparent is full of powerfully refreshing takes on experimental music informed by Korean folk music.
Thanks to x/o for chatting with us!
Listen to/buy Chaos Butterfly here