Mystery man's focus is on music

Chinese- American electronic musician Zhu will be performing at Ultra Singapore on Sunday.
Chinese-American electronic musician Zhu will be performing at Ultra Singapore on Sunday. PHOTO: TOBIAS HUTZLER

Unlike most artists of his generation, who chronicle their every move on social media, ChineseAmerican electronic musician Zhu has gone in the opposite direction, choosing instead to maintain a veil of mystery.

As a result, unlike well-known players in the electronic dance music world, like the instantly recognisable Diplo or Calvin Harris, no one quite knows about him.

There is scarcely any information about the artist, whose real name is Steven Zhu, other than that he was born in Hangzhou, China, and moved to San Francisco at age six.

Speaking to The Straits Times from Los Angeles, where he is based, he laments that in the digital age, "there's so much access to information that the feeling of mystery and curiosity is lost".

"I think millennials don't know what it's like to not know and to have curiosity and to discover," says the 27-year-old, who entered the music scene in 2014 with instant hit Faded.

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"In many ways, I wanted to get to that feeling (of discovery) because that's one of the more exciting parts about living," he adds.

He released his debut album of mid-tempo dance tunes, Generationwhy, in July.

Zhu, who also sings live at his shows, unlike other DJ-producers who leave it to guest singers, is typically clad in a hooded outfit and shades. He says the anonymity he is trying to create is not unlike the air of mystery shrouding the most successful artists in the world.

"While you might be exposed to them, you know nothing about them. Prince, Pink Floyd, Radiohead - they're more mysterious than you think," he says.

He eschews the idea of chronicling every waking moment on social media.

"I think you should want to know someone based on what you respect about them and not that they're just in front of your face as an advertisement," he says.

"My goal is to make the best music possible and I put a team around me to take that and expose it to the rest of the world. In doing so, if people happen to learn a bit about me, then that's natural."

This tactic seems to have paid off, with Zhu earning his first Best Dance Recording Grammy nomination last year for the track Faded.

He is no stranger to the big stage too, having racked up appearances at major festivals including California's Coachella and Chicago's Lollapalooza earlier this year.

He will also be performing at the inaugural Ultra Singapore on Sunday, taking the Live stage at 8pm for his first performance here.

He is excited to play in Singapore. "A big part of my culture is in Asia, so I'm glad to see that dance music is thriving in this region."

It will be his first showing at Ultra, the worldwide music festival that hosts 19 stages around the world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Mystery man's focus is on music'. Print Edition | Subscribe