Singer-songwriter is now a DJ

MJ Kuok, who goes by the monicker MMXJ, launched his debut album, Into The Wild, last month.
MJ Kuok, who goes by the monicker MMXJ, launched his debut album, Into The Wild, last month.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Working in real estate for two years made MMXJ rekindle his passion for music

Back in 2009, then budding singer MJ Kuok was forced to pull out of reality singing show Singapore Idol because of his studies, despite advancing to the Top 13.

The 26-year-old is back, although in a different musical guise from the one that fans of the television show might remember.

Kuok - who was born in Singapore, but grew up in Hong Kong, Britain and the United States - is now making his name as a DJ/producer under the monicker MMXJ. He launched his debut album, Into The Wild, with a set at Zouk on Nov 27.

Until two years ago, Kuok, who graduated from California's Stanford University, where he majored in communications and digital media studies, was not even sure if he was going to go back to the entertainment industry at all.

"I was actually going to stop making music," he says in an interview at the office of his music label, Warner Music Singapore.

"After I graduated from Stanford, I moved back to Hong Kong with the intention of getting a nine- to-five job and being happy."

He ended up jumping from job to job - he worked in a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, an advertising firm in Hong Kong and, eventually, his family's real estate business in Hong Kong.

"It was a humbling experience because it was during those two years of doing real estate that I realised I got my passion for making music back."

Every night, after getting home from his day job, Kuok would stay up until 3am and produce many of the songs that ended up on his debut album.

"I would be falling asleep at my desk the next day. I had so many musical ideas floating around after two years of working and then I thought to myself, 'all right, something needs to change'. That's when I decided to move back here to pursue music again."

Kuok, who plays piano and guitar, switched from being a singer-songwriter to DJ/producer after he witnessed electronic dance music (EDM) stars Alesso and Swedish House Mafia perform at the Coachella Arts and Music Festival in California while he was studying there.

For the vocals in his album, he engaged singers such as home-grown singer-songwriters Gentle Bones and label mate Reuby, as well as fellow Singapore Idol finalist Mae Sta.

Songs from his debut album are already finding favour with dance music listeners - pre-album release single Kings, a collaboration with Gentle Bones, was played on radio and topped the Singapore's Viral 50 chart on streaming service Spotify.

And while he does foresee himself going back to his roots as a singer in the future, Kuok says his focus for now is firmly on EDM.

"Singing is definitely always for me but, I think for now, over the next few years, I see myself doing a lot more gigs, touring to promote the album and doing more festival and club gigs."

• Into The Wild is out on iTunes, Spotify and other digital music platforms.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Singer-songwriter is now a DJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe