From Seoul to Atlanta, Kathy Yaeji Lee led a nomadic upbringing. Now, the visual artist and producer has built her own community...
I met Yaeji at her Bushwick studio on a rainy day in May. The weather was thoroughly grey, but the space that Yaeji dedicates to her visual art was bathed in a soft yellow light. It poured for most of the day, but she left the door open for the duration of my visit to let the cool air and the sound of it drift in.
Yaeji – Kathy Yaeji Lee, but really just Yaeji – is a rising New York-based DJ whose hypnotic house-inflected tunes have found their way around the globe in the past year. You may have heard her remix of Drake’s ‘More Life’ highlight ‘Passionfruit’, which made the rounds through the Web recently to positive reviews. When she spoke with me, she was preparing to play her first Boiler Room set on the heels of her self-titled new EP. Released by GODMODE, it’s a promising collection of five diverse, engaging songs. Highlights include ‘New York 93’, a meditative and surreal take on memory, and ‘Feel It Out’, a thumping dance track that’s as infectious as it is playful, and has the singer dancing with pineapples in its video.
From a quick look at Yaeji’s studio, however, you wouldn’t guess any of that. “I mostly paint here, and try to keep it that way,” she explains. “I try to keep music at home.”
Before anything, Yaeji gives me a tour of the place, which she shares with four ceramicists and a graffiti painter. Passing over a few unfinished canvases in her corner of the space, she takes care to talk about the work of each of her studio mates, making the case for their art with a genuine enthusiasm. It’s a moment that reflects something central about Yaeji’s character. She cares deeply about her friends and collaborators; it’s an ethic rooted in a longstanding commitment to kinship and community.