HE sounded surly over the phone when this interview was being arranged. He even looks moody in press photos. But violinist Dennis Lau, who is fast gaining a pop crossover profile, is anything but highlystrung in person.
So I literally breathed a sigh of relief when the bleach-blonde violinist greeted us with a smile during a recent interview at his homestudio in Subang, Selangor.
Inside, his living room was a lively splash of red, white and black. Tucked in a corner was a grand piano, a guitar, and eye-catching knick-knacks and memorabilia from family and friends. Paintings and photographs laced the walls. Much like the eclectic crossover projects he is known for, his cosy abode screams creative mayhem.
His latest record effort, Unity Of Arts, with local beatboxer Shawn Lee, enmeshes funky hip hop beats with black-suit classicism. He calls the collaboration, on which he plays the violin against Lee’s thumping mouth-music, a pure, accidental experiment. In fact, they started the project on a whim. “We met at an event late last year and just decided to start jamming here one night. It drove the neighbours crazy but we figured we could really do a collaboration from then,” recalled Lau with a laugh.
The animated 26-year-old, who also heads his entertainment companies, Mosaic Music Entertainment and Mosaic Movie Productions, adds that he has a penchant for mixing the classical violin with contemporary elements.
“I like to experiment with different genres just to see what happens. I think that experimentation is the key to evolution.
“My collaboration with Shawn also features this group of street-dancers called the Wakaka crew. I think it’s something really different from what has been done. It also introduces how hip hop and classical music can come together,” he explained.
The duo caught everyone’s attention when they hit the streets with their explosive effort at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year.
“We went on to perform in London for the Islamic Fashion Week and then in Singapore,” said Lau, who also headlined the recent Merdeka Day celebrations in Melbourne, Australia.
Last year, he launched a limited edition album aptly titled DiversiFy. He also performed for a crowd of 13,000 as the opening act of American singer Adam Lambert in Violinist dennis Lau meshes funky hip hop beats with black-suit classicism in his explosive team-up with local beatboxer Shawn Lee. Kuala Lumpur last October.
Besides his burgeoning musical career, Lau also made his first major big-screen appearance as the cocky chef Lan Qiao in Namewee’s Nasi Lemak 2.0, which is playing in cinemas now.
In spite of his successes, Lau, blatantly honest as he is, confessed:
“People still ask me things like, ‘Musicians in Malaysia can survive meh?’ I believe you can survive in any field as long as you have a passion for it.
“Though of course, you also have to be unique in what you do. Get to know your forte and your core audience, then work towards that.”
Lee, 19, is hot on his trail. True to his catchphrase, “the small boy with big sounds”, the young man is a real firecracker. Despite his size, Lee reverberates with confidence and is tirelessly eloquent in speech.
No surprises then that at only 17, the upand-coming artiste made the top 10 at the World Beatboxing Championshop in 2009. “That was actually my first competition. Can you imagine the world championship being your first competition? That experience was crazy but amazing,” an enthusiastic Lee recounted his experience in Berlin, Germany.
He competed against 45 contestants from 40 countries and picked up the ninth place.
“I met so many people from so many different countries. We don’t speak the same language but we all spoke one language that was beatbox and somehow everyone managed to communicate with that,” he said.
Lee also won the first ever Malaysian Beatbox championship in 2009.
“There are actually very good beatboxers in Malaysia and I’m very active on the Malaysian Beatboxers community on Facebook.”
He says his aptitude for the art came naturally.
“I actually started beatboxing when I was about eight, though I didn’t know what beatboxing was at that time. I just started making sounds with my mouth along to the music I heard from the radio.
“The Backstreet Boys and Aaron Carter was all the rage when I was growing up and I would come up with beats to their songs without really knowing what I was doing. It came out of my mouth just like that.”
Lee has YouTube to thank. “It came about when I was 14 and that was when I found out there were people who were making music and performing with this thing I was doing. I learned more about it from the Internet and slowly developed my skills from there.”
He took his interest to the stage when he began performing in church when he was 17. “That was my first on-stage performance. I did simple stuff – not exactly gospel or anything like that – just beat-boxing and I was surprised that people were entertained.”
Being in the limelight hasn’t changed his style, though. Lee stays adamantly true to his hip hop origins.
“I don’t dress super glamorous, even when I’m at one of those high-end events with Dennis. I’ve been asked to wear coats when I’m performing but it doesn’t quite go with what I do. I’m street, so I dress street. I like my skinnies, my high-cuts and a nice, cool jacket. Some people don’t get that,” he said.
The engaging performer, who is currently studying sound engineering also reveals plans to venture into filming.
“It all started when my dad gave me a really huge digital camera when I was 12 and I did all sorts of crazy videos with my friends.
“Ultimately, I would love to do both music and film – just like what Namewee is doing – they go together like bread and butter,” he added. The small boy is also in a hurry to grow up. “I feel like I’m moving too slow. I’m already at the end of my teen years and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be 20! Am I moving too slow?’” he asked.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m at a dead-end. People are like, wow he’s so young and he’s performed overseas. But for me, I feel like I could have achieved more at an even younger age and I’m constantly thinking, ‘When am I going to get there?’”