Jes­sica Cho gives an other­worldly al­ter­na­tive to the hard-edged sound of Toronto’s un­der­ground


KOREA TOWN ACID as part of NXNE DJ SHOW­CASE with ALI BLACK, DINAMO AZARI, BUTR, DAVE FATHOM, WASSERMAN and PA­TRIK BEN­JAMIN at Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen West), Sun­day (June 17), 10 pm. $10. nxne.com; and with RAF REZA, HEMINGWAY and STRANGE ROBOTIX at Bambi’s (1265 Dun­das West), June 28. $5.

Jes­sica Cho hasn’t vis­ited Seoul, South Korea, in a decade, and she hasn’t lived there in over 20 years, but she’s end­lessly in­spired by her birth­place. She DJs un­der the name Korea Town Acid and the ti­tle of her debut EP, Ma­hogani For­est, was in­spired by the Korean fan­tasy film Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds.

“The movie takes you to all these vir­tual spa­ces,” she ex­plains over cof­fee in Duf­ferin Grove. “One is a fu­tur­is­tic for­est, which is the feel­ing I got when I lis­tened to all the tracks – it took me some­where else. [The ti­tle] Ma­hogani For­est just felt right with that sound.”

The al­bum, out on Toronto’s Cos­mic Res­o­nance, was recorded dur­ing a week in Jan­uary. Over six songs, Ma­hogani For­est tra­verses mul­ti­ple sonic land­scapes, from am­bi­ent and jazz vibes to techno and house. It’s clear from open­ing track Tite Bond that Cho in­tends to trans­port her au­di­ence to an other­worldly place.

And un­like the hard-edged EBMstyle techno that’s be­come some­what of Toronto’s sig­na­ture sound of late, Cho’s ap­proach sounds purely im­pro­vised be­cause it’s fresh and full of un­ex­pected el­e­ments. On Zoom Lab, she eas­ily blends clas­sic house arpeg­gios with hip-hop break beats. Later on Vir­tual Re­al­ity, a melodic sax­o­phone and dis­torted vo­cals are lay­ered over a jun­gle-house beat, tak­ing lis­ten­ers from lush hill­tops to windswept deserts and fi­nally into a sweaty un­der­ground club.

“I re­ally like to tell a story by con­vey­ing a vibe and a mood,” Cho ex­plains. “In a way, I feel like I’m just get­ting into dance mu­sic. I’m try­ing to es­tab­lish my­self as a DJ right now, but even­tu­ally, I’d love to branch out and com­pose film scores and stuff like that.”

Like many Asian kids, Cho started study­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic at a young age when her mom put her in pi­ano lessons.

“She carved that path for me, but I think I al­ways knew I would do some­thing re­lated to mu­sic. I just didn’t know ex­actly what that might be,” she says.

As a teen, she played key­board in bands, learned how to im­pro­vise through jazz and started lis­ten­ing to hip-hop in her 20s. She got into elec­tronic mu­sic by play­ing keys for lo­cal DJs mak­ing house mu­sic. Even­tu­ally, Cho started writing and play­ing her own mu­sic, re­leas­ing sin­gles over the last few years. She counts Theo Par­rish, Mo­tor City Drum En­sem­ble and Moody­mann as in­flu­ences.

“But as an artist, it’s im­por­tant to have your own sound,” she adds.

When I meet up with Cho, she’s just re­turned from per­form­ing three sets in Brook­lyn – her first shows out­side of Canada. She’s slated to play Bovine Sex Club, an EP re­lease show at Bambi’s and Hamil­ton’s Sous Bas in the next few weeks, and at NANO MUTEK – a lo­cal off­shoot of Mon­treal’s big elec­tronic fes­ti­val – next month. Later in the year, she hopes to visit Ber­lin and Seoul, where she’s ea­ger to DJ at big clubs.

When asked whether Korean women in elec­tronic mu­sic are hav­ing a mo­ment right now, Cho’s response is “big time.”

There’s DJ/fash­ion muse Peggy Gou, whose pop­u­lar­ity and tal­ent have made her one of the most in-de­mand artists in the world. There’s Brook­lyn­based Yaeji, whose re­cent Toronto show (which Cho opened) sold out in min­utes.

Add Korea Town Acid to the list. michelled@nowtoronto.com | @mich­das

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