Holodec is an Asian-American electronic producer and musician, based in Los Angeles with a flair for creating moody, atmospheric soundscapes. They have an amorphousness to them, but also an undeniable musicality and catchiness: formed formlessness.
Tracks like ‘b who u want 2 b’ and his most recent single ‘Street Talk’ are examples of songs that could be played during a personal city drive, but also wouldn’t be out of place in a darkened club. This ethos can be found in the entire Holodec experience, from the surreal cover art for his tracks, to the videos that accompany them. His identity is strong but is open to interpretation if you put in the time to absorb it.
We interviewed him to get a sliver of insight into the project that is Holodec.
Holodec by Dono van Novotny
What has been a piece of music or other media that you’ve kept coming back to this year?
Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues. I first watched it around this time last year, and ever since I’ve been watching it over and over again. It’s the director’s first feature-length film and a beautiful work of art. I think with where I was/am at in life, it just hit a nerve. I’m on that wavelength right now.
It centres around the Diamond Sutra, a core Buddhist scripture in the Chan/Zen schools, that also served as inspiration for Street Talk, both the musical composition and visual manifestation.
This is an oversimplified way to put it, but the Diamond Sutra communicates that;
– Each and every form is illusive. There are no forms/states/concepts.
– One cannot retain the past; the present cannot be held; one cannot attain the future.
– Things are, and they are not.
– Past, present and future are all one.
– Thus chaos and stillness and creation are all one.
That was our 2020 in a lot of ways.
So, if you are familiar with the Street Talk release, you can understand how that served as the foundation for it all. Parts of the composition are floating into each other and apart, but at all times it is whole. The same can be said about the visuals. The images are all disparate but are also all one, and keep becoming. It’s perpetually whole through its movement.
How has your background as an Asian American influenced your creative identity?
I don’t know if it has so much influenced my creative identity, but it has shaped my identity as a whole. The creative expression is just an extension of who I am.
So, you ask what it is like being Asian American? Let’s look at the American part first. The US is an interesting place. This is where I grew up, as a child of immigrants, where you grow up has a big impact on you. This place is unique, with a unique history in the modern era. A brief but intense history of conquest, genocide, slavery, immigrant exploitation, racism, peak capitalism etc.
The size of this country, both geographically and in population, is huge. With the way our system is built out here, it’s a ‘crabs-in-a-barrel’ mentality; every person for themselves. COVID has severely damaged our economy, our ability to work, and no government support like there is in other countries. It’s survival of the fittest.
Then you zone in a layer deeper. California itself has its unique place in American history. It is one of the newer bigger states; it was the ‘Wild West,’ where the Gold Rush took place, it has Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It’s always been this frontier type of place where new boom eras happened, and with that, it cultivates a certain type of society and culture. Many people don’t realize that we also produce most of the country’s agriculture. This country relies on the Californian economy; they eat our food and rely on our tax dollars. On who’s backs was this state built on? Who do you think?
We have one of the largest immigrant populations in the US. Almost half of California’s population are immigrants or children/grandchildren of immigrants, mostly first and second-generation Americans. I’m a product of that.
All this to say, being a first-generation American is deep. I’m still making sense of what it means. So, I don’t fully know how to answer the question.
We haven’t even gotten to the specifically Asian immigrant experience part yet. We could write a book on that. As Asians in America, our story hasn’t been told properly yet, in my opinion, at least. It’s a diverse and varied experience that Hollywood and academia hasn’t fully documented or portrayed accurately. That’s because many of us are just coming of age now. So many of us and our families just got here a few decades ago. The majority of immigrant kids are just coming into adulthood now, and the details of their stories are getting clearer as a result. As our generations grow and mature, more real stories will be told. I’m excited to see the stories being and those that will be written in these coming years of my life.
Anyways, to tie it all back into the initial question; all of this shapes who I am. Therefore it informs my thinking, my soul, and my art. Sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in more obvious ways. I’m still making sense of it all though. I probably won’t understand it fully until I’m dead and get to look back on everything from beyond.
As a mostly instrumental musician, how do you make sure a track has your ‘voice’ without your actual vocals. How do you make a Holodec track sound like a Holodec track?
To be clear: Holodec is a project. It is not meant to be a whole representation of who I am as a human being, as a divine spirit. If anything, it’s just a sliver of a certain corner in my mind, as a person. It’s just a certain realm of ideas I have. With other projects, I work on under different aliases and mediums, those express other ideas and emotions.
But we’re talking about Holodec. If you immerse yourself in the Holodec world, you’ll get it, the perspective, the music catalogue, the videos, and visuals, make sure to go back and listen to all the DJ mixes from this year. Listen to this mix I’ve done for you, POCC Magazine, and you’ll get it. I get people hitting me on the DMs, emails and in-person, they get it. So that’s encouraging, that’s validating. That tells me I’m not going over people’s heads.
Look, this isn’t fast food. It’s a full meal. You gotta digest it. If you want some fast food, Holodec isn’t for you. I’m not knocking fast food, and I love that shit too sometimes. Easily consumable media has its place. But this is not that. Not everything is the same.
This is universal, though. As I said, it’s also not going over anyone’s head. This is not some art school thesis or dissertation or whatever. But if you enter the realm, if you enter the Holodec, you’ll get it.
What was it like collaborating with Kelman Duran on the remix for your song ‘Street Talk’ and how did that come about?
We met at the NTS LA studio some years back now. He was still living in LA at the time, he had wrapped up a show, and I got there early for mine. We were both smoking a cig outside. We started chopping it up, and you could say we just vibed.
More specific to the music, I think sonically, our works can coexist. We’re talking about working on some more stuff together. I fuck with Kelman. I’m just a big fan of his work first and foremost.
On the topic of the video clip, were there any specific films or shots that you drew inspiration from when crafting it?
90% of the places depicted are places that I’ve been, places that hold a special spot in my heart—mostly California and Asia. The other 10% are places I’d like to visit within the next few years.
And in terms of focusing on place, I think many of us would agree that place and environment have a big influence on you as a human being. You change and evolve as your environments change and evolve. In life, things come apart; things come together.
None of your visual content or your social media features images of you, couple this with the previously mentioned lack of your vocals in your music and the veiled ‘Holodec’ in a sense of anonymity. Was this deliberate? Has it been hard to market yourself without a human-element for viewers/listeners to grab onto?
This is not true. As I said, you just have to enter the world. This is not a drive-thru. I pop up all the time on my account, on homie’s accounts. If you just want to window shop, you probably won’t get it, might not see me. You truly gotta step inside.
I don’t hide. People see me at gigs, come introduce themselves. I’m not hiding behind a mask like some artists. You’re just not gonna get everything on-demand, served to you on a platter. I’m not that thirsty to be seen either. I’m not here to do marketing all the time. I’m not your entertainment. I’m not here to serve you.
I’m here, though. If you care enough to know, I’m right here in plain sight. Holla at me.
Where do you ideally want to be by this time next year? What will be the steps to get there?
Can’t call it with COVID. People don’t even really know what’s gonna happen with the rest of this year. I’m just taking it one day at a time.