The pop dao of Zhao

Kicking back with Kenny Zhao; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Kicking back with Kenny Zhao; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Performing at LA’s Chewing Foil June 6 as part of the APAHM Phase 3 festival extravaganza — today we are proud to shine a light on the illuminated and inspired work of Kenny Zhao — otherwise known to the world by the surname of Zhao. The LA artist presents a keen awareness of how to mold contemporary consoles and creative tools that fashion the core of human expressions through the post-digital lens of aesthetic enhancement and audio expansion. Zhao’s work blends timeless dance components with an understated approach that allows the work of art to breathe in an elaborate execution that illustrates evocative environments and candid moments shared between loved ones.

Zhao recently released the sweet, slick, smooth and sentimental single “Feeling Today” that inquires sincerely about the states of our mercurial beings. An arpeggio of synths sparkle and shine like digital sprinkles of rain as the keys cruise serenely into the sensual rhythms that bop like enamored heart beats. The chorus titular question of how you feeling today extends open arms beyond the rhetorical, asking in earnest about about the nature of experiences that are both personal, individual, shared and original. “Feeling Today” glows bright with an untethered sheen that embraces the spirit of carpe diem where life and the world at large is depicted as something new, something wonderful, something bountiful and abundant with the promise of new opportunities and thousands of sunny days that line the winding roads ahead.

A further evolution of the Zhao sound can be heard via “Magic (Karyendasoul Remix)”. Kenny’s heartfelt delivery and romantic chops are rewired for something suited both for late night drives on the 405, as well as the coolest clandestine clubs (whose locations and whereabouts are known to only those in the know). The “Magic” of human interaction and amorous exchanges are edified in an extended interlude that clocks in right under the seven minute mark that holds on to that feeling of infinity for as long as possible. Even through the fancy beat-centered filter of Karyendasoul’s rework — the indefatigable of Zhao’s aura shines even brighter through it like a sunbeam breaking through the obfuscation of a nimbus cloud cluster in the sky.

We caught up with Kenny Zhao ahead of their APAHM Phase 3 showcase in the following insightful and expressive exchanges:

Reflective few words regarding craft/mission statements:

The craft is always shifting for me. My first experience with music was classical piano and that’s still very much the foundation of what I do. But as I’ve explored new instruments and creative techniques I’ve found myself focusing more on the performance aspect of music; capturing moments of ingenuity and building around those rather than building only on compositional structures.

Zhao is my family name. It’s first and foremost a dedication to my parents and a shorthand way of reminding them that this is for them. Beyond that, it has become an outlet for all the challenges I never had the courage to face as just myself. I made my first EP and showed my face in my first music videos because of Zhao. I got on stage last year because of Zhao. I’m not very good at accepting praise normally, but I feel comfortable putting the best of myself into this project. My biggest hope is that it inspires people to value their own lives that way.

Sleeping amid the royal purple flowers with Zhao; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Sleeping amid the royal purple flowers with Zhao; press photo courtesy of the artist.

The APAHM Phase experience and why it's a necessary event for the community:

Last year moonroom invited me to perform at the Moroccan Lounge with Polartropica, Mini Bear and Miss Jupiter. I was extremely honored to be curated and taken seriously for the first time. This wasn’t just a random lineup of API artists either, they were all bands that defied genre, something I strongly identify with. So it really made me feel seen. I went to every other moonroom show I could attend that year, discovering longstanding LA establishments — The Satellite, Hi-Hat, Bootleg, The Smell, etc. The moonroom series made those venues seem accessible to me. Up until that point I had been complaining to my mostly white friends that there are were no API artists. So it was an extremely profound experience for me to see API-fronted rock bands, punk bands, beat makers, ambient artists for the first time.

Seeing someone on stage who looks like me phenomenologically changes the way I think about that performance. It doesn’t matter whether that person is even considering their Asian identity during the show. I find elements of myself in those shows. To me that’s the greatest thing you can take away from a show, understanding yourself and feeling understood. Not to mention how much it inspires the artists on stage. So I support any means by which we can achieve that, cultural background and otherwise. I get that not everyone feels this way, that’s fine. But it behooves me to create that opportunity for those who do.

Catch Zhao playing June 6 at LA’s Chewing Foil with Kelleia, Kiriko, Onu and DJ sets by Harriet Brown and Sacha K.

moonroom’s #APAHM Phase 3, an AAPI alternative arts series, returns for its 3rd year of showcases highlighting AAPI indie artists and AAPI-fronted bands across Southern California in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May and the summer months. This year’s theme is 'Confluence' as we look to continue improving and reconstructing representation of Asian Americans in Western culture. Over the last 2 seasons, more than 80 AAPI artists across 20+ showcases have participated during May and the summer months. 2019 looks to increase that number with an even more diverse slate of programmers and events. For more insight on #APAHM Phase 3, visit @moonroomie.

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