Photo: SM Entertainment

South Korean artists have taken the world by storm. Their most notable exports include Billboard Music Award-winning group BTS, MTV Video Music Award-winning girl group Blackpink, as well as Itaewon Class star Park Seo Joon (who’ll be starring in Marvel’s upcoming film The Marvels alongside Brie Larson). Following in their footsteps is South Korean DJ and producer Raiden who is now signed to Protocol Recordings, led by DJ Nicky Romero. Protocol is one of the top three record labels in the world, and works with names like Calvin Harris, Hardwell and NERVO. Raiden is the first Asian artist to work with the Dutch label. 

After first making a name for himself in the electro-house scene in Korea, Raiden went on to solidify his presence with a Club Octagon residency, and at the main stage set at Ultra Music Festival in Korea in 2013. He spent the next three years participating in numerous local and international music festivals alongside world-renowned DJs such as ZEDD, Alesso, Fedde Le Grand and Skrillex. Raiden was even invited on stage at Tomorrowland by DJ Sunnery James, after the Dutch musician heard Raiden play at a party in Singapore. He was eventually invited to Tomorrowland as a Korean representative to work with highly accomplished DJs such as David Guetta and Steve Aoki in 2017.

South Korean DJ And Producer Raiden On Collaborating With BIG Naughty And EXY
Photo: SM Entertainment

These days, Raiden splits his time between working on his solo album and collaborating with other South Korean artists. His latest collaborators are BIG Naughty and EXY. They worked on an original music soundtrack for the new South Korean television drama series titled Idol: The Coup. Directed by No Jong-chan and written by Jung Yoon-jung, the series follows Cotton Candy, a fictional girl group, and tells the lesser known tale of idols who failed to reach ultimate stardom. The cast includes South Korean artists Kwak Si Yang, EXID’s Hani, Kim Min Kyu, LABOUM’s Solbin, WJSN’s EXY, Lee Eun Sang and more. 

Ahead, we speak exclusively with the Raiden to find out more about his new song with BIG Naughty and EXY. He also talks about the new South Korean drama series titled ‘Idol: The Coup’, and his plans for the future.

Tell us about how this collaboration came about.

I met up with Transparent Arts (an Asian-American talent management firm) and they were telling me about their plans for a new Korean drama series called Idol: The Coup. They offered me the opportunity to produce a soundtrack for it, with South Korean singer-songwriter EXY in mind. I loved the concept so much that I immediately got in touch with my friends and produced a song with Matisse & Sadko (DJ/Producer duo based in Russia), as well as with Ozi who dropped an amazing hook for this song.

When we were done with the song, we realised that we had empty spaces for rap verses. I envisioned more of a versatile style of rap—a tone that could accentuate the emotions that this story has. And immediately BIG Naughty came up. Producers for the show introduced us and everything moved so smoothly. He came up with the verses in a day, and I was in love with it. It was my first time meeting and working with him. And since we both love this song, we have plans to work on more music in the near future.

Tell us the inspiration behind the song, and what it means to you.

The inspiration came from the story [of the show]. There have been a lot of drama series that tell the idol story but from what I remember, none like this one. As an artist myself, we are all aspiring to achieve certain goals and dreams in our lives, and in the process, we face reality. Often we get caught up looking at the top one per cent of the industry where everything looks luxurious but the process to get there is not always pretty. This story — to me — felt like it was redefining the standard for that process. The story gives us the strength to dream and not give up. I wanted to be a part of that narrative and give courage to listeners and viewers.

What has been the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of working on this song?

We had a lot of co-writers on this song, mostly because I had a pretty solid vision of which part needed what. For example, I knew Ozi would kill the hook, and Matisse & Sadko also reached out to another writer in Sweden for EXY’s part, who wrote a perfect melody verse that suited her. There was a lot of back and forth between different writers but we are all super happy with the final product, which makes all of our countless emails and video calls worth it.

What do you admire most about BIG Naughty and EXY?

EXY is a part of a very popular K-Pop girl group, WJSN, and she has yet to release a solo album. I’ve always known how talented she is. She mainly does rap parts when she’s performing with her group but she has an amazing range and tone for singing too. Plus she’s a great dancer; I admire her for that. Until now I feel like she has not shown too much of her vocal tone and her talent so I was hoping to show off that side of her.

BIG Naughty has so much creative energy around him. He is still young and, like EXY, is so versatile. He is not boxed in because essentially, he can do it all too. I love artists who are not afraid to try something new because I was scared to do something out of my comfort zone when I was younger. Artists like BIG Naughty inspire me.

Which genre of music is your favourite?

My favourite genre of music is rock. Listening to rock music takes me everywhere. And it touches a special place in my heart in different ways. I can’t name a favourite song per se since I have too many. Maybe I can name a few of my favourite artists and bands that influenced my career: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Muse, Placebo, David Bowie, Jack White, and Arctic Monkeys. I always try to incorporate some aspects of rock to my music that leans more towards pop and electronic. 

How would you describe your music style?

I started as an electronic-based producer, artist, and a DJ. But when I was younger and in school, I was a guitarist in a rock band. My experience in a band still has a lot of influence over what I produce now. I would say a lot of my style is electronic pop crossovers with a lot of organic instruments.

How would you describe your style, and what is one item of clothing you can’t live without?

I love fashion because I view it as another way of expressing myself. I love trying different looks through layering and mix-matching. Also, I enjoy matching different jewellery and accessory accents to my outfit. I wear a chain necklace almost daily, but I switch it up every day depending on my mood and how I want to express myself that day. My favourite chain (which I wore a lot last year) is the Chain Links Patches necklace from Louis Vuitton. I like accessories that are very bold, and I pair them with anything from suits to casual styles.

The pandemic has hit creatives hard. How has the way you create music changed?

Touring — that was such a big part of my life [before the pandemic]. And now it’s scary to think that I have to live without it. I use the pandemic as a time to reconstruct and envision what I want to create musically. Without it, I would not have had the opportunity and time to create an EP, or reshape and think through my music on a bigger scale. The pandemic has taught me how to create music for myself, and revisit what I wanted to communicate through music from when I first started. I do want to be back on tour though. I feel more ready than ever.

Who is your dream collaborator?

There are numerous musicians that I would love to collaborate with. Also, I would love to collaborate with someone outside of music to produce creative content. There are a lot of exciting and innovative content that I see and hear everyday.I would love to work with a fashion designer or a graphic designer to create something that means something special to us.

What are you most thankful for this year? And what are you most looking forward to in 2022?

I got to produce my first EP this year, and I appreciate everyone that helped me through that. Furthermore, I got to create music with T1 (a legendary esports team based in Seoul) for the first time. I had the opportunity to expand my repertoire of music into soundtracks. In short: I am thankful I had the opportunity to express myself with new forms of music. In 2022, I want to continue on this path. I already started working on my next project while working on my last EP. It is a continuation of what I have been doing this year and will be global-focused.

Lastly, what would you like to say to your fans in Singapore?

Singapore is home to a lot of my close friends. And I used to go there for a lot of shows. I miss the city, my friends, and most importantly meeting my fans in person. Hopefully, the situation gets better and I get to reunite with my fans at shows and festivals. Looking forward to lot of new music and new shows.