Kick ass and level the playing field

How does one create music after being abruptly forced into a world of silence? Jennifer Lee, a Los Angeles-based producer known on stage as TOKiMONSTA, did one thing: Continue to compose even when music stopped making sense.

And the music she created in “Lune Rouge” is cathartic—both to the artist herself and to anyone who listens to it. Her approach to electronic music shows her command of the theatrical, the notable pulsating movement of her orchestric beats. TOKiMONSTA’s overall sound is a medley of ethereal pop with mellow and soulful tempos, what she describes as “moonlit music.”

*During TOKiMONSTA’s quick Manila visit, the Red Bull Music Academy mentor was fearless in sharing how she kicked Moyamoya’s ass (a rare and fatal brain disease that can cause severe functional impairments) and what it took to be recognized as an Asian female producer in a male-dominated industry:

I had to get two high-risk brain surgeries, and if I didn’t undergo those procedures I probably won’t be here today. The recovery was very difficult—I lost my ability to speak, I couldn’t understand language, and I couldn’t understand what made any music.
I isolated myself from everyone for two months and developed social anxiety. I couldn’t stay out for a long time as I’ve become very sensitive. As time passed, the memory of how to do things came back to me. So when I started playing shows again, the real challenge was the emotional and mental parts.

I had to go from a very traumatic experience, to not seeing anyone for a while, to playing in front of 20,000 people at Coachella—it was quite a big schism to cross.

But seeing the crowd resonate with the music you create, means they resonate with a very deep side of you—and I’m really humbled by it. I get to see people enjoy the music I make and shows I perform, this shared experience by all these different cultures. 

But when you’re making something personal as music, you’re not making it for other people. It’s ultimately an expression of yourself and your own creativity. And it gets very vulnerable—you get very vulnerable. You’re sharing some part of yourself.

When you’re vulnerable, you’re trying to show a part of yourself that’s not inhibited. And in a lot of ways, we are all susceptible to trends and influences. It’s very risky to be vulnerable. It’s very risky to express yourself in a way that shows everyone something different. Vulnerability is very much hand-in-hand with being unique and having a unique sound.

But be unique anyway. Hear your own voice. Just be yourself and don’t be like everyone else—everyone else already exists. You want to set yourself apart. You want to be someone with some level of integrity

I wanna make sure that I’m an artist with integrity, too. I don’t set out to be an example but I know that by default that’s just how I am to some people. So I take responsibility for that and show that I’m making my own decisions, not getting into anything that seems contrived or insincere. I just know that as an Asian, and as a female, all the issues I’ve faced before, I will strive and make them nonissues for those who want to be in this industry.

It’s making the outside world understand it can’t challenge women or Asians the same way anymore. That we can hold it down and dispel their level of belief that we’re some sort of rare four-leaf clover.

I don’t wanna be rare. I don’t want to be the only Asian, only female person doing this. I want this [experience and opportunity] normalized—that someone like me can make the same music in the same level as anyone else—that the playing field would be even, and that the “challenges” would be the same for everyone.

As told to Vinz Lamorena*

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