Behind The Mask: Jasmine Sokko, Electronic Music’s It-Girl And Our July Digital Cover Girl

There’s no denying it, you’re looking right at the It-girl of music. Mention the name Jasmine Sokko, and I swear there’s a glint of excitement in the eyes of my peers as they swoon, “oh she’s that cool girl right” — minus the irony. Certainly, that’s the impression we got when Sokko saunters into the room at an exclusive Louboutin Beauty event, to rapturous applause, before she belts out her radio-friendly beats, moving her hips and arms with unfaltering poise. Another known fact? You’ll never catch her without her mask — sometimes a visor, other times, futuristic Gentle Monster sunglasses — at least, while under the glamour of stage lights. The “girl with the mask”; that title often gives an enigmatic aura to the self-made musician. Mask on, she’s cool, shrouded in secrecy.

Go ahead, give her music a listen and you’ll probably agree — its swirl of punchy, addictive beats happen to find themselves unexpectedly latched onto lyrics that are most times melancholic, honest. Whether she’s ‘Hurt’, ’Tired’, or singing of a world in ‘#0000FF’, Sokko expertly mashes together the best of upbeat pop, that stuck-in-your-head quality, with a quirky soundscape achieved via electronic means. Throw in her wispy, dreamy vocals and you’ve got a picture of mainstream success.

How mainstream, you ask? In May 2018, the 23-year-old counted herself one of Spotify’s Top 5 Local Female Artists in Singapore, alongside industry veterans Stefanie Sun and Tanya Chua. And that was before her recent singles hit the charts — ‘Hurt’, released August last year, has crossed 3 million streams, while ‘Tired’, out March this year, looks set to sprint past that. At the rate we’re hitting the replay button, that is.

You can say that for a while now, Sokko, currently signed to major music label Warner Music, has been quite the face of electronic music in Singapore — no, scratch that. this champion for pop has found overseas fame too, most prestigiously as a Top 4 Finalist of Rave Now, an electronic music reality competition based in China. There’s an iconic moment in the show we most vividly recall. When asked by judge Lay Zhang on whether she’d take off her mask, she says: “Being a female producer, I hope everyone will focus on my music more than how I look like. I believe my personality can shine through in my music.” Bold words, indeed.

Mask on, she’s a music provocateur, the daring auteur. However, it’s here, mask off, that things get interesting. Without it, she comes across as — dare we say it — a girl-next-door, if only for that disarming charm that puts you at ease.

MAKEUP (ALL SHISEIDO):
synchro skin glow foundation in n3, $74
brow inktrio in taupe 02 and deep brown 03, $45
kajal inkartist in rose pagoda 03 and birodo green 06, $38
controlledchaos mascaraink in black pulse 01, $50
minimalist whippedpowder blush in sayoko 06, $48
modernmatte powder lipsticK in nude streak 503, $46
lacquerink lipshine in honey flash 310, $46
face mask, jasmine’s own
WEARING (all chanel):
tweed coat, $12,840
tweed pants, $6,270
belt, $1,750

 

People in masks can be alienating, often aloof and almost desperate to maintain that mystery; not so much for Jasmine. Mask off, there’s less of that perfect polish — and yet, for all the coolness of ‘Jasmine Sokko, the star’, we quite like this refreshing take. Even she says so herself. “I’m not as cool!” she exclaims, before delving into what it means to be true to who she is.

It’s here that she opens up on the artist struggle; on loneliness and self-doubt, on the frustrating need to prove her worth as one of the rare females in the electronic music scene, on the what-ifs, all while embracing an uncharted journey that’s equal parts scary and thrilling. She admits to being very much in the process of learning. There is something very humble about the things she says, how a person of her creativity and music calibre can still reflect, unflinchingly, on her journey. Her story reads like a coming-of-age film — on growing up, the struggle with identity, the search for the truest version of yourself.

This is a girl who sometimes comes up with, well, awkward terms when describing her thoughts (see: ‘efficient’ when explaining how music communicates across borders), but when her brain gets fired up, she waxes on passionately about music and more — she defends the beauty of pop music, on how creating sounds with a laptop is just as “real”, or how creativity isn’t just a gift bestowed, it has to be earned with time and effort, so you bet she’ll work hard for it. You see that she dares to be contrary.

It’s then that you realise, how it makes sense — the girl behind the mask is the girl wearing the mask too. That’s Jasmine Sokko for you.

face mask, jasmine’s own
WEARING (all louis vuitton):
long sleeved lace top
Sleeveless silk wool blazer
high-waisted wool cargo pants
Heeled boots

 

ON HER RECENT SONGWRITING TRIP TO STOCKHOLM

“My favourite part of making music has always been songwriting, so going up to Stockholm for this songwriting camp was really fulfilling and eye-opening. I learnt so much about myself in three days than I would have in three months just being alone in my room making music.

They paired us up with two topliners, people who do the melody and lyrics, and one music producer who does all the instruments. Usually, I do everything on my own. When I was there… man, if I use this analogy it’s a bit of a turn-off but, it’s like a school project. [laughs] Once you have an idea, you just shoot, and everyone reacts and responds. Your brain is so active! When I was there, I feel like I was at 400% because there are other people there with you, you’re aware. It was a really good thing to have gone through as an artist.”

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS: HOW SHE USUALLY WRITES HER MUSIC

“I have a lot of processes — I would do anything to get a song! I used to think that creative moments are things that you don’t put much time into, they visit you, or you have something that just hits you. But then, you actually have to be disciplined. Even though people say that quality is more important than quantity, if you give it enough quantity, you create more chances that can lead to more quality work. These days, I feel that it’s quantity that makes for quality.

Because of that, I tend to set a schedule for myself every week. The happy kind of process would be, I have a lot of voice notes on my phone. I record something every day. Then, I’d listen through and see which ideas can go together to form a new concept and see how everything connects. Other times, I would listen to a new song and I would try to guess where the melody’s going, and if it goes differently than how I thought it would go, that might be my new song, I’ll work from there. And then, I could also be scrolling through Twitter and come across a tweet that could be a punchline, then expand that out into a song. It’s about doing everything I guess!

It’s a very active, and sometimes frustrating, process because you can do everything and nothing comes to you. Sometimes I still make shitty songs, but I think it’s part of the process. If you make 100 shitty songs, you can’t make more than that, you know? At some point it will stop, and you will make one good song. So I like to be positive and tell myself that.”

 

WHY HER SONGS FEEL LIKE DIARY ENTRIES

“Sometimes, I’ll revisit my older material. To me, songs are like diary entries, it could be an event or something I was feeling at the time, so maybe in three years time, I’ll listen back and be like, oh shit I’m feeling the same way I was three years ago, and then I could expand on that idea.

I tend to write as much as possible; it’s one part passion and one part discipline, and the only thing I can really write about are things I experience, or things I empathise with when I watch something or talk to someone. It’s a point when I’m most genuine. You know how people sometimes soundtrack a moment they’re experiencing? In that sense, people create their own meaning. Writing songs is like that to me.”

face mask, jasmine’s own
WEARING (all chanel):
leather coat, $26,510
necklace, $11,650

 

ON BEING INVOLVED IN THE ENTIRE SONGWRITING PROCESS — FROM START TO END

“To be honest, most of the time I make my songs alone, and I feel lonely.

As an artist, you need to be mindful about what you put out, because every song adds on to who you are and what you want to say. It is empowering, but there can also be a lot of self-doubt. A lot of the time, you’re like, is this nice? It’s very subjective. You can ask friends who know music and those who don’t, and you can never get a good response. There’s a lot of self-doubt. And sometimes you want to write something that gets really personal, and you’re like, hey am I revealing too much? Even during production, it’s down to the waveform — it’s very nerdy! Still, at the end of the day, I’ll look back and still be proud of the song as one of the good diary entries.

One thing I do feel empowered about though is that — with the traditional set-up being female-fronted singers and male producers doing the more technical stuff — being able to do both on my own gives me the feeling of control. I can be in control of everything. Then I learn to give in to my production, to myself, when I write my melodies, which is nice. I get myself.”

 

HER START IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC

“I’m a typical Asian kid — my parents forced me to take piano lessons. I hated it! I only learnt three songs properly in a year to pass an exam. When I’m forced to do something, I feel really reluctant. I don’t get the space to create something, so I hated piano lessons. To rebel against that, I got a guitar and started learning that on my own. I was in a rock band, and I didn’t fit in because my voice is very thin, floaty. I still like music but I’m not good with music theory or the technicalities, because trying to do that, again, reminds me of piano days.

So I started listening to electronic music and thought, how do I make this sound? How come it sounds so different from all the rock bands I’ve been playing in or listening to? I can programme this sound wave, add in drums at the right position, and then I can make my own song! I felt like I had the ideas, and not the skill, but maybe I can learn the execution.

During that year, around the end of 2015, I did everything I could to learn more. I went around my music circle of friends, but everyone was saying this isn’t real music, it’s digital, you’re using a laptop. I didn’t learn much, so I went online and watched a lot of YouTube tutorials. Six hours! It was so dry! I bought a textbook on music programming even — it was so bad, it was just a manual. I didn’t learn much until I randomly produced something, played around with the work station. There was a lot of trial and error, trying things hands-on. I didn’t even know I was making a song.”

 

HOW SHE RESPONDS TO “THAT’S NOT REAL MUSIC”

“At some point in time, when rock music came out, before it was a thing, these people that started rock music before it became mainstream also went through the same process of people saying they’re “not making real music”. So for me, it was very clear — hey, making music through a computer, a laptop, a machine, it’s just another technological advancement.

What is music? For me, it’s a medium of communication. It’s amazing. My songs are very short, so music to me is a way of communicating to people you don’t know, who might live half the globe away from you, but they get you in that two minutes. It’s very… efficient. [laughs] Transcendental, yeah! The way it communicates a message.”

 

IN DEFENSE OF POP MUSIC

“For a long period of time, I hated thinking that I was trying to make pop music because it takes the artistry away. But as time passes, I talk to Lennat [her manager], and along the way, my mentality changed.

Pop music is beautiful — people say that it’s dumbed down or it’s ‘trash music’ because it’s simplified such that the lowest common denominator can understand what the song’s about, but I feel like that’s the beauty in it. Sometimes, you don’t have to complicate things to be good. In fact, it’s harder to simplify something. To me, pop music is like a smartphone with a good interface — when someone picks up one, they know how to use it intuitively, it’s user-friendly. When someone listens to pop, it’s broad, yeah, but they can put their own experience into the song and relate to it.

Actually, would I consider my music pop? I don’t know! There’s no sound to it, pop’s always changing, it’s a short form for whatever’s ‘popular’ right? If you’re doing pop music now, it means you’re copying the song that just hit Top 40. If you’re doing that, the odds are, it won’t end up there. You have to experiment and do something that’s different — I think pop music is about inventing and creating something out of the usual music formula.”

 

WHY THE MASK IS PART OF HER PERSONA

“It started as part of a music video idea. Eventually, I realise that the identity really fits me a lot because I’m very low-key and if I make music, I would much rather people pay attention to my music first than to care about anything else that I feel is peripheral. Along the way, the mask has helped me a lot creatively — every music video, I would change something different and it would be a mask, that part because really fun, it became a whole creative space that the stylist, the director and I would stress out about.

In terms of it being empowering, it’s very safe! Every time I wear a visor, I feel really safe. It’s weird because I’m supposed to hide myself, but when I do it, I feel like I’m being more of myself. It eliminates what I have to care about, like how I look when I sing or whatever. It makes me feel like it’s okay to be weird, it’s okay to be strange, to dance like how I do in my bathroom. When I started out wearing the mask, people do give me that stare. I’m like, hmm yeah should I take it off, it’s weird! But then, I stuck with that decision because… I think it’s very me.”

 

SHE MIGHT ONE DAY DO WITHOUT THE MASK IF…

“Yeah, if there’s something interesting. Oh my god, I thought about it. There’s this Instagram account where they created a fictional human… if it’s that, I’ll totally take off my mask, man. I want to, damn! Say this: I’m scouting for a 3D artist. [laughs] I’m always intrigued by how you can bring your existence into the virtual world.”

 

IF THERE’S A COMMON THEME TO HER MUSIC

“I’ll be honest, during my first EP, I didn’t have a common theme. So I named my songs according to numbers to make it seem like a concept — I’m still fascinated by numbers and what they represent. But now, I name my songs according to emotions.

You know how colours are on a spectrum, and among that there’d be a few colours that were handpicked as representative, like red, black, white. But the truth is, there are so many colours in the world, with each shift of your cursor on the colour graph, you can change it because the code changes. It’s the same with emotions — you know the mainstream ones, like happy, angry, sad. But along that whole spectrum are many more that we feel as humans that we don’t get to express, talk about, or celebrate.

I want to capture these tiny moments. My first song, “Hurt“, was about feeling hurt, but also about revenge. And “Tired“, not because of sleep, but people. That’s the new theme, at least now I’m thinking a lot about that.”

 

 

HER EXPERIENCE AT ‘RAVE NOW’, AN ELECTRONIC MUSIC REALITY COMPETITION IN CHINA

“They found me using VPN. When I received the email, I didn’t think it was real, and then the plane ticket arrived. And I was like, hey I’ve never been to China, why not? It was also the first day of my school’s exchange, and I just went with it! I arrived at the TV station and only then realised it was real. I never took it seriously, to be honest, until I made it through the first round, because I thought, my Chinese is so bad, how am I even going to get there?

I kept viewing that as my weakness, and then along the way, I realise people were speaking to me in English because they wanted to practice it. So I was like, hey, if there’s something different about me, it’s where I come from, who I am, so why not just embrace that? I didn’t try to sing the Chinese lyrics in a way that people would, my songs would have English lyrics, and I guess the audience found something unique in that. Your weakness is your strength.”

 

ON THE FANS SHE GAINED SINCE HER CHINA DEBUT

“The Chinese fans — if they love you, they will go all out, they will even love what your manager drinks at Starbucks and buy the same drink! The fans are more passionate, extreme. [If I had to choose between low-key or extreme fans], I’d pick the haters and lovers! I’m not even kidding! At first, it was a bit shocking, like oh my god, these people don’t even know me, why are they saying these things and making up stories? But… it’s exciting. [laughs] They’re great. They actually give you the same kind of validation of your existence as the lovers — but of course, shower your love back to the people who love you. Some fans even end up fighting for me [on social media].”

MAKEUP (ALL SHISEIDO):
synchro skin glow foundation in n3, $74
minimalist whippedpowder blush in sayoko 06, $48
modernmatte powder lipsticK in majo 523 and exotic red 516, $46
visor, jasmine’s own
WEARING:
Louis vuitton long sleeved lace top
prada bustier
prada skirt
prada leather belt

 

BEING A FEMALE IN THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE

“Ah. It’s a very male-dominated industry. I find it infuriating when people assume what I know and do not know according to my gender. Some people can’t seem to take the fact that I produce my own music, they just refuse to accept it. It takes a lot to prove my worth, and I find that really frustrating and unnecessary.

Sometimes you’ll get questions or doubts that you wouldn’t get if you were a boy. Even though these incidents are not outrightly against females, just having me go though the ‘hey if I were a boy I wouldn’t be getting this treatment’, I didn’t like it. There are definitely a lot more female producers coming on board, and it’s amazing. But the current percentage and ratio is quite bad. Last I read, 95% of producers are male!

The only incident I remember very clearly was when I was collaborating with a friend and he was trying to take charge of everything as if I didn’t know what I was doing. And then I was thinking, if I were a guy, would that have happened? Clearly, no. So I backed out of that project.”

 

WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE HER FIRST EP,

“My own personality and character has been the same, but along the way, I became a lot more straightforward. Less politically-correct. More aggressive. I feel like I became more ‘me’! At some point last year, I felt a bit disconnected from this character of ‘Jasmine Sokko’, because she’s in a mask, she’s so cool and all, but in real life, I’m another side. Not that I’m different. I’m not as cool!

Last year, I found it hard to bridge this gap between this fictional character and myself, and yet this fictional character’s part of me. Maybe just the coolest part. Then along the way in my songwriting, I started writing how I feel, even with vulgarities, and all those things. I stopped caring so much about my Instagram feed or how I want to present myself. One part was acknowledging that I’m always changing, so rather than focus on how I’m presenting myself, why not work on myself? Eventually I became more ‘me’.”

 

HOW SHE’S MORE HONEST THAN EVER, ESPECIALLY WITH HER MUSIC

“Back when I started music, I thought maybe I should leave things broad so people can relate, put whatever interpretation they want. Then I realise, if you’re being honest and specific, people would experience the same thing you’ve been through and they can feel it too. There’s something genuine about just doing that.”

 

ON “TIRED”, HER LATEST SINGLE

“Take the song “Tired“. It was a time when I went for a social networking event. As an introvert, I find it hard to keep socialising with people. I come from business school and we were taught how to network and everything — ew! You go to a networking session, and you meet people knowing you only have two minutes! You build a wall, because it’s not vulnerable, not comfortable. It was a lot for me to take in. Then, I went home and wrote “Tired” — because of shallow conversations. When I wanted to release that song, I had my reservations, like people might think I’m very aloof or separated from the world, but then I put it out, and realised, hey, it’s not just me! Even extroverts experience that.

For the music video, the first line of the discussion was, let’s do something totally different from the lyrics because that’s too predictable, which is why it’s so different! I did it with Martin Hong / Choānn. I just came back from China at that time, and Martin asked me what has changed, what are some of my thoughts, and I was sharing about what it is to be an Asian, and how I want to celebrate that part of me. I learnt to appreciate my own identity a lot more, so we wanted to something unique to our own culture.

It was my first overseas shoot. It was absolutely scary because there were so many factors that could go wrong. 18 hours in total, non-stop. There were a lot of people on set. But the location was great. Everything was well-planned. I cried right after the shoot. I felt like I didn’t deliver within that 18 hours, and it was so short. It was awkward!”

 

 

MAKEUP (ALL SHISEIDO):
synchro skin glow foundation in n3, $74
minimalist whippedpowder blush in sayoko 06, $48
lacquerink lipshine in scarlet glare 307, $46
visor, jasmine’s own
WEARING:
issey miyake arc top in charcoal grey

 

THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF HER JOURNEY

“This doesn’t just relate to music, but just, doing something on your own. When you do something on your own, if you’re not going up, you’re going down. So because of that I’m always stressed out about what I can do next so that I can learn from what I put out, and how do I keep moving. It’s tough — I come from Singapore, it’s a small country. How far can this push me? It gets very… sad. It’s always been this struggle. The whole idea of how I went to school and maybe I can do something stable? I do have these thoughts a lot. But it’s also the whole up and down that makes what I’m doing thrilling, like a roller coaster ride.”

 

WHETHER SHE CONSIDERS HERSELF AMBITIOUS

“I think I’m an idealist, but also pragmatic. I find that hard to embrace because these two go the opposite way. I like the idea of seeing music as a start-up. When you first start something, a lot of times, your ideas may not be widely accepted. You still hustle, you go through the whole process of being hands-on, doing everything, even taking care of your finances. It’s about growing, pushing things further.

I feel like I can’t just focus on the creative part! I started out with the need to do all these [other] things by myself, out of necessity, and if I don’t, it’s like having to let go a part of me. Sure, some things that can be outsourced, it’s fine. But making that decision to spend this amount of money or time, it’ll take quite long to find someone who’ll just get me. I guess I’m a control freak… just music though!”

 

HER UPCOMING SONGS

“I’m working on Chinese songs — and to write for that is a whole new challenge. In English, you can be straightforward and direct, as long as there’s a good melody to accompany it. In Chinese, if you love someone, you can’t just say “I love you”, you have to describe the way their clothes move, the way they smell… It’s my new struggle. These will probably come out a few months from now.”

 

WHAT KEEPS HER GOING

“People who tell me how my song has changed their life, or even made their day. Little things like that keep me going. Excitement too. I cannot function without stress! This is bad!”

 

Follow Jasmine Sokko on Instagram here.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADELE CHAN, PHOTOGRAPHED USING THE LEICA M10-P + SUMMILUX-M 35MM F/1.4 ASPH LENS.
MAKEUP BY CLARENCE LEE USING shiseido MAKEUP.
HAIR BY JUSTIN JAVIER FROM SHUNJI MATSUO USING SHISEIDO PROFESSIONAL.
STYLING and mask BY RANDOLPH TAN, assisted by chester wang.
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