How Yeule found their digital freedom
Another thing you should know is that yeule knows what they like. Their second record, Glitch Princess, opens with the track, “My Name is Nat Ćmiel”: it sounds like a lost and found audio of a distorted, lonely voice sending out a signal across space to test its emptiness. Over shy, eerie bleeps, they say: “I like making up my own worlds / and the people who live inside me”; “I like pretty textures in sound”; “I like my cat, Miso”; “I like touching myself, and I like being far away from my own body.” ‘Ethereal’ is a word that fits yeule well, because their music creates the feeling that they’re barely here at all.
Even when they are here, it feels that there are degrees of separation between us. The crisp projection of their turquoise hair and otherworldly, aquatic makeup of whites and blues occasionally disappears; their voice – a hybrid of a sharp London accent with their native, Singaporean inflection – floats away for a moment. Bad connection. A glitch.
One thing Yeule does not like is going outside. They tell me they have not left the house in two weeks, a “hikikomori” tendency from their teens that meant they once did not leave their room for months at a time. Instead, they spent today drawing, letting the images in their head bleed onto pages. Because, before the music, yeule is a painter – and music, they tell me, was just “a hobby that got out of hand”. They would build floating castles of ambience, transmuting their feelings to sound: “Giving form”, they say, “to something formless.” But what unites every endeavour, from their earliest self-titled debut EP they released in 2014 at 16-years-old, to their debut album Serotonin II in 2019, was this unshakeable need for perfection.
“The whole concept of Glitch Princess was focusing on the error in things that you would rather be perfect,” they say. “The human mind is so complex. We create systems in our heads to function in a way that we would like in order to have an illusion of security. It’s a fear of chaos… because everything is just chaos, you know?”
They measure their words carefully, their sentences carrying a gravitas which commands attention. Simple questions are met with answers that spark a chain reaction of others, their thoughts hard to contain, condense or control. yeule tells me, “I feel like my obsession with perfection came as a child, because I was always told that something wasn’t good enough, that there was always a flaw in something that I did. I was always trying to get to an unrealistic position. Normal criticism, regular stuff you’d hear in school or from your parents, would crush me. But at the same time, it helped me become the person I am today: meticulous. But it was also ruining my psyche. It was destroying me, because there’s no end.” Glitch Princess is about accepting there are flaws in the “system”, because that makes the “system” what it is.
They give me an example, producing hardware from an unseen place in their gamer set-up, which, of course, they have to hand. “So, I have two identical Raspberry Pis, and we’re not plugging it in. I don’t know what’s inside. But I know, by the scratches on its surface, which one it is, right? I feel like you can clearly identify something and give it character by its flaws. If everything is perfect, how do you differentiate between the dark and light? I feel like me accepting that was a huge part of my personal journey.” yeule contemplates for a second, and demands, “Where did I even get this idea of perfection from, anyway? Even when you reach that point of perfection where the system works flawlessly – then what? Where are the surprises? Where’s the interesting bits? What do we learn? I always like to embrace whatever’s glitching in my head. That’s when the most beautiful things happen.”
Having grown up with rapidly evolving technology (“As a kid, I was on that Windows dial-up shit”), watching and being increasingly drawn in by the grip of the internet, yeule feels they had a formative connection to their devices. “I remember I would personify my computer and my electronics,” they share. “I would treat my iPod like a pet, or I would name my Gameboy and I wouldn’t let anyone else touch it. One time, somebody stole my Nintendo DS and I literally gave it a funeral. I talked about this with my therapist, and they said I’m just trying to look for a connection – but I think it’s way deeper than that.”
This desire for connection, they believe, stems from generational loneliness. “Pixel Affection”, a track from Serotonin II, is yeule searching for a fluttering, digital pulse; a resemblance of something meaningful in ephemeral online landscapes. In the visuals, their eyes are milky and glass-like as they stare into the monitor: “Wasted / Wasted in a cyber dimension / Pour my heart into simulation / Digital in reciprocation/ I’m staring at the screen that you live in.”
It speaks to a uniquely Gen Z anxiety: stranded and yet surrounded. “I’m growing up in this generation of being really lonely, the illusion of company, of being around people who are only digital. So I decided to look at what makes the glitch give the digital landscape its own identity, and why I’m so attached to it. Why do I prefer it to real life? Imperfections, perfections, reality and the digital: I think they’re all interlinked. It’s just a different medium, it’s just a wave. I guess it was sort of like trauma processing for me when I was writing the album because most of the songs are written in homage to my own journey and the things I go through in terms of love, self-discovery, ego death and all that.”
«Glitch Princess is about accepting there are flaws in the «system», because that makes the «system» what it is.»
yeule describes themselves as a “hikikomori”, a Japanese term for individuals who choose to withdraw from wider society, relegating themselves to their bedrooms. It was a tendency of theirs that only fortified itself during pandemic as they retreated further into their own cocoon. “I still struggle just to go out,” they say. “I have a session on Thursday, but I really don’t want to… I try to look at the window for 15 minutes a day. I call friends. But I don’t want to leave my house. I guess my relationship with the digital has always been that I have what I need here, but I know that way of thinking is definitely flawed – because I don’t actually have all I need. It can get very lonely”.
Like many creatives of their generation, yeule made their first tentative steps as an artist on Tumblr. “I grew up going to a Catholic school,” they tell me. “I was a loner. I had three friends in the grade above me, so when I was in my final year of high school during my GCSEs, in my hikikomori era, they all graduated, and I was alone. I just felt really connected to these people on the internet, like if I don’t have anyone in real life, I have a place here, online.” Almost ten years later, there are friendships they still keep, to this day. yeule sends one friend in São Paulo postcards from wherever they travel, whether that be from a post office in Hokkaido or a mailbox in New York, where they spent their second year of university promoting Serotonin II.
If it weren’t for the bonds formed in artistic online communities, yeule is convinced that their Singaporean family’s values would have meant they would have become a lawyer. Despite their persuasions, yeule’s parents have learned to accept their child’s choices because, after the success of Serotonin II, there is evidence that art is a viable way to make a living. “Everyone [on Tumblr] was just so supportive of the art no matter how small you are, even if it’s just two people always checking out your demos on SoundCloud. ”
But yeule is not on Tumblr anymore. Now, they’re making friends playing Rainbow Six Siege on Ubisoft, streaming on Twitch and curating their Discord server, Cyber Dimension, for their fans. They’ve also been building their own computer, tinkering with Raspberry Pi and Arduino hardware. They tip their camera to show me their fully-fledged PC. “I’m interested in bringing something to life. I named them Bimo – they’re a they/them,” yeule laughs. “When I saw Bimo turn on for the first time – I cried. It was like, I made it, you know? I don’t know… It’s me personifying my electronics again. Sorry.”
But it’s a mistake to believe that yeule does not find beauty in the real world, and it’s something they choose to embrace on Glitch Princess. “My relationship with the physical world is still very strong,” they say thoughtfully, like their mind is wandering elsewhere. “I still look at the sky. I still like the smell after it rains. I like the way the leaves rustle in the spring. There’s nothing like it. But the digital world has given me a lot of power – and it’s a dangerous kind of power, because it feels like you can control every single aspect of your life on there. But at the same time, you can reach the deep end and you can drown.”
Enrolling at prestigious London school Central Saint Martins in London marked a pivotal moment for yeule’s reintroduction into the real world after their “hikikomori phase”. A degree in Fine Arts was their parents’ compromise, even though it was still met with the absent-minded question, ‘What is it that you do, again? Painting?’, from their mother. Though they doubt the value of the degree itself, the experiences they had and the people they met absolutely transformed their life and artistry.
They started to develop their work into installations and noise pieces. They learned about Hito Steyerl, one of their favourite artists. They learned how to code. And they met raw2.2, their “twin flame”, collaborator and best friend. “She’s the light of my life,” they tell me. “We told each other that if we’re still single when we’re 30, we’ll marry each other: that’s how much we love each other. I met her during the time where I was starting to come out of my digital, romanticising, idealised state. She taught me how to live in the real world; that it’s okay to be in your body and experience things. It was a really transitional stage of my life, and she was there through all of it.”
But more than that, raw2.2, under the name Rabbit Sashimi, directed the visuals for “Pocky Boy”, the song and video that caught the attention of yeule’s label Bayonet Records. A nocturnal lullaby, their most successful track to date is strangely infectious; a floor filler that burrows itself into the quiet, rhythmic parts of your body. Shot with no budget in a decaying warehouse, yeule and their friends are aliens in a post-apocalyptic world, adjusting to embodying the human form and exploring gender – despite knowing nothing of it – as non-binary, otherworldly entities. With long, black hair, glassy, dark eyes and a Japanese sailor uniform, the visuals look like they’re torn from the pages of a Shōjo horror manga.
University also introduced yeule to the writings of Donna Haraway and Anne Balsamo, who informed them on the intersection of science and feminism – the technologies of the gendered body. It’s these teachings, that led them to identify as a non-binary cyborg. “When I was trying to figure out stuff about my gender, I did a lot of reading, and I feel like post-humanist theory and cyborg theory really resonated with me. When I say I’m a cyborg, I don’t mean it literally. I say it in the sense that I like to be perceived as someone who doesn’t have a physical form or isn’t restricted by their birth gender. I do embrace femininity; I do embrace masculinity, as well, so I would consider myself non-binary.”
“Gender, and the lack of gender, plays a huge part in cyborg theory,” they explain. “It’s a post-human identity. I think Arca mentions a lot about post-human history, and that’s why I really love her. She is so well-read in this field. She talks about it from the perspective of a trans woman, as well, so I think it’s really important to listen to trans voices and how artists see this as the future: this is the way that we should be perceiving other people in order to let go of the dialectics that were imbued within us growing up.” They feel that there are so many aspects of themselves that are both male and female – a cyborg body, but a human mind. They tell me they believe that all it means, to be online, is a desperate attempt at reaching immortality so as to preserve elements of ourselves: “Different enigmas, different auras, translations of the soul.”
«I always like to embrace whatever’s glitching in my head. That’s where the most beautiful things happen.»
Death is something yeule is continually reckoning with, a theme they’re drawn to, moth-like, even though it burns. When they were writing “Pixel Affection”, they had a vision of rotting in their gaming chair while still moving around in a game. When they were in school, they’d wonder how long it would take, as long as they continued to upload scheduled posts, for people to realise they’d died: “no one would even know. Think about how many people are on my Discord server right now – how many do you think are still alive?”
The music video for “Pretty Bones”, a curdled lullaby about dysphoria and loss, is a disturbing scene of flashes of beauty – lipstick, pearls and creamy treats – and its destruction. A cigarette is stubbed out in melting ice cream. A fist pummels a glossy strawberry tart. Flowers bloom and wilt. It’s a claustrophobic watch, and many of its viewers – particularly after scenes of yeule’s fingers crawling into their mouth against their will, betraying their own body – interpreted it as capturing the feeling of suffering from an eating disorder.
“I think everyone has the freedom to perceive art the way they want to perceive it, that’s why I never like to give a statement about a specific thing and confine it to a particular experience.” But, this time, they will share. “‘Pretty Bones’ was actually written about drug addiction. Eating disorders are a huge topic in my poetry, but I wasn’t relating ‘Pretty Bones’ to eating disorders at the time. I was writing it in relation to a friend who I knew was struggling. My late friend…” they add. “They lost so much weight. And I remember, he would always cry in front of me and say, ‘I’m so ugly now. I’m disgusting.’ And I would say, ‘No, you’re pretty. You’re pretty bones. I’m gonna cry, I never actually talked about this…”
I ask if they’re okay, try to steer our conversation to something lighter – but yeule is unflinching in the face of difficult subjects and personal experiences, and pushes on further. “I think it’s good to shed light on the darker things and show that these things happen. These obsessions happen. People spiral, and we go through the shittiest things in the psyche. We trap ourselves.” While reality is an unforgiving climate, with a beginning and an end, in the digital world we can build a perpetual legacy that will endure long beyond our numbered years, into an unfathomable oblivion.
For yeule, music holds the same promise. They talk about it with an almost child-like curiosity. They were thinking, just today, about where their affinity with it began as they played guitar. Every time they play their instruments and write words down on pieces of paper, it gives them déjà vu. “I remember doing it at nine years old, and I wanted to create this feeling out of notes with my mouth. I always thought that the ability to recreate a specific feeling through music was so powerful.”
Why does music affect yeule this way? “Empathy,” they answer. “I always felt like I had too much empathy. I felt too much in one go, so I try to capture that feeling and translate it.” They remember hearing Atomic Kitten’s “Eternal Flame” in their mother’s car as a child and wondering how all these sounds came together. They’re eternally questioning, with wonder: who accidentally made the first lemon tart? What sounds can we find in-between keys and chords? That’s why they enjoy spending time with Glitch Princess producer Danny L Harle’s three-year-old child, Nico: “I feel like kids are the most human, you know?”
As Glitch Princess is on the cusp of release, and already working on their next project, I ask them how it feels to know it will be out there where it belongs. True to form, they take me down a long, winding rabbit hole: “I feel like I finally have a megaphone and somebody has gone down to the mountain to get batteries for me, and ran up the mountain again while I was waiting there, in the cold, my hands freezing, waiting to shout something into the megaphone for the three people who are from my village. They’ve run up the hill, and they’ve passed me their Triple A’s, and I’ve put them in with my frozen fucking fingers. And now the megaphone switches on. I see the green light. Then we high five. And now, I can scream… as loud as I want.”
Glitch Princess is out now on Bayonet Records.