Melisma has been following Grammy-nominated producer TOKiMONSTA’s rise since interviewing her in 2014, after the release of her album Desiderium on her own label, Young Art Records. Then, in 2017, we covered her triumphant return to music after being diagnosed with Moyamoya, a rare brain disease. She has gone from T.T. the Bear’s Place (now Sonia), to the Sinclair, and now to the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science for an immersive, futuristic set promoting her label’s newest album, Young Art Sound II.
Young Art Records, founded by TOKiMONSTA in 2014, has built a community that fosters creative growth and experimentation. The label has put out two collections by a variety of innovative electronic musicians putting out exciting music, aptly named Young Art Sound, released in 2017, and Young Art Sound II, which came out in early May. Young Art Sound II includes tracks by TOKiMONSTA herself, as well as B. Lewis, Blackbird Blackbird, Manu Dia, and bad tuner, who opened for TOKi at the planetarium show.
I crept into the dark venue a few minutes into bad tuner’s set. The audience was reclining, paying rapt attention to the animated hands, flames, pillars, and geometric shapes morphing into each other on the ceiling as the Brooklyn-based Yugoslav producer worked through a series of vibrant and intriguing beats. As green and orange aliens danced across the screen, the crowd swayed in their seats. The live mix of Yerba Ti, his song from Young Art Sound II, was infectious with its house-inspired tempo and addictive, slightly unintelligible, vocal hook repeated throughout the track.
As bad tuner left the booth and the lights came up, TOKiMONSTA’s signature lune rouge, or red moon rose into the simulated sky. Then, the lush strings of “Lune,” the opening song on her 2017 album Lune Rouge began to play and TOKi glided into the room, dressed in head-to-toe mustard yellow and a pair of blue-tinted aviator sunglasses. As I scooted out of my seat to take photos, I was aware of the dissonance between the loud, exciting music and “do you mind if I just squeeze past you?” movie theater manners.
Despite the unconventional venue, TOKiMONSTA’s performance was magnetic — she was as engaging as the mesmerizing visuals on the ceiling when she danced to her beats and sang along to MNDR, Gavin Turek, and Yuna. The ceiling shifted with geometric and organic visuals that corresponded to changes in the music. She even sprinkled in planetarium-appropriate phrases, welcoming the audience onto her “vibe spacecraft.” She also asked, “y’all ready for the black hole?” before launching into “Put It Down,” featuring frequent collaborator Anderson .Paak, accompanied by a dark swirling screen reminiscent of an actual black hole. TOKiMONSTA’s music is intriguing in its complexity, rich with field recordings and unexpected instrumentation, like the traditional Korean string instrument, the gayageum, in “Bibimbap.”
Once I had settled into the intimate yet public experience of sitting back in a padded chair at an EDM show, TOKi shot into HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar, and the crowd’s subtle seat bopping transitioned into high energy dancing to her irresistibly layered sound that carried through the end of her set. Once the animations faded out and TOKiMONSTA left her post, high-fiving audience members as she made her way out, the crowd floated back down to earth. TOKiMONSTA’s set at the Charles Hayden Planetarium was absolutely (I’m sorry, I have to) out of this world.