A rising Chinese EDM music duo (they’re big in Taiwan!)
I don’t have the official stats, but I’m pretty sure 99.9% of Chinese kids grew up playing piano (or some other classical instrument). Same goes for the dynamic music producing duo, Sam Chung and Jeff Brotherston, of Napa Cabbage, an electronic dance music producing duo that is remixing Chinese pop music like you’ve never heard before. They have over 17,000 fans on Facebook and have a huge fan base in Taiwan despite being located in British Columbia, Canada.
Sam and I go way back, to when he was 16 years old and competing in a high school singing competition I produce. His love for music continued to grow and he attended the Art Institute (A.I.) in Vancouver, where he received his professional recording artist diploma. So did Jeff, and the rest is history. This is the story of Napa Cabbage.
Cold Tea Collective: How did you two become a duo? Was it love at first music note?
Sam: It was natural. We both played piano since age four, we were both in band in high school and then naturally ended up going to the Art Institute of Vancouver together. We worked really well together and even better now. I live in Richmond and he lives in White Rock — it was a long distance relationship. (Note to readers: Richmond and White Rock are located in British Columbia Canada and is a 35–45 minute commute).
Cold Tea Collective: But obviously that distance couldn’t keep you apart! What happened between finishing school up to the creation of Napa Cabbage?
Jeff: I was a resident DJ for Blueprint Events and making other music with another producer under the alias TIG3R HOOD$ for about three years after school. We focused on making more bass heavy dance music.
Sam: I went into Fairchild Radio as an operator after I finished school. I was the tech guy for the station. I worked there for two years and finally learned Chinese! I couldn’t read, couldn’t write, I could barely communicate. There, it was 40 hours a week of reading, writing, and speaking Cantonese! I also learned to listen in Mandarin. After working at the radio, I kept learning. I learned about the culture, immersed in Hong Kong music, Mandarin music, Mando-pop, Canto-pop. It was a great experience.
Cold Tea Collective: What were the requirements to get the job? Was the language a barrier for you?
Sam: I almost didn’t get the job because they were worried that I couldn’t handle the Chinese, which was true — I couldn’t — I said to myself, “okay, I just got out of school and I’m in a lot of debt…” so I almost had to beg them to give me the job, but it was mutual — they needed people and I needed a job.
It was tough for the first couple months cuz I didn’t know any Chinese — I thought they just spoke Chinese on the radio and that they’d be doing everything in English — turned out that wasn’t the case.
Cold Tea Collective: How did you get over the hurdles of communication?
Sam: They were really accommodating, because there were people like me who couldn’t read Chinese. The DJs would go out of their way to search out the numeric code for me to find the right song to play, so it became kind of a burden for them in a sense. I told myself that “since I’m here, I want to do well anyway, so I took the time to learn Chinese. Because why not? My Mom tried to get me to learn as a kid, but I couldn’t do it. I figured I might as well take free Chinese school here. In between songs I started to copy all these Chinese words around the studio — that’s how I learned how to read and write. At the same time, because they were always communicating to me in Chinese (even the memos on my desk) — eventually a bit of back n forth and then getting yelled at a bit…then I got a shoutout from one of the DJs who said “I really gotta thank Sam who is may favourite operator” — that was awesome. I heard the radio station operates much more in English now because of the millennials who work there
Cold Tea Collective: I’m going to call it out — I assume Jeff didn’t grow up in an Asian household. How has Jeff embraced Asian culture in producing music for Napa Cabbage?
Sam: Jeff really embraces Asian culture, like you’re taking off your shoes. I think he actually learned how to use chopsticks properly before I did!! I think it’s cool that he takes advantage of being able to be a chameleon — it’s really cool to have a friend like that. I remember having a conversation when we were doing a part Chinese song where I was the one who questioned whether the mainstream could accept it. Jeff said ‘no it’s great!’
On our to do board, I write in English and Chinese so I can continue with my Chinese skills. Jeff is starting to recognize characters.
We were at Wanting Qu’s house on Friday, writing a song in Chinese, and then Jeff was like, “these two are the same words!!” It’s been really cool to see him embrace the culture. He’s really open to everything. There’s no hesitation! It’s funny how smooth, easy and accepting Jeff was to it — “you’re gonna learn Chinese now and we’re gonna do this Chinese song.”
A lot of the songs we do are 100% Chinese. We’ve learned incorporate the Chinese language into our music.
Cold Tea Collective: How did you actually start making music together as Napa Cabbage?
Jeff: I had been DJing in clubs in Vancouver and invited Sam over some beers to catch up and share music we were working on. I said we should just make a track for old times’ sake.
Sam: The year we met up , I threw out a YouTube video. It was a cover of a 90s song by Eason Chan, except done with electronic instruments. At that time it was already 80,000 views; right now it’s at about 200,000 views. This triggered our experimentation — we realized there’s a thing that’s out there, so then let’s make a track for fun and put an Asian vocal on top.
G.E.M. had a song called “Goodbye” and then we pulled it off and did a remix. It was really fun, like old times — it’s like we never really stopped making music together.
Jeff: At this point in time, it was really for fun. We had no idea what would happen, then once the song was finished, it got some really positive attention and we decided we were going to keep doing this, then we said we need a name.
Cold Tea Collective: Why the name Napa Cabbage?
Sam: At first we thought of the name Napa Cabbage in Cantonese. If you translate the words, it actually translates in English to “yellow white buds”, haha! Napa Cabbage is also the symbol for longevity and happens to be a very popular cabbage, so you’ll always be reminded of us when you think of it.
Cold Tea Collective: What do you want to accomplish with your music?
Jeff: We want to inspire the world to have the self confidence to be self expressive and embracing and accepting to each other and themselves.
Sam: That’s why making Asian EDM makes so much sense! And also, it sounds awesome!
Cold Tea Collective: How would you describe EDM music culture and how does that relate to Asian culture?
Jeff: In EDM culture, no one cares about each others’ differences. Everyone just wants to have a good time. It’s a unique culture that is accepting and embracing.
Sam: Self expression can often be left out in Asian culture [outside of music], but with our music, I’ve been able to adapt and embrace the differences of Chinese life views and Western culture, which really enhances our music as well as our lives as individuals. Asia is the next step in EDM music’s expansion. It’s the natural spreading of that inspirational self expression and self acceptance culture and energy.
Cold Tea Collective: What do you want people to know about Napa Cabbage?
Jeff: We’re coming for ‘em! We want to be able to make music full-time that everyone loves and be able to share with the world.
I just want to be able to express myself and show everyone the music we’ve made. The best feeling ever is when we drop one of our new original tracks live, and the crowd goes wild. This motivates me to always keep making new music!
Sam: I’d like people to be more open to take a second look at the people around them and the opportunities around them and hopefully inspire them to do something crazy.
If you think about what we’re doing, it’s pretty insane. Jeff doesn’t know Chinese and I learned Chinese a couple years ago. Now we’re actually getting a lot of followers from Taiwan and we’re taking it and running with it. If I went back in time and was told “you’re gonna have thousands of followers in Taiwan and be making music in Mandarin, I’d be like what?!” It’s beautiful, those situations where you can’t even make it up.
Jeff: Anything is possible.
Sam: Somehow, it falls into place.
Jeff: This year we’re releasing a lot of new original music with incredibly talented artists and going to Taiwan in May. We were planning to make a trip over there to write, play a few shows, and it would be nice to meet everyone in person.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
About the Author:
Natasha Jung is the Co-Founder of Cold Tea Collective and is passionate about creativity, authenticity, community and creating positive impact.
Professionally, she is a producer and host for television, video and live events, as well as a coach for youth and young professionals, helping them explore their personal and professional potential.
When she’s not working, she volunteers for several youth, community and business-focused initiatives and indulges in the best ice cream and bubble tea Vancouver has to offer…She’s lactose intolerant. #YOLO
Her heroes are Eddie Huang and Drake.
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