I’m not going to beat around the bush, so let me introduce to you music technology expert, inventor and producer Mike Gao. The 26-year-old debuted his solo album Sun Shadows last month. His iPhone application Vocal Beater, which allows musicians to record beatboxing and instantly send themselves MIDI files, has been a success story in the market. The Southern Californian is redefining music, naturally breaking Asian stereotypes, and ultimately doing what he loves. Did I mention that he also loves K-pop group Girls Generation? Anyways, here is what the Chinese American has to say about his life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Audrey Magazine: Give us a day in the life of Mike Gao.
Mike Gao: I wake up, work on music (sometimes from bed via WiFi), figure out who to eat my meal with, go out and eat, hang out, work on music, work on other obligations, figure out the meal thing again, work on music, then sleep. Sometimes I go out to go to class to sometimes to teach class or teach a lecture. Sometimes I play a show.
AM: As an inventor, what are some of your favorite inventions?
MG: Humans, Asians.
AM: Where have you performed? Do you have any favorite venues?
MG: I did a couple tours being set DJs for rappers, so I got to play in Japan and around the U.S. My favorite place to play is at Low End Theory in Los Angeles because Daddy Kev takes care of you right.
AM: You were born in Beijing, China. Tell us about the many places you’ve lived in, and where you plan to settle, if you ever do.
MG: I’ve lived in Tokyo, the Bay Area, Chicago, Arizona, among other places. I like San Francisco and Tokyo, so maybe I’ll settle there.
AM: What three words would you use to describe yourself?
MG: Grape, apple, orange.
AM: How do you feel about the stereotypical Asian musical child prodigy? You’re helping break barriers for this.
MG: Yeah, Asians are stereotyped as being good, disciplined students. When I won the first Project Blowed Beat Battle in Leimert Park, a lot of cats were saying stuff like “Psh, these Asians can study — even beats!”
My music gets unfairly labeled as “mathematical” or “scientific,” and so I have to go out of my way to emphasize the soulfulness and human factor in it. I never practiced instruments much and was not an instrumental virtuoso as a child, so I don’t fit that stereotype. However, I do reinforce the nerdy stereotype because I started programming at age 11. I’m not as nerdy as guys who got in the programming game later though, because my early grasp of everything gave me more time in the crucial years to spend time being cool.
AM: How was it like growing up? Did you have a nickname as a child? What were some of your fondest memories?
MG: Growing up having to move around a lot was hard. I got picked on and was called all kinds of racial slurs. There was a big difference moving to California, but instead of getting picked on for race, you would get ”banged on” [lol] or harassed by gangsters.
Outside of California, I had people making fun of my name. Partially why I’ve kept my last name for my music, is that: one, if one excels and creates undeniably dope work, you can have any name or string of characters be associated with greatness. I fully understand the dynamics of marketing, even in cooking where my chef friend tell me how they throw on a fancy European name on a mixture of soy sauce and some spices, and premium prices can be charged for it.
AM: What’s currently playing on your iPod? Is there any type of music that you don’t enjoy listening to?
MG: On my iPod, I’m bumping my homies NastyNasty (FriteNite’s) unreleased album on Robox Neotech, eLan’s unreleased album on Modeselektor’s label. New Radiohead, Mark Pritchard, Elaquent, Kendrick Lamar, and two artists from the next label I’m dropping on, Flako and robot Koch. There’s music in every genre that I don’t enjoy, however.
AM: Do you have any Asian American or Asian idols or celebrity crushes?
MG: Korean pop group Girls Generation.
Photos from Mike Gao’s Facebook page.