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Preview: Shawn Wasabi to Play the Catalyst

For Shawn Wasabi, electronic music is a sonic smorgasbord

Shawn Wasabi plays the Catalyst on Friday, July 29.

“Mac and Cheese.” “Pizza Rolls.” “Marble Soda.” No, this isn’t the menu for a new downtown café; they’re titles of songs by electronic artist Shawn Wasabi.

So is he obsessed with food or what? Well, yeah—but that’s not why he’s named so many of his songs after it. The real reason is actually a window into his approach to the electronic genre, which he thinks of more as mashups than standard electronic music.

“I like to see the parallels between modern fusion food and musical mashups. It’s kind of funny,” Wasabi explains. “Mac and cheese is a mashup of American cheese and Italian pasta. Pizza rolls are a mashup of pizza and egg rolls. A lot of my stuff is mashups of other material. I take a lot of different styles and make them work together.”

And he doesn’t just mean he draws from a lot of influences—he literally rams different styles together into a single song. “Pizza Rolls,” for instance, is a mashup of metal riffs and EDM beats. “Mac and Cheese” is a mixture of modern house music and retro video game noises.

Originally from Salinas but now living in L.A., Wasabi has been making music for a little more than three years. His early songs were comprised mostly of samples, which he’d bring to life using a triggering board and other electronic equipment, and it was posting videos of them on YouTube that got him a following. He records himself playing his songs live in single takes, usually with close-up shots of his fingers on the equipment. His videos have garnered millions of views, with “Marble Soda” approaching 10 million. Fans are dazzled by his nimble fingers; one YouTuber commented: “I have no idea what you’re doing, but it’s amazing!” Another wrote “You are insane. This is insane. What is this?”

“I’ve gotten used to the fact that what I do isn’t as easy as playing a guitar,” says Wasabi. “It takes me hours upon hours to get the perfect take where I play everything correctly and not mess up bad.”

To the delight of his fans, Wasabi plays some of his songs live, just like in his videos. His concerts are a mixture of live tracks and a more DJ-like approach to playing music, adjusting filters to pre-recorded tracks.

“People like seeing the live aspect thing brought into electronic music, but it would be really exhausting to mash up buttons for an hour,” Wasabi says. One time, Wasabi remembers messing up a song live, and getting so tripped up he just had to stop and move on to the next song.

If there’s any wonder why retro video game noises are so prominent in his early tunes, it’s because before recording solo, Wasabi was in a band that played chiptune, a style that mixes rock and electronic music with the bloops and bleeps of ’80s video games. What Wasabi is doing isn’t exactly chiptune, but it’s very similar. Even when he’s not sampling old video game noises, the fun, friendly vibe is right in line with the chiptune ethos. His music is just plain fun, sprinkled with cute noises, and doesn’t have an ounce of the aggression that has so dominated the big room and dubstep subgenres.

Basically, Wasabi is a gentle guy with green hair who loves to play video games and eat junk food, and his music reflects exactly who he is as a person.

“I’m not really threatening. I don’t think I have music that’s threatening either. I hardly get mad at people,” Wasabi says. “I tried making aggressive music, but that’s difficult for me.”


INFO: 9 p.m., Friday, July 29, Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $10/adv, $12/door. 429-4135.

Contributor at Good Times |

Aaron is a hard-working freelance writer with a focus on music, art, food, culture and travel. In addition to Good Times, he's a regular contributor to Sacramento News & Review, VIA Magazine and Playboy. When he's not working, he's either backpacking, arguing about music or working on his book about ska. One thing's for sure—he knows more about ska than you.

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