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‘The Multiplicity of Himself’
In Conversation with Why Be
Words: Whitney Wei
Images: Nadine Fraczkowski
Some weeks ago, Tobias Lee, known by his current artist alias Why Be, was watching TV when he misheard what he thought was Bruce Beverage. It was unassumingly funny, and as the name wormed its way into Lee’s psyche for over a week, he slowly warmed up to it. “Who is Bruce?” he wondered. Certainly more of a doer, rather than the overthinking Why Be. Upon reflection, the Korean-Danish DJ could see flashes of the decisive Bruce emerge in certain moments in the past when he was DJing or preparing for a set. And like a psychological plot twist, Lee realized, “I was him the whole time.”

Image: @nad_1n3

“I wanted it to be something that we couldn’t do on our own. We are exploring a lot of these things people call ‘guilty pleasures,’ but I hate that expression.”
This is not the first time an external force has changed Lee’s artistic self-perception. He became Why Be, adapted from his original, underdeveloped pseudonym Yung Bukkake after a friend misheard the vocalists on a DJ Nate footwork track who were singing “Y B”—about their Yung Bangerz crew initials—as ‘Why Be?’ From there, Lee took it as his own. Yung Bukkake needed to go, he said, because “obviously, it was terrible to try to Google my music.” Why Be has served him for the last 12 years, from his beginnings as a DJ in his childhood home of Copenhagen to rooting himself firmly within Berlin’s nightlife circuit as a virtuosic mixer with jack-of-all-trades tastes. In 2018, he founded the experimental record label Yegorka with Dan DeNorch, an under-the-radar but influential Berlin music curator. More recently, Lee has aligned himself with the city’s prominent techno party, Mala Junta

Bruce Beverage represents Lee’s evolving understanding of his creative abilities. This alias also launched around an auspicious moment, two weeks before Lunar New Year under the year of the wood dragon. A zodiac known for its fortitude in evolution, it comes at a time in Berlin when there has been a noticeable uptick in Asian representation across the local music scene.

In his mix for Aeyde Radio, Lee detours from propulsive electronics in favor of more esoteric soft listening. The 50 minutes is awash with new age and original soundtracks, with South Korean folk music—a nod to Lee’s birthplace—and an innocuous classic from Henry Mancini tucked in, too.

Image: @nad_1n3

Whitney Wei: Walk me through your early musical background.

Why Be: I didn’t particularly come from a musical home or anything like that. But my dad influenced me a lot with whatever random rock music he was listening to, and he gave me my first guitar at around 13. I’m pretty sure the first CD I bought myself was Blink-182.

Whitney Wei: How did this interest develop over time into the electronic music you practice now?

Why Be: I was always fascinated with quote, unquote, technology, and computer music. My entry into electronic music was when I was in an art [high] school [in Denmark]. We had a film workshop, and we weren’t allowed to use music that already existed. Because I was the only one in my student group who had a musical background, they made me figure out what sound there should be on the film we were working on. In that way, I got in contact with the [the music program] Logic, which I don’t even use today. I taught myself how to use it in a few days, and I made the score.

Whitney Wei: 2024 is when you launch your collaborative project with Soda Plains [the artist Alexis Chan] and embrace a new DJ alias [Bruce Beverage]. Last month, I saw there was a soft launch of this project in the A7A Lunar New Year compilation. Can you tell me more about the project? 

Why Be: Me and [Alexis] have definitely been trying to make stuff over the years. Some of the stuff just hasn’t turned out that well or never gets finished. I have always thought that me and him complement each other really well in a lot of creative aspects. Alexis just naturally sits down and does something with very little communication beforehand. I seem like someone who would be able to do that, too, but I tend to walk around, think a lot, and articulate everything about it before I do it. I wanted [the project] to be something that we couldn’t do on our own. We are exploring a lot of these things people call ‘guilty pleasures,’ but I hate that expression.

“When I started coming to Berlin, I would hear rumors about Vietnamese or Filipino hip-hop clubs every now and then, but that was the closest you would get to anything in terms of community for anyone who identifies as Asian.”

Whitney Wei: The compilation asked artists to loosely interpret the theme of “a sense of nostalgia surrounding familial and ancestral connections.” How did you and Alexis [who is also of Asian descent] interpret this theme in your music? How do you interpret this more generally in your own life?

Why Be: Specifically with this track, there is, for me, a longing and a great nostalgia in the music. For people like Alexis and me, it’s not like we don’t talk about things, but I think when you grow up with a sense of displacement, a lot of it is not articulated. It’s some phantom pain or something like you both know that this arm is missing, but you can’t quite put words on how it feels. It is often more about sharing a mutual feeling.

Whitney Wei: What can we anticipate from the new Bruce Beverage alias?

Why Be: He definitely thinks way less. He’s way more of a doer. He does everything way faster than Why Be, so that’s why I really love this Bruce energy right now.

Whitney Wei: When you changed from Yung Bukkake to YB to Why Be, was there also a new way of working?

Why Be: It allowed me to live as close to what I wanted—in terms of what I do with my time, what I wanted to do with the project, and my ambitions. In that sense, Why Be was a change for sure.

Whitney Wei: With your new project and a new alias, does this impact your work on the label Yegorka?

Why Be: Well, yes and no. I’m still doing what I’ve always done for the label, but my time gradually becomes more divided as I’m getting deeper into my personal projects, but it’s always been like that. I’m good as long as I can stir all the pots simultaneously.

Whitney Wei: A series of tumultuous life events, including not knowing where to go after splitting with a partner, led you to Berlin. What about the city has made you stay for almost a decade now?

Why Be: I would say the number one thing is that it’s very gridless here. There’s not a certain way to do things. There’s not a specific thing you have to do. German society, weirdly, is really about rules, but it’s more so about some rules, and then if you follow those, you can sort of do whatever you want. This ideal that most of us have for moving here is also constantly challenged, either by global politics or whatever is happening in the world. But the main reason why me and a lot of other people have come here is simply the pursuit of trying to live as—it sounds so cheap—but trying to live as freely as possible.

Whitney Wei: Post-pandemic, I’ve noticed a massive uptick in new Asian diaspora, East Asian and South East Asian immigrants into the city. There’s a sense of pride in being Asian that seems especially prevalent with the start of community projects like SAL and then ESEA-specific parties like An(8)x. Have you noticed this as well, and what do you make of it?

Why Be: When I started coming to Berlin, I would hear rumors about Vietnamese or Filipino hip-hop clubs every now and then, but that was the closest you would get to anything in terms of community for anyone who identifies as Asian. It is new in that sense, I would say, and I think it’s very, very, very beautiful to see.

I think it also took people a long time to—I mean, it’s so hard to talk about these things without talking on behalf of a lot of people. This obviously says more about me, but I do sense that it has been very hard for a lot of displaced Asian people to figure out how they wanted or wished to represent themselves or what they should identify as until a lot of people realized that they can be whatever they want.

“I want to believe that this is the sound of my childhood but I didn’t know of this track until a few years ago.”
–Why Be on “Innocence” by Yantra de Vilder
Mix 04 by Why Be is live now on Aeyde Radio.

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