Artist To Watch: yunè pinku

Leanda Heler

Artist To Watch: yunè pinku

Leanda Heler

Under the moniker yunè pinku, Asha Yunè creates music where nirvana meets the netherworld. Her latest project BABYLON IX — a combination of halo-glowing synths, spritely break-beats, scythe-cutting hi-hats, submarine bleeps, and cryptic lyricism — is “based definitely in a cyberpunk-ish digital realm,” the Irish-Malaysian producer explains. “I pictured it halfway between a Babylonian garden slash heaven and then a cyberpunk wasteland.” Melancholic and celestial, her music conjures visions of neon-lit hovercrafts, mysterious ruins, and magnificent grottos where fantastic creatures lurk.

But before Yunè was paying homage to Celtic gods and creating strange worlds, her outlook was much more pragmatic. “I was really realistic when I was younger, and I’m still quite a realistic person,” explaining how the idea of being a musician didn’t hit until recently. Instead, Yunè imagined herself a journalist or a lawyer. When her manager Ferdy Hall initially reached out after finding her music on SoundCloud, she thought it was a scam. “It’s so rare to actually even be considered for something like that,” she says, “and I never expected anything to come of the music.” In 2021, after hearing a couple of her demos, English electronic musician Joy Orbison offered a guest spot on his Radio 1 residency. Later that year, she released her first two singles.

Still, after two EPs and co-signs from the Blessed Madonna and Charli XCX, she’s still in awe that people listen to her music. The self-described introvert exudes a humbled skepticism. “I just never thought it was a kind of job where you could be stable and have a reasonable income,” she says. “Who makes money from music? That’s such a random job. I got lucky.”

Yunè grew up going back and forth between London and Cork, Ireland — her accent is a fluid mix of both combined into a low, deep velvety purr. In London, her family only consists of her mom and sister, which is partially why she loves traveling back to Cork and tries to visit as much as she can. “It was always really nice going somewhere where there was loads of family and we’d be going to everyone’s houses all the time. I always really valued that from when I was small.”

When I ask about what her family thinks of her music, she whips out a full-on Irish accent to imitate her grandmother. “There’s a really funny recurring thing,” she giggles. “My grandma will be like, ‘I don’t really get the music. Ya know, I’m not big on that electronic dance stuff like the drug music, but I’m sure you’re very good at it,'” she says, sweetly mimicking her. Her mom has a different understanding, being the one that played trance music throughout Yunè’s childhood. “Weirdly my mum loves dance music, and she’s like, ‘I’m so glad this is the type of music you make.'” Other artists who informed her upbringing include like Madonna, Black Eyed Peas, U2 Dido, and the Glee soundtrack (“I don’t know why my mum really liked that,” she says laughing).

Although Yunè never envisioned herself a musician, her family attempted to teach her several instruments including the piano, flute, violin, and tin whistle. “I’m a very bad music student,” she admits. “My problem with lessons generally was like, they’d be like, Let’s learn ‘Hot Cross Buns,’ and you’re like, doo doo doo. I don’t want to play this. I want to play an actual song. But, you need to play this one to get to that one. I don’t really have any technical ability.” It wasn’t until she discovered production software that she realized making music could be so much fun.

Yunè laughs when she shows me a picture of her music-making setup. Her laptop sits next to a small, bulbous microphone. “I find it really funny because my setup is just shit. It’s a podcast mic. I don’t even have a normal recording mic. A tiny little keyboard this big. And then a podcast mic,” which she explains is her sister’s from years ago, “because I just never bothered to buy an actual mic and my laptop. I use a lot of samples, so a lot of it is online anyway.”

Later tonight, Yunè will play her first US show in a small, crowded room in Bushwick. For now, we’re sitting in the fashionable lobby of her hotel. Within a tasteful balance of tans, whites, and blacks, the reddish copper of Yunè’s hair stands out. She wears a flowy white dress, chunky black boots, and a silver chain necklace with a sturdy lock hanging from it. Her arms are covered in fine-line tattoos, and the newest one distracts me mid-conversation. It’s a sacred-looking image — a figure in draped clothing with its legs crossed and both arms raised. Underneath the image in small letters it reads: “Pray for the Scarlet Lamb.” When I ask her what it means, she warns me that the answer is “quite boring” (it definitely isn’t) before revealing it’s the title of an essay she wrote.

The essay is about “the sacrificial lamb and wolf in sheep’s clothing phenomenon in literature,” Yunè explains. “It’s basically drawing on characters and archetypes who embodied either the lamb — but I came across scarlet lamb because it was like an image of a blood-soaked lamb, essentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing somewhat, but like violent vulnerability,” she says, then undercuts the heavy meaning with a joke. “Rock ‘n’ roll!” she whisper-screams. Her love of creative writing goes back a long way; she briefly studied it at university before dropping out. “I lasted one month. I was working full-time and doing music as well. Out of all three of these, uni is the one I don’t want… just so I can write little stories? Yeah, it’s not worth it.”

Instead, with her simple setup, she conjures alternate realities with mystical characters, finding inspiration in centuries-old myths. Her most recent music is a summoning spell. She explains that the runes which appeared on the singles artwork leading up to the release of BABYLON IX would summon the mythical being that fronted the EP’s final cover. “I wanted it to be some weird little ratty creature,” she says of Julie Goslinga’s artwork. “When you write runes on the ground, it’s in order to summon something. All of this has been summoning this creature that is the face of Babylon.”

One of the myths she’s most fascinated with right now is Eris, the Goddess of Chaos. An instant Google search will tell you that Eris is an evil deity that relishes the pain and bloodshed of the battlefield and is the reason for the Trojan War via the apple of discord. Yunè sees it from a different perspective: “When you look at the story, everyone blames her, but really, she’s shining light to their own realities.” Although most stories around Eris are extremely violent, she’s not exactly carrying out the brutality. She exposes the hidden underbelly of reality. “These stories are dramatizations of what humans do anyway,” Yunè adds. “It’s interesting to see these correlations where you’re like, ‘Mmm, I know someone like that.’ It’s like an old gossip column,” she laughs.

Similarly, Yunè’s music is a fine balance of dark and light, exposing hidden realities. “ Bluff was like angst and kind of paranoia around nightlife and how it’s a stunted way of having fun,” she says of her debut EP. Whereas some of the more sinister aspects of BABYLON IX were pointed lyrics towards Catholicism. “‘Blush Cut’ is about shaking religious ideas from your brain, harping on the Irish Catholic suffering,” she self-mockingly says. (“Hit me where it hurts now/ Deep beneath the water,” she sings on that one. “Burning down my church/ And still shaking up my father, ooh/ Are you happier?”) She continues: “The whole song is about relinquishing yourself of outer ideals of churches, but also it extends to freeing yourself from other people’s input generally. It was quite a satisfying song to make.”

Yunè didn’t have a strict religious upbringing, but spending five years in Catholic school exposed her to a religious intensity. “Being in churches and having some ideas leftover is definitely something that is still in my subconscious despite the fact that my mum was always like, ‘You’re not shamed for being whatever.’ It stains your brain.”

Her next project, which she says will be her debut album, will incorporate even more mythology and will expand on the sounds of BABYLON. “I’m trying to add more instruments like flutes and harps. A bit more joyous and free. A bit more Dido-ish really. I’ve been trying to make it that kind of sector of the early 2000s, where it’s strumming guitars and break bits.” She hopes to incorporate session musicians and gets excited when talking about further curating her art.

Despite her attempts at a cheerier tone, melancholy creeps in. “Even when I try to make joyous music there’s always this moody undertone,” she says. “On the new music, I’m like, ‘Damn it!’ every single time. It’s meant to be happy, this one, but now it’s moody and angry. Maybe it’s because the scenario I know this kind of music in has always been a bit of keep your guards up or something. So maybe that comes out a bit in the music.” She jokingly adds, “I’m also just a moody asshole.” But that signature gloom is the connection between her two released projects. “That’s the overlap of Bluff and BABYLON, there’s a moodiness across it all. Also a spectator sort of angle. They’re never really based on first-person experiences in the narration of the music.”

The spectator aspect yunè pinku points out aligns with her reclusive personality: “I need most of the day to be on my own.” When the topic of fame comes up, she imagines she’d be awful at it. “I don’t think people are designed to be famous,” she says. “It’s very weird. You’re just known by loads of people — the idea that you couldn’t walk down the road to get a coffee without people being like, ‘Oh my god, hi!’ I’d be a shit famous person. I’m a bit scared of my fans as it is.”

Rather, Yunè’s idea of success lies in the notion of longevity. She points to Madonna as an example for her relevancy, but shakes her head at the thought of being as well-known as her. The ideal: “Never too absent and never too upfront, but being able to do it for life and never blowing up or anything.” We’ll see about that.

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