Shawn Wasabi, the Midi Fighting Master, has quickly been rising with his intense button-mashing mash-ups such as “Marble Soda” going viral. The producer and controllerist from town of Salinas, California has established a loyal fanbase and is quickly becoming known as one of the most impressive Midi controllerists in the scene.
He recently came to NYC to play a show with Luca Lush at Slake, leading to a stellar show. Overall both Shawn and Luca put on impressive performances supported by a great opening DJ, resident Cameron Kush, a surprise set by MVNG CSTL’s Jai Wolf, and an energetic crowd . I got the chance to sit down with Shawn before his show to talk about video games, his background, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your background
Yeah of course, I was born in the Bay Area, specifically Salinas, California and I’ve lived there all my life. My dad is from Manila and my mom is from Cebu, so I’m completely Filipino.
So I’ve been doing music for a while, my dad got me into piano at a really young age and that’s how I got into the world of music.
I got into producing in towards my senior year of high school, messing around with sounds. I didn’t start pushing buttons until around two years ago when I made this mash-up called “Pizza Rolls”. My friend Ian who’s also known as “Sushi Killer” left his small Midi Fighter 3D at my house and I used that to make that first mash-up.
A lot of what I do on the Midi fighter and a lot of that dexterity comes from playing piano and video games a lot throughout my childhood.
How did you come up with the name Shawn Wasabi?
There are two reasons actually. My full name is Shawn Serrano and Serrano is a green spicy pepper, so Wasabi is kind of the alter ego of that. Second a lot of my inspiration comes from Japanese culture, I’ve played a lot of JRPG and I was super into Final Fantasy and Pokémon. *laughs as he hits a button on the Midi Fighter triggering a Pikachu sample
What are your favorite video games?
Definitely Grand Theft Auto, that was kind of special to me growing up because my parents would take it away from me. I would have to hide it from my parents to play it. I’ve played a lot of this side-scroller called Earthworm Jim, it was really basic Super-Nintendo game but it was really cool. Definitely Final Fantasy, Pokemon, a lot of JRPGs in my childhood.
What was your initial reaction when Marble Soda went viral hit a million views within 2 days?
Dude, it was crazy. It actually took awhile to hit me. I got so many e-mails and messages from so many different people so I was consumed in trying to answer all of them. But when it did hit me, I thought woah this is happening!
As you talked about before you use a controller called the MIDI Fighter to create your songs; can you tell us a bit more about that?
So what I use is called a Midi Fighter 64. It was custom made by Michael Mitchell, the guy who created the Midi Fighter and designed it; it’s one of a kind, only one in the world. Michael Mitchell actually made it for me as a gift, after I emailed him.
So the Midi Fighter has a few buttons that changes banks, triggering different pages. For my DJ set I have 8 banks and I think for Marble Soda I had around the same amount.
Your mash-ups like Marble Soda and Mac n’ Cheese feature 153 and 134 different songs or samples respectively, how do you go about remembering everything?
There are tons of samples in each project I do. I try to remember how my hands move as opposed to where each individual sample is. It’s a lot of muscle memory, very similar to piano. There’s still a bit of remembering where things are such as switching banks, but most of it is muscle memory. So it’s a lot of really just drilling it.
How long is your process of getting a song down?
It depends. For example, my mash-up of Skrillex’s album “Recess” took me a couple of days, whereas Marble Soda took me about a month.
How would you describe your sample selection process like for you when you’re making mash-ups? I’ve heard some pretty interesting sounds such as car horns and dolphins.
That was a dolphin! I carry around a portable film recorder for sounds. I try to think of sounds that aren’t very musical and make them musical such as the car horns. For songs, it’s a lot of “crate-digging”, and now we have Soundcloud, Pandora, Shazam, Spotify, all these tools to help us find more music. When friends give you car rides and they’ll play music through the AUX, and you’ll ask them “Dude this track is fire, who produced it?”
Who or what would you say your inspirations are in making music?
It’s kind of me re-interpreting what I grew up with. Not just people who make music, but hearing sounds around me with video games and TV cartoons. A lot of that stuff has contributed to my music. Everything can be inspirational, it’s not just listening to a song, you can go outside and be inspired by colors and try to re-interpret that as music.
Speaking of which, what your personal favorite artists?
Definitely Wave Racer, Cashmere Cat, Lido. Anamanaguchi is my favorite band, I listened to them throughout high school so they’re really big for me. They’re from New York, so I’m hoping they show up tonight! I would explode and melt
There are also a lot of artists that I work with or am friends with that I really admire such as Zanski and Sushi Killer. Trying to think off the top of my head. Definitely Porter Robinson, I just saw him last weekend at Anime Expo in LA. Skrillex is a pretty big influence on me. There’s also a bunch of artists in the web scene in LA.
At what point did you decide to start making music professionally?
It kind of just happened. I realized that now with Marble Soda out and having a booking agency, I’m able to actually make money off of what I do. Which is great because I can live on my own, pay bills, and finally be an adult.
Can you tell us about your future plans?
I’m trying to focus more on original production like my song “Hotto Dogu” right now and that’s a lot of what I’m lacking right now since a lot of my work is mash-ups and I want to make some more that’s my own.
I definitely plan to continue playing with the Midi Fighter since it’s something that I’ve enjoyed so much.
Can you tell us about your process in making original tracks?
For Hotto Dogu, it didn’t start with the Filthy Frank sample, which actually came last and was more of a late decision. It started out with that main bell sound, which was the main idea and then I added onto that until I had a full track.
What can we expect from your live show?
For my DJ Sets, for the first bank this top half of buttons are each a song and when I press the button it does that particular song.I don’t do entire hour-long sets of intense button mashing. Yet. So its kind of a hybrid DJ live-set, I’ll do some live mash-ups and play songs in between.
For the style, I wish there was a way to describe it. I’ve heard many different terms such as hyper-pop, fever dream, neon, future bass, that’s one of the more common ones I’ve heard.
I have a lot of fun sounds and samples ready to be used so I really hope everyone going has fun at my show!
Great, I’ll let you get back to practicing before the show, you’re going to do great!
Cool, thank you for doing the interview! I’ll see you at the show!