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Get To Know: SOHMI

SOHMI poses in a light pink bomber jacket
Brent Ferguson

Get acquainted with LA's SOHMI, purveyor of the self-coined "minimal pop tech" genre

Many artists tell the same origin story — the one about that fateful night in their teens when they snuck into an illegal party and subconsciously kickstarted their dance music career. Stephanie Oh, or SOHMI as she’s better known, can’t exactly relate. Today, she’s the originator of the self-coined minimal pop tech genre, but before that her full-time jobs and geographic locations kept her far away from the hazy dancefloors that would eventually become her post-professional playground.

“I was 28 when my ears and my eyes were first exposed to this rave culture, and I just felt like this light bulb went off in my head — like, ‘wait, where has this been my whole life?’” she tells DJ Mag on a call from her Los Angeles home. Still, there was something familiar about the intoxicating beats that swirled around her. “Techno, for example, sounded very much like classical music,” she remembers. “Even just the really fringe, minimal stuff — to me that felt like where 20th-century compositions had arrived.”

The discordant arrangements reminded her of those crafted by the likes of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Reilly, names more often associated with her initial introduction to music — the piano. “These guys were the true pioneers of sampling,” she says, acknowledging where their contributions collided with her passion du jour — producing textured grooves that buoy her own dynamic voice. “I was studying them in college, and then when I listened to proper underground, leftfield stuff, I remember thinking, ‘This sounds like Philip Glass with a kick drum. This is so freaking cool!’”

SOHMI was born in New Jersey, but spent the majority of her youth in Asia — in places like Hong Kong and eventually Seoul, where she emerged as an award-winning pianist. “I was not one of these child prodigies who sat down and just started being good at it,” she explains. “There was a lot of work that went into it, and my mom takes a lot of that credit.” When strictly supervised lessons concluded, the young student belted along to Mariah Carey cuts in her bedroom, imitating the songstress’s signature range and longing to return to the place she was from, but hardly knew. “America was always this distant place that had cooler pop stars and cooler actors, and I just fantasized about being a part of that,” she says.

SOHMI eventually returned to the States to attend Duke University, a path she says was largely preordained by her family. “When I tried to think of my life after college, I didn’t have the words for it, but I felt existential dread, and I think it’s because I didn’t want to do what I knew my parents wanted me to do after,” she adds, pegging a career in finance or consulting as aligned with their expectations. “I always wanted to be a performer.”

Her newest EP, ‘Recital’, dropped on April 7th via Permission and distributed by Thrive, and it’s a nod to the unlikely road that’s brought her from that place of fear to flagship events like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lightning In A Bottle, and onto tracks alongside house staples like the duo Booka Shade (who slid into her DMs after hearing one of her early cuts on BBC Radio One.)

“I wanted to make something that felt like a snapshot of both my taste and where I am at today, but also references my childhood at the same time, straddling both the past and the present,” she shares of her fresh, four-track project. It sees SOHMI present “dance-informed, but more so little electronic pieces” — though for what it’s worth, the highly percussive ‘Missin U’ and the deep-as-hell stunner ‘Somebody’ boast a body-moving zest that could fill out any peak-time club set.

‘Recital’, with its vibrant, vocal-forward elements and arresting arrangements serves as an attestation that SOHMI has fully embraced the performer inside — the same one she suppressed while zipping between roles in artist management and tech, the latter of which she believes granted her the courage to finally take a shot as an electronic musician. “I think it was something I really needed for myself at the time, because it helped me build new confidence,” she shares in hindsight. “I found myself leading a room full of 14 male engineers, which made me take stock of my reality and realise this is kind of weird, but also empowering. Being in positions like that probably gave me more of the audacity to just jump into DJing and not question my position as a woman in this industry.”

SOHMI didn’t find her “right place” in a club on a random Saturday night, and she’s more than okay with that. “I lived and worked for 10 years and gained some thicker skin and battle scars,” she says with pride for her journey. “Maybe all of that has helped me navigate this chapter a little better.” It seems ‘Recital’ is a chapter that dance music fans will be soaking up right along with her.

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Megan Venzin is DJ Mag North America's Contributing Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @Meggerzv