Gayasian Empress of Sydney Dyan Tai returns with the electronic anthem ‘Hantu’. The wildly cathartic single accompanies a music video showcasing their ability to tell complex narratives with provocative images. While Dyan Tai’s ascension as a solo musician has been catching the attention of the industry and fans alike for the last few years, their relationship with self-expression began before they ever stepped on stage.
Dyan Tai was born and raised in Malaysia before moving to Sydney. Their youth was spent navigating the intersectionality of being Chinese, queer, and living in a country with little resemblance to the one they migrated from. After learning classical piano and violin, Dyan Tai would plunge deep into the cabaret scene, where the spotlight baptised them, and their physicality would flourish. Here, they would lay down the foundations for the artist we have been blessed with today. ‘Blessed’ is the operative word here as to witness Dyan Tai in any form can be a quasi-religious experience. Brandishing face paint that echoes the iconography of traditional Indo-Malay opera, they performs their striking brand of pop music with their entire body. Operatic vocals interweave with their eclectic dance moves, making for a performance that lies comfortably between shamanism and the flagrance of ball culture.
Dyan Tai’s latest single, ‘Hantu’, weaves haunting vocals with roaring synths for a soundscape like no other. The track was conceived during Sydney’s WorldPride as a reaction to hardships inflicted upon queer communities in Indonesia and Malaysia. Deriving from the Indo-Malay word for ghost, ‘Hantu’ simultaneously explores the spiritual side of confronting our inner selves and how marginalised communities can be treated like spectres floating on the edges of society. In under four minutes, you’ll be left beating a clenched fist on your heart as you manically boop your head on a sweaty dance floor or the comfort of your living room.
We caught up with Dyan Tai about his beginnings, artistry, founding Worship Queer Collective, and ‘Hantu’, for which they have graciously given us the MV premiere!
Thank you! I’ve actually been sitting on Hantu since the start of the year. 2023 has been an incredible year and it has led me to this moment right now… so I’m finally ready for everyone to hear it.
For me, a huge part of coming out and navigating my identity has got to do with my intersectionality of not just being queer but also being Chinese. In Malaysia, I’m well-aware of my privilege as a lighter skinned Chinese person but we’re a minority group. When I moved to Sydney, once again I find myself in the minority in a lot of situations but this time all ethnicities within Asia (especially East/Southeast Asians) are being viewed the same. It’s like nothing else matters, we’re just one big group of “Asians”. When someone says they’re not “into Asians”…that’s the world’s largest and most diverse continent so i really don’t get it.
On top of that, I’m also queer so in the music industry and in a lot of other spaces, I always feel like a double minority – a minority within a minority group. So there are a lot of really complex feelings to navigate.
I don’t know if this makes sense because they’re all part of my identity but I feel like I’m Asian before I’m queer. In my day to day life, people will always see me as Asian first before they learn that I’m queer but that’s ok, I love that, I’m really proud of that. I always say there’s a lot of strength in being proud and taking ownership of our narratives.
I was classically trained in piano and violin before I started singing, writing and producing music and learning how to DJ. So I have always been a musician ever since I was little. I can also play by ear.
I started experimenting with traditional Asian instruments and soundscapes at the end of 2020 when I was making music for cabaret and performance art shows. I really wanted to demonstrate that there is a place for traditional East/Southeast Asian music in the contemporary Australian music industry. It became my mission to show that just because we’re using non-western sounds they shouldn’t necessarily be placed into the “World” music genre; like how I’m fusing Malay/Indonesian sounds in my new electronic track, Hantu.
At the moment, I’m really into electronic music specifically experimental, glitchy hyperpop, future bass genres. I suppose I’ve developed a signature sound by using traditional Asian soundscapes/instruments. Some of my favourites are Chinese instruments like the Guzheng, Pipa, Dizi. And Malay/Indonesian instruments like Seruling, Gamelan and Kendang.
I also produce a lot of music for live shows. I get really excited when I have the opportunity to make art music in a longer format; especially soundscapey ambient music where I can also go more traditional (and more weird!) by adding noisescapes, traditional percussion instruments like taiko drums, Beijing operatic sounds.
I wrote Hantu (which means ghost/spirit in Malay and Indonesian) during Sydney WorldPride earlier this year for the deadly Djarraba Disco… to honour the LGBTQI+ community living in Malaysia/Indonesia who are facing persecution for their sexuality and gender identity; and lives lost to HIV/AIDS. I wanted to use that platform to highlight the different lived experiences of LGBTQI+ communities especially in Southeast Asia despite being so geographically close to us in Australia.
Hantu, in a metaphorical sense is about confronting and accepting all the facets of ourselves, our spirit unconditionally and completely. Hantu is also about marginalised communities who in certain circumstances, might choose to be less visible or unnoticed in our society; hence “ghost”.
The final parts of the song was developed during my residency at The Red Rattler Theatre which has been the creative incubator for a lot of my music and artistic practice.
For the music video, I was very lucky to work with award-winning choreographer and director, Shaun Parker who has been my mentor in the last few years. I was inspired by Shaun’s internationally acclaimed music-dance show, KING and wanted an all East/Southeast Asian, AMAB (assigned male at birth) cast. I wanted to explore masculinity, power, sexuality and queerness through Shaun’s choreography and art direction.
We ended up with such a talented, diverse cast of dancers who identity as queer, non-binary and allies (Fio, Whyan, Billy, Tommy and Libby). I was also very lucky to collaborate with director, Chris Quyen who is a great friend and did most of my previous videos including fan favourite Freedom. The costume was designed by Erin Caroll from Not Sew Boring and makeup artist, Star Gayze… so this project is definitely a product of East/Southeast Asian Excellence!
Bigsound was a phenomenal experience, it was like nothing I had ever experienced. I’ve never been so close to the music industry and so inspired. What made it really special was finally being selected after years of applying and facing rejection.
I was really nervous going to BigSound, I remember I even told the audience on my first showcase that I was feeling nervous.
Being a genderqueer artist and running from one venue to another in Fortitude Valley dressed in Chinese operatic makeup/Y2K drag and in a leotard, I knew it was a lot to take in visually and I might not be for everyone.
Especially since I sing in Chinese and Malay. My music is pretty queer. I also put together a projection art piece with footage of my Queer Asian family on stage. So I guess I was afraid that it might be confronting especially the audience at BigSound was a live music audience compared to what I’m used to in queer/cabaret and art spaces.
But I want to confront and make people feel uncomfortable. I want the music industry and people who listen to my music and experience my live shows to understand what it’s like being queer… and for BIPOC folks and people who are going through the same diasporic migrant experience to know their feelings are valid and we’ve got each other’s backs.
A lot of people thank me for WorshipQC but to be honest, they probably wouldn’t have guessed that I needed WorshipQC just as much, if not more than anything else. I didn’t have community until I founded WorshipQC and I’ve met so many incredible, inspiring folks and they have lifted me up and supported me in more ways they can ever imagine.
Seeing Queer Asians come to our events in traditional outfits, listening to their stories and learning how people met and have become friends/lovers at our WorshipQC events would make me tear up every time. That’s the kind of community I wish I had when I first moved to Sydney.
A lot of what I do for WorshipQC is voluntary and unpaid… and as the founder/producer, I’m always the last person to be paid but that’s ok because this is a very important movement in Sydney. I’m really proud that a lot of Queer Asians artists in Sydney had their first (or early career) performance with us.. it truly is a space space for community to explore their identity and for allies to appreciate what it’s like being Queer and Asian.
But of course I can’t take all the credit, the Collective also consists of Mai, Red Rey and we’re also supported by so many people from the community. There are so many people to thank but I want to give a shout out to Priya, David, Michelle, Star Gayze and the talented artists and collectives we’ve worked with like LinhQu (Club Chrome), Ru (Scary Strangers), Demon Derriere (Big Thick Energy), Shyamla (Big Thick Energy). This is the future of the Sydney Queer scene and I’m so excited.
This is also a reminder for myself. My advice for artists, musicians, performers… don’t be afraid to get out there and share your art with the world. Creative arts and music is a journey… you don’t become a master of your craft from your first single or performance. It’s ok to release some demos and create a new performance piece and learn from it. Eventually we’ll get better with each release, each performance… and that’s the most important thing.
Thanks to Dyan Tai for taking the time to chat! ‘Hantu’ is out now on all streaming platforms and the music video is up now.