Becky Sui Zhen is an artist whose talent is not limited by interest or field. Going under her alias Sui Zhen, Becky has embedded herself firmly within the Melbourne music scene, creating a distinct aesthetic that is both inspired and inspiring.
Performing in bands including as Sui et Sui, NO ZU and Hot Palm while also settling under her moniker DJ Susan; her work is compelling, unique and an intricate exploration into bedroom-pop. Immersing her dreamy Japanese post-punk tones and artistic focus, Becky’s talent has garnered support from a variety of independent directions like Two Bright Lakes, Remote Control, Teto Records, i-D and Pigeons & Planes. Amongst all this, Becky has also worked alongside perceptive photographer Phebe Schmidt and Joshua Aylett to help create the recent pink-hued realm of ‘Susan’.
Though her sugary mind is heavily poignant in her productions, it is in the work of being a creative producer that has guided her sensitivity and her passion for storytelling. From ‘Midriffs’ to Rainbow Chan’s ‘Skinny Dipping’, Becky has individualised her video production with experience and creative tactility, making her mark on the format. Recently directing the music video ‘Can We Work This Out’ for The Harpoons, the clip is a bold personification of her creative process that is rich in visual gradient, imagery and rhythm.
Q. How did you get involved with directing music videos?
I studied film production in my first degree, over ten years ago. Since then I have explored storytelling through various mediums, digital platforms and analogue forms. The intangibility of recorded music fills my mind with such intense imagery and the obvious format to capture those images and moody sensations is through making video. I made my first music videos in my late teens using 16mm film and stop motion animation techniques – but it wasn’t until 2012 after having worked professionally in documentary and digital production for several years, that I felt confident to direct something more formally. It started with ‘Midriffs‘, then Rainbow Chan’s ‘Skinny Dipping‘ followed by a series of interviews for Sugar Mountain Festival all in 2012.
“I aim to tap into your senses and play with them to make you feel both familiarity and repulsion, satisfaction, desire and humility. The result is often awkward but I like that.”
Q. The video ‘Can We Work It Out’ by The Harpoons has a confident aesthetic. Are you still trying to find your own style or is it ever changing?
I think I have a pretty clear aesthetic. I use colour, humour and considered pacing to explore the tension between the perverse and banal. I aim to tap into your senses and play with them to make you feel both familiarity and repulsion, satisfaction, desire and humility. The result is often awkward but I like that. My present influences are strong within my music work and they are beginning to come out in video works too. Post-apocalyptic, post-internet, sci-fi, retro- future Cronenbreg, Gibson, Ballard, Jarmusch, Godard, 70-80s stock video, instructional tapes, Kodachrome film… it’s all been absorbed into my mega drive, it is the palette I pull from.
Q. What’s your favorite music video or track right now?
I’m really into NO ZU’s Mind Tape that came out early 2014. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Craig T Cooper in my DJ sets. The next music video I will make will be for my second single off Secretly Susan, and then a NO ZU video.
Q. In all you work, there is a minimal elegance. Is there beauty in simplicity?
Yes, of course there is. Simplicity can only be arrived at after a longer process has taken place. Whether that is visibly a part of the creative process or the result of varied experiences in life. It may involve research, refinement, practice and interrogating your purpose to work out what you really want to say. In short formats I think the best you can do is to ask the right questions and leave the rest for interpretation.
“For me, video is more about sensory simulacra than the literal documentation of natural beauty. I like to use the locations in more abstract ways.”
Q. What would be your dream shoot? I’m talking location, music, people, anything.
I’m becoming more interested in creating interactive mise en scène and building upon my vision of the world into a constrained cinematic space. The shooting space need only be a blank cyc coupled with the right production design and expertise on set – then anything can happen. I’d like to continue working with Phebe Schmidt and Joshua Aylett. And perhaps meet someone to collaborate with on lighting. One day I’d love to shoot on Teshima Island in the Seto Sea of Japan. Or Jetty Beach on South Bruny Island in Tasmania. But then again, some of the best natural locations are best left for real life experiences. For me, video is more about sensory simulacra than the literal documentation of natural beauty. I like to use the locations in more abstract ways.
Q. You’re pretty embedded in the Melbourne music scene. Do you have any directors you want to collaborate with, national or international?
I like taking direction as a collaborative experience. If someone has a vision that I feel I could really work within, then I’ll try to work with that person. Timing is pretty crucial, it depends a lot on where the other person is at in their creative pursuit and if they are seeking similar things – if I can help them to fulfil those desires. I’m influenced by many film directors but don’t necessarily foresee possibilities or any necessity to work with them. I admire work from afar and take the inspiration into my own projects. I think the dialogue between two disparate artists works is truer communication in that sense. A face-to-face collaboration is a rare and beautiful thing. I cherish the musicians and artists I work closely with already, that is enough for now.
Q. What’s one music video, film or record that changed your perspective or creative direction?
It’s really the culmination of varied films, videos and records that have gradually influenced my approach. The film Tampopo is incredible. Eric Rohmer, Godard, Chris Marker; the way Jim Jarmusch uses sound and silence in his films. Despite how misogynistic and garish they can be, I did have some veil lifted when viewing music video works by the art direction team CANADA.
“The best thing is that it makes me happy. I wouldn’t be myself without music, it’s not something I could just end or stop doing, I think it’ll always be there.”
Q. Apart from directing, you make really funky/interesting music and art. What’s the best thing about being DJ Susan or performing onstage in a group?
Performing is the necessary social time for me as a self-producing musician. I like the daily activity of music, whether that is performing in a live band, spending an afternoon working alone in my studio or sitting in the background playing records that make people dance. The best thing is that it makes me happy. I wouldn’t be myself without music, it’s not something I could just end or stop doing, I think it’ll always be there.
Q. I read your music is very influenced by Japan in the 80s and the post-punk scene. Does this influence come into your video directing or design?
I think my music is influenced by futuristic predictions of Japan from the 80s, I know less about Japan in the actual 80s. Japanese design aesthetics do influence a lot what I do. Heightening sensory experiences and tapping into stream of consciousness tangents through video is an on-going pursuit.
Q. Any advice for anyone wanting to get into directing, publishing or just the local music scene in general?
Research what turns you on, collect lots of references and inspiration to maintain inspiration and create work that is meaningful to you.
Sui Zhen’s debut LP Secretly Susan will be out in 2015 via Two Bright Lakes / Remote Control Records, but you can find ‘Infinity Street’ now on iTunes. Becky will also be releasing her new EP Body Reset coming out this November via Eskers, with a few shows and videos coming out in the next few months. Becky will also be releasing her new EP Body Reset coming out this November via Eskers, with a few shows and videos coming out in the next few months.