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Aaron Yunsuk Choe aka Airbear talks about his American-Korean background & loving music not being a career

The DJ & director has directed films for Vice Asia, EST Media, SCMP, produced for Netflix & 禁 JIN’s latest music video

  • Arun Ramanathan | Images: Aaron Choe
  • 24 February 2022

We’re not one to pluck from the archives of Simon Cowell, but here we go: “Most things in music go full circle eventually.” But because Simon said it, we will say for the sake of argument that there is no full circle and that life is just carrying on.

For Korean-American DJ, producer and now film director Aaron Choe aka Airbear, music seems to encircle his life, and it’s his career in film and video that’s moving his life forward. And working on the music video for Yetsuby’s ‘Bear Becomes The Human’ Taipei imprint’s 禁 JIN006 release, really sealed that inadvertent trajectory.

The music video has depth, sonic to visual relevance and enough South Korean nuance to know that the work had personal roots. 禁 JIN founder Yoshi Nori mentioned to us, “This MV was made with purpose of showcasing Seoul’s vibe, from my perspective. This is why I asked Aaron to do it; he was the one that sent me Yetsuby’s demo, so everything was sort of made organically but also with purpose.”

Aaron’s 14-year background in filmmaking includes works for VICE such as a post-pandemic expose on Seoul’s nightlife called ‘Empty Dance Floors in Itaewon, Seoul’ and ‘These Korean Adoptees Are Returning to Their Birth Country, to Stay’. He also produced and fixing Netflix documentary Blackpink documentary ‘Light Up The Sky’. That’s all on top of his time invested in music where he was quickly famed for his ever-growing record collection — as a DJ, and working under the alias Airbear, Aaron’s has made a name for himself with his signature sound of quirky, leftfield house. But chose film over music as a career, citing “music doesn't have to be a career, so I still love working in the musical space but in other ways too.”

We were able to quickly catch Aaron now that he’s been back in an easier time zone in Seoul, to understand Yoshi’s perspective for ‘Bear Becomes the Human’ and to help us connect a few more dots around his work. Aaron gently hints, “I’ve found as a filmmaker (compared to being a DJ), the way you approach a song is completely different, it really made me pay attention to the structure when I was planning and editing the video."

Watch the video below.

“Yeah, so Yoshi (Yoshi Nori from 禁 JIN) asked me if I knew of any good Korean music producers and Yetsuby came to mind immediately. She's in the duo Salamanda, who have been getting popular, especially with the trend in ambient music these days but I always loved Yetsuby's solo tracks. I’ve found running a label is hard, so I made the choice to send the demo over to Yoshi cause I knew he'd do an awesome job — it’s really unsung work that Yoshi does, dealing with so many creative people from musicians, to designers, to people like me.”

With loneliness kicking in over the last couple of years and not having seen his family in the US throughout the pandemic, Aaron adds, “Omicron was sort of the proverbial straw for me.”

Aaron manifested that sadness into ‘Bear Becomes the Human’, his second music video to date. “I work with filmmakers who try to shoot thinking about a time that’s post-Covid once we've overcome this situation, and tried to embrace it. It is what it is, and my background in documentary-filmmaking pushes me to let reality be its own thing.”

Aaron pulls off a tone and manner that is emotionally evocative by vicariously portraying Yetsuby’s personality through the main girl in the video; a girl who leaves behind the overarching industrial feel of the city to explore in nature, only to find herself dancing in twirls to euphoric breaks, under leaves falling from a sky filled with a stygian ambiam. And she’s able to find beauty and comfort in grit — maybe like how Aaron finds solace by immersing in the subtleties of motion during these difficult times.

As for Yoshi — an American-raised Japanese who lives in Taipei — and his perception of Seoul, I feel Aaron unintentionally delivered it, and vicariously. Aaron confesses, “I'm still somewhat of a foreigner, I wasn't born here. I moved to Seoul in my mid 20s so I look at things in a different way but I'm also Korean and spent months of my childhood here so I'm quite nostalgic for those times.”

Aaron said he wants to keep making more music videos, and working on this release with Yoshi Nori and Yetsuby reminded him of that.

We don’t really care which way you prefer to look at life, but whilst we’re pleasantly disoriented from watching Aaron’s music video for ‘Bear Becomes the Human’, let me ask you, did Aaron’s life come full circle or is he just carrying on?

Yetsuby 'JIN06' is out now, you can buy it here.

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