DPR Ian loves music. But he also loves directing. So much so that when I asked about them, the 33-year-old artist comfortably poured his heart out. Even in the video call, I could see his eyes light up as he talked about the things he’s deeply passionate about. DPR Ian just released his second EP ‘Dear Insanity…’, the sequel to his own cinematic universe called The Other Side. He might have taken on a new persona here as Mr. Insanity (representing his manic highs) and an expansion of his own lore. But what’s never changed, is his love for storytelling, creating, and just the genuine joy of seeing his vision and imagery come to life. “You caught me at the right time, I really wanted to pick up filming again,” he confessed. But it’s not like he ever really stopped.
He’s not afraid to call himself “crazy obsessed” with the tiniest of details, even admitting that his biggest enemy is himself because of his high standards. This hands-on approach surely doesn’t go unnoticed. His music videos and visualisers are their own intricate works of art. It’s an expressive, visceral experience in itself that the only thing you’ll hate is the fact that it had to end. Again, this harkens back to his deeply personal relationship with music and art, and just constructing something he feels strongly about.
Much like his characters, DPR Ian, whose real name is Christian Yu, takes on multiple roles in real life. He’s a singer, songwriter, videographer, creative director, editor, and co-founder of Dream Perfect Regime (DPR). But before he could juggle that many hats, the Korean-Australian started off B-boying on YouTube. Then, upon moving to South Korea to connect with his roots, he became the leader of the K-pop group, C-Clown until the group’s disbandment in 2015. And the next thing you know, his multi-genre collective, DPR is one of the biggest independent creative labels out there.
A question I didn’t get to ask was what he thinks makes him and DPR so popular. But perhaps, I didn’t really need to because the answer is crystal clear. It’s the passion, authenticity, and genuine love for creation. He’s not one to shy away from being open, especially about his own experiences. At the same time, he also acknowledges the power and responsibility that comes with his voice. In this interview with Lifestyle Asia, DPR Ian takes us on a journey to the things that he deeply loves: music, filming, his tattoos, and being honest.
DPR Ian on his tattoos: “They’re all precious to me”
Let’s start off with your tattoos. I know you feel so passionate about them. Can you highlight some that are special and the story behind them?
You’re starting off with a tough one… I think it’s the one on MITO. Underneath the typography is meant to be MITO, hidden under my skin. It’s the first tattoo I’ve ever had about the character and was done before the first album came out. It was the start of this whole character. It also has the amount of tracks that are on the album and was used in the album jacket. For me, the typography is unique and the tattoo artist, NADI was the one who came up with it. We kept that consistent throughout the album design and the character as well. It’s also become such an iconic tattoo that I see a lot of fans getting it. It shows how much it means to them and it gives me a great sense of gratitude. I also have this tattoo on my left shoulder, which is a camera. It’s the very first camera I ever bought for myself when I started directing.
When did you first become interested in tattoos?
I’ve always been interested ever since I was in middle school and that was because I was also into heavy metal. And nine out of the ten times, you see the people in a heavy metal band with tattoos. So I was like “Man, I wish I had that!” But since I was young, I resorted to drawing and inking myself to the point where some people thought it was real. (laughs)
DPR Ian’s unyielding love for music and creation
You mentioned being into heavy metal. Who were your other earlier influences in music growing up and how did they shape the type of artist you are today?
My parents were a huge influence because they were also heavily into music. My dad introduced me to music when I was in elementary school. He exposed me to I guess what you could call ‘hip’ music back then, or what was considered somewhat retro. So I was heavily into Bee Gees, Electric Light Orchestra, Abba, and Earth Wind Fire, so many bands that shaped his childhood as well. I tried sharing those songs with my classmates but it didn’t resonate with them.
So that’s when I started experimenting with music by going to the store a lot. I liked picking the fanciest-looking CD cover. The one that caught my attention was Jamiroquai’s ‘A Funk Odyssey’. It has all these spectrums of blue and it looked like lasers shooting out of the cover. Plus, he just looks like an alien so as a kid, I was like “Wow!”
But when it comes to my music, Daft Punk was a big inspiration. I remember the first CD I ever got was ‘Discovery’ by Daft Punk. It was really shocking to hear the electronic sounds that they used with their voice. I became obsessed with that warping sound because I’d never heard anything like it.
So that’s how I would collect music. I was into Pokémon cards and all that too but I loved music to a different level. I wouldn’t spend time going to my friend’s house or anything on the weekends. Instead, I would just go to the music store and go through the whole tray of CDs. I was into a lot of different genres but mainly Progression because it’s adding layer after layer. If you listen to my music, it’s similar to Progression because of all the people from the era that I listened to.
You performed in Hong Kong for the first time in April. You were shocked that you actually have fans in Hong Kong.
It was really surprising how many people knew us. I’ve been to Hong Kong a few times before not just not for a performance. Each time, I’ve noticed that Hong Kong felt very romantic. There’s something about the lights and the type of colour palette, especially at night with the neon lights. It’s a combination that you’ll never get anywhere else in the world. I’ve been to so many places and it doesn’t have that same magic to it. I only have good memories of Hong Kong.
You started off visually, directing, and making videos and that expanded into music. Can you tell us more about this journey?
Coming from a very heavy metal and hardcore metal background, I wasn’t very familiar with K-pop back then. After my metal phase, I got into the dance phase and I was B-boying. Then, I went to South Korea because I wanted to find out more about my roots as a Korean. I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian area in Australia so I lacked the experience or connection to my Asian and Korean side.
I learned a lot during my time at C-Clown. If anything, I have to give credit to my experience in the group because, without it, I wouldn’t have made DPR. After that, I thought, “What’s the first thing I want to do?” And it’s something that I was always interested in, which is videography. It’s not completely out of nowhere because, during my YouTube days, I was into making my edits look great. That’s when I realised that I loved packaging things in a different way. I’ve always been very picky about wanting to present something more than what people think it is and I’ve done that ever since I could remember.
Things took a turn for the better when I picked up the camera. It was a challenge that I accepted because most of the directors were seniors and then you have me, somebody fresh that’s just trying to make it big. But with every project, it just snowballed. I have my passion and drive to thank for that.
I’m making music now but in my heart, I’m still a director so I’m also trying to find my way back. That’s why I just bought a camera. And I thought, “You know what, I’m going to start filming again” because I was in a different headspace then, than I am now. And I take pride in the videos that I’ve created especially with the stigma that comes with pursuing the arts.
When you think about it, it’s crazy, because of the transition from being in front of the camera to behind the camera, and back in front of the camera. It feels like I’m going in front of the camera for the first time. At the same time, I’m also directing and acting so it’s a challenge. But I always knew that in addition to being a director, I would eventually go into music. Working on DPR videos garnished enough inspiration for me to wonder what my sound could possibly be and what it would visually look like. That’s probably also why MITO was born.
DPR Ian on his next steps and finding solace in relatability
What’s next for MITO and Mr. Insanity?
Like any good movie series, I think I’m going to end it as a trilogy. So my next release, MITO III is going to be the finale. That’s the end of that concept because I want to keep it in that timeframe. It’s going to be something where maybe, MITO and Mr. Insanity disappear. But not in the way that you expect.
You’ve always been open about your struggle with your mental health and it’s deeply part of the music you create. Do you find it difficult to be very vulnerable?
Then, do you think you’ll get to a point where you’ll somehow manage to disassociate from your personal experiences and just… make music and art in general?
That’s a good question. My mental illness has always given me a hard time so it made me rethink how vulnerable I should be. In the beginning, I was very prone to just telling my story. It was as innocent as that because I wanted people to relate to it. I kind of went into it somewhat naively thinking it would be just that. What I reveal matters to the people who relate to it but for the most part, I wouldn’t want to make things that people can’t relate to.
I hesitate to glorify certain disorders so I had to think, “Am I doing a service to this disorder, or am I glorifying it, where people might think it’s cool to be broken?” That’s definitely one thing that I’m carefully tiptoeing around. At the end of the day, the message I want to give out is, “I’m just the same as everybody else” but I just happen to take that part of me and channel it into art. Of course, it can’t always be great.
For me, it’s important not to overstep that boundary where it might be over-glorifying it with someone who doesn’t have a disorder and they start inserting themselves into that narrative. This happened to me and when I dug deep into it and gave it a name, it felt more real. At the end of the day, I am just an artist, and I’m just someone who is here to give you some type of relatability and comfort in the music I do. You can choose not to take it or step away from my music.
I’m still struggling to find my own self so it’s not my place to tell anybody who they are or that I have answers to this. I only want to leave an impression with my artistry because times may change but emotions are constant. And when people see or hear a timeless piece, it’s like a timestamp into how that person was feeling. I think that can only be done through art.
So, if people in the year 2100 can see that and say, “I relate to that” then I think I’ve done my job.
Listen to DPR Ian’s new EP ‘Dear Insanity…’ on Spotify.
Hero image credit: Dream Perfect Regime, featured image credit: Cult of Ya