Charlie Allen is a musician known as Young Triforce Cat Baron who has had considerable online success over the past three years, in spite of his very young age; born in 1995, he started making music in his teens. His songs, with their diverse influences drawn from East Asian culture – particularly K-Pop and anime music – have won him hundreds of fans in a very short space of time. However, while undeniably a talented composer, he has decided to press pause on his music career, instead pursuing a BA in Graphic Design at the University of the West of England. This decision, as Charlie explains below, along with his new-found maturity, has led him to reevaluate his practice as a musician, combining his diverse talents to deliver new forms of content. In this interview, Charlie, an emerging talent to watch and who is currently undergoing a self-transformation, tells us about the beginning of his career, his sources of inspiration and describes how he sees his interdisciplinary, multifaceted creative future.
Can you tell us about your journey as a musician?
I am mainly active as Young Triforce Cat Baron, but I had other projects before that which never took off as much. My name four, five years ago was “Défi” – challenge in French.
My work as Défi is probably still floating around on the internet, 1 and those songs are probably better musically speaking, because I used to play more instruments myself that I was recording and mixing into the tracks.
How did you initially get into making music?
It started with me improvising on piano, but how I got into making music on a computer was when I used to be in a band in year eight and nine, so that’s when I was around thirteen. While I played the guitar and recorded it, I was always very interested in the software we were using to do that.
Charlie & Young Triforce Cat Baron
When did your ongoing project, Young Triforce Cat Baron, start?
It started just before I went to university. Even though I was much more productive at that time, Défi only lasted a year or so.
I started YTCB at around seventeen. Stuff was easy back then. I think I was in the first year of sixth form, not taking any of my school work seriously, just focusing primarily on music. I can’t do that as much now, I actually have to try hard because I want to get a degree. It’s a difficult balance to have as I don’t want to fail at university, but I don’t want to fail at music either.
Young Triforce Cat Baron was quick to gain online attention. Do you think there is a reason behind this success?
It sounds bad but when I first started I just followed loads of people on Soundcloud so that people would actually notice me, because otherwise I would probably be sitting there with five tracks and zero followers. It took off in late 2013 with “2morrow”. 2 There are two things that made that song blow up. One is the fact that Ryan [Hemsworth] 3 put it in this mix he did for an Australian radio station, 4 which I’m eternally grateful for. The other is this fashion vlogger, Jenn Im, who used “2morrow” in one of her videos. 5 She has such a big fan base that there were a bunch of people being like “What’s the music, I love it. Thank you Jenn for bringing me to this song” so it got a crazy amount of plays really quickly.
Why do you think your song “2morrow” got more attention than the others?
That song was kind of atypical for me. It was really chilled out, with chopped up acoustic guitar. I chose to sample that because I had finished watching this anime called Sankarea and I just really liked its ending theme, 6 so I decided to incorporate it and make it into my own song. Before that, I’d been doing more trap drums, just copying patterns that you hear in a lot of rap music of that era, like Lil Wayne, which I was listening to. With “2morrow”, I changed my drum patterns, I wanted to try something new. Since then, it kind of turned into my style. I try to revisit that and do stuff along similar lines, because it worked so well.
At the moment, I feel like what I’m making is accessible but not complex enough. When I hear the level of music that other artists are putting out, I just feel like mine is not mature enough.
You have never played any live shows, have you thought about doing it?
Right now, I can’t really foresee myself doing one. It would literally be me just playing tracks off my laptop, there wouldn’t be any live element to it so I need to get good at using an MPD, DJing, or playing keyboard live like et aliae. 7
I want to learn to sing as well, and make tracks with vocals, but I’d be nervous as fuck before my first-ever show. Having said that, once I get a bit of confidence and some money, I would like to do some shows for sure.
Are there any artists who inspire your work?
Musically, Taquwami. 8 All of his tracks are amazing and brilliant, stuff that I had never heard before. His style definitely influences me. He also releases tracks sporadically like me. I’m sure he’s working on stuff right now though, but keeping it secret.
What do you focus on when working on your music?
Right now, I’m really interested in music theory – a lot of classical stuff like baroque music theory is so intricate and interesting. I want to know all the rules. I can tell what sounds good, but what’s impressive is that composers at that time knew what would sound good without even having to hear it, or at least wrote their music with no computers and no instant playback option like today. I definitely want to incorporate elements of baroque or romantic theory into my songs, it’s just about achieving the right balance between modern and three hundred years old. The contrast really interests me, there’s the possibility for really cool or adventurous stuff. At the moment, I feel like what I’m making is accessible but not complex enough. When I hear the level of music that other artists are putting out, I just feel like mine is not mature enough. I guess I have a lot of time to learn.
Interest in East Asian Culture
Your work seems to be inspired by East Asian culture – you’ve mentioned “2morrow” being influenced by the anime Sankarea. Does that come from a personal interest of yours?
I think the way I started working was sampling a lot of stuff and obviously the first things I thought of sampling were things I was really into, like K-Pop songs, or video game soundtracks like Zelda. 9 I guess because I’m interested in the stuff I was sampling, I wanted to share it with other people, hoping that there were other people out there who would recognise it and pick up on it like “oh, we share a common interest”.
I’m sure a lot of your followers picked up on that – I certainly did! How did you initially get into K-Pop?
With K-Pop, it’s been quite a long romance. 10 I must have been sixteen when I was first exposed to that surreal world. SHINee 11 was playing some shows in the UK to coincide with this Korean Film Festival in London and I just read an article talking about it in a newspaper. Then, my sister read it too and played some of their songs and then it infected my whole family. It just grew from there. I researched more and found out about different groups. There’s so much creativity and cool musical stuff happening there.
What do you like about K-Pop which you don’t find in the UK or USA?
I guess because it’s such a big industry, there is still the bad side that we’ve got in the UK and in the US where it’s just songwriters and producers making songs that they know will be popular. But in Asia, I think a lot of the music being made, even very mainstream music, has got more integrity and more theory behind it. 12 Though, it might be because I’m actually looking for it – I’m aware there’s a lot of music with integrity in the UK too.
You are currently studying Graphic Design at the University of the West of England. Did you think about taking Music instead?
I think it would kill it for me to study music at university. I always want to have music as a hobby. What a lot of people are good at, but what I’m not so good at, is turning a hobby into something that you can get paid for.
Although I don’t formally study music, I try and learn the parts of theory I’m interested in for myself. Though, I must say that self-teaching is not always the best idea. It’s always easier to learn from someone else even though the internet offers so much nowadays. I mainly use the web but I get myself textbooks as well and just work at my own pace. Having a teacher would make the process a lot faster, but I’m 100% certain it would kill my passion.
Regarding your skills as a graphic designer, what kind of designer do you aspire to be?
There’s just a type I quite want to avoid becoming, which is working in a studio doing advertising or very corporate stuff. I’m definitely much more interested in design that seeks to carry an experience to people. For example, with book covers, it’s about how people experience what you’ve made. I think I’m quite interested in that – in giving people a good time. For example, a lot of work made by Hato Press 13 that you’ve shown me just seems like they’ve had an idea that they want to make and so why not make it? That’s the kind of area I want to work in.
As far as I have seen, a lot of your work seems influenced by what some call “internet art” and its related aesthetics. What made you go into that direction?
My weakness. I can’t help that because there’s just so much stuff I appreciate that is also influenced by this type of aesthetic. It’s a popular style because it goes hand in hand with internet music. Also, following blogs on Tumblr like Booksfromthefuture 14 and other graphic design blogs was another big influence – just an endless stream of contemporary stuff, it’s arguably the most up-to-date source of inspiration you can expose yourself to.
With regards to your activity as a musician, you have been quite quiet in the past few months. Are you working on anything to be released soon?
My productivity has really ground to a halt, even more so than usual. That’s not to say that I’m not making music – I’m still trying out a lot of ideas and experimenting, and ending up with a lot of unfinished tracks which I can’t decide whether I like or not. I think I’m at the point where I only want to share music that I’m entirely happy with and proud of. It’s kind of a challenge to myself, to make something that I feel is good enough to maybe inspire other people, or at least affect them deeply.
There are so many styles I want to explore, mainly with a view to redefining my own style and producing something that is completely unique. So while I don’t think the next release will be soon, I’m determined to make it special and go above what I’ve previously made.
I think I’m at the point where I only want to share music that I’m entirely happy with and proud of. It’s kind of a challenge to myself, to make something that I feel is good enough to maybe inspire other people.
You are very skilled in both music and graphic design. Do you have any plans in the future to intertwine both disciplines?
I’m actually very interested in learning how to animate as well, because I want to produce the whole package, like a short film with all the music and everything else done by me. Something along the lines of Makoto Shinkai’s films. 15 I guess I kind of want to be a polymath who’s just good at everything. I need to work harder as right now, I’m just okay at a range of things.
You just came back from a year abroad in Hong Kong as part of your undergraduate course. Are there any personal projects of yours which have been inspired by that experience?
Hong Kong is an inspiring place to be. University work has actually been really uninspiring, but I have ambitions to produce my own work so that I have something cool as a result of my time here. An idea I really want to make happen is a book or zine featuring the design that I encounter every day here – stuff like shop signs, wayfinding systems, cafe menus. My neighbourhood while I’m here is Kowloon, so it’s kind of old style, scruffy Hong Kong. Just walking down the street, you can encounter a lot of what people might call ‘bad’ design, but I really think this is the best stuff. It’s the most reflective of the place you’re in, design by the people. And some of it is so inspiring in terms of the way typography, colours and things are used or misused. The idea I have is to document these examples and stylise them in some way, like tracing them into line art, to make a cohesive sort of exhibition of Hong Kong’s graphic design.
Also, I’m inspired to make some work to do with Jyutping, the kind of idealised romanisation system for Cantonese that actually hardly gets used here. As a writing system, it’s immediately really interesting graphically, because each syllable is ornamented with a number from 1-6 to mark the tone – for instance, Hoeng1 Gong2 is Hong Kong. I’m generally really into diacritics or things like this that are supplementary to the standard Latin alphabet and which we see every day. The Vietnamese writing system as well, I can see a lot of cool typographic possibilities based on it.
- It is indeed; you can listen to Défi’s most recent release “Heavenly Mountains” here – I say “most recent” but it was four years ago! ↩
- You can listen to “2morrow” here: ↩
- Ryan Hemsworth is a musician and DJ from Canada, mostly specialised in electronic music. He runs Secret Songs, a free online compilation project which releases tracks on a bi-weekly basis. ↩
- Charlie is talking about a mix called “Koalas & Echidnas” that Ryan Hemsworth made for Triple J. ↩
- Fashion vlogger Jenn Im, who runs a YouTube channel called Clothes Encounters, used “2morrow” on her late 2013 video “Jenn Goes to New York”: ↩
- Sankarea: Undying Love is a manga written by Mitsuru Hattori about a dead girl who becomes a zombie. The ending theme of the anime version was a song called “Above your hand” by Japanese singer Annabel: ↩
- et aliae is a Singaporean producer who was based in London until recently, where she studied Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins. With Cascine, an independent label based in New York and London, she released her debut EP, Rose, in March 2016. You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/cascine/sets/et-aliae-rose-ep-1 ↩
- Taquwami is a Japanese electronic musician based in Kawasaki, Japan. While, as Charlie mentioned, he is generally quiet, he released an EP called Moyas in late 2015:
- For example, in “♡してる” you can hear Zelda’s ‘secret sound’ at 0’12”. ↩
- Charlie later added “my favourite K-Pop groups are probably EXO (original lineup), 2NE1, Girls Day, BTS, Infinite. My favourite song would have to be SHINee’s “Replay” although I prefer the Japanese version and video, but honourable mention to “We Don't Stop” by Fiestar because of the chorus”: ↩
- SHINee is boy band from South Korea and one of the best-known K-Pop groups internationally. Its members are all also active individually; one of them, Jonghyun, is making waves with his new album, She Is: ↩
- Have a look at Calum Bowen’s interview for his similar point of view on mainstream music. ↩
- Hato is both a design studio and a publishing/printing house, called Studio Hato and Hato Press respectively. The latter specialises in Risograph printing and collaborates with a diverse range of artists and illustrators to publish books, prints and stationery. ↩
- Booksfromthefuture is a “platform for experimental learning and publishing” founded by Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees. They are the curators of a popular Tumblr showcasing the art of book design and run, every year, a ten-day summer school where students can get involved with the design and publication of a book. ↩
- Makoto Shinkai is an anime director from Japan. He is best known for his film The Place Promised in Our Early Days. ↩
This interview was posted on 31 July 2016.
Interview (Us Blah) & Footnotes (Me Blah):
Translation (English to Japanese):