David Wang learned two important lessons about marketing early in his DJ career. First, that customer loyalty comes quickly when you give things away for free, although it’s not always a practical way of doing business. This Wang learned after his first promotional attempt, for which he built a web site and promised visitors a free CD if they filled out a simple form (Wang ended up getting more than 1,000 requests). The second was that people really go for a DJ in a cute dinosaur suit. This Wang discovered in 2006, when a friend bequeathed the suit on him to wear at the record release party for his compilation, Baby Godzilla. He had already been calling himself Mochipet for about five years, so the costume fit with his whole shtick.
Wang isn’t quite sure where the Mochipet name came from. Maybe he was stoned when he thought of it; maybe he was eating mochi ice cream; maybe it was a logo he’d drawn, of two cute, bubbly mochi characters holding hands. Whatever the case, it works. His bio includes a “stat” list indicating his favorite foods (haw flakes and Botan rice candy), favorite books (“the 3D ones with the pop-ups”), and movies (S.R. Bindler’s documentary Hands on a Hard Body). One thing that Wang does really well is create a persona and articulate it, in everything from his animal suits to his hand-drawn album covers to his Dutch-boy haircut.
Behind that cult of personality is a long-held infatuation with machines. Born in Taiwan and raised in several different Bay Area neighborhoods after immigrating to the US at age eight, Wang found security in knowing how things worked. He didn’t get good grades but considered himself an exceptionally logical kid nonetheless, building things out of Legos and fixing the steering column in his dad’s car. He took a similar approach to music, amassing as much knowledge as he could about the components of each genre, so he’d know how to put them together.
The result is often more conceptual than musical, but it shows a knack for innovation that separates Wang from the pack. He debuted the Mochipet alias with a drum ‘n’ bassy remix of the Radiohead song “Morning Bells” which played on indie radio station KCRW. In 2002 Wang unleashed a mashup compilation called Combat, still several years before mashups hit mainstream radio. It was an assault on tonality, pairing things with no ostensible similarity, other than their band names (punk group No Means No with the British arena rock group Yes; Cash Money Millionaires with Johnny Cash; Aphex Twin versus the Thompson Twins).
“The way I did it was definitely not like a mashup you’d hear on the radio. It’s more collagey and weird,” Wang said. “… I think it’s cool when you mix two things with totally different tonal characteristics.”
When Wang started producing tracks in the late ’90s he worked in the company of fellow nerds who were less interested in creating flowy, tuneful, escapist music than with pushing intellectual ideas or innovating for innovations’ sake. Hence, they produced a lot of metallic, concept-driven stuff that had limited appeal. Wang recalls organizing a show with the now-ubiquitous mashup DJ Girl Talk a couple years before his act became popular. Only three people came. “Back then it was mostly kids who knew nothing about music just doing mashups for fun,” he said.
But if knowing nothing about music was the rule, then Wang was definitely the exception. He knew a shitload about music — much more than the average dilettante — even if his music career arose from inauspicious beginnings. A brief stint at classical piano — two lessons at his mother’s behest — led fourteen-year-old Wang to break two keys of his Yamaha keyboard with a hammer. He then switched over to guitar, played in several abortive punk and ska bands, and tried to emulate the metal gods he idolized back in those days (James Hetfield of Metallica, Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, and Eric Peterson of Testament).
Later on Wang started diversifying his portfolio, getting into gypsy flamenco and jazz in his late teens. He recorded original compositions on a janky four-track. As a student at College of San Mateo he landed his own show on KCSM, playing a three-hour jazz set.
By the time Wang transferred to UC Santa Barbara, his knowledge of music trumped that of many record buffs and working DJs. He treated it as a side interest, DJing at house parties and making beats on his computer while pursuing a communications degree that would supposedly get him into film and television. But Wang’s career took a different twist after college, when he landed a development deal with A&M Records through a friend who, according to Wang, sold weed to one of the producers. Wang recorded a record (that’s never been released) at the company’s tony studio in Los Angeles. At that time he was earning good money, first in online marketing, then as a web developer. He soon saved enough to build his own studio and fill it with state-of-the-art equipment and high-quality instruments — which he never used, since he was too busy geeking out on the computer all the time.
In 2004 Wang moved back to the Bay Area and launched his own label, Daly City Records, which houses a cast of characters in the Mochipet vein (i.e., a dub-step group called Flying Skulls and a rapper named the Mole, who performs in a ski suit with a giant headpiece attached to it). Wang currently divides his time between Daly City Records and gigs. The bulk of his earnings come from licensing tracks for web sites, video games, DirecTV shows, and low-budget films.
Wang’s ability to keep innovating has given him real staying power in an increasingly fickle electronic music scene. He now belongs to an elite class of Bay Area DJs, some of whom convened at the Madrone Lounge last Wednesday night, where Wang sat on a divan right below a large still-life of an avocado, and laid his most recent albums out on the table in front of him. Baby Godzilla features songs by San Francisco party band Spaceheater; a DJ Centipede breakbeat track; a glitchy, downtempo song by avant-producer Daedelus; and original cover art, culled from Wang’s high school sketch book. Disko Donkey is an album of original material — all bleeps and blips and indistinguishable scraping sounds.
On his last record, Micro Phone Pet, Wang took a chance and tried rapping, using a new radio handle — Taiwankid. It’s a skill he hopes to hone in his forthcoming hip-hop record, Master P on Atari, since he got positive feedback this time around (even though none of his friends knew who the mysterious Taiwankid really was). Wang’s rap voice is chalky and heavily processed, and sounds like a kid speaking through a machine — or a hip-hop artist who never quite grew out of his dinosaur suit. He’ll offer Master P for free in 2009, along with a new downtempo record, Bunnies and Muffins. Some lessons you retain, apparently; some you don’t.