Introducing: Shelhiel on creating "a parallel universe" and wanting to push the boundaries of Malaysian Pop music

Introducing: Shelhiel on creating "a parallel universe" and wanting to push the boundaries of Malaysian Pop music


Up-and-coming Malaysian producer Shelhiel lives by these words:

"Don’t think, just go with the flow."

With a true passion for art, Shelhiel has let his love for creating lead him through all the phases of his life - from a national songwriting competition show to a degree in architecture to now, a fully-fledged music career. 

Gaining inspiration from the PC games he grew up with and his diverse cultural background, the electro-pop singer-songwriter-producer makes music that takes listeners on a journey, be it sonically or lyrically. No stranger to the regional music scene, Shelhiel has made quite a name for himself with his music, having taken him to major festivals like Good Vibes Festival and Urbanscapes, and most recently, winning him the Malaysia PWH Music Award 馬來西亞娛協獎 award for Best Arrangement for Shio’s ‘Extrication’, which was picked up to be the theme song for the Netflix Original The Ghost Bride. 


With quite the arsenal of musical achievements, the promising producer has just released his debut EP SUPERSTROBEThe 8-track long record is a conceptual EP revolving around a parallel universe called 'Earth 5-27' where Shelhiel walks listeners through the love, loses, and heartbreaks of his life as a "Guardian Angel". 

"The end of SUPERSTROBE is left for the listeners to decide whether the story [has] ended, is an endless vicious loop, or just the beginning. The EP should be listened [to] in one go, it's designed to be a 16-minute journey for the full Shelhiel experience," Shelhiel tells Bandwagon

With SUPERSTROBE out now for the world to experience, Bandwagon caught up with Shelhiel on his musical journey so far, how he fits in Malaysia's diverse music scene, and the story behind his first-ever EP. 

Hi Shelhiel! Tell us how you first got into music.

Music [was] definitely my language growing up. I [grew] up in a predominantly Chinese church, and also being a typical Asian kid, I had classical piano lessons until Grade 8. My family at the time wasn’t able to afford any Play Station consoles or even a Gameboy so all I had were PC games like Street Of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Metal Slug, and Pokémon. I didn't realise how much "raving" I was already doing [at] 11 or 12, listening to hardcore, funky, techno, house 8-bit music by Yuzo Koshiro, and of course the Pokémon background music. 

At the rise of Skrillex's 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' is when I started to learn production. You can imagine how much I was using all my music vocabularies, combining classical piano lessons, church music, and PC game music.

Moving on, I was still doing my Architecture degree back in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor, while also doing the national reality songwriting competition show The Ultimate Song in Kuala Lumpur. It got me delayed my semester but after the competition, I was back immediately to finish up my studies. One of the best decisions I've made is to not sign a songwriting or publishing deal, it allowed me to further explore production, compositions, joined [the local music collective] Akhyla, do beat cyphers, live sets, DJing and growing deep into electronic music.


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What pushed you to pursue music full time, having a degree in architecture?

The urge to create in me is really desperate. No matter what kind of field, visuals, design, architecture, music, all of them involve the creative process, and I know that for now, music is just the medium. Just like for SUPERSTROBE, I’m not just the artist, the composer, and producer but also the creative director, for all my own projects actually. I’m humbled to learn so many things still. The idea of [being a] 'Renaissance Man' really inspires and tingles me, why not just go all out to use every ounce of your creativity to create and make this world a more beautiful and better place?

Maybe one day I will design clothes, and maybe working back as a working architect? Who knows what’s next for the future? Don’t think, just go with the flow.

In the early days of your musical journey, you were an independent artist, dabbling in different aspects of music on your own. How do you feel that background helped shape you as the artist you are now?

I still view myself as an independent artist, in the sense that I have 100% creative control and integrity.

Individuality has always been such a vital role in expressing the sound, as oneself, as an artist, as a human being. My background of growing up in church, playing old school computer games, having multicultural & diverse friends, all of these have become my vocabularies for myself. I just feel extremely, extremely blessed, to have been born in Malaysia, having all these amazing people around me, giving me so much love in life. Think about it, Southeast Asia or Malaysia is a very strategic, well-balanced ratio for diversity, cultures, languages, comfortable weather, no natural disasters. Even the energies here - it's the energy of taking it all in yet making it our own, the Malaysian way. 

So yes, I have always been really happy and proud of what I have, what I stand for, and what I strive for my visions and sounds.

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Tell us more about your debut EP SUPERSTROBE and your process creating it.

SUPERSTROBE is a love story of me encountering love and loses in relationships and then ends with heartbreak in life with the last song. I was into so many different genres, and it was hard to curate a journey where I really appreciate the listening experience but I finally ended up curating the whole EP in this particular order. Opening to Shelhiel’s world of a story of an angelic being, experiencing life and vibing to it, and ending with a heartbreak song.

I would want to categorise SUPERSTROBE as MPOP - Malaysian Pop music. Although, this is only my personal thought because after your work is out there, art is always left to the audience to interpret it and who I am to judge.

Your lead single ‘Star 星’ is a bilingual track, tell us more about the song and the choice to sing in both Mandarin and English.

I have always communicated in Manglish - Mandarin, English and Malay, with all my friends. It only made sense to me to actually express my music in this way as well, as it is the real me. I really had fun making ‘Star 星’ not just because I miss performing live, and club sets, but also the energy is the peak of the whole SUPERSTROBE experience. You’ll know when you listen to the whole EP.

Describe the kind of music you make and what you strive to achieve through your music.

For SUPERSTROBE, it’s definitely a conceptual, fantasy take of my real-life stories, where I believe fantasy inspires reality.

Yet for now, I’m still having conversations with myself about what feelings I want to convey to the world. What am I going to express next on my next project? What emotions and energies [to be] curated in a musical form? Yeah, so it’s still a work-in-progress for now.

What’s the Malaysian music scene like and what role do you hope to play for local music?

It's very diverse, yet growth in scattered forms mainly because of the separation of music by different languages. The listeners and fans are definitely segregated slightly into their own preferences, which is a good thing, I mean more options are always better. However, there is a kind of hidden divide-and-conquer thing where I can be striving in the Indie English scene, but not know the artists from the Indie Chinese scene, or even the Tamil hip-hop scene. As a person who listens to various genres and multilingual music in Malaysia, I do understand why certain fans are into certain music styles and not others, but I also observed that this gap of separation is [gradually] being erased. 

I hope to strive to be the bridge for the Malaysian music scene. I’m blessed to be able to not just have multicultural and multiracial close friends but also do speak these languages well, and I've realised that all we need is just understanding. I know it’s time for us to create the current sound for Malaysian music, shoutout to I-SKY, Reddi Rocket, Lunadira, and many more artists who strive to create and push the boundaries of the Malaysian sound.

You won the Malaysia PWH Music Award 馬來西亞娛協獎 award for Shio’s ‘Extrication’. Congratulations! How did you react when you heard the news?

[It was] surprising and unbelievable. Imagine it - at the time, I was still studying architecture and I got my first proper production job that required to go overseas to Taiwan for a studio session. It was quite intense for young Shelhiel, who hasn't produced for anyone at all yet. Then, I was learning how to work professionally as well, passing your tracks and stems on time, how to communicate with the executive producer and engineer. Then after all of this, I got the best arranger award in Malaysia PWH Music Award 馬來西亞娛協獎!

Not going to lie, I’m just really, really grateful for this timeline of making music in my life.

Could you tell us more about your experience performing at Good Vibes Festival and Urbanscapes?

Urbanscapes was surreal because I opened for the one and only Hyukoh and Crystal Castles, I mean "YOOOOOOOOOO".

I was playing live with my band, Shelhiel XL, which is the Shelhiel set but with live elements and big sounds, which just really, really painted the sonic picture of the performance - oh gosh, I really miss playing live. Then when you watch the official acts perform after you, you're just mindblown and it opened my eyes to how the energy and power of music radiates in the whole space. [It was] super inspiring.

Good Vibes Festival is a festival where it's kind of a milestone for Malaysian local artists to perform in it. It was more of a nostalgic set for me as it was one of my few big outdoor live festival stage performances, with my band and fully styled in a performing outfit, stage choreography and having fun during the performance. I only know bigger opportunities are coming but this is needed.

Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing?
Cooking and making art, while listening to music (laughs).

Beyond your new EP, do you have any exciting projects lined up that your fans can look forward to?

I have 5 to 6 collabs and features waiting for me, and maybe more remixes coming soon. Merch? Music videos? Okay, that’s it! I shall keep them a secret for now but I'm just going to tell you, it’s going to be a hell of a journey! It's only the beginning.

Take a journey with Shelhiel's SUPERSTROBE here: