It starts with a soft trickle of synthesiser keys. Out of a low, droning hum jolts a distorted voice: “My name is Nat Ćmiel/I like to take up as little space as possible/I like sweet things, physical and consumable/I like making up my own worlds and the people who live inside me.” To the uninitiated, ‘My Name is Nat Ćmiel’ is a soul-baring first encounter with 23-year-old Singaporean singer, songwriter and producer Nat Ćmiel, who also goes by Yeule.
Aptly named after Final Fantasy’s metamorphic character Yeul, the London-based multi-hyphenate’s eight-year trajectory has introduced fans to ambient, electronic tunes of self-discovery, isolation and fixation. Bringing this together is a thin veil of disaffection, one Yeule attributes to growing up on the Internet. They cleverly brand it digi-empathy.
In their repository are synth-pop tracks that trace the polarity of cyberspace: ‘Pixel Affection’ toys with the idea of artificial intelligence, ‘Pocky Boy’ hints at intimacy formed from a distance and ‘Pretty Bones’ is an ode to obsessions. In Yeule’s universe, everything that is familiar often disintegrates. “I used to describe my music as ambient. Now, I’d say it’s cyber-pop, electronic, synth wash and goth core,” they say with a laugh, before pausing to think. “Genres are so relative.”
This sense of relativity extends beyond the realm of music, too. Classically trained in piano and guitar, Yeule hints at a lifelong preoccupation with sound. “I remember being drawn to anything sonic. I tried to break down ‘Eternal Flame’ when my mum played it in the car. Strings, drums, bass… it fascinated me.”
In Yeule’s universe, everything that is familiar often disintegrates.
The Yeule project, however, as Yeule calls it, was a manifestation that superseded harmonics. In fact, it materialised out of an exceptionally dark time. Submerged into hikikomori—the Japanese term for a condition that results in severe social withdrawal—Yeule found themselves barely leaving their room. “The Yeule project was born when I was really deep into my hikikomori phase. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I would play video games and my days would become my nights. I was immersing myself in an alternate reality that wasn’t real life.”
A persona built from escapism eventually morphed into a vessel of unrestrained expression. In the multifaceted entity of Yeule, the Central Saint Martins’ fine art graduate found a meeting place for performance art, painting and music to come alive. As with other Internet phenomena, Yeule was discovered online by Katie Garcia, wife of Dustin Payseur of indie rock band Beach Fossils and co-founder of American independent record label, Bayonet Records. All it took was a zero-budget music video of ‘Pocky Boy’ shot in an abandoned office building in London’s Ealing Broadway. “I was just existing on the Internet,” they add with a chuckle.
Their debut to the world came in the form of Serotonin II, a 12-track tightrope walk between reality, make-believe and all the growing pains between. Conceptual complexity aside, it is Yeule’s intricate sound design that has won over most listeners. To a generation of digital natives, their offering to the world is self-soothing and, as some fans would attest, an affirmation that they are not alone. “I try to create elements as a sound. I think of water—what would it sound like if a witch cast a spell and all of this water became viscous and exploded into a caricature of glitter and infractive liquid? I look at my music visually. Most of the time, that’s what people hear.”
“I try to create elements as a sound. I think of water—what would it sound like if a witch cast a spell and all of this water became viscous and exploded into a caricature of glitter and infractive liquid?”
A quick scroll through Yeule’s YouTube and Instagram—with 114,000 and 85,000 and counting followers, respectively—would suffice in understanding their calming effect on listeners. Each comment section is filled with mostly unadulterated love; a camaraderie that is unprecedented for most social media platforms. Under a video for Serotonin II’s ‘Poison Arrow’, a fan writes: “The knelt-down shadow of yours talked to my soul.” And under a cover of Japanese multi-instrumentalist Haruka Nakamura’s ‘Better Days’ with Singaporean ambient producer Kin Leonn, another comment reads: “You always give me hope.” Yeule is more than music; they are a friend, a shoulder to lean on and, perhaps most accurately, whatever you choose to make of them.
“My music has more to do with getting sucked into a soundscape that creates an alternate, virtual experience. I get lovely messages from my fans saying my music makes them feel safe. It’s interesting because most of my songs are chaotic and contain complex synthesising structures. I lay a lot of instruments together. ‘Pixel Affections’, for example, was the result of 72 instruments,” they explain.
Each season of Yeule is an invigorating palette cleanser in preparation for the next. Glitch Princess, their sophomore album slated to drop early next year, is a notable subversion from the versions of Yeule before—visually bolder, galactic and colourful. Aesthetically, this version is like no other: their formerly blonde mullet makes way for blunt-cut tresses of red, blue and green; their intricate make-up incorporates sharp hints of colour and their gaze, once coquettish, is now almost brazen.
“The Yeule project has always been about capturing an entity or force within me. It’s a medium and I’m the carrier.”
After flying back to London in September, Yeule is preparing for a busy period ahead. Their tentative schedule over the last quarter of the year sees the launch of the ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty’ music video, a piano piece for Spanish festival Sonar + D and, most exciting of all, a headline show at Southbank Centre alongside an installation. They are also set to launch a perfume, fittingly called Code.
When asked how far beyond the horizon they want to take Yeule, they ponder briefly. “The Yeule project has always been about capturing an entity or force within me. It’s a medium and I’m the carrier. It’s about capturing enigmas, auras or a part of me that’s listening to a higher power that’s guiding me as an artist. And encapsulating that into artwork. It’s meant to be immortalising something, I’m just not sure what yet.”
Photography Zantz Han
Styling Desmond Lim
Hair and make-up Sha Shamsi using Keune and Dior
Nails Rebecca Chuang
Photography assistants Chong Ng and Jaron Tay
Stylist’s assistant Joey Tan
Set designer Angela Zhang
Yeule’s new album, Glitch Princess, will be released come February 2022. In the meantime, catch a sneak peek of it via their online exclusive performance for Sonar Festival below: