Last Exit to Houston

Inside "Sleephop" Duo Matsu Mixu's Enigmatic Electronic World

Long before electronic music was capitalized by hordes of laptop and Digital Audio Workstation enthusiasts, a portentous duo called Suicide employed vocal manipulations, hypnotic drum machine rhythms and throat-grabbing keyboard lines to draw listeners into a world that was entirely of their own creation. Like Suicide before them Houston-based electronic duo Matsu Mixu invents spellbinding worlds where the listener becomes a mandatory participant, not just a casual tourist here for the perfunctory pictures and obligatory souvenirs.

A “Sleephop” act influenced by the finest elements of Deep House music, Matsu Mixu use the swell and sustain of their grandiose synths to create artful backdrops to lurk within. Michelle Yue and Mat King craft songs that appeal to people who appreciate getting out on the floor and dancing, while at the same time catering to those who enjoy holding up the club’s walls. Both revere elements of shoegaze and trip-hop, citing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Portishead as sonic influences. On the other hand, the convergence of Yue’s indebtedness to lush textures and King’s admiration for the production of '90s East Coast hip-hop has created a musical marriage that works. After all, as Carl Jung once speculated, people are attracted to their denied selves.

The duo exists both as a couple and partners in crime, like Bonnie and Clyde except better-mannered and far more humble. Their name stems from a joke created by Yue’s sisters.

“In Chinese, the name Michelle sounds like ‘Mee-shoo,’" she says. "So when then they met Mat, they immediately called him ‘Matsu’ and it sounded perfect.”

“We had been going out for a short time, and I overheard one of her [Yue’s] songs,” King remarks about the band’s genesis, "and I asked her if I could remix it."

After Yue heard the remix, it made sense for them to further collaborate together. They quickly produced a collection of songs that easily comprised an EP. Their output wound up as more than enough songs for not only a live set, but an entire album.

“I was working with my other band, Monorose, when I overheard what he was doing," observes Yue. "The song had many swells and sustains. It sounded like something that I not only wanted to listen to, but be a part of, too."

The first composition Matsu Mixu wrote together, “Lemon Pie Machine Gun,” illustrates their affinity for songwriting. The track creates an apparition of comfort — something that seems light and ethereal. Yet as the song builds, their enigmatic world traps the listener in its alternate reality. Moreover, “Fried Chicken Dossier” lures the reluctant dancer within onto the floor. Yue’s vocals, slightly above a librarian’s whisper, humorously repeat the song’s wistful title.

“We’re both fried-chicken enthusiasts,” Yue declares. “I told Mat that we must have a song with the phrase ‘fried chicken’ in it.”

Matsu Mixu’s most revelatory track, “Masochist Letter,” blends electronic minimalism with an overt sensuality reminiscent of Ladytron’s most stellar moments. Seductively enthralling, the song originated from a poem Yue had written. The lyrics comment on the contradictory nature of sadomasochistic relationships — one that leaves the giver of pain with an emptiness rife with equal grief and dissatisfaction.

“When you are with someone who is a masochist, they not only enjoy the pain, but they enjoy getting hurt, too," Yue remarks. "It was meant to say when receiving pain; you asking for pain causes them pain, too.”

Live, Matsu Mixu performs with King at the helm, navigating through tempestuous and serene waters without an ounce of doubt. Through the use of Native Instruments, a digital audio workstation containing a fantastic library of sounds, and live interfacing, he appears comfortable in his element. On the other hand, Yue retains control over her vocals using a TC Helic on, creating deep layers of reverb that turns her into a choral ensemble. Sparse synth parts emerge at times through her use of a MicroKorg. This temperamental piece of machinery has served the band well despite having several broken keys.

One of Matsu Mixu’s highlights was taking part in Cirque Noir, a monthly event put on at undisclosed locations to celebrate Deep House music’s ongoing development. They have opened for the world-renowned electronic act, Blond-ish, a female duo whose scintillating sound matches their joyous performances.

As for their relationship, working together never gets in the way.

“We’re a Dropbox band,” King remarks about the method to Matsu Mixu’s madness. “I’ll work on something and she’ll add her parts to it. Later, I will go back and master the track when we’re both happy with it.”

“A friend of mine commented that it must be healthy for our relationship to work this way,” Yue jokes. “All that I know is that it works really well for both of us.”

Matsu Mixu performs tonight at Barbarella, 2404 San Jacinto. Their S/T recording is available at
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Stephan Wyatt