Jasmine Sokko is most recognisable by her signature look — a distinctive mask or a pair of sunglasses, that rests on her face as she stands confidently on stage in an all black outfit.
Even for shoots, she’s dressed in the dark achromatic colour, with the occasional silver and white. “I truly identify with this quote from Yohji Yamamoto: ‘Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy – but mysterious. But above all black says this: I don’t bother you – don’t bother me.’ “
“I also enjoy having a perimeter around my visuals – it forces me to think and be intentional about the choice of material, texture, embellishment, or silhouette I can work with. If anything, I am greatly impressed by the endless combinations and possibilities that this colour has availed me over the years. Though I dress in black all the time, you can definitely tell when I’m off duty – but only if you can identify me without a mask.”
The mask was unintentional. It was a concept built for the 1057 music video, where she was originally intended to remove the mask after the end of the “You don’t know my name” bop. That scene was eventually cut, and the look stuck with her.
In her earlier days of being interviewed on screen and in print, the answer she gave was also understandable — to direct listeners to her music and craft rather than her looks, giving her the opportunity to be authentically herself off-stage without it. It seems that six years into the industry has lent a different perspective to the notoriously private vocalist.
“Over the years I’ve come to realise that my biggest fear is not getting to live up to my fullest potential – especially when it comes to making music. The visuals have always been a fundamental extension of the music I create – it exists not to distract from, but to amplify what it means to be Sokko.”
“Needless to say, the essence has remained consistent all this time, and music is still at the core of why I do what I do. That said, I am starting to view covering my face as a form of luxury rather than a necessity. I am grateful for the privacy, but I have also reached a point where I am able to draw the boundary between my artist persona and my off-duty self – I don’t need a mask to do that for me anymore. The two characters are truly, authentic facets of my existence, just different sides of a die — I prefer dice over coins so I get six sides rather than just the two.”
The natural impression formed about her for first-time listeners across a screen can be described as cool. Moody, even. But those who’ve met her in person would realise she’s a lot less withdrawn than you’d think. On set, she’s all smiles, speaking with the type of gentleness and lilt that you wouldn’t expect from an EDM artiste.
The 26-year old musician, who recently released her third single of 2022, future tense, comes hot on the heels of two other singles, modern day titanic and we could be so electric. It’s only July, mind you. For the blond-haired songstress, creating music isn’t just about seeking inspiration.
“I don’t turn up only when I am inspired. I turn up because I follow through with a disciplined routine to keep creating even when 95 percent of my ideas are terrible. The best evolution in my artist journey like a shift in mindset or the discovery of new concept usually happens somewhere in between those boring and underrated days.”
“I’ve come to accept that the experience (pursuing my passion) will always be wild, so it is extremely important to stay emotionally grounded. To surround yourself with people who can self-regulate their emotions so everyone can be clear headed to make the next best rational decision.”
It’s not surprising to hear Sokko – an avid reader who enjoys a good non-fiction title – quoting an author for her answers either.
“The track future tense was built on one of my favourite quotes of all time, ‘There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind’ by C.S. Lewis. I was going through a difficult phase in life when I finally gathered the courage to stand up firmly against certain behaviours I could no longer tolerate. There was so much at stake in doing so — at one point it felt like I came so close to losing everything I had built over the years. At the same time however, I knew I couldn’t let my actions be governed by fear, and that I could do so much better than my circumstances dictated.”
“Once I recognised that fact, I realised the setback I faced was nothing but a tiny glitch in my adventure so far, and there is so much more to look forward to in the years ahead. So, for those of you going through a transitionary phase or just having a tough time, I hope your courage brings you through, and remember that the future belongs to you, the brave.”
Local fans will find her debut music video that was released in 2016 rather familiar, with scenes shot in recognisable areas in Singapore like Haji Lane. Compare that to TIRED three years later, a track that catapulted her to the mainstream market and came with elaborate sets and visual effects. She’s earned herself over 9 million streams on Spotify for TIRED alone, and the music video garnered over a million views on Youtube.
“It is very surreal on hindsight, and I attribute the progress to every single person who took a chance on me when I first started out – all my Day Ones. I also remember little pockets of incidents fondly. For 1057, we made the first mask out of upcycled belts and had a very lean team of five people (including myself).”
“For TIRED, the timeline was unbelievably short. We had to pick things up as we went, during which I learned about Chinese calligraphy. We made a lot happen despite the limitations and I will always be grateful for that. May we never lose the spirit to keep pushing the boundaries and improving ourselves.”
While the trajectory to move towards the Western music world would be a foreseeable move, Jasmine went into another direction, and straight into the arms of a Chinese electronic music talent reality show, Rave Now. Here, she finished in fourth place whilst being mentored by one of the biggest stars in the new-age Chinese music industry, Lay Zhang.
“The opportunity came to me the moment I left Singapore, on my way to Stockholm for my exchange program. I wasn’t too sure about the show then, but I’ve always been excited to visit China. Turning on my spontaneous brain, I figured I might as well make a trip down to do just that and honestly the competition took a backseat in my mind. Thus, my first day of exchange was a 16-hour turnaround, leaving Stockholm almost as soon as I arrived.”
The subsequent move after was the creation of a Mandarin EP, 新乐园 Made In Future in 2019, cementing her role as a bilingual producer and singer.
For any artiste, creating music and conveying emotions in a different language comes with its own set of challenges, but if there’s anything her 102,700 fans on Weibo has proven, it’s that her hard work has clearly paid off.
“Translation has always been a very particular component for me. To directly translate from English to Mandarin in music is to lose the essence of the message and to waste the potential of the story being conveyed. I feel that the English language thrives in directness, simplicity, and witty word play when paired with melodies, not to mention the peculiarities of cadence and metre. Mandarin, on the other hand, thrives on storytelling, depth, and nuance. I feel this is my greatest challenge, but also one that continuously pushes me to learn, embrace, and improve my Mandarin capabilities.”
The Sokko Sound is an alluring one: interspersed with hypnotic beats and distinctive vocals, she fashions lyrics of the draining quarter-life state of mind, personal growth, and more. But music, as we know, really is whatever you interpret it to be. While the inspiration for TIRED stemmed from the perpetual cycle of shallow small talk (let’s face it, do you really care whether it was a hot day out?), she assuages the feelings of being mentally and emotionally drained in just about any context with relatable lyrics like, “Lately I just feel so tired, not because of my sleep.”
“I enjoy being the music producer, songwriter, and the singer of my songs because I get to experiment with the proportion of each segment endlessly until I reach that perfect ratio. Though I might not be the best music producer, songwriter, or singer individually, I am constantly finding the sweet spot that works for my high-pitch, floaty female vocal alongside 909 drumbeats and saw synth bass. I am currently working towards having a more intentional sonic palette, melody patterns, and *inserts all the geeky music terminology*. I always believe that love is in the details.”
While her music style and the themes she writes about evolves in relation to her own life experiences, there’s no doubt that what’s overarching is authenticity. According to her, there are periods of divergence and convergence: the former being to try as many different styles as possible to experiment with — like her Mandarin EP, for instance — while the latter being a finding a soundscape that she personally identifies with and intends to move along with — the sonic palette for the time being becomes more unified, like the musical phase she was in when she released HURT, TIRED and MESS.
On whether it had ever occurred to her at any point that her passion wouldn’t have worked out the way it did, the charming personality is quick to confess that she does “all the time – even now and probably in the future!” She elaborates that she knew when she was 13 that in the grand scheme on things, her ambition was to create music, but she just wasn’t sure how to do it for a living because she didn’t know how financially feasible that would be.
“In my first year of university, I went to Google with my resume in hand looking for an internship, but a gut feeling told me to not submit it. As a result, I continued venturing into music and discovered an untapped hunger for learning and growth in this field. I have lived with the thought of ‘I don’t know how long I can do this’ every year since then and gradually lived my passion – without realising it, I finally made it my career in the past few years.”
“I believe many people (beyond this industry) who are pursuing their own passion or cause can relate to this crippling uncertainty. I have since come to terms with the fact that the nature of my career is ephemeral, and this industry whimsical. Rather than being paralysed by the unknown, I am always making sure to not rest on my laurels, and if things don’t work out eventually, I did my best and that’s all that matters.”
As for what’s next for her, there’s really no telling. “Whether I am surprising my listeners with a new tune, or myself with a new direction – I value the adaptability that comes with my independence, and intend to take each day as it comes, one step at a time,” she says.
What she does leave us with though, is a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: ” ‘All warfare is based on deception,’ and I’d like to visualise my artistic journey as a battle within and without.”
Photography by Jayden Tan
Fashion Direction and Styling by Josiah Chua
Makeup by Larry Yeo using Sephora Collection
Hair by Calvin Gan / Hairloom Salon
Photography Assistant, Aisyah Hisham
Retouch by Stephanie Koh and Tien Phuc
Styling Assistant, Alexandria Chen
Sokkoverse Illustration for “Sokkomoon” by Julious Ooi