Being transported to a dimly-lit studio in Seoul, on the other end of a Zoom call is somewhat familiar territory now. The last time a long, engaging conversation occurred, in the same city, in a similar set-up, it was with Live, from DPR — Dream Perfect Regime. Live, whose real name is Hong Da-bin, is a core member of everyone’s favourite multidisciplinary crew; one that’s wholly disrupting the Korean entertainment industry from the inside out. He was then a week away from dropping what turned out to be an audacious, sunshine-infused EP, Iite Cool. While Live spoke for the most part, he was accompanied by his fellow regime comrade — one of the progenitors of DPR — Rem, aka Scott Kim. Rem spoke intermittently, but his words were forged with a conviction that hinted at a deeper narrative. One that led to this particular exchange, tracing his own story, mirrored by DPR’s.
On this occasion, Rem’s in a black tee-shirt, with a stack of bracelets on one wrist, evident as he punctuates his words with his hands — “It’s been very hectic, but it’s nice to be back in motion”, he laughs, as his screen flickers on. The grey studio of the past instance is replaced by a moodier khaki, visible as he leans forward often, almost as if his body is subconsciously emphasising his opinions. With DPR, he’s the executive producer and creative director on their slew of projects — everything from the music they create, the videos they conjure up, and the artists and brands they collaborate with. To connect all these different threads and to weave them into something cohesive and that endures, requires both the left and right hemispheres of the brain to be activated. Ergo, for Rem, creative vision must work in tandem with critical, analytical thought.
“I think I switch hats a lot. We're still kind of like a family-run operation. Everybody in DPR doesn't only just do one thing. There's multiple roles for multiple people, and the executive producer role involves more of the technicalities, the logistics,” he explains. Because everything DPR does is in-house, this translates into running the on-ground, hard-reality facets of the business. Budgets, cost sheets, schedules, itineraries, release plans and their subsequent roll out with artwork, CD’s, posters, etc — Rem’s presence and involvement has to be almost at an omniscient level. However, as creative director, Rem also must tap into more artistic reserves. Helping the collective out with album and music video direction, looking into how songs should be positioned, packaged and presented, and working with cross-functional teams across the brands DPR collaborates with (giants like Adidas, and more recently, UNICEF.) “Given that for us, branding is a huge thing, I don't like to be very lightly paired with anybody. I like to believe in the values, the principles that each brand holds. If they do match, that's the only time I'll really consider something,” he agrees.
For anyone else, being split down the middle, no matter how evenly, would be — let’s face it — exhausting. For Rem, it’s fulfilling finding the correct balance so all the different segments align and move at the right pace, guided by a code of ethics. It’s that mixture of these qualities that is at his core, creating a life he’s truly passionate about. “If there's anybody that knows anything about this industry, I guarantee you, they can't doubt me when I say that connecting creative to business, if you're good at that, you are the 1 percent. The more and more I do this, the more I see it is so hard to connect these two continuously and make it as organic and natural as possible,” he states. “It's definitely challenging, but, because I see how rare it is, the more I want to get better at it. Because I think it's a huge thing in self-development too. I've done things that I couldn't even dream of back in the day. I think it's that much more important that I get really good at this so that we explore even more opportunities in the end.”
This bifurcation also manifests itself in other aspects of Rem’s personality. He is tenacious and driven, but instinct, loyalty and intuition are also coded into his DNA. Rem graduated from college in Boston, around 2014 and arrived in Korea, from New York, for what was going to be a three-month long summer break. Given that his parents and a few family members were in the country, it was a chance for him to connect with his cultural roots, and to learn the language. As kismet would have it, Rem happened to meet Ian — DPR’s Christian Yu — during that last month through mutual friends. Long story short, he laughs, “I met Ian and we just hit it off immediately. And so I decided to extend my stay and that became seven years.”
Rem credits Ian with being the initial axis around which DPR gradually materialised. “Ian was the role player in the beginning because he had the most experience in entertainment. He had most of the building blocks of — hey, I want to do something different. And we took a lot of inspiration from that; me and Live particularly,” Rem explains. “I kind of started latching on the more he started telling me, because I could see where I could also help him. Me, being from the complete opposite background of him. That's where the yin and yang started.” Building this framework around this dualism was a massive learning curve for both, but bolstered Rem’s leap of faith in making what ended up being a life-altering decision to stay in Seoul in the first place.
“Innately, we're very different people. But as time goes on, I've come to find out that me and Christian, we share a mutual understanding and respect for each other's differences,” Rem muses. “Out of all my life experiences, I've never met someone that I can relate to and also understand where they’re coming from without even talking. That's how efficient we've become. It sounds ridiculous, but we really understand each other almost at a telepathic level at this point. This is through all the years that we’ve accumulated, but I think it started from the very beginning.” The tenets he upholds also comprise the foundation of the team; family-oriented traits that keep them on the same wavelength. “We've met a lot of people along the way, but come to think of it, I don't think we've really introduced many new members, ever since four or five years ago. It's been pretty much the same ever since, which is a pro and con on its own, right? It does show you the culture we uphold here,” Rem says.
Co-existing in close quarters with different personalities can be difficult — the result can also be attributed to luck. But Rem has always trusted his instincts on identifying connections and the synapses that make them work. “It's like a wolf pack. I really consider us to be a team of wolves,” he describes. “You have different role players in a wolf pack, right? And, obviously, there's the lone wolf type. There's the alpha wolf. There are all these little hierarchies within the wolf pack. But, at the end of the day, we move as one. That's a pretty good way of representing us.” It’s the natural question to ask, even though the answer is evident, while talking to Rem. What wolf is he, in the pack? The alpha would be the common consensus. But the alpha, here, doesn’t translate to the most dominating character. “It's protecting the pack, right? Guiding the pack. I think that is the biggest characteristic I can share with that. I think the way we move and the way our team is committed to each other, I think I like to uphold a lot of those values,” he states. “I would compare Christian more to the lone wolf, right? Like he wanders around. Isn't always in sight. But, when he comes back, he always brings something new to the table.”
Even so, there’s a universal saying that suggests working with friends is tricky. He’s cognisant of it, agreeing with the sentiment, “If I were to be completely honest, I also wouldn't recommend it. Don't get me wrong. As much as I love this family of team members, this is not an easy task, whatsoever.” The difference here, though, is that fortuitous mix of luck and DPR’s credo. “ It really is all about the type of people you meet, the amount of respect, understanding and connection you guys have, and how well you guys can communicate. Those are my three factors. If you're very confident in those three, or if you have at least the leniency of understanding in that concept then, go for it. That is my advice,” he offers. No one knows or can chronicle the backstory of DPR, but the members — it goes with all families. “We really had nothing to lose together. That's how we started. We had this passion and we just put it all on the table. We're very honest with each other. We're really hungry kids. Let's just go for it, right? And that memory is what keeps this glued together,” he reminisces.
Consider this: everything that Rem has done over the last few years with DPR, has been without any prior training. How could anyone create a blueprint for this level of enterprise? Diving in and leaning into the curve can also be defined as an alpha tendency; one who has identified his chosen pack. “I think, the way DPR even started, was to disrupt. It's to change what people normally think of something. I don't think about formalities or structure. I don't think about any of that whenever I enter something. With the business aspect in Korea, there's this whole hierarchy. How old are you? Where are you from? There are so many checkpoints, right? The reason why I'm so thankful for my job is that I can go to these meetings and just act like me. And, if they don't like it, it's goodbye,” Rem avers. There’s no conceit here. Only a desire to create palpable change in the more conservative, hierarchical systems of the industry. “I do that on purpose, not to be arrogant. It’s to show these guys … when you meet someone who is trying to accomplish a lot, and is trying to look at a bigger picture, other than just all these formalities and the structural stuff, you're going to have to make a choice. The best way I can show that is by working with other brands that are just as commercial as they are and killing it. And that is my biggest rebuttal,” he explains. “I enter those deals with pleasure because I'd love to disrupt their whole ideology. You know, you meet a kid half your age and he knows exactly what you're talking about and he's also more creative than you. Are you going to adapt to that? Or are you going to just stay with your traditional methods? In 20 years from now when I'm in one of those seats, I'd love to meet a kid like me. Because that is the guy that I would love to latch onto and just be like, hey, I believe in the vision.”
"Money and fame come and go. It's building a legacy. That's all it is. For us, that is not something you can easily buy. That is not something you can easily obtain..."
Ultimately, it all boils down to how he gauges success. “It’s a question I come back to every day. And throughout the years, it's been changing. In the beginning, it was the typical teenage dream, when we're all balling and all have our mansions or whatever,” Rem laughs. “Midway into that, after a couple of hardships, it changed. And it was the impact. The amount of people that knew DPR and our motive. That was the most important thing.” Rem, essentially, has gone back to their roots. To the simple things that matter. Health. Ideals. That road to getting somewhere, enjoying the process and cherishing each moment. “Of course, we want to do well. Of course, we want all that. But we can also just look at each other and say, we did a hell of a job. We busted our asses, and we gave it 110%. If that is all that comes out of this, that is more than enough, right? Because whether society pays that forward now or later or never, we should gauge our success off that.” DPR’s scale might be bigger. So is their scope. But it’s going back to the time where they shot Martini Blue, in Santorini, or Jasmine in Hawaii (two tracks off Live’s epic EP, Her), that resonate with him. The pure joy of discovery, among themselves. “That's really the trajectory I'm going for right now. It's taking it back to the times where I really just enjoyed this and it wasn't so pressuring. It wasn't all about the data stats. It wasn't all about sales. When we started this, we just didn't want to be settling. Why not just go for whatever we want? I keep going back to that memory. And the more I do this, the more I want to stick to that. I think that's the most fulfilling part of this journey and I don't ever want to lose sight of that. Even if we get huge, even if we get so big, I still want to enjoy the innocence in those moments,” he emphasises.
There’s another particular memory this ambivert holds close — “I'm very much introverted to the core. I know when to put on my extrovert face, but I don't like to do it often,” he laughs. Back in the day, they would descend upon Christian’s living room, the rest of them were staying with their parents at the time. It was here that they built the foundation and mission of DPR. “We don't forget why we started it. It wasn't for the money. It wasn't for fame. If I wanted to be rich, I would not be doing this. I'm way more qualified to do so many more things and to get filthy rich if I wanted to, right? There's way more factors at play at this point,” Rem says. “Money and fame come and go. It's building a legacy. That's all it is. For us, that is not something you can easily buy. That is not something you can easily obtain. It's the process and doing it with people you care about, most importantly.” To dream is paramount. To have those big ideas that appear like lightning bolts. For anyone wondering if that energy can be harnessed, look no further. Dreams can be made lucid.
Also Read: The Man Who Lived