Astralwerks Asia has a new leader, and the label has signed its first electronic dance act in Southeast Asia, the Indonesian group Weird Genius, which has a viral hit in the region.
Universal Music Group named Cindy Gu to lead the label out of Singapore, where the major launched electronic imprint Astralwerks Asia last year. The Shanghai-born Gu, 25, will oversee A&R and marketing efforts in 10 countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines; as well as mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
She will report Toby Andrews, the General Manager at Los Angeles-based Astralwerks Records.
UMG recruited Gu after she contacted Astralwerks while working on marketing efforts for a virtual graduation music festival in May for the University of California Berkeley. The festival, hosted by Minecraft, featured more than 60 artists, including EDX, Sam Feldt and Adventure Club.
Previously, Gu had worked for about two years at Warner Music Asia, where she served as Regional Marketing Manager and Dance Music Product manager. She was responsible for the launch and expansion of Netherlands-based Spinnin’ Records into China, South Korea and across Southeast Asia. She helped build stronger audiences in Asia for KSHMR, Galantis and Cash Cash, and also helped domestic dance artists like Shaun, a K-pop producer whose “Way Back Home” single featuring Sam Feldt and Conor Maynard topped Asian charts and generated more than one billion streams.
A graduate of NYU, where she studied music business, Gu says she got her start in dance music when a professor brought a research paper she had written about Ultra Music Festival’s expansion into Europe to the attention of some people in the industry. She also worked at Ultra Records in New York as a business affairs and Asia liaison.
Gu says her focus will be on bringing the best international electronic music from Astralwerks’ catalog and roster to Asia, and on creating “a channel” to give artists in the region “an equal chance to succeed globally.”
The label’s first signing, the EDM group Weird Genius, has generated hundreds of millions of streams across all platforms in their native Indonesia. The act’s current release, “Lathi,” has already been streamed more than 100 million times and reached No. 1 on Spotify’s main chart and No. 2 on the streamer’s Global Viral 50 Chart.
The band has toured at YouTube’s FanFest Indonesia, Bali’s Soundrenaline and performed alongside the likes of Yellow Claw and The Chainsmokers live in Concert (You can view the video here.)
Billboard spoke to Gu about her new post in Singapore and the markets she will serve.
Billboard: What is the opportunity Astralwerks sees in terms of the domestic market in Southeast Asia?
Cindy Gu: Everyone was talking about Korea and China just because of their market size. But I actually think all of the Southeast Asian countries are very exciting and interesting. Vietnam in particular. I have been to Hanoi a couple times and everyone I talk to in the music scene — the producers there, the club owners there — they have a very different energy…It feels like they have the same energy as the club owners in China five years ago. And for dance music as well, Indonesia is always the top market that we are looking at. They’ve got the population, but they also got the consumers for dance music. They also have local genres like Koplo that are extremely popular there…So we are also looking at the viral opportunities there to see how we can tap into that market.
With all the efforts by the major labels like Warner and Universal on expanding into Southeast Asia we haven’t really seen a dance act blow up there yet globally. Why is that?
There are superstars from Norway or South Africa or Latin American countries…When you talk about Asia, what a huge market [it is] with a lot of potential, you just don’t see anything traveling through except K-pop…When you look at, for example, the C-pop scene and when you look at Southeast Asia, you just haven’t seen that one act that can compete with BTS or Blackpink…You have to create a channel to at least to give everyone an equal chance to succeed…It’s our responsibility to create that channel and also to help the local talents to align their sound with something that could be potentially global.
How are dance artists in Asia responding to the pandemic?
Some of them are pivoting…They are doing reality shows, for example. Some of them are venturing towards hip hop, R&B kind of dance music. It’s technically not big room that’s [been] popular in the past five years…So they are pivoting towards what’s actually being streamed on the service…This is also a time for them to reflect on what kind of music they want to put out next….A lot of time when you tour like every month, maybe 10, 12 shows per month, you just don’t have the time to go into the studio and work on music. But because of pandemic you’re forced to think about what’s working for my audience. Are they actually listening to my music? If not, what’s working?