Mike Yung: from the subway to the stage

“As long as I got something to believe in,” Mike Yung sings in “Dreamer”, a song which in the hands of the Dutch producer Martin Garrix has been transformed into gaudy emo-dance-gospel – if that genre did not yet exist, then he has now invented it.

But we forgive Garrix because he has given Mike Yung something to believe in. And that is not as corny as it sounds. Mike Yung (59) is actually called Michael Young. We have not been able to establish whether he was actually “born by the river” in “a little tent”, but Yung did grow up along the banks of the Hudson in a city that we commonly call The Big Apple. It was there, in Manhattan’s underground, somewhere around 23rd Street, that Yung sang his heart out every day.

“Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers. “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. From morning till night, for 38 years. “You have to love what you do automatically, because what I do is not easy,” Yung told the American online music magazine Pitchfork. “I sing against trains for four or five hours.” He did that without a microphone – Yung has more power in his lungs than Tom Jones and the late Charles Bradley put together.

Once, in the mid-1970s, Yung made a series of (major) record deals, but he was always cheated out of making his own records. It is bizarre for such an insanely talented singer, but it is not the first time that the music industry has made mistakes – just think, again, of Charles Bradley, or of Sharon Jones. “But you continue to do what you can do to pay your bills and keep your head from going insane,” Yung says about that.

He briefly worked at the Parks and Recreation Department in New York, played in various bands, but paid his bills mainly by busking. Until that change finally came, when clips of his performances went viral on YouTube in 2016, and he suddenly went from being a nobody to being somebody. Yung was invited to James Corden’s Late Late Show, and tried his luck on America's Got Talent, where he ended up in the semi-finals in 2017.

Watch the video for Mike Yung's 'Dreamer' here.

And then Martin Garrix saw Yung in a clip on Instagram. He invited the singer to Amsterdam last autumn. The old street rat and the blitz producer clicked, and they wrote the song “Dreamer” together, a tribute to Yung’s wife, who passed away at the beginning of last year. “Don’t tell me not to dream / I got freedom / And that’s everything to me,” he sings with that huge voice. It’s high time for that record deal. Mr. Yung has passed the audition.

MIKE YUNG, 29/1, 20.00, Ancienne Belgique

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