Retro Electronic Music For A Nostalgic “Post-80s” Generation
To many young Chinese, the term “Electronic music” conjures up images of cold, steel machines, with many associating the genre with a lack of human touch. However, in recent years China has seen a surge in popularity of underground music, particularly in cities like Beijing, along with a growing number of electronic music-heavy music festivals like MIDI, Modern Sky and Strawberry. China’s urban youth culture is undoubtedly playing a key role in this emergence, as the country’s so-called “post-80s” and “post-90s” generations have been raised in environments wholly unlike those in which their parents grew up, and now often look to express their individuality through music.
This week, Jing Daily editorial assistant Tina Liu exchanged a Q&A with one young Chinese musician who’s playing a part in his country’s simmering electronic music scene, Sulumi (Sun Dawei, 孙大威), perhaps China’s only 8-bit maestro. Translation from the original Chinese.
Jing Daily (JD): Can you tell us a little about your background? Did you study music formally?
Sulumi (S): I started off learning guitar in 1997 and studied at the Shenyang Conservatory of Music. After a year at SCM, I decided to drop out and come to Beijing.
JD: You mentioned in an interview with the Creators Project that you initially played in a rock band. When did you shift your focus to Electronic music?
S: During my Beijing tour in 1999, I realized I couldn’t continue with rock music. The competition was intense and I simply saw no future in it. Right after breaking up my group, a friend helped me install audio synthesizer software on my computer. It was then that I started mixing my own Electronic music. I was ecstatic because I felt like I could create music again.
JD: Please explain the term, “8-bit.” What drew you to 8-bit music?
S: 8-bit, strictly speaking, is a unit of measurement for data size. 8-bit music is a subset of chiptune, commonly made from the sound chips found in video game consoles, like Game Boys. Different CPUs in different Game Boys are measured in varying bits (data units). Later on, I started to imitate the way many Japanese musicians were mixing music on Game Boys.
JD: How would you categorize your style? What types of software or hardware do you use to make your music?
S: I’ve experimented with lots of different styles. Right now I mostly use Game Boys and the computer software Ableton Live, specializing in Lo-Bit Electro Techno.
JD: Which cities do you perform in the most? What types of crowd response do you receive from different fans?
S: Beijing is no doubt the place I perform the most. But Beijingers are distracted by fact that so many shows are happening at the same time. After Beijing I’d say Shanghai; my Shanghainese fanbase is mostly made up of foreigners. Shanghai’s foreign fans are much more cosmopolitan while foreign fans in Beijing are much more like Chinese people. Fans from Chengdu, Chongqing and Kunming are quite wild and young. I’ve been really surprised to see all that!
JD: How did [your record label] Shanshui come about? What types of artists does Shanshui work with?
S: I’m really fond of the name “Shanshui” because it’s a name that foreigners can pronounce. After I learned about the concept of a “label,” I started itching to have my own. Eventually it formed when I finished my first album. Shanshui isn’t really focused on any one genre. Most of the early records on the label were made by my close friends or online acquaintances. Later on, I started to see a decline in noise music and a rise in Electronic and dance music.
Shanshui works not only with Chinese musicians but also with Japanese, German and Swiss artists. Our official site is at www.shanshui-records.com.
JD: How influential is Electronic music in China? Would you say there are many Chinese musicians working in this genre?
S: Most Electronic musicians start out making rock music. People [in China] are starting to view rock music as an alternative music genre.
JD: In 2010, the Creators Project organized a musical performance in New York City. How do you feel about your fans in New York, or foreign fans in China, versus your Chinese fans?
S: I actually performed in the US before in 2008, too. American audiences are much easier to loosen up, regardless of the music.
JD: Do you think China will have its own style of Electronic music?
S: Yes, of course. But more people need to be exposed to Electronic music and create their own type of music before that can happen.
Hear a selection of Sulumi’s music at Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/sulumi