Bass-driven music has finally arrived in China, even if some musical creations are not so known as in Europe or the US yet. We talked about one of them, the interesting label Guangzhou Underground, to one of the heads of this establishment, Simon B.
Chain D.L.K.: Hey there! How are you?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: Simon B here. Good; thanks. Enjoying the southern Chinese summer!
Chain D.L.K.: It’s the first time I’ve listened to something really good from your region. Do you remember any other successful story of dnb labels from China that I don’t know of?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: As far as I’m aware, DnB is pretty much non-existent in terms of labels and artists here. But given the number of promoters, DJs and fans, it’s only a matter of time before that coalesces into actual musical output. But, as I said, that’s to the best of my knowledge; it feels like we discover somebody doing something somewhere all the time. It’s a huge country, of course; difficult to know everything that’s going on.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you tell us the story of your label?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: I was lucky enough to get some tracks from Alex Agore around early 2014, and it seemed like the perfect chance to start a label, something I’d always wanted to do. Around the same time, I moved to China and started a night club called Guangzhou Underground. I wanted a broad, open music policy for both and I figured it would make sense to combine them under one name. From there, it’s been a fortunate chain of events that has lead us to work with the artists that we have on the label. As far as the promoting and DJing side goes, we have a gang now (myself, Bass Panda and Failed State) and we organise a whole variety of nights in different venues around Guangzhou.
Chain D.L.K.: Any promoter/artist/musician/DJ who helped you in landing deals outside China?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: We did releases with Alex Agore and Lady Blacktronika, who are both well-established House artists in their own right; this brought the label a lot of attention. But some of our newer Bass Music artists, for example Zenwan, Kaison (Merouac) and Lars Warn, have all gained support from Rinse FM, and again, this got us attention in the right environments. DnB has been a little harder as we’ve only released a couple of tracks so far, though the new Future Ghost and Tim Reaper split E.P will hopefully change that. I’m really chuffed with this release.
Chain D.L.K.: Before briefly going through some of the artists in your roster, I think that many readers are asking themselves the way young Chinese people experience this rising style.
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: The same as young (and not so young) people everywhere, to be honest! DnB isn’t unknown here, there’s just a smaller audience. There’s a core of DJs and fans who are clued up about the music, and there’s plenty of curious junglists-in-the-making who are just discovering it.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the main difference between typical DnB clubs in Europe and USA, on the one hand, and in China, on the other? Any clubs or festivals that you want to point out?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: Straight up DnB nights are non-existent, to my knowledge, here, on the mainland, in south China, though Hong Kong has parties like Magnetic Soul. It tends to just get mixed up with broader ‘Bass Music’ themed nights. To be honest, I’m happy with that. I’d rather have a night with a broad range of music than one plain style. My first clubbing experiences were Bugged Out in Manchester, where you’d have the likes of Justin Robertson and Ed Rush playing on the same bill, and that was a huge influence.
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: As mentioned, Alex Agore is an artist established in his own right. He’s based in Berlin, though he seems to be quite disconnected from the rest of the House and Techno scenes there. He makes Deep House and Garage in a very pure way; calling it retro would be missing the point. It comes from a genuine love and knowledge of 90’s House.
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: We’ve just put out our second E.P of Deep House from Alex Agore, which has an accompanying remix package pushing it in other directions thanks to an Italian jazz producer called Gazzara and an up-and-coming Dubstep producer called RUFUS! Future Ghost will also do a DnB remix in his usual style. As mentioned earlier, FG also has a split release with TIm Reaper coming out soon. Tim’s tracks are nuts: one track is an old school proto-2-step style tune, the other is a V.I.P of that same tune that goes into a total Amen break meltdown. Last of the upcoming releases is an E.P by Lars Warn, a guy from Texas making Grime in the loosest sense of the word. Really individual, visionary stuff.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you planning a tour of clubs or festivals outside China?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: No plans, at the moment, largely because we’re focussed on running parties here in Guangzhou. But if anyone wants to book us for elsewhere, I doubt we’d say no!
Chain D.L.K.: I saw you used really nice artworks. Anything to say about the artists behind them?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: Yes, his name is Zhang Da Zhong; an ex-truck driver who discovered painting late in life. Apparently all the models are his girlfriends. He’s fairly well established in ‘serious’ art circles here. I fell in love with his work the moment I saw it. We used his work for our early club night flyers; his daughter had been to one of our parties and told him. He was chuffed that it had been used in that way and gave us his blessing to continue using it.
Chain D.L.K.: Before China opened its borders to the world, was there any electronic dance music scene there?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: Not sure if ‘scene’ is the right word, in the same sense of, say, DnB in the UK. Also, the ‘opening’ hasn’t been an overnight thing, but something gradually happening for the past couple of decades. In that sense, electronic music has always been here, both in pop music and in more experimental forms. A friend of ours is making a documentary on the DIY synth scene in China, which also dwels into the history of electronic music here. Apparently Jean Michel Jarre’s concerts here in the early 1980s were a huge influence! (Check synthfreqs.com for updates on the documentary)
Chain D.L.K.: What are the main problems of music producers and DJs ín contemporary China?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: The ‘Great Firewall’ has created a completely different internet culture that excludes most of what we take for granted in dance music. The ways in which someone can just discover artists by themselves are really limited. There is no culture of checking digital stores like Beatport here because they don’t stream properly and don’t even support Chinese payment systems. Soundcloud is blocked here too, and the regular music download sites are all free and focused on the regular music market. So it takes real dedication to discover new, underground stuff. Speaking as a promoter in Guangzhou, it’s a constant battle with venue management who also have their own problems with the authorities over noise, or have to satisfy rich clientele with conservative tastes. Sadly, not everyone enjoys bludclot artattack Jungle at 2am.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think Chinese bass-driven music producers could pioneer this kind of music to the point they could make something totally new out of it?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: Sure, it’s already happening. There are producers like Howie Lee and Anti-General who are making original Trap-influenced stuff, using traditional Chinese elements. Howie Lee has already picked up support from the likes of Gilles Peterson etc.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other unknown scene outside the Guangzhou province?
Simon B – Guangzhou Underground: You mean Guangdong province? (Guangzhou city is in Guangdong province) In terms of Bass Music, there are other promoters and DJs doing great things here, such as FTK (Macau), MIST (Chengdu), and the aforementioned Magnetic Soul crew (Hong Kong). Trap remains huge here, and you’ve got people like DJ Verse@tille (Shanghai) pushing that sound all over the country. On the production front there’s expat Bass Music all-rounders like Conrank (Shanghai) doing great things and working with the likes of DJ Shadow.