IN MY EARS #15: A New Wave of Old-School Electro in Beijing
Punx - Post Human Sports
It’s still very early, but of all the new music that has come out of China so far this year, by far the most interesting and dynamic has been from the underground electronic music scene. Afew weeks ago I wrote about Zaliva-D’s excellent Story EP, and the label that released it, Do Hits, has already dropped two more. On January 5, they putout 生 (Sheng), a big and mysterious-sounding full-length for one of the label’s key figures, Jason Hou. My favorite off that one is the history-mashing "Peking 2045 (北平2045)”, which puts heavy metal guitar riffs alongside classical guqin and dizi samples in a composition depicting what the artist calls “a cyber-punk futuristic city of Beijing”. The theme of placing traditional sounds (classical Chinese instruments, folk songs,advert jingles, etc) into “future-sounding” electronic productions comes up again and again on Do Hits’s second annual chunjie mix, released on Friday.
The word “future”is often used when discussing the current generation of undergroundproducers and DJs in China, from the gurgling internet-trap of 狠毒男孩 and Bloodz Boi, to the polished erhu-footwork of some Do Hits artists, to the hyper-mediated art/fashion/music hybrids of newer labelsand promoters like Beijing’s Asian Dope Boys and Shanghai’s Genome6.66Mbp.
Far less popular these days isthe old-school electro sound that dominated Beijing club culture from theearly ‘00s until recently, supported by clubs like White Rabbit, Haze, and Lantern, as well as the Acupuncture label and the INTRO festival.
Refreshing that area of Beijing music culture is Prajna Sonic, a label launched last year by a handful of producers including iimmune, VU, Punx and Far Infinity. After a string of showslast year in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu setting up the brand name, Prajna Sonic has just released a quartet of EPs — one for each core member— and will formally present them to the world during a small tour in late February.
After spending the last month listening to Do Hits’s recent output, these four EPs from Prajna Sonic feel likea breath of fresh air, or more accurately a splash of cold water on theface. The style is mostly techno: icy, hard, minimal. I’ve been a longtime fan and supporter of iimmune and Far Infinity through my own label, Sinotronics, somaybe I’ve been more inclined with this initial batch of Prajna Sonic releases to listen to the work of the label's other two founders. My favorite of the four is probably Punx’s Post Human Sports EP, three tracks of four-on-the-floor industrial technothat I can play in the background on repeat for over and hour without getting bored or annoyed. (As someone who does not come froma clubbing background, this is my test for whether a given piece of minimaltechno is successful or not.)
VU’s Line EP also succeeds by this test, and I can’t hear it without also seeing the generative visuals that he uses in his live set. That brings up another point to make about Prajnasonic: they're also accomplished visualartists, technologists and coders, especially Far Infinity, aka Liu Yiwei, whois probably better known for his work as an internationally exhibited multi-media artist than as a techno producer.
So perhaps there is still a “futuristic” element to Prajna Sonic, when you consider all of the technical gear and knowledge that goes into their live performances. Still, I admire their old-school sound, and I look forward to seeing what Prajna Sonic will do to distinguish themselves from the more consciously future-facing actorsin the current Chinese electro underground.
Prajnasonic (Douban) ：https://site.douban.com/prajnasonic/
Prajnasonic (Bandcamp) ：https://prajnasonic.bandcamp.com/
Far Infinity ：http://www.far-infinity.com
About the author
Josh Feola is a writer and musician based in Beijing. He’s organized music, art, and film events in the city since 2010, via his label pangbianr and as booking manager of live music venues D-22 and XP. His ongoing event series include the Sally Can’t Dance experimental music festival and the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter (BEME). He has written about music and art for publications including The Wire, LEAP, Sixth Tone, and Tiny Mix Tapes. He also co-authors the Gulou View opinion column for the New York Observer. As a musician, he formerly played drums in Beijing band Chui Wan, recording on and touring behind their debut album, White Night. He currently plays drums in SUBS and Vagus Nerve, and also records and performs under the name Charm.