When we think of Berlin we think of techno, of Kraftwerk, of any of the many producers that have toured here recently. When we think of Chicago, we think of house, London, of drum n bass or dubstep. There are many iconic cities around the world that have developed their own sounds and carved out their place in the hearts and record collections of music fans worldwide. The electronic music scene for places like Berlin has already reached middle age but for China it’s still in it’s adolescence, it’s still stretching it’s muscles and searching for it’s own identity. The clubs of the larger cities; Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu are fuelled by the beats of accomplished local electronic producers and in terms of genre, you can find most of what you would find in any major city anywhere in the world. One of the most striking aspects of the ethnic minority rich regions of China is the music, when venturing out that way it’s almost like crossing an invisible audio border. The buses and vans have a hum of communal song, the people, like the smallest spark in drought stricken forest, are always on the cusp of bursting into song. How do people who grew up in these areas with such strong music traditions integrate into China’s burgeoning electronic music scene.
Yider： Electronic musician from Inner Mongolia Hulunbuir
I started learning traditional music from when I was little, as I got older I started trying to include some of the ethnic music I’d learnt into rock music.
Back in those days in my home town I was in a band. Later, when I went to university, I got involved in a world music style band and did that right up until I graduated. After I left that band I got involved in electronic music and then after that I started working with electronic producers.
I really like Electronic music. Originally, I went through all the different styles, learning them one by one. I wouldn’t say there’s only one style that I like for example I wouldn’t say, I ljust like Techno or I just like House. I’ve never been like that. I want to incorporate my own stuff into the music, previously I tried incorporating my own sound into Techno and House but later I realised that it’s pointless and not that interesting. These styles are already set, they already exist, adding my own music into an existing style just didn’t work. It was like if you’re cooking and you just add some vinegar or some salt, that kind of thing. A little like I was sprinkling my topping on an existing recipe. It has it’s own rules, it’s own beat that keeps moving, I can sing and add stuff over top but that doesn’t really represent minority people's music.
I’m a minority person, it was later on that I learnt electronic music. In order to fully understand electronic music, I first had to understand all of the genres within it. On youtube I watched one after the other, studying how to produce all the different styles. For example, I’d start researching House music and then step by step figure out how to do it then move on to Techno and do the same. I learnt all the styles I could and then I started learning how to incorporate them into my music. I tried a lot of different types of fusion. Then I started to realise that this way of doing things was quite hard and time consuming, especially with only me working on it and especially since I wanted to make it perfect.
So I found a producer that I really trusted "Lofimaker" and we’re working on some interesting stuff with a sort of futuristic feel. We’re adding minority instruments in a different way, in the music there’s no minority instrument constantly strumming or a flute constantly sounding. It’s like it comes in and out, there’s one here for a bit and then you hear one there for a bit. The flute part has been added in a really disruptive way. The disruption leaves you with a very minority style flavour of music.
At the moment we’re try this style out, our album will come out soon, but first we’ll release some single EPs. Then I think everyone will understand the feeling I’m trying to express.
Since I’m a Mongolian, so my music has a lot of elements of Mongolian music but but I’ve also included some other sounds and fusions. A lot of electronic music genres are already saturated e.g. Berlin’s Techno or England’s Drum n’ Bass. The thing is, electronic music is actually foreign music. There’s never been a history of electronic music in the east, so everybody’s doing the same thing, trying to mix. It’s really difficult these days to create a new style, you can only mix existing styles.
We really want to take some Mongolian drums and original elements of Mongolian music and add them to electronic music. Maybe it’ll create a new type of music. If you ask me, does Beijing have it’s own style? I’d have to say it doesn’t or at least I haven’t heard it. Beijing’s like this; people who are into dancing go to Dada or Latern. Lantern does Techno and Dada has some Bass, House and also some other underground styles. But you can’t really say that represents and Eastern style of music.
My concept is “Nomad City” that’s a concept that I’ve created for myself. Nomad, as in lives in the grass lands or mountains like; Mongolian, Tibetan, or American Indian type of nomads. People who live in the grass lands or the forests aren’t like people who live in the cities. They don’t have a set house, or a bedroom. On the grass lands you’ve just got a Mongolian tent and the closest neighbour is another Mongolian tent that’s quite far away. It’s not a set home in a set place, nomads move around. I chose the concept Nomad city because I want to bring the feeling of those places to the city through music.
Jan， Musician， Grew up in Urumqi
After I got into rock bands I realised I wanted to be a musician or an artist. But back then there wasn’t that much support and apart from music institutes there weren’t any formal music classes available at school, so it was like feeling around in the dark trying to learn by myself. I kind of like the idea. Actually I kind of like the irony of the next generation of musicians being untrained.
I started off playing guitar, and got dragged along to some bar gigs by some more experienced musician friends. We had to learn pop songs for this, but I really didn’t want to play those cheesy songs you hear in the street. I didn’t want to learn that stuff, just wanted to play what I liked, I was only 15 at the time. It started out as one gig and then next thing you know it turned into a few years of playing these sort of gigs. I realised I was getting further and further way from the reason I started playing music and I was tired of it. There was this absence of feeling playing in bars everyday, and for me this wasn’t really music. But no obvious way out presented itself until the autumn of 2010.
Altai is very ancient culture, historically the roots of Xinjiang culture originate from Altai culture.
As I started to realised this I realised I’m an idiot, I’ve schooled myself to be stupid when all along I had a depth of cultural heritage to draw on for my
music. I had blindly followed outside influences in music, mainstream music.
After this realisation things changed, I was still working at the bar, but my 10 or more years of numbness and confusion were over. Most importantly, I finally understood what I wanted to do, even if I had to keep singing in bars at least I was free from the confusion that had engulfed me all those years. Everything became clear and I started to get involved in some independent concerts in a few cities around China. Every year I went on two tours starting in Xinjiang and touring to other cities around China. Even though the ticket sales often weren’t as good as we’d hoped, I was still happy, I was on the road and doing something that I loved.
The roots of my music are a combination of original elements (by that I don't mean set in stone musical elements or styles) and combining electronic music works well. Mixing these elements into electronic music is an interesting way to convey the traditional elements and sounds of Altai music. These days some of the ancient art forms and music can be considered to be living fossils. It’s possible they’ll become extinct eventually. I can’t really do anything myself to protect it and I don’t want to be a representative figure. Art is very subjective, I can only represent myself.
Dali Producer Li Yi, Naxi Minority
I come from Dali, a place rich in minority people’s history and culture. When I was 16 I started palying records and started getting involved in parties.
In 09 I went to Beijing’s Midi music school to learn recording and producing techniques. At the time I met some Beijing DJs and started getting involved in parties up there. In 2010 I went back to Dali and started a studio. I spent some time exploring electronic music and party culture.
I'm mostly doing Psytrance music these days, it's an inherently mystical, religious, in tune with nature, I feel like it fits really well with minority music.
Previously I mixed minority music and Techno, it was kind of like a live Jam session, unfortunately we didn't record it. Later it became harder to get hold of really good minority people's music. In Yunnan things are developing at a slower rate here. If you want to sample some really great minority music, you need to go up into the mountains, to the small mountain towns, you spend a lot of time getting there and might come back emtpy handed.
If you want to really get to know some great music, you have to study a minority instrument from scratch, to understand the process of the music. Some of the minority music here is slowly disappearing. Facing these difficulties is increasingly challenging. In my opinion most minority music is compatible with electronic music, they have a lot in common. I mean in terms of dancing not in terms of beat,
Groove, House, Techno are all very similar, to what you'd see at a minority peoples festival, or when everyone gets together to dance and sing. For a while now there have been some musicians in Yunnan mixing minority people's and electronic music. For example Daxiji, Lao Hei, Huanxin. Some world music, some Dub, some experimental music. There's still some musicians doing live jams, but you have to be there to see them.
I believe electronic music has no borders, it’s a really inclusive style of music. Wherever you’re producing music from, the music will take on the feeling of that place.
So I’ve been wondering if it’s possible, through electronic music to give minority music a new life and allow it to continue and be handed down.
I think minority music has a great future, sometimes I think the concerns that I have about it disappearing just exacerbate the problem. If you make a style that can be a vehicle, then it can transport many forms of minority to music, and that’s a way to save it.
A while ago there were some overseas producers who started using some minority people’s music in their music, like “Bushwacka", “Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs” . Maybe everyone has quietly reached a consensus to retain the heritage of minority music. The development of electronic music is particularly fast, everyday, every month there are new things appearing, changes. I can’t guess what the next generation will be like but I’ve got a feeling it’s going get better and better.