While I was in Shanghai, China in 2017, I went to numerous shows at venues like ALL, Loopy, and Dada. I guess this is where I first became aware of you both, your music, and the scene emerging in China. While I was only in China for three months, I got a sense of how close the community is in Shanghai, do you feel this way? How would you both describe the communities that you predominantly engage with?33 & G
Yes, we agree, it’s a small community, and a very different one. We’ve been playing in bands since 1999, and had been involved with different groups of people focusing on certain music genres, such as post-rock, and noise. But to be honest, we’ve never met so many interesting individuals as we have now, in our small Shanghai community. We think the key difference in this community is it doesn’t worship singular judgement against anything. For example, in ALL Club, or especially the old Shelter Club, maybe partly because they’re both so dark and bass heavy, people just focus on their own experiences of what’s taking place in that moment instead of focusing on the reflections and opinions of the crowd. They are still aware of a surrounding crowd, but with an open mind. We believe this kind of mindset is essential when talking about and making music, DJing, or creating art pieces. In fact, we think a small community is good; to keep people away from the collective unconsciousness, which is to say, if a community gets too big, sometimes a supposed hierarchy will affect personal expressions. Although, this can even occur when there’s no clear hierarchy.MS
You’re both founders of The Centaurs, a series of events and workshops in music production, focussing on modular synthesis, DIY software, and hardware instruments. How did this project inform your understanding of communities and collaborative connections within the Shanghai music sphere? How do you feel like this project contributed to the broader Chinese music community that has emerged since then?33 & G
At the very beginning, The Centaurs happened mostly in certain live houses and art galleries, such as Yu Yin Tang and Chronus Art Center in M50. We would like it to happen more in a club-like environment, but we worried about the music and how it might be too crazy for people there. But then Gaz Williams from ALL Club and the label SVBKVLT asked us to curate an event at ALL. We were actually surprised that while most of the events happened on a Thursday or Sunday, there was still a decent crowd. This experience proves that the younger generation of club crowd in Shanghai do have a very eclectic taste and curiosity about music. We think the fact that they’re able to absorb so many different aspects of contemporary culture creates a resonance in music.
I don’t know how this will continue to affect anything afterward, but we believe it might be the first time an experimental showcase happens regularly in a club in Shanghai, supported mostly by local people. And this is still exciting. In fact, we think this is what will happen naturally, because today’s electronic musicians are already using all kinds of techniques from the legacy of those adventurous sound explorers, such as Pierre Schaeffer, Don Buchla, John Cage, and Iannis Xenakis.MS
It’s been suggested that there’s a scarcity of space for shows based upon the restrictions enforced by police in Shanghai, which makes the existence of these venues more precarious. What is the reality of this perception? What is the impact if or when these spaces are restricted or shut down and how does the community react to this?33 & G
Some of the clubs were shut down in the last few months but now they have all reopened in Shanghai. Personally, we think many of the seemingly harsh restrictions in Shanghai are event specific, meaning, after certain events everything will be back to normal. Restrictions are like gravity, no matter what country you are in, as long as you are on earth there’s no way to escape from it, and people will always find ways to get around restrictions. I think people here in Shanghai are pretty calm when it happened/happens. New clubs are still opening around the area of ALL Club, and I don’t think I’m smarter than those club owners.MS
I’m interested to know what experimental practice means to you both. Do projects like DONG 1 & 2 fall into this, and how do you define the intention behind these projects and your work at large?33 & G
We always think that experimental practice is an approach of making music, rather than a fixed genre. Meaning, you experiment with elements or substances you have at hand, and might, finally, synthesise something different, sort of like what can happen in chemistry. Much of our work is made using this approach, including DONG 1 & 2. Unless it’s a commissioned work, many times our only intention when making music is to make ourselves feel good. Sometimes it’s like a lucid trance state that you just want to keep going. It’s like an improvisation, but more like running a marathon, when you know you are super tired but just can’t stop running perhaps partly because of chemical substances you get from your brain when running.MS
You both seem to seek a very future-thinking and technological outlook, while maintaining a localised character within your music. Is this ‘sound’ a reaction to Chinese society or do you see this within a more global context? How do you work with futurity and progressive technologies in practice, while attending to the timelessness of communal/ritual experience inherent in dance music?33 & G
It might not necessarily be a ‘reaction’ but our music is definitely influenced by the social and cultural context we are in, whether we like it or not is irrelevant, it just happens. And what happens here, in China, right now, is also a reflection of the global context. We think today’s technology empowers people with the ability of manipulating powers just through small boxes of plastic and metal, and that equals what shamans did in ancient times, and the result is the same: people are moved, and emotionally, and physically touched by energy waves, entering a different zone away from their current reality, even if just for a short time.MS
From an outsiders or perspective, based on access via the internet, you see label’s like SVBKVLT, Genome 6.66 MBP, and Do Hits all showcasing different elements of China’s underground experimental scene, do you think this is a balanced cross-section of what is happening in this realm or are there other labels and/or artists that may not have garnered similar attention?33 & G
We don’t really listen to many labels in China and right now. But because you have asked, we think Function Lab from Hangzhou is a pretty good and solid crew. We think it’s inevitable that, finally, certain labels will get more attention, because China is definitely not in the centre of the music industry for now, it’s still considered exotic. The Western music industry defines the global industry as a result of the concepts of ownership and Western capitalism. We definitely hope more labels can and will be known to a broader audience outside of China.MS
You both recently experienced and participated in the Nyege Nyege festival in Uganda. I’d love to hear your perspectives on what this time was like and how it connects with certain similarities or differences in relation to the Shanghai music community?33 & G
It’s just four days of madness, non-stop music, an exciting and friendly crowd. We think the best part of Nyege Nyege festival is that Arlen Dilsizian and the other organisers curated a very interesting lineup that could feed both club people and those who are more into experimental stuff. From what we see, the local musicians — especially from Nyege Nyege Tapes and Hakuna Kulala — are making some music that’s very contemporary but also rooted in their cultural legacy, and that might be something similar to SVBKVLT and other labels. But in response to your first question, we believe that simultaneously being clearly aware of our cultural identity, and what’s presently surrounding us, will always generate unique creations over time.
Shanghai native 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin) has been an active member in the Chinese music scene for over a decade. She has also performed at CTM and Sinotronics in Germany, China Drifting Festival in Switzerland, and SXSW. Her 2018 album Golem, released on SVBKVLT, was met with critical acclaim and voted one of the best electronic albums of 2018 by Bandcamp. In 2019 she released DONG2 EP under Merrie Records Beijing, and will premiere her sophomore album Arthropods (SVBKVLT) at Unsound 2019.
Gooooose (Han Han) is an electronic music producer, visual artist and software developer based in Shanghai, China. His current releases include They (D Force, 2017), Dong 1 (D Force, 2018), Pro Rata (ANTE-RASA, 2019). Gooooose's 2019 SVBKVLT–released RUSTED SILICON received positive reviews from media including boomkat, Resident Advisor, Dusted Magazine, and The Wire. Gooooose has performed live at CTM (Berlin, 2018), Nyege Nyege (Kampala, 2019), Soft Centre (Sydney, 2019), Unsound (Kraków, 2019) and Recombinant (San Francisco, 2019).
Mat Spisbah is a New Media curator with a unique portfolio of programming that seeks to integrate non-traditional artistic methods and emerging technologies. Having lived in Hong Kong for 14 years, he is connected to the region’s art and culture, and has created professional networks with artists, curators, galleries, promoters and industry professionals across Australasia. Portfolio highlights include the debut Australian performances of north Asian artists including: Howie Lee, Rui Ho, Meuko Meuko, Pan Daijing, Alex Zhang Hungtai, Tzusing, and Gabber Modus Operandi.