Sometimes referred to as the 'Godfather of Chinese psychedelia', Zhang Wei is bringing his Beijing-based psychedelic rock-meets-electronic beats act to Shanghai to kick off 2018. Founded over five years ago, WHAI blend elements of trip hop and even light techno into their psych-rock sound - often to hypnotic effect.
Ahead of their show here, Zhang and bassist Wu Qiao told us about dreams, electric shocks, and bikini-clad girls in gas masks.
Tell us a little about how
you all met and how WHAI first started.
Zhang Wei – WHAI started in October 2012 at 2 Kolegas. Before, it
was just me, [drummer/2 Kolegas owner] Liu Miao , and my brother DJ Mickey
Zhang playing around. Then we added in Ou Yang [WHAI part time bassist and
General Manager of Yugong Yishan], Li Fan, and then Wu Qiao. We all like the
same kind of music and so it was inevitable we came together to form WHAI as it
Wu Qiao – I first saw WHAI’s
show in 2012 at 2 Kolegas and instantly became entranced. I joined the band
in 2016 and understood on a deeper level about what WHAI is all about – I
haven’t stopped being entranced.
How has your sound developed and changed over
the last five years?
ZW – At first our sound was just some
musical motifs and that continued to improve over time, becoming more and more
rich, but then continuously simplifying it – making music through this process
seems to be the best way to express it. To me, this approach helps to improve
myself as a whole and isn’t just for creating a musical style.
WQ – My understanding of WHAI's
growth is like this: unchanged.
You’re often referred
to as an ‘avant-garde’ band. Is that how you see yourselves?
ZW – The notion of 'avant-garde'
is a goal to motivate ourselves. Once we’ve reached that, there will be a new
WQ – There are so many
words that can be used to describe Whai's music, and 'avant-garde' is just one
part of it. Let your imagination soar and you’ll get more out of it.
What do you make of
the current state of psychedelic music in China and the rise of bands like Chui
ZW – Wherever you are,
psychedelic music has room to grow – regardless of being in China or not. First
of all, most people need to innovate, learn and reflect on the unknown and
imagination. Secondly, everyone can enjoy psychedelic music, but only the
people who really research it will receive the key to its secrets – they really get what psychedelic music is all
WQ – 'Psychedelic music' has a lot of forms and
definitions; in the past few years, China has slowly emerged with a unique
style of psychedelic music. Personally I don’t know too much about Chui Wan,
but if I get a chance, I’d like to see their show. I’ve lived in Beijing for a
very long time. The things that happened in the past seemed like a dream and
only until I reached what is real do I now understand the stuff dreams are
There are so many ways people can connect with great music and
different genres. I see more and more people in the crowd falling in love with
psychedelic music at WHAI’s shows. I think this shows that psychedelic music is
becoming less niche.
Do you feel a part of
the Beijing music scene more broadly? It can sometimes seem like
there’s a bit of a clique surrounding bands with a certain sound in the
ZW – Okay, everyone should
get along harmoniously. We’re musicians, not conspirators. We feel the safest
when there’s music – this is why everyone loves playing music – it makes us
completely forget both the happy and sad times.
WQ – Our band really does not belong
to a certain music clique in Beijing. I think we belong to the whole earth.
What do you hope
concert-goers take away from your live experience?
ZW – We just hope that we can present WHAI to everyone
– get rid of commercialism, work, and everything other than music so that they
can experience the real, natural WHAI. But also, when you hear us play, don’t
WQ – Just one thing: a feeling of electric shock.
Tell us about the image on your Douban and some of your
What's going on there?
WQ –You’ll have to ask that robot Weiwei [Zhang Wei].
But I’d like to take the chance to say once again to everyone: that beautiful
woman isn’t me.
ZW – I used something very concrete things to describe a very abstract state, the past and the future; that is, the familiar and unfamiliar. Just like WHAI in society today! The benevolent see benevolence, the wise see wise, learn from each other!