Shanghai is currently at the epicentre of interesting electronic music in China. Time Out picks three relatively new names to watch from the emerging crop of DJs and producers making waves on the city's nightlife scene
In just a few short months, Shi Jiayuan has appeared on bills under her Gouachi moniker at DADA, Elevator, and ALL, performing with the likes of Asian Dope Boys and Push & Pull and earning the praise from the Love Bang crew as 'quite possibly Shanghai's youngest and fiercest producer/DJ'.
For someone who only learned how to DJ a year ago - via a ten-week course at CTRL Studios
which she says she came across by happenstance - it's been an impressive rise, made all the more remarkable by the fact that while Shi was frequenting the decks at Shanghai's cutting-edge clubs by night, she was still a high school student by day.
'When I first started DJing, my parents were strongly against it,' she says. 'But I've since taken my mum to see me perform - and I didn't stop. They've come to see it as a job and they're okay with it now.' Born in 2001, Shi says she first got into electronic music at age 13, though her artistic leanings started even earlier. 'I've been learning to draw since I was little, so the name Gouachi comes from "gouache"; I chose it in a bit of a rush so just changed the last letter to an "i"'.
Five months ago, Shi put her first mix up on Soundcloud under the name. Entitled 'I Don't Want to Go to School', it's a 45-minute mash of sample-heavy Jersey Club, soulful rhythms and jittering beats.
Her second mix and her more recent club sets have folded in more industrial sounds and darker sample bursts, along with more space for tracks to breathe among the breakneck beats. 'I write down all my favourite songs and classify them,' she says. 'For each set I do I like to give it an emotional theme, and hope to use the songs that I really like to express this.'
Shi points to Tzusing - a regular at ALL who put out music on L.I.E.S and Bedouin in 2017 - and Prettybwoy - who late last year released his second EP via Gareth Williams' Shanghai-based SVBKVLT imprint - as among her favourite producers and DJs, and says that her hope for 2018 is to put out her own productions.
In October 2016, when Time Out profiled Shanghai’s emerging Genome 6.66MBP collective
, their lead spokesperson Kilo Vee talked of missing his stop on the metro the first time he heard early Hyph11e track ‘Yezi’. ‘It was something incredible,’ he told us of the song which kicked off their first compilation. ‘A local producer who can make a track like that.’
Vee isn’t the only one to have been left with a deep impression. An engrossing blend of vintage sounds and industrial club music have propelled Hyph11e, aka Tess Sun, to the forefront of Shanghai’s electronic music scene and beyond. Following her well-received debut EP Vanishing Cinema
on Shanghai’s SVBKVLT label last year, the ALL regular performed in Europe in February, including at legendary Berlin venue Berghain’s Panorama Bar.
'I was really excited, but of course a lot more nervous than when I’ve played at other clubs,' says Sun of the experience. 'I played a lot of different types of music in my set and afterwards everyone came and said to me that they’d really enjoyed the evening because they’d heard so many different types of music, some of which you don’t usually hear in Panorama Bar.'
Playing in Europe clearly had a big impact on her. 'I learnt a lot from the trip,' says Sun, who studied classical piano from the age of eight until she went to university. 'In particular that I should have more faith in myself, and in my self expression.' Yet our own city has had a profound influence on the development of her Hyph11e project too. 'Shanghai is a city of limitless possibilities,' she says. 'And if you do things well, it doesn't matter how experienced you are, people here will support you.'
Joining Hyph11e's Vanishing Cinema
on our list of the best music to come out of Shanghai in 2017
, but with a very different aesthetic, was Laughing Ears' ethereal, space-inspired EP Illusory Time
. Released through Beijing's Ran Music, who have a distribution deal with Kompakt, the EP's in sound from way out took as its starting point the fictional planet of Solaris, and Andrei Tarkovsky's film version of Stanislaw Lem's famous science-fiction novel of the same name.
'This movie made me think a lot about life and humankind: how to be pure and cherish the most important things in one’s life, and I also think that’s what can make a person unique,' says Li Jingping, the young Shenyang native behind Laughing Ears. 'The thing Solaris demonstrates is exactly what I wanted to express when I wrote these songs.'
Li says it was electronic music's transportive potential - how it can be 'full of imagination that can always lead me on an excursion inside of myself,' as she puts it - that inspired her to begin making her own tracks two years ago. 'As an extroverted but sensitive person I need to find an exit for emotions, a way to let my feelings out,' she says. 'When I get some ideas and feelings, I just open [production software Ableton] Live to make it real. That’s why I already have hundreds of songs within just one or two years.'
Li hasn't been shy about sharing a lot of these tracks either, and Laughing Ears' profiles on sites such as Xiami, Douban and Soundcloud (embedded above) contain a host of songs. The quantity doesn't appear to effect Laughing Ears' quality, and it's easy to get lost in a playlist of her music, which blends at times haunting, spacey melodies with beats that slide effortlessly from low-key to rousing, often bolstered by traditional Chinese instrumentation.
Such a prolific nature means that we'll have two Laughing Ears EPs to look forward to later this year. 'One is experimental, ambient with vocals, and the other one is more about club music and the dancefloor,' says Li. The latter at least should also mean more club appearances, which to date have been somewhat limited for Laughing Ears. 'As a producer, I want to share my music with people, not just push the play button,' she says. 'And performing live is a really good way to let the audience feel my emotion and the feeling of my creation.'