I had never understood or liked electronic music much before I came to Shanghai (except for The Orb). Previously, I had viewed it as a genre frequented by spoiled, bead-encrusted tweens swinging glow sticks and sucking on pacifiers at raves. I now know that electronic music can also be enjoyed by spoiled, jewel-encrusted expats swinging digital cameras and swigging designer cocktails at overpriced clubs.
I’m kidding a little bit, but it does seem that you have to wade through a pile of crap to get to something exciting in the electronic genre. Thankfully, that is not the case on The Shanghai Restoration Project and NeoCha.com’s excellent “eXpo” compilation; a collection of the finest electronic talent China has to offer. What better way to commemorate the opening of a fair dedicated to the future than to release a set of the most futuristic music?
One of the great things about electronic music is that it is a subjective experience with no determined outcome. I am not an electronic musician so it’s hard for me to dissect this type of music in words, but I’m going to try, using my powers of imagination to describe the feelings and images these songs evoke.
The album starts off, fittingly, with a track from B6, who is the ringmaster of Shanghai’s electronic scene at the moment. It’s called “Day of the Weird Beginning…” and begins in fits and starts. When the beat kicks in, it feels like someone has scratched a long-suffered itch. The track’s various bleeps, bloops, and clicks revolve around an infectious upbeat and a creeping bass line. B6 mixes it up quite a bit, keeping things from getting too static, which is often my major qualm with electronic music.
Next, DJ SIG brings his brand of cyber-hatchlings, pieces of ideas for major movements. I have always felt that SIG could score a terrific animated science fiction flick. This particular piece, “CN Patient”, illustrates the horror of living in a Chinese mental ward, waking up in a bathtub full of ice, and realizing you’re short one kidney. OK, I made that up, but it IS a deliciously dark feedback loop.
iLoop’s “Day” brings us out of the SIG darkness with the first truly danceable cut of the record. It has a lot of energy and soul-stirring bass. You can imagine people jumping around to this one at the club, as I was doing in my office right before I sat down to write about it.
The best song title belongs to Jinbaobab’s “Dormancy Oatmeal”, one of the more impressionistic selections. There is no beat on the track, per se, just a repeating piano loop inter-playing with more spaced-out pianos and weird electronic dust from the inside of a laptop. It’s the perfect music for a sunrise or a mental breakdown. It reminds me of times when you are so bored and attuned to the things around that you can hear the electricity singing in the circuits, actually see the grass growing, and watch the blood pulsing in your cat’s temple. What, that never happens to you?
“Body Mind” and “Moon” by MHP and Mu Xiao Hu, respectively, fall into the repetition snare that often turns me off from the genre. However, Qiu Yu saves the day with a strange banger built from neon bricks and then we arrive at the only track on the album with lyrics, The Shanghai Restoration Project’s remix of a song about the designer Tyakasha by Red Red Mushroom, called “Big Pirate Tyakasha”. I have enjoyed The Shanghai Restoration Project before, with their remix of the classic “Ye Shanghai” (click on track one to hear a sampling). This Red Red Mushroom re-working is also very entertaining and Xiao Hong’s voice sounds very playful and inviting after so much wordlessness.
Sun Ye, one of Shanghai’s foremost experimental musicians, and a member of the band Boojii, brings a track that I must dig into my childhood to describe. It sounds like the dungeon music in the original “Legend of Zelda” video game. Any old school gamers will know exactly what I’m talking about, but for others, let’s just say it is music that could score a covert quest conducted in abject darkness.
That brings us to the final track, “Song of Night” by ZLOX, which, to me, does not necessarily sound like the night. It is an upbeat track, a bit 8-Bit-ish, featuring a recurring vocal track that sounds like it was recorded off a walkie-talkie.
With that final salvo, the “eXpo” compilation ends. It is a fine collection of music that you can definitely listen to straight through without getting bored. In my book, that is high-praise for an electronic album. It is fitting that this project was put together by The Shanghai Restoration Project and NeoCha.com, which is, if you don’t know already, a website designed to form a community of artists in China, and to showcase the highlights of said community.
It has often been lamented that the Chinese electronic community has not been able to match the worldwide attention given to Chinese rock (via the Maybe Mars/No Beijing stable of artists.) Hopefully this compilation will go a long way toward changing that, as it is available globally via iTunes and other digital download services.
To order the album and sample other goodies, such as visual accompaniment and a free download of ZLOX’s “Song of Night”, click this: