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A Decade of Sound from Jeff Kai-Luen Liang, aka Soulspeak (Exclusive Mix)

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There’s not a more omnipresent yet less hyped figure in the history of underground Chinese hip hop/beat production than Jeff Kai-Luen Liang.

Among his friends and fans in Beijing, where he lived for a decade, Liang is better known by his production alias Soulspeak, a regular presence at Beijing’s legendary mid-2000s Section 6 hip hop parties renowned for his MPC skills. As Soulspeak, Liang was an early collaborator with Beijing hip hop heavyweights MC Webber, In3, and award-winning turntablist DJ Wordy, and later with a younger cohort of rappers leading the underground Chinese hip hop scene today, such as Beijing’s J-Fever and Chengdu’s Kafe Hu.

After establishing a name for himself within Beijing’s early hip hop pantheon, Liang began releasing music under his given name — Kai-Luen — expanding his sampling and beatmaking repertoire to incorporate a darker, more experimental edge drawing influence from the polyrhythms and time shifts of contemporary avant garde composition. These experiments culminated in The Hollow Ghost, a critically lauded 2016 release on seminal Shanghai electronic music label SVBKVLT.

RADII presents: china.wav

Despite his seminal role in Beijing hip hop, his constant experimentation under various names and styles (he also maintains a third project called Silicone Moons), and a parallel career as an accomplished studio musician with credits for numerous Chinese pop and R&B singers, Liang maintains a low-key profile.

Since relocating back to his hometown of LA in 2017, he’s enrolled at CalArts, where he’s currently pursuing an MFA in Music Technology and incorporating new tools and philosophical approaches to his practice: computer programming, generative musical systems, rules-based composition, chance operations, and interface design (including a self-sampling rice box of his own creation). Though he still makes music under his best-known alias, Soulspeak, for Liang it’s more important to invest in new sounds than to cash in on old ones.

Ahead of Kai-Luen’s appearance at RADII’s china.wav event on May 3 at El Cid in Los Angeles, we asked him to put together a megamix highlighting some of his work from the last decade, under various names and with such prominent collaborators as fellow china.wav performer ChaCha (aka Yehaiyahan/Faded Ghost), jazz trumpeter Toby Mak (aka Ttechmak), J-Fever, Kafe Hu, DJ Wordy, Das Racist, and more.

This 90-minute trip through Kai-Luen’s headspace also includes a few unreleased tracks that have grown out of his MFA experiments, and which may give you a good idea of what he’ll have in store for his live performance on May 3.

Tracklist:

Silicone Moons – “Midnight Roses” (2017)
Soulspeak and Ttechmak – “Luna” (2016)
Kai-Luen – “Caverns” (unreleased, 2016)
Soulspeak and Ttechmak – “Spaceships and Ice Cream” (2016)
WordySoulspeak ft Cha Cha – “Rain in Shanghai” (2010)
WordySoulspeak ft. Chen Hao Ren – “没完没了” (2012)
WordySoulspeak ft Das Racist – Tarzan (unreleased, 2012)
WordySoulspeak – “一直在高处” (2010)
小老虎 and Soulspeak – “用电流演奏爱” (2013)
小老虎 and Soulspeak – “昆虫不懂哺乳动物的愁” (2017)
Silicone Moons ft Ttechmak – “You Smell Like Sex” (2017)
小老虎 and Soulspeak – “用一把勺子,吃完爱” (2018)
Mr Asbo and Soulspeak – “Chocolate Lullaby” (2019)
Mr Asbo and Soulspeak – “Dimple Cup” (2019)
Kafe Hu and Soulspeak ft Credit Card – “月光下的superstar” (2018)
Kai Luen – “拆” (2016)
Soulspeak and Ttechmak – “Africa Without Sound” (2016)
Kafe Hu and Soulspeak – “Higher Ground” (2018)
Kai Luen – “LA ’92” (2016)
Wan Who? –  “Slow Cancellation (segment)” (unreleased)
Mr Asbo and Soulspeak – “Whisper Factory” (2019)
Kai-Luen – “Blippity Bloop” (untitled/ unreleased, 2019)
Kai-Luen – “Rice Box Buchla” (unreleased, 2019)
Soulspeak – “Sorry Not Sorry instrumental” (unreleased, 2019)
Kai-Luen – “study on homemade spring boxes” (unreleased, 2017)
Kai-Luen – “The Hollow Ghost” (2016)
小老虎 and Soulspeak – “你们为什么要报警” (2018)
Soulspeak and Ttechmak – “Climbing” (2016)

Other artists performing at RADII’s china.wav event on Friday, May 3 at El Cid in Los Angeles:

Yin: Shanghai Singer and Producer ChaCha’s Bold Reinvention

MC Tingbudong Wants Chinese Hip Hop to Find its Place in the World

Bohan Phoenix Injects a Dose of Reality into China’s Hip Hop Boom on New Track “YMF”

Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.