Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII column that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.
A fascinating current of subcultural exchange is taking shape between nodes in Shanghai and Kampala, Uganda. We first covered it in April, when Kenyan producer Slikback alighted in China for a brief tour and residency. In addition to playing seminal venues like ALL in Shanghai and Loopy in Hangzhou, Slikback spent three whirlwind days in the studio with Hyph11e, a core member of the Genome 6.66Mbp and SVBKVLT labels who has been representing Shanghai’s experimental club sound at key international festivals like CTM in Berlin and Sonar Hong Kong.
The result of that collaboration was released last month by SVBKVLT as Slip B, an EP featuring three shape-shifting, abrasive, labyrinthine club tracks alongside a couple of remixes cementing the partnership:
This East Asian/East African connection was further strengthened last month when a small contingent from SVBKVLT (including Hyph11e, and RADII regulars 33EMYBW + Goooose) traveled to the remote Ugandan city of Jinja for the annual Nyege Nyege festival, four days of forward-thinking dance music unfolding across multiple stages erected in jungle along the headwaters of the Nile.
RADII caught up with Hyph11e on the other end of the transcontinental trip to learn more about her ongoing creative relationship with Slikback — with whom she’ll perform b2b at Poland’s Unsound festival next weekend — and what potential she sees for future cross-fertilization of Chinese/African underground culture.
RADII: Can you talk about your experience working with Slikback in Shanghai earlier this year? What was your collaborative process like in the studio? How much time did you spend together working on Slip B?
Hyph11e: It was great and a very mind-opening experience! Slikback had a very tight schedule during his residency in China, so we basically sat down in the studio for three days and in that time finished three tracks. Every day he came to my place around 3pm, and we would have something done around 8pm. I don’t have much experience of studio collaborations to be honest, but it went really well with Slikback.
What similarities or affinities are there between your music and his? What are the major differences in style or approach to producing music?
For similarities, I would say, the first thing is that we like similar textures, for example: heavy bass, distortion, faster BPMs and floating rhythms. But the main thing is we both approach the music freely, with no pre-planned direction, genre, or rules.
In terms of differences, I think Freddie [Slikback] writes down his ideas very quickly. When I saw him write a rhythm, it felt like he was playing a game. His ideas come out super fast and he can easily get something down and move on. For me, sometimes I spend too much time shaping one single sound.
Hyph11e (left) and Slikback share the booth
What was Nyege Nyege festival like? Can you describe the scene, atmosphere, environment, audience, sounds, smells, tastes? How does it compare to Chinese festivals you’ve been to?
I would say Nyege Nyege is the craziest and wildest festival I’ve ever been to, I felt totally free there. For one thing, the location is really beautiful. It’s in a jungle, just by the river Nile. Also, there were so many good artists that I’d never heard of before, because their stuff can be difficult to find online, and a lot of local bands and traditional music, it was all very inspiring. The audience were very welcoming and love dancing. So for me, it was a combination of good sound, good environment, good audience, good energy, good atmosphere, and, most importantly, good music. I can’t really find the words to describe it to be honest, check out all the Nyege Nyege videos if you can.
I feel that in China, the festivals are much more tightly controlled. There are a lot of things you can see at Nyege Nyege that you’ll probably never see at a Chinese festival.
Any African producers or DJs that you learned about on the trip? Did you see/hear other artists from Slikback’s label Hakuna Kulala? In general, what did you learn about the underground music/club scene in Uganda from this festival?
Don Zilla, Rey Sapienz, MC Yallah, Ecko Bazz, Catu Diosis and more.
I feel like the music scene there has a lot of pure energy. There’s a studio villa in Kampala, it has three or four studio rooms in total, and a lot of artists from Uganda and Kenya live there and make music together. Some of them make 30-40 tracks a month.
Slikback and Hyph11e’s collaborative Slip B EP is out now from Shanghai label SVBKVLT, and you can find its counterpart Slip A — featuring Slikback alongside Shanghai-based producers 33EMYBW and Osheyack — at the Hakuna Kulala Bandcamp. For more Kampala sound, dig around the rest of the Hakuna Kulala catalog and that of Nyege Nyege Tapes.
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