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Yin: Wild New Sounds from Shanghai’s 33EMYBW & GOOOOOSE

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Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII feature 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.

Outlandish? Otherworldly? “Weird” no longer really cuts it, trying to find some new words. VICE calls it a “futuristic acid trip” which still somehow feels staid. Definitely psychedelic, maybe post-kawaii? It looks like what happens inside a video game when no one’s playing and the machine is off, dreaming unto itself.

Anyway here’s a music video for a new track from Shanghai producer and RADII favorite 33EMYBW, whose debut full-length Golem was released on October 19 by SVBKVLT:

This MV for Golem‘s title track was produced by visual artist Fang Yang, and it delivers a concise visual summary of several themes that have been snaking through 33EMYBW’s work for the last few years: pop culture damaged and endlessly  mutated by always-onlineness; oceans of memes becoming a self-sustaining reality/consciousness; the horseshoe overlap between ancient cultic ritual and 21st-century tech culture. 33EMYBW uses the term “arthropod dance” to describe her sound, explaining to me:

The arthropod’s body is segmented and bilaterally symmetrical, and some body segments are merged into special parts to produce corresponding functions. The structure and mechanical beauty of this creature turns out to be connected to my music. I currently use this concept in my live set, using pure rhythm and arthropod-like beat evolution to achieve the perception of tiny creatures, dancing around…

 

There’s definitely something buglike in 33EMYBW’s music, as on the track above, named after a fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) that feeds on ghost moth larvae and unfurling in headphones like a trance rhythm composed for way more than two feet. “I want to say that technology and the classics, the material and the virtual, the beautiful and the ugly, the past and the future are actually compatible, and interchangeable,” she says of the album as a whole, adding:

[Its] association with engulfing comes from the dance floor, everyone follows the rhythm of forgetting [one’s self] and ecstasy, over the course of this ceremony becoming the “other.”

Related:

Bugged Out: The Humanoid Machine Music of Shanghai Artists Han Han and 33EMYBW

If 33EMYBW’s album attempts to push music outside a human frame of reference, the latest release from her partner (and Duck Fight Goose bandmate) Gooooose goes in the opposite direction, plumbing quintessentially human-centered vocal traditions for tonal and temporal inspiration. DONG1, released last week by D Force Records, is built largely from field recordings of traditional choral music of the Dong ethnic minority, a group of about three million mostly concentrated in the southwestern Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. Gooooose visited Dong villages in Guizhou during the 2016 Spring Festival as part of a collaboration with fashion label Zuczug (where 33EMYBW is creative director) and SounDate, a culture brand with the stated mission of “communicating mainstream culture/subculture/traditional culture through the medium of sound.”

 

Guided by SounDate co-founder Chen Qiaoqiao, who has been working with Dong artists for several years, Gooooose recorded vocal performances and natural sounds in the remote Xiao Huang Village, home to the UNESCO-listed Kam Grand Choir. Rather than add a bit of reverb and studio EQ and push these field recordings onto the “world music” market, however, Gooooose fed the source material into his studio back in Shanghai, supplementing the raw sounds of the Guizhou countryside and people with synthesizers and software effects. The result is — like Golem — puzzling and genre-allergic, looping faux-classical piano along with modular synth drones, lilting folk standards sung in the Dong language, and subtle pitch modulations that naturally occur in the polyphonic vocal style typical of the Dong choir.

In an artist’s statement accompanying the release, Gooooose draws connections between the music he heard in Guizhou and the work of 20th century Western Classical pioneers like La Monte Young, saying that he hopes to adapt Dong music for the present rather than pigeonhole it in the dated category of “traditional music”:

None of us in the team wanted the final record to be another “world music” album, partly because we recorded everything live instead of putting the local performers in a modern recording studio to achieve a “hi-fi” sound . We would rather the result be relevant to the time we are living in. In other words, I feel and believe that there are already too many products available for consumers to fulfill their imaginations of a pure, unpolluted, exotic land lying deep in the “Far East.”

During the time that we stayed in the village, I felt that the loss of cultural legacy and unique identities is inevitable all over the world, especially in China. Everywhere is becoming a subdivision of the same place, a victim of high-speed change facilitated by the internet and smartphones. It’s hyper-surreal for me to either make music trying to grasp the last preserved soundscapes of the minority culture, or to grab a guitar to go along with the recordings and make it sound mellow and folky. We think the end result of the Dong series should somehow resonate with our times, and hopefully it will generate some cultural and anthropological significance in the near future.

Stream/buy 33EMYBW’s Golem here and Gooooose’s DONG1 here

Cover image: Gooooose (left) and 33EMYBW at Concrete & Grass 2018

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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.

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