Back in 2003, in an ecstatic review of the Sounding Beijing festival for The Wire magazine, Steve Barker wrote about a “stone-killer electro-nerd star” named Zhou Pei , and in 2017 Yan Jun’s history of experimental music in China recorded that Zhou’s music was “amateur electronica/avant-pop” . Zhou has therefore been active since the very early days of experimental electronic music in China, and continues to perform and release material under a series of artist names, including Ronez, Karassage, and OddChordSpace, reflecting the diverse styles of sound he is producing. Zhou, however, still considers himself an “outsider” artist, living in Guilin city, in South China’s Guangxi Province, away from the major conurbations where experimental music has usually been found in China, so I got in touch with him by email to ask about his music and life in experimental music.
Edward Sanderson (ES): I would like to know about your background. Have you always lived in Guilin?
Zhou Pei (ZP): I was born in Guilin in the Summer of 1975, and except for four years when I was at university in Changsha, Hunan Province, I have lived here. So that’s about 43 years now; maybe I’ll continue to live here until my end.
ES: How and why did you start making music?
ZP: I don’t have any professional art or music education. I just started making some recordings of crap folk and software electronic stuff around 1999 when my dad bought me my first home computer.
To begin with I recorded some crap guitar folk songs (originals, not covers) on a tape deck. I also wrote some self-critical love songs for which I wrote lyrics because I wanted to impress a college girl I thought I had fallen in love with. I sent that tape to her when I was about to leave the college we were at. She’s now a very talented folk singer, and still active producing pop/electronica music.
ES: Is “digital hardcore” a good way to describe your music generally? Or do you prefer “noise”?
ZP: I don’t really care about genre, but I don’t really do digital hardcore – very few of my works are in that genre. Most of my early works are ambient, noise, or electronica. At that point, I thought I was a lo-fi and underground artist. I describe my recent works as weird music, or outsider music. I now consider myself an outsider, or DIY artist. In Chinese, I think 边缘1 or 怪咖2 would be suitable names for my kind of “outsider” music.
Now I’m 47 years of age and I think I have developed a good attitude towards my music production: I can quickly transfer my thoughts and ideas into a work, as I feel I don’t have time to waste and so I don’t think about details so much. Satisfying myself, and expressing my aesthetic taste, are the most important purposes to me.
ES: Are there any other experimental musicians in Guilin (or nearby)?
ZP: I don’t really know many. I have a friend, DJ Monkey, who also lives in Guilin. He makes some sick breakcore and ambient stuff. I also know some bands and DJs who live here. While they don’t really make experimental music, they maybe listen to some.
ES: Have you been able to perform in Guilin? Have there been any venues for experimental music in Guilin in the past or now? Where have you performed recently?
ZP: Yes. In fact, there are several venues in Guilin that have been open to experimental music by Chinese artists or by foreigners. But they don’t feel it is cool to present something too noisy; maybe they think noise will damage their audio equipment.
My most recent performance was in Guangzhou in October of 2021, at 一路顺风 [“bon voyage”] which was a two-day festival organised by a local improvisation/experimental music community/gang. The festival included many noise, improvisation, and experimental artists. I performed as OddChordSpace and I was perhaps the most quiet of them all!
Next, I want to do a live performance with my hamster. I have recorded several tracks for her and have released the material on my Cheap Jam record label. They are recordings from a contact mic on her cage, which is passed through a WINGIE resonator,3 and also some field recordings of her in-cage improvisations!
.ES: Have you live-streamed your performances? What was this experience like for you?
ZP: No. I DO NOT like live-streaming performances! IT’S SHIT FOR experimental stuff. Without a professional team or equipment, and sufficient bandwidth, live-streaming performances on any platform will be a nightmare. Ambient, drone, or noise need audio equipment that can reproduce the sounds in high detail. For example, I can’t imagine people would be happy to watch or listen to a Merzbow or a Sissy Spacek live show by live-streaming. A high-quality recording or video would be better. But never use a mobile phone or mp3 with earphones! Use a huge TV and AV system!
Yan, Jun. “RE-INVENT: Experimental Music in China.” In Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, Revised edition., 345–52. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.