Yan Jun in conversation with Edward Sanderson, at Nooo Kitty, Osaka
Yan Jun has been involved in the music scene in China since the early ’90s, originally as a poet and a journalist, as well as organizing gigs and events for experimental music and sound. He began organizing these in his hometown of Lanzhou, and later moved to Beijing. He runs Sub Jam, a very important record label in China, releasing all sorts of works by Chinese and international sound artists and musicians. In terms of sound and experimental music in China, Yan is one of the central people. And not just in China, but also internationally: for many years he has been making links between China and the rest of the world. In October he was in Japan with the group he performs with, FEN, which is himself, Yuen Cheewai from Singapore, Ryu Hankil from Korea, and Otomo Yoshihide from Japan. The following interview with Yan Jun took place after a performance by Yan and Tim Olive at the Nooo Kitty space in Osaka on the 17th of October.
On the occasion of the release of the cassette compilation of experimental music, “There is no music from China” (published simultaneously in China and New Zealand by Zoomin’ Night 燥眠夜 and End of the Alphabet Recordings respectively), I wrote this text expressing why I think the compilation format is so important. Where it occurs the experimental music scene in China is truly vibrant, but doesn’t have many outlets for expression, is under pressure as it often antagonises authority in any number of ways, and so can be difficult to locate and understand for outsiders. So for the artists in China a compilation such as this is really helpful for creating visibility for their activities, which in turn cements their own practices in relation to their peers.
Compilations are great. Where before there was an amorphous set of individuals working away on their respective projects, whose relationship to their peers and their history was far from amounting to the self-understanding of a distinct grouping or a “scene”, along comes a compilation and magically makes concrete those relationships and gives form to those potential arrangements. This works well both for the artists, giving them a sense of identity based on relativity, and also for the audience, who perhaps were unaware such connections existed. And hence a scene is formed. It’s something of an illusion, of course, but serves as a useful public face for those involved.
Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.
Welcome to the sixth interview in this series, and the last for a while. It’s a real pleasure and an honour to be able to publish this interview with Li Jianhong and Wei Wei, the couple who in their various ways have been central figures in the experimental music scene in China for many years. Originally from Hangzhou, Li and Wei Wei were both involved in the music scenes in that city before coming to Beijing around 2011. Since then they have been highly visible with their solo projects as well as performing together under the names Mind Fibre and Vagus Nerve. This interview concentrates on their early musical development, the 2pi Festival that Li founded in Hangzhou in 2003, and their thoughts about improvisation and the state of the experimental music scene in Beijing.
Welcome to the second, and final, part of this interview with Zafka (Zhang Anding). Here he discusses China Youthology, the brand consultancy he co-founded, as well as his involvement in Yao Dajuin’s Revolutions Per Minute exhibition of sound art in China, working with the rapper J-Fever, and his recent performance with Sheng Jie for the Pixel Echo series of concerts. Finally Zafka discusses his thoughts on the political significance of sound and the current state of experimental sound in China.