Tag Archives: Chinabot

Strange Sounds from Southeast Asia: An Introduction to the Region’s Experimental Labels


Khana Bierbood

For decades, the 11 countries that comprise Southeast Asia played second fiddle to their bigger neighbors when it came to underground experimental music. China, Japan, and South Korea, for example, always had better infrastructure to support alternative tastes, which led to the emergence of more organized subcultures. But that deeply ingrained dynamic has finally begun to change in recent years as Southeast Asia’s young population and expanding middle class become emboldened with rising spending power and disruptive ideas.

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In a City of High-Rises, Hong Kong’s Absurd TRAX Builds from Ground Zero

Absurd Trax

Hong Kong is known for many things—shining skyscrapers and kung fu classics come immediately to mind—but underground music is not generally one of them. In a city built up by British occupation as a global financial hub and riddling out internal tensions between democracy and autocracy since returning to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, conversations in the West about Hong Kong tend to be about economics or politics, rarely culture. Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Traditional Mainland Southeast Asian Music on Bandcamp

Mainland Southeast Asian Music“Southeast Asia” is the deceptively straightforward geographical name for a world region comprised of 1.75 million square miles, 11 countries, and dozens of ethnicities and spoken languages. Unlike its richer and more developed neighbors to the north (China, Japan, Korea) and west (India), Southeast Asia has been a relatively muted participant in the cultural flows facilitated by globalization, including the outward spread of its distinctive musical traditions.

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These Artists and Labels are Creating a Space for Underground Music in Taipei


Jon Du and Sonia Calico. All photos by Sean Marc Lee.

Taiwan’s geographical location—about a hundred miles off the southeast corner of the Chinese mainland, and a few hours flight from Manila or Tokyo—along with its cultural dislocation from China during the Mao years, have played a large part in shaping the nation’s contemporary character. Along the way, Taipei’s underground music scene has developed its own distinct flavor, one that has consolidated over the last several years as a few key artists and labels refined their sound and started exporting it further abroad.

A good example of this journey is producer and head of the UnderU label Sonia Calico, who was born in Japan while her parents were studying there, but moved back to Taipei at age five. She started listening to Taiwanese indie rock when she was 12, and eventually moved on to British imports like New Order and Primal Scream. She picked up a guitar and formed her first band as a teenager.

She started DJing in college, and eventually abandoned rock in favor of producing club-ready tracks that shy away from neat genre tags. Her productions freely blend influences—juke, trap, and breakbeat materialize at different points on recent tracks—but always bear a trace of where she comes from. “Mandopop is a massive parallel universe,” she says of her attempt to introduce Mandarin-language samples and elements of Chinese sonic culture into her work. “If my music could bring the audience from both sides together, it would be quite interesting.”

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The Chinabot Label Is Uniting Asia’s Next Generation of Electronic Experimentalists


Photo by David Hinga.

“Asian aesthetics have been omnipresent in fashion, cinema, photography, and music, and for Asian creatives this felt like a source of pride and the hope for greater visibility—at first,” says Saphy Vong, the artist behind erratic psychedelic noise project Lafidki and founder of new label/initiative Chinabot. “That is, until the day they realized Western creatives were covering all those projects by themselves. Westerners can use this ‘orientalism’ in their art and become successful when they appropriate things from other cultures that are otherwise mocked.”

The title of Phantom Force, an introductory compilation for the Chinabot label, directly addresses the situation facing many East Asian artists. It implies a trans-national cultural awakening in the East Asian music scene, an illusory artistic force that’s been up to this point, incapacitated. Phantom Force gathers 21 tracks by artists from across the region; there’s a track by French-Laotian producer Ayankoko that blends traditional mor lam melodies with trap-like beats, South Korean rhythmic noisemaker Samin Son, analogue techno artist Xanthe Yang, plus modern recordings of traditional Balinese gamelan made in 2016. “Most of the well-known electronic music is from the West, but there are so many good creators in Asia as well. We need a platform to help connect with the world,” says the Taipei-based Yang. Bangkok-based visual and sound artist Pisitakun Kuantalaeng agrees: “Today In Asia, there’s a real movement for this kind of music.”

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