The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982


Global Ear: Hangzhou

March 2019

Josh Feola reports on the underground music happenings of Hangzhou in eastern China

The Chinese city of Hangzhou is an ancient cultural capital that nurtures a vibrant underground music scene today. Here are some of the artists defining the contemporary Hangzhou sound, from the handful of twentysomething club producers comprising the FunctionLab label, to the less structured computer music composers clustered around the venue Loopy, faculty and staff of the progressive School Of Intermedia Art, and the organisers of experimental sound performance series BUS.

“This Cat Is Called MOB”

As co-founder of the two year old FunctionLab label, GUAN aka Guan Boyang is one of the prime movers of the underground club scene taking shape at the Hangzhou venue Loopy. Like many of the artists that have gravitated to FunctionLab, GUAN is a student at the China Academy of Art’s School of Intermedia Art (SIMA), where he’s currently pursuing a graduate degree. This as yet unreleased track is a follow up to his debut album Barbaric Kung, released last October by Beijing label D Force. It’s a harbinger of what FunctionLab has in store for the rest of 2019, which GUAN has said will be “a year of blowouts”.

Juan Plus One
“Part Time Punk”
From Functory01

Peng Yan aka Juan Plus One is FunctionLab’s other founder – the crew originally formed when he and GUAN wanted a platform for playing out hard techno and industrial music assembled in line with their anarchic, internet-damaged sensibilities. Along with GUAN above and GG Lobster below, Juan Plus One has led the cross-pollination of Hangzhou’s underground with the scene centred at ALL club in nearby Shanghai, recently completing a three city tour with like minded Shanghai label Genome 6.66Mbp.

Yung Min
“Brutal Death bb”
From Functory02

If shades of punk impetuosity and metallic aggression are subtly present across most of the FunctionLab roster, they’re front and centre in the work of label affiliate Yung Min. Though he’s from Nanjing – another regional capital located 90 minutes from Hangzhou by high-speed rail – Yung Min is a regular at Loopy, serving such brutal dance floor missives as this track, his contribution to FunctionLab’s second annual Functory compilation last year.

GG Lobster
“Pinhead (Ramones Cover)”
From Punk Rock Karaoke

GG Lobster is another key driver of FunctionLab, booking monthly nights at both Loopy and ALL and, in his free time, rattling off leftfield releases such as this compilation of punk covers. As a former live music venue manager who recently converted to club culture, GG Lobster marvels at Hangzhou’s rapid evolution in recent years: “Two or three years ago, there were only a few loose party organisations in Hangzhou... there were no electronic music labels and no suitable venues for international bookings. Not many people listened to electronic music, people still used to watch rock shows at 11 o'clock and then go home. But now, there are 13 DJs or producers just in FunctionLab, can you believe the speed of growth?”

From Cache01

Shanghai based producer Hyph11E is a fixture at ALL and a producer with releases on two seminal Shanghai labels, Genome 6.66Mbp and SVBKVLT. The overlapping rosters between these two labels regularly share bills in both Hangzhou and Shanghai with the FunctionLab contingent, a friendly rivalry that culminated in last month’s Genome Vs FunctionLab tour. Hyph11E has been one of the breakout artists proselytising China’s new club sound internationally, with recent appearances at CTM in Berlin and Corsica Studios in London. This track is from the forthcoming SVBKVLT compilation Cache01, an ideal place to begin for anyone interested in hearing a hard-hitting primer to Shanghai's experimental club zeitgeist.

From 迷自由行
(play rec)

Mice aka Hans Lee is a bridge between FunctionLab (who released his latest EP Light in January), and play rec, a label landing more on the abstract, avant garde end of the electronic music spectrum. The work of Mice, as well as DROPDOWN and RMBit (below), is reflective of the broad curriculum at SIMA, where Hans and his cohort have absorbed myriad technical and philosophical approaches to computer generated music and visual art.

From Untitled
(play rec)

DROPDOWN is a solo project from one member of the audiovisual collective RMBit (below), and another SIMA alumnus. If FunctionLab’s ostensibly dance oriented club nights can sometimes feel like noise gigs, it’s in part due to their open embrace of stubbornly structure averse producers like DROPDOWN, who was featured alongside Mice on last year’s Functory02 compilation.

“Enter The Ether_p1”
From RMBit Vol 1
(play rec)

RMBit, a five person new media performance group composed entirely of SIMA alumni, give a better sense of the university programme’s holistic approach to creative production. SIMA co-founder Yao Dajuin says that the curriculum he creates “sets out to explore all platforms of art and even mediums not designed for art, such as social media, mobile apps, and robotics”. The visually dense performances given by RMBit – more of a live phenomenon than a recorded one – bear this out, taking the audience on a disorienting trip through big data visualisations and social media overstimulation.

“Live At Goethe-Institut Beijing (Excerpt)”

ayrtbh aka Wang Changcun has been a crucial figure on the Hangzhou experimental music scene for many years as an instructor at SIMA and the related Open Media Lab, as well as co-founder (with Torturing Nurse’s Xu Cheng) of the play rec label. Wang recently relocated from Hangzhou to nearby Shanghai to focus on his own musical output, which includes the 2018 album Song Of Anon and a two hour performance he gave for the 30th anniversary of Goethe-Institute Beijing last November (excerpted here).

Wang Jing, Charlotte Hugs, )-(u||!c|<
“Live At Loopy, Hangzhou, Porous 9 'The Book Of Daughters' (Excerpt)”

Gravitating even further toward the fringes is Hangzhou’s BUS event series, co-founded by Zhejiang University professor and budding sound performer Wang Jing. Outside of her academic credentials – which include a PhD from Ohio University and a 2017 book entitled Sound and Affect: An Anthropology Of China’s Sound Practice — Wang has been active in Hangzhou as an event organiser since 2013, though she expresses frustration with the relatively small range of possibilities to organise experimental music and sound performance events in the city. “I hope there can be a small non-profit, non-commercial space in Hangzhou for not only underground music, but anything edgy, experimental, bold and ambiguous,” she says.

“暮叩钟偈 灵隐 (Excerpt)”

Among the handful of artists and organisers that Wang has worked with for the BUS event series is Jiang Zhuyun aka jimu, a graduate of the China Academy of Art and current SIMA professor. As is the case with many of the artists to come out of this creative nexus, Jiang’s work is diverse in approach and tone, veering from hardware heavy harsh noise, to performance art with sound components, to the minimalistic, hushed urgency of this field recording based piece from 2011.

Read Josh Feola's full Global Ear report on Hangzhou in The Wire 422. Subscribers can access the article via the online archive

Leave a comment

Pseudonyms welcome.

Used to link to you.