fugitive frequency, season 4 episode 5: (Pseudo) Sino-Club

Rollerbladers in the underpass between City Hall and Esplanade, Singapore-

“(Pseudo) Sino-Club Mix” by DJ Ayam Hitam is a kind of sonic fan-fiction recorded in Singapore for Labour Day, 1 May 2024. With the artists Animistic Beliefs and Wanton Witch as its spirit guides, the mix invokes the Bangkok queer and feminist rave collective NON NON NON as its animating force, racing towards an inevitable climate catastrophe (cli-fi) dsytopia/utopia as evoked by Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective. DJ Ayam Hitam scrapes the surface of the so-called “Global Techno Underground” to fashion a sound shape-shifitng across South East Asia and that is allegedly “decolonizing dancefloors” (de-culo-nizing as they say in Latin America) in clubbing metropoles such as Berlin and London.

The art of crashing a mix
This mix was recorded live using a Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 controller and Rekordbox . The “game plan” was to start with Neo Geodesia’s “Wat Ang Ta Minh” and get to Rắn Cạp Đuôi’s “Bloody” by way of Animistic Beliefs and Wanton Witch. After landing in Singapore in April, I purged my playlist of UK bass, footwork, gqom—my go-to genres—to instead play around with tracks made by producers from South East Asia, or those who have some vested interest in this region. Over the last week I scoured my hard drives for odd bootlegs and also listened through the back catalogues of labels SVBKVLT and Genome 6.66 Mbp, affiliated with the now defunct Shanghai club Shelter and its successor ALL. Indeed, it was the recent release of Osheyack and Nahash’s Bait (2024) (notably none of the tracks from this EP made it to my mix) that prompted me to read accounts of this burgeoning scene in Shanghai, prior to Covid. In an interview from 2019 for zweikommasieben, Osheyack discusses clubbing as a new phenomena in China with no precedence or (rival) scenes:

I think the difference is that the club culture there is so new that there is not really a context or a hierarchy of “you need to do this” in order to play on Saturday night. So there are a bunch of people from a bunch of different places and Chinese kids—who are completely new to club music in general—and they are just picking up everything and re-contextualizing it.

I was also taken by his description of ALL’s patrons as a ”DJ-set culture of people wanting to hear a bunch of different shit mixed together.”

Last year I introducing a friend to DJ software, with which one can match BPMs at the touch of a button. She caught on very quick and was already working up a small crowd during this first afternoon session in a small bar. After some time, she turned to me and said something like: “I understand how to mix between tracks that are of a similar BPM, but what if I want to mix a track of say 120BPM with a track that’s at 160BPM? Is there a button for that?”. Actually, I think on Rekordbox there is a function that auto-mixes across speeds, steadily moving the pitch and crossfade between tracks, but I enjoy listening to the hand of the artist, and so I replied to my friend’s query: “That’s the real art of DJing, knowing how to crash a mix!”

Not that I’ve necessarily achieved that with this mix. I did attempt to plan and rehearse it before recording it for the radio, but I failed in my attempts to play it again (the) same. Mixing across a range of BPMs, nudging the pitch sliders back-and-forth, eventually I gave up trying to repeat myself and tried to get into the zone. Made to share on Labour Day, 1 May, it is apt that this mix resisted being laboured over!

Working with software, I’ve come to think about the parallels between DJing and console video gaming. Is not the (novel) musical instrument as much a toy as it is a tool? Making this mix felt a bit like playing a racing game in which one attempts to get to the finish line without crashing. The thrill is in the ride and the challenge is to not “drop the ball”, ie fail to mix in the next track. Wipeout would be the obvious point of reference, which I may have played once and was certainly terrible at it. Rez, a musical first-player-shooter, might be more appropriate. Although, as I recall its soundworld was more like progressive house and techno rather than the wonky sonics and “crash montage” mixing I tend towards.

Listening back, this is not my most elegant mix. I do cringe at some of the sloppy segues and there are some segments where I seem to have wandered astray and am clutching for the right track to get me back on course. I’m also reminded of the “bashment” ragga sound systems that first lured me into mixing. Here the selector might not always beat-match to the ones and instead employ sound effects, rollbacks and fearsome noise as part of the sonic collage experience. The spills are as much part of the thrill and are a counterpoint to interlocking rhythms that wind-up dancing bodies. Was there ever a sound clash video game?

01. “Wat Ang Ta Minh វត្តអង្គតាមិញ” – Neo Geodesia
Saphy Wong is the founder of the “multidisciplinary Asian platform and record label”, Chinabot. Under the moniker Neo Geodesia, Wong treats traditional Khmer music with experimental electronic processes. This track is lifted from the remarkable 2562 Neon Flames (2020), in which Wong revisits the sudden death of his mother during the celebrations of Khmer New Year 2562. I’ve heard nothing else quite like it.

02. “Edda” – Rui Ho
Rui Ho is a new discovery for me, whom I came across via Genome 6.66 Mbp. This track can be found on 戰記 (2017), which I believe was her first release. She has since evolved into a “non-binary pop singer”, and her more recent releases foreground vocals and narrative.

03. “吃掉” – Jason Hou & Yider
I assumed I found this on a Genome 6.66 Mbp compilation, but I cannot locate it. I have a feeling this track also crossed over into UK grime and dubsteps playlists circa 2016, which is how I might have picked up on it following some thread about Sinogrime. Here is a curious video of Hou performing an AlphaSphere, a curious haptic sensor-based instrument.

04. “Club Apathy” – Osheyack & Nahash
A definitive release on SVBCVLT, 2021.

05. “Shatter” – Hyph11E
Tess Sun is one of the most lauded artists affiliated with SVBCVLT and this track is a personal favourite lifted from Aperture (2020), an album about holes!

06. “Empty Spoon” – Wanton Witch
Miriam Alegria’s is relatively new to me. Currently based in Berlin, via Malaysian Borneo and Bangkok where she founded queer rave collective NON NON NON [Instagram]. Wanton Witch caught my attention at CTM earlier this year, performing as part of Thai artist Pisitakun’s takeover of Berghain’s Säule, launching his “The Three Sound of Revolution” project. She opened her set with a slew of what sounded like high velocity Baile Funk cut-ups, before nose-diving into 4/4 hard techno. This track is from her album AKU (2023) which struck me for its emotional breadth, shifting moods and polished production.

07. “Kniom Nahn” – Lafidki
Since 2008 Saphy Wong has released music as Lafidki. Taken from his debut album Chinabot (2017), “Kniom Nahn” has a charming music video, you can watch below. Chinabot has emerged as an important platform connecting South East Asian and diaspora artists pursuing experimental (club) productions.

08. “Medical Fodder” – 33EMYBW
While 33EMYBW (nee Wu Shanmin) is arguably the face of SVBCVLT, I first encountered her music from the Arthropods Continent on the compilation Alterity (2020) released by Houndstooth, a label affiliated with the London club fabric. “Medical Fodder” opens the album and remains for me one of its highlights.

09. “Kawasaki Outrun” – DJ Loser & Xiao Quan
I have no idea who these people are or how this track came to me. Invariably as I was slipping down some internet rabbit hole, but I cannot recall for what and when. That DJ Loser is based in Thessaloniki provides some clues, as I have spent some time in Greece in recent years. Is Xiao Quan a former pop singer in China responsible for the “Social Shake” meme dance craze? And/or this producer living in Sâo Paolo? Whiskers are trembling, what other treats await?

10. “Childhood Memories (Totobuang)” – Animistic Beliefs
Taken from the Rotterdam duo’s extraordinary album MERDEKA (2022), notably released on N.A.A.F.I. (No Ambition And Fuck-all Interest?) from Mexico City. As mentioned above, Animistic Beliefs were foundational for this mix, leading me towards this so-called “global techno underground”, and specifically some of the sounds surfacing in South East Asia, that are supposedly decolonizing dancefloors. I would loved to have caught them on their tour through China and Vietnam [Instagram] in the last weeks. I’ve heard murmurings about the unhinged rave scene in Vietnam, that is in contrast to Singapore’s relatively costly and thus closed party scene.

11. “虫草FIRE Edit” – RVE
From Genome 6.66 Mbp’s Club Shanzai Bootleg Compilation (2020), “a collection of remixes, edits, and blends by artists from Greater China.” This is all I could find.

12. “Puritan (Gabber Modus Operandi Remix)” – Homicide
Homicide, a political rap crew who formed in Bandung in the 1990s, are legendary. This remix by Gabber Modus Operandi, who are currently forging their own legendary status, was commissioned by the afore mentioned Pisitakun for his multi-faceted research project with the DAAD. “The Three Sound of Revolution”  focuses on the artist’s interest and involvement with revolutionary protest music in Thailand and expands its scope to consider the South East Asian region. The album Middle Sound (2023) was launched earlier this year at CTM. Incidentally, Pisitakun has also released music with Chinabot.

13. “The Border-Walking Monk” – Howie Lee
From the 7 Weapons (2020) series released by Belgian label Maloca Records. Splitting his time between China and Taiwan, Howie Lee is the co-founder of the label Do Hits, which also counts Jason Hou in its stable of producers. Lee is a veteran producer and visual artist who earned a reputation for music that melds traditional and folk instrumentation with contemporary club production techniques, working across a range of genres and aesthetics. I appreciate this track’s wonkiness.

14. “Sacrifice” – Selecta
From Genome 6.66 Mbp’s Genome Compilation Vol​.​1 (2016). I can’t find anything more about this artist.

15. “LCD (Estoc’s TFW Your Name Is Written On The Ostrakon Remix)” – Tzusing & Hodge
The Malaysian-born Tzusing is famous, no? I most likely came across him via his affiliation with the Berlin-based label PAN. This track is from an album of remixes, Next Life (2021), released via Tzusing’s label Sea Cucumber, that can be found “on the sea floor worldwide.”

16. “As If You Whisper” – Wanton Witch
Another cut from AKU (2023).

17. “With Us (feat. Nahash)” – Osheyack
From Osheyack’s Sadomodernism (2018) released on Bedouin Records from Tokyo. While a thought-provoking and theory-informed release that takes aim a complacent clubbing, I must admit to have simply reaped its bangers. From the 2019 interview mentioned above it’s worth noting Osheyack’s approach to performing live during this time:

When I play live, it’s a lot of short, small ideas cut up and pushed together, so that it’s digestible and danceable, but it’s trying to throw people off-kilter as much as possible, to shake people out of the “dancing experience.” And I’m very much trying to make a comment on that kind of static genrefication that goes on in Europe—to try and break down rules as much as possible.

18. “LilBlackDizzeeKidXCX6Truth” – XDD
Another track from Genome 6.66 Mbp’s Club Shanzai Bootleg Compilation (2020). No further info on XDD, but evidence that Sinogrime may have developed as a productive dialogue rather than simply a British projection.

19. “Scheme” – Evaa
It seems Evaa is based in Brussels. From Genome Compilation Vol​.​1 (2016).

20. “Boss 直聘 Bootleg” — GG Lobster
A favourite from Club Shanzai Bootleg Compilation (2020). GG Lobster co-runs the Hangzhou label/crew Functionlab, who have also released music by Xiao Quan—the weave tightens.

21. “Cows” – Gooooose
Gooooose is another stalwart producer for SVBCVLT, and this track is taken from the label’s compilation Cache 02 (2020). The sample is from a Saturday Night Live sketch “More Cowbell” (2020), depicting a recording session by the band Blue Öyster Culter and that features actor Christopher Walken as producer Bruce Dickenson. Here’s an entertaining and informative video of Gooooose making a beat for FACT’s “Against the Clock” series.

22. “Hyph11E X Dj Missdevana (Amor Satyr edit)” – Amor Satyr
An edit circa 2020 by Parisian producer Amor Satyr, who co-runs the label WAJANG with Siu Mata.

23. “ZENO” – Slikback & 33EMYBW
I had to slip Slikback in here. Taken off the Slip A (2019) EP released on HAKUNA KULALA, a subsidiary of Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes. Slip B (2019) was released simultaneously on SVBCVLT, and the EPs are an outcome of the much respected Kenyan producer inaugral visit to China. Representing an exchange between East Asia and East Africa, this project maps out a cartography of (alter?)globalising club musics:

For the first stage of the project, SVBKVLT invited Kenyan producer Slikback to China for a 3-week tour and residency in April 2019. During these 3 weeks, Slikback performed in 5 cities (Shenzhen, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Beijing), spending time in the studio with artists throughout the tour. The results of these studio sessions are now being presented in the form of two EPs, to be released simultaneously across the two labels Hakuna Kulala and SVBKVLT on September 6th, coinciding with Nyege Nyege Festival 2019, Jinja – Uganda, at which Slikback and 2 of the collaborators, Hyph11E and 33EMYBW, will perform. All the artists involved in both releases will then perform at Unsound Festival Krakow in October 2019.

24. “Kurang Tidor – 幻觉” – Animistic Beliefs
Another track lifted from MERDEKA (2022). The title employs the Bahasa word for “independent” or “free” to describe the artists breaking free of expectations as they set out to explore postcolonial intergenerational trauma and their own changing selves.

25. “Bloody” – Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective
This track that is the finishing line for this mix is from the Saigon collective’s recent album 1 released on Nhạc Gãy, a Saigon-based music and arts collective who throw raves, release experimental club music and lead mental health initiatives. An earlier version of “Bloody” soundtracks a short video by Nhạc Gãy, SỐNG VỚI LŨ (2021), which translates as a “living with flood”, an idiom for accepting the situation, “any situation at all”. The video juxtaposes scenes of flooding with sequences of raving. As Nhạc Gãy explain:

Vietnam’s latitude puts it at the forefront of global warming consequences and a part of it will begin to be submerged within a few decades. Yet, playfulness and ingenuity of Vietnamese can turn the uncomfortable and unforeseen into a new playground.

The video can be viewed via this GoogleDoc.

LAFIDKI Kniom Nahn (Official Music Video)