China continues to push its presence as a growing player on the international techno scene, with cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai quickly catching up to its western counterparts.
One artist who is right in the thick of it is Beijing-based DJ and producer SHAO, who previously has released his music on record labels such as the in-house imprint of the infamous German club Tresor.
More recently however, SHAO returned to Modern Sky, this time for the release of his new 10-track studio album, Midnight Mountain – the album delivers a wonderfully dark and continuously evolving melting pot of techno and IDM.
We asked him about the inspiration behind the new project, what we might expect to see from him on future releases, his opinion of China’s place among the techno scene, and more. Get the full discussion below.
Hey SHAO, we hope you’re doing well over on the Eastern side of the world!?
Hey, thank you very much, we just did the new album premiere show in Shanghai last weekend, it was very good!
You recently released your new Midnight Mountain LP, tell us about the record in your own words?
Midnight Mountain is more of a psychedelic album than my previous ones, it’s the result of experimenting in a way, and in a strict sense it is not really like my recent music. In fact some of the music was made way before my Doppler Shift LP.
Midnight Mountain points to the light behind the darkness: dreams, fascination with faith, exploration, arrival and some subconscious things. It may be an abstract mountain or just a void, or it may be the sea behind the mountain, or a beam of striking light.
And it includes no credited features, was this your plan from the start?
Yes that was the plan, although it doesn’t have traditional features in terms of working with other artists, I sampled some Guzheng (an ancient Chinese instrument) in the tracks Drifting and Hidden Tiger. With the exception of those everything else is synthesised.
It comes on Modern Sky, how did you come to connect with the imprint?
Modern Sky is the most important label and music company in China. I actually started to release albums on Modern Sky back in 2005, that’s where my first three albums under my Dead J alias arrived. And now because I basically live and work in Beijing, I need a local record label to work with and they are the best choice by far.
Previously you’ve also released music on labels like Tresor Records, which other imprints can we expect to see you on in 2021?
I have another album coming out this year, which will also be released by Modern Sky. It’s more ambient compared to Midnight Mountain, a collaborative album with Shanghai guitarist Wang Wenwei. I don’t like to stick to one sound, hence the difference in tone from one release to the next.
Often albums will get a remix EP a shortly after release, have you got something like this in the works with Modern Sky Music?
Not yet. One reason is here we don’t have that same remix culture that’s in the West I think, and I can’t easily find a suitable remixer here. Maybe it’s something we will consider later. The world is so fast now, and I don’t have the time to seek out those people. So maybe you can introduce some good producers from your side?
Can you recall your earliest memories of techno, and how it influenced you to pursue a career as a DJ and producer?
I remembered I wasn’t very into the 4/4 beat in the beginning. Then one day I heard DJ Koze’s Kosi Comes Around album when it just released, and it really connected with me.
Around the same time I started falling in love with some producers like Monolake, Jan Jelinek, and some Raster Noton stuff, I should say they are very good experimentalists, very minimal, a futurist sound with a strong sense of design.
Later I was also very into Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman Project, like the albums “Consumed” and “Closer”, but if you are a DJ, you know this music is not easy to play on the dancefloor, so later when I joined Tresor, I started to discover some cool techno producers from the West like Lucy, Rrose, Planetary Assault Systems, Function, Regis, etc.
I always want to keep a balance, and make my own thing, but I was influenced by these predecessors in the style of techno.
What’s something that makes China’s techno scene special, in comparison to Europe or North America?
It’s hard to say how special in comparison to Europe, the scene is still young here, but it grows very fast. Before the scene only existed in Beijing and Shanghai, but in the last 5 years, a lot of underground clubs have opened in other cities, even very small cities, so it’s good. For a lot of reasons, it’s very different compared to the western world.
And if you can pinpoint one artist, which emerging Chinese producer should we keep an eye on over the next few years?
I have’t seen them yet. There are some DJs who have similar tastes in music, but they are not producers. So we will see.
SHAO’s Midnight Mountain LP is out now on Modern Sky.