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Interview: Han Han, Duck Fight Goose
A chat with the cerebral futurist rocker about China Drifting, "hard sci-fi," how Shanghai resembles a disintegrating tape loop, etc...
By Mar 27, 2014 Nightlife
Duck Fight Goose, Shanghai's most established rock band, is drifting. A major phase ended when their longtime drummer Da Men and her husband Brad Ferguson, the band's former manager/live sound technician, moved to Austin, TX at the end of 2012. Since then, the core trio of guitarist Panda, bassist San San, and vocalist/guitar/synth fiddler Han Han has pivoted, moving more toward electronic sounds and integrating the by comparison jazzier rhythms of new drummer Jean Baptiste. The reconstituted Duck Fight Goose has played out a bit — they came to Beijing three times last year — but their first major trial starts this Friday at Yugong Yishan with the kickoff of the transcontinental China Drifting Festival. I talked to band leader Han Han about the lineup change, bringing Chinese rock abroad, "hard sci-fi," and how Shanghai is like a disintegrating tape loop:

photo by Rachel Gouk

SmartBeijing: How did Da Men leaving China affect the band? You guys had been playing together for so long and had a good dynamic going...

Han Han: Right, it affected us a lot at the beginning. We were not sure whether we could even find someone like her. We'd been together for so long, and so had she and San San. It's a family thing, sort of... But then luckily Jean Baptiste came from nowhere one day and it worked. He's got a totally different style from Da Men, you know, but it just pushed our music into another interesting direction. A quite inspiring experience, though we still kind of miss the old times. I guess both works. Right now the direction makes us really curious what will come about next.

SmBJ: How did you find JB? In what ways do you think his style is different from Da Men's?

HH: He sent me a text message one day and asked something like, "Do you guys need a drummer? Someone from your practice room passed your number to me..." I was thinking, "Ok, what the fuck, another expat drummer who wants to spend some good times in Shanghai maybe..." But it turned out that he was quite serious about all this shit. And we didn't start from the old songs. After a short conversation, I said, "What about we create something new? I don't want you to listen to the CDs for like two days and we practice some obsolete stuff. Let's try something from nowhere." But of course he knew our style first. His style's more jazzy, more funky. Got a total different feel of groove from Da Men.

SmBJ: You've also changed your own performance style, right? It seems recently you've been using a lot more loops, a lot of the sound is in the box and you're using Ableton as opposed to playing everything on guitar / bass / drums.

HH: Yes, we changed the gear, but it's still very live. I only prepare some very basic stuff. 90% of the performance still relies on our live playing. Live looping, live manipulation of the sounds, filters, stops. If you hit play in my Ableton project, maybe you will hear nothing. I'm also using a hardware synth, rack mount, and playing everything on the synth live.

photo by Rachel Gouk

SmBJ: I know Panda is also using a few synths, in addition to guitar… Has it been hard adjusting to playing live with this new lineup and setup, and without Brad to help run the live sound?

HH: Yes, Panda is using an iPad synth and also a MicroBrute, and guitar. We now have eight outputs from me, plus two guitars, one bass, and a drum set. So it is not that easy sometimes. With someone like Brad, things will go much easier. Now sometimes we get brilliant, huge sounds, but sometimes it sounds messy. We guess it'll take time to know how to control and balance all these sounds.

SmBJ: You're about to play in Beijing, Shanghai, and Europe as part of this China Drifting Festival. What is that exactly? How did DFG become involved?

HH: I think it's more like a cultural exchange thing, introducing bands to different countries. It's a long story. I knew Michael [Vonplon] and Tobi [Wälti] from China Drifting by chance and they just called me around the end of last year and said, "How about we have a drink at JZ?" So I went there and we were talking about this festival, and then it just happened.

SmBJ: Where all in Europe will the fest go?

HH: First Zurich, then Aarau, Berlin, Paris, and last one is Copenhagen.

Duck Fight Goose plays a book store at SXSW 2012

SmBJ: You've commented before that when Duck Fight Goose went to US music festival South by Southwest in 2012, you felt like tourists. Why is that? Do you think this tour will be different?

HH: I don't know... but I think it'll be different, because at SXSW there are so many people on the street every day, and you could tell not everyone came for music. Also, [SXSW] has like 30 shows at the same time every day, and the sounds are usually bad... It's more like touring a city with 24/7 bar performances for me. We played for some nice bartenders and chefs though, some of them are really supportive, but it's just something we didn't expect. But still, a lot of good friends helped us, and one or two of the shows were really interesting. We played in a lesbian bar and a barn dance party. Met some interesting and sincere people I would say.

SmBJ: When you get back from Europe, what's the next step? Will you record a new album? Do you have a lot of new songs, or are you still experimenting with new material?

HH Yes, I think we have enough new stuff and we will record the next album in May. I'm pretty excited about all the new songs.

SmBJ: What will the vibe be like? Is it a continuation of your last record, Sports, or will it be a change in direction?

HH: It will change, I think. It'll sound less like sounds but more dynamic, more like a growing, breathing experience. And the theme will focus on something more like a hard sci-fi movie, darker, more objective. Something like that.

vintage DFG sci-fi vibes, design by Han Han

SmBJ: What about your solo stuff? Are you working on any new ideas for GOOOOOSE?

HH: I don't have time to develop all those new ideas to be honest... Have a lot of things undone, and I'm about to sort things out after finishing the new DFG album.

SmBJ: Genjing Records is working on a vinyl re-issue of material from your old label, Miniless. How is that project coming along? Will there be any new stuff, or is it just a re-release? A compilation?

HH: I think it'll be a compilation. The guys from Monkey Power/Self Party are working on something new, but it's not finished yet. I have to make the cover design too I guess...

SmBJ: More general question: how do you think Shanghai has changed over the last few years, for live music? Do you see more new bands coming out? Is it getting better? Worse? Just staying the same?

HH: It's getting worse... Some really nice bands left or are about to leave, like Death to Giants, Pairs. Locally, I think Dong Hei Mu, Nao Hai, and Fei Ma have nice sounds. If they keep doing their thing they will be really good. I can hear they are very talented.

Shanghai hasn't changed a lot, stubborn cyberpunk city. It's all about electronic music.

Dong Hei Mu (photo via Wooozy)

SmBJ: But DFG is also blending some electronic sounds with rock. Is that your own choice, or are you responding to the city?

HH: I guess both. The city doesn't require us to do that, but I just feel we have to. These kinds of slowly growing and extending feelings are all this city is about. It's not that fast, but it just never stops, keeps the pace and goes on and on. And I guess looping is another metaphor for a city like Shanghai too.

SmBJ: In what way?

HH: Well, when you are looping, it's not exactly the same sound every time. But it sounds like it's repeating itself. Like new scenes of the city emerge, but sometimes it just looks the same, feels the same. And whether you feel it's repeating or looping is a purely psychological thing. If you are bored, you hate repetitions. But if you are energetic, maybe you will enjoy those loops, you enjoy the accumulated remaining sound scales, chords, notes, and the atmosphere it creates.

Hear Duck Fight Goose's new old sounds on Friday, March 28 at Yugong Yishan, where they play along with Re-TROS, Pet Conspiracy, and One Sentence.Supervisor.

[Cover image by Rachel Gouk.]

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