Sulumi is one of the best-known Chinese chiptune producers. Actually, don't even need the qualifier "Chinese" in that sentence. Sulumi is a household name among chiptune followers, period. One of the best at it, anywhere in the world. Sulumi made his name & his fame with that good, old-fashioned, 8-bit GameBoy sound. He's taken this sound all over the world, headlining major chiptune festivals in New York, Tokyo, Austin, and elsewhere. His live / DJ sets in the last few years have evolved in more tech/house/electro directions, but they still retain the gritty, lo-fi underbelly that can be traced back to his early interest in experimental, ambient, and noise music. Here's a newer Sulumi track, from about a month back:
Sulumi, real name Sun Dawei, started making music in Beijing in the late '90s. He jammed guitar for a short stint in Beijing punk OGs Underbaby. In 1999 he started producing solo electronic music, churning out a few dozen demos at the beginning of the new millennium before formally launching his label Shanshui, still one of the most relevant names in Chinese electronic music more than a decade on. Get some more background on that whole thing here.
Sulumi's first proper full-length was released in 2003 on Modern Sky's then-brand-new Guava imprint. Air Inhibition of Water cemented his name in China and propelled him abroad. That path is now taking him to Osaka: Sulumi's big in Japan, so he's moving there. Quite soon. Your last chance (for a while, at least) to see him on his home turf is this coming Friday at Dada, where he'll play a live set with support from some young turks who've come up in his stead (Zaliva-D, Howie Lee, Guzz, et al). Read on for a brief introduction to the man and his work before his big farewell rager:
SmartBeijing: Where are you from? How did you first get into the underground music scene in Beijing? You were originally in punk bands like Underbaby, right?
Sulumi: I come from Liaoning. Probably around 1999 I came into Beijing life, playing in bands. After that, I started making electronic music. In 2000 I joined Underbaby, together we produced their second album. I am responsible for the guitar and electronic music section [of that album]. Those were very interesting years.
SmBJ: How did you transition from playing in live bands to producing electronic music? When did this happen?
Sulumi: It was in the summer of 1999. I started making solo electronic music, learning some software and doing more than 20 demos, exchanging ideas with predecessors like Feng Jiangzhou.
SmBJ: You founded Shanshui over 10 years ago, in 2002. The first release was a compilation featuring a few producers / musicians who are still active today — B6, Dead J, Ronez. How did you originally choose the artists on that comp?
Sulumi: You know, these names [you mention], we grew up together as friends. These were the core members. Later, after our styles matured, we began to change. Now I'm re-doing Shanshui Records.
Sulumi at Shanshui's 6th anniversary show
SmBJ: Last year you released a Shanshui 10th Anniversary Compilation, featuring some of these old names and many new ones. How has the label changed over the last decade?
Sulumi: I think I originally envisaged, with the label, to do a "basic" tab. In China there is not so much electronic music, we play very different styles. So we must be tolerant of each style. And foreign exchange is an influence on a lot of young musicians. In fact, you see basically the same names [making music], the same friends over many years. Now the country's music has changed dramatically, there is a lack of new musical and personal characteristics. There are some older musicians no longer continuing to do music. It's changed greatly.
SmBJ: How has your personal production and performance style changed over time? You have a reputation for your chiptune / 8-bit work; how did you originally get into this style?
Sulumi: I first heard chiptune music in 2003. A friend gave me a copy. Then I bought some software, [GameBoy sound editor] Nanoloop. From there I began making 8-bit/chiptune music. In 2008, I attended the world's largest 8-bit music festival, Blip Festival in New York.
SmBJ: In parallel with producing more mainstream (or at least club-friendly) music, you've also been involved with Beijing's experimental music scene over the years, including performances at Yan Jun's old Waterland Kwanyin series. How does experimental music overlap with or influence your production work?
Sulumi: In the first electronic music I produced, I did accept the impact of experimental music, noise, ambient music, all of which I'd heard in a variety of styles. This was a good foundation. It is now a very important part of my dance music, part of its spirit.
SmBJ: On that same note, to what extent do Beijing's electronic and rock scenes mix? I know you've worked on some production and remix projects with rock/punk bands like Brain Failure, New Pants, The Gar...
Sulumi: All of this is a matter of course. I first knew rock music friends, they watched me grow. Remixing is a very important part of dance music. So they very naturally asked to me to do remixes, collaborations. The more of this kind of mutual stimulation, the better. Chinese music circles lack such cooperation.
SmBJ: In your more recent work it seems like you're moving away from the chiptune sound… what are your current influences or goals when it comes to your solo material?
Sulumi: I'm actually not too far away. I was digging. Me and a few friends are trying to fuse chiptune sounds and other electronic music styles, this is a great advance [for me]. Current influence is techno.
SmBJ: It seems that, internationally, you've made the deepest connection in Japan. How did that develop? Your 2010 record The Heaven was co-released by a Japanese label, right?
Sulumi: Japanese electronic music is very mature. I've made a lot of underground music, many Shanshui albums are circulating in Japan. We have a very good flow of the company's output there. The development of this network is even more important than MP3s. Traditional record distribution is decreasing.
SmBJ: And now you're about to move from Beijing to Osaka. What's your plan there? What are you working on for the future?
Sulumi: It will be my first stable life. My new album will be published by Vice. This is a secret...
Catch Sulumi's sendoff with the Do Hits! crew on Friday, June 20 at Dada.