MP3 Monday: Shanshui
An audio primer on China's most diverse electronic music label before their 10th anniversary party this Saturday at Dada
Sulumi at the Shanshui 6th anniversary show
MP3 Monday is a weekly SmartBeijing column, serving up MP3s from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please email us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.
Today we take a look at Shanshui, one of China's original and most diverse electronic music labels. Shanshui was formed in 2002 by Sun Dawei, aka Sulumi. Before that he was slumming around in legendary Beijing punk bands like Underbaby, but at a certain point he decided to drop his guitar and focus on making gameboy music:
From the beginning, Shanshui has functioned less as a traditional record label and more as a virtual space to showcase China's turn-of-the-millenium emerging underground electronic soundscapes. Their first release was 2003's Landscape, a freewheeling compilation featuring early glitch, chiptune, minimal techno, and straight up harsh noise from now well-established mainland Chinese artists like Dead J, B6, and Ronez (hint: turn down the volume a bit before hitting play on that Ronez track).
Landscape dropped in September 2003, marking Shanshui's official launch in the books — they're throwing a 10th anniversary party on Saturday, August 31 at Dada. In 2004 they followed up with two more splits. Green Pepper & Cacti featured more Dead J solo material and a few tracks from the Sulumi/Dead J duo Panda Twin, which had released their debut album on Sub Jam in 2002.
Dine Together with 7 People, also released in 2004, was one of the first sustained releases featuring Me:mo, another indie guitarist who began to gravitate to electronic sounds in the early 2000s. Like some of the other Shanshui alumni mentioned above, Me:mo has evolved into an influential touchstone in Beijing for his type of music, which I guess falls somewhere between post-rock and ambient IDM. Shanshui also released a Me:mo full-length, Acoustic View, in 2007. Here are some tracks off that:
As a record label, Shanshui's output has been fairly limited: 13 albums and a handful of CD-Rs in 10 years. But as a platform, a stepping off point, its impact has been inestimable. Sulumi and Dead J have become massively influential, releasing some early classics of Chinese electronic music on Modern Sky — and MS's Guava electronic music imprint — to hit a much larger domestic audience than Shanshui's relatively underground productions could hope to reach. While Sulumi remains at the helm of Shanshui, other affiliated artists have gone on to start their own labels: Dead J now self-releases on his own Waveform imprint, Me:mo releases music and organizes regular showcases of ambient and experimental music via his fRUITYSHOP label, and B6 went on to co-found Antidote, the biggest promoters of slightly left-of-center international electronic music in mainland China.
On the more underground tip, Shanshui's organizational framework has also influenced careful listeners of emerging avant-garde music on a global scale. The four disk Anthology of Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008, released on Belgian label Sub Rosa in 2009, features a healthy sampling of Shanshui affiliates, including the captivating but largely undocumented work of Beijing-based producer Nara. (She's listed on the Shanshui roster but has no official releases to her name.) On the whole, the Sub Rosa comp maintains a fairly academic, capital-E experimental vibe (its single, one-star Amazon review likens the listening experience to "hear[ing] toast being scraped while a dentists [sic] drill screams in the background"), but the Shanshui-affiliated tracks pop up at the right times to accede to the bewildered listener's plea for structure. Here are some cuts off that:
Shanshui hasn't been incredibly active over the last few years, but they haven't been silent, either. This past April they released the debut single by rising Beijing techno talent Guzz, and just last week released a digital EP for masked hardcore dancefloor doomsayer Zaliva-D:
The label is also currently putting the finishing touches on a sprawling 4-CD compilation. The Shanshui Records 10th Anniversary comp pushes the idea of "electronic music" further than any Shanshui release to date, incorporating sounds as far apart as an instrumental dubstep track from eclectic local hip hop producer DJ Wordy and some esoteric guitar noodling from Beijing free improvisation stalwart Li Jianhong. Here's a sample of what Shanshui has up their sleeve as they prepare to hit the decade mark:
You can catch DJ sets from Sulumi, Dead J, Guzz, and Swedish chiptune artist/Shanshui affiliate Covox on Saturday, August 31 at Dada. In the mean time, stream a preview of the upcoming Shanshui 10th anniversary compilation here.