87FEI87: Fløøød on the left, Verktyget on the right. Photo credit: "Princess Spanky Fan, the Venus of Shanxi"
Undercurrents is an ongoing column on SmartBeijing in which we profile Beijing promoters and music makers putting on music events in this city, specifically within the context of the larger cultural, economic, and arts landscape in the city. These are the manufacturers of cultural capital. This is the business of art and music.
87FEI87 is two Beijing producers called Fløøød and Verktyget who do these parties around town playing "skweee music", which is a kind of electronic music that sounds a lot like this picture I made here looks:
It sounds like that looks. Pretty fresh.
In addition to being just a party, 87FEI87 is also a record label, specializing in the release of cassette tapes. Like tape tapes. Cassettes. For your boom box or Raphael de la Ghetto-blaster. They've got a bunch of one-off releases of local producers and they also do a series called "Taxee Tapes", which are compilation tapes meant to be enjoyed with your taxi driver, in his (or her) tape player, in the course of your journey from point A to B. The effacing onslaught of technological progress being what it is, taxi cabs in Beijing are being outfitted with newfangled devices called "compact disc players", and the Taxee Tape series is going the way of the dodo.
But not before one last massive release, Taxeee Tapes Vol. 3, a jubilant celebration of atavistic futurism, that features some 900 producers and MC's laying down the left-field skronking flim-flammery on a gillion tracks. It's the third and final Taxeee Tapes and probably the best one, like Star Wars III or The Godfather III. Here's two advance cuts off it.
This Saturday night, 87FEI87 is taking over both Dada and Temple bar with the majority of the artists on Taxeee Tapes Vol. 3 for a two-floor, two-club dance party with waaaaaaay too many DJs playing. Should be fun. You should go. It's no cover even.
SmartBeijing did an interview with both Fløøød and Verktyget about the cassette tape game in Beijing.
Here's one from each of them from earlier Taxeee Tapes releases, ganked for free off their bandcamp page. Go there to DL everything for straight-up nothin'.
SmartBeijing: So, what's the deal with the name, 87FEI87? Where did the name come from?
Fløøød: Well, there's an ancient Buddhist principle. A man that is not a man…
Verktyget: That's bullshit. It's a Japanese principle.
Fløøød: A Japanese Buddhist principle. A Zen principle?
Verktyget: There you go. It's from a Japanese term. We don't know the exact etymology of the term. It refers to a person who commits a crime so heinous -- so heinous -- that he or she can only be considered a person in name only. Ren fei ren…
Fløøød: A person who is not a person.
SmBj: Persona non grata.
Fløøød: Persona non personae. But it's really about the BPMs -- that's what it refers to. Because hip hop is typically between 80 and 100 BPMs. But it sounds best at 87 BPMs. So it refers to that as well.
SmBj: Hip hop so heinous, it's hip hop in name only? That's deep, man. That's deep. To take a step back, what's is 87FEI87 exactly? A music label? A cassette tape label?
Fløøød: School Bar in, I think… October…November… September? Of 2011.
Verktyget: It was born out of the most staggering of cognizance.
Fløøød: It was a DJ party. For the first year and a half, it was at School Bar and then at Dada, and it's become less and less of a party and more of a label. Noise & Noise was actually one of the first people who played with us at School Bar, but mostly it was just us two, doing an all-night party. Doing at lot of skweee and a lot of that sort of Slugabed weird, post hip-hop thing.
Verktyget: All of our flyers, we would invent genres for the party… "Polar Bear Crunk"…
Verktyget: As you've probably seen or figured out, with the odd rhythms of skweee, you can't DJ it very well, so these would turn out to be really terrible parties. It was hit and miss. We actually used to work a lot harder back in the day, printing out all these flyers. All the hand bills…
Fløøød: We would flyer all of Gulou, at least 50 posters, doing it ourselves. So, we probably had an average of 15 people per show…
SmBj: Fifty. Oh. Or fifteen? Like one, five?
Verktyget: Yeah. One, five. Actually, it was a reverse sort of thing. If we didn't promote it whatsoever, 200 people would show up. When we busted our asses, blasting the whole city with agitprop, then we would have three people. People were consciously avoiding the party.
Fløøød: If they didn't know what was actually going on at School Bar, we'd get a crowd…
SmBj: Maybe School Bar just wasn't the place for it. It's got it's own audience.
Verktyget: Yeah, it's a rock club now.
SmBj: Why do you think School Bar changed to that format?
Fløøød: Because of Dada...
Verktyget: And our parties. We taught them a lesson.
Fløøød: Yeah, it would be a bunch of people showing up on E and not buying drinks. At rock parties, people tend to buy drinks.
SmBj: So, from the huge success of the club night, a cassette tape label was the next step down?
Fløøød: Well, we wanted to have little freebies to hand out to people at the parties. Party favors. Our most successful party at School Bar, I thought it would be funny to put "Free Wigs" exclamation point on the flyer, and we had all these people show up like, "Where are these free wigs?"
Verktyget: Yeah, people were coming specifically for the wigs.
Fløøød: And for the party after that, we decided we should do a release with cassette tapes. In Beijing, in taxi cabs, there's only tape players -- or there used to be -- so the release concept was going to be that you could only hear the thing if you were in taxi cabs.
And we promoted THE SHIT out of this one party for the first Taxi Tapes, so of course, no one shows up. We made like 200 tapes and maybe 30 people showed up…
Verktyget: Yeah, and at the end of the party there were like 15 cassettes sitting around the tables on at the bar. So, we still ended up with around 170 or 180 cassettes on our hands. We're still giving them away.
SmBj: Did you play them in taxi cabs yourself?
Fløøød: We did. When the first one came out, I took a cab and played it for this taxi guy -- his name is Zhang Shifu. And he was… he was so moved that we had created a cassette for cabs and cab drivers, that he not only started going to all 87FEI parties, but when we were doing the promos for the second release…
Verktyget: Even before that though, he even went and approached his company, his cab company, and asked if they could be our official sponsors. Also, he agreed to act in a promo film that we filmed.
Fløøød: And then he came and did the promo photos. He drank with us, man. He drank. AND from that, he acted in my friend's film. He's the star of an NYU student's film about a taxi driver who is divorcing his wife, and it's like a painful drama.
So he became part of the family, man… but he's still driving the cab. Actually, also, through my day job with Volkswagen, he also appears in a film with one Jay Leno, talking about driving in Beijing.
SmBj: This guy's star is really fucking rising.
Verktyget: SmartBeijing readers can follow him. His Weibo handle is "bestcabdriver" -- all one word. He vindicated what we were doing through his own personal actions. At the second release party, we were like an hour into the second release party at Dada, I found out that the city-wide traffic radio station -- I had added them on Weibo -- they announced on the radio about the release of Taxee Tapes Vol. 2 AND they send out a mass text message. To everybody.
SmBj: So, with a few of these releases out there, what's the saturation like out there in Beijing cabs?
Verktyget: Well, I carry like 10 out there all the time because I'm super gung-ho about it. Every time I play it, the cabbie, inevitably, asks, "Can I keep this?" So I've given a bunch away. We've got friends who give them away.
They're floating around…
SmBj: What's the aesthetic behind doing cassette releases… what's the point?
Verktyget: Well, for the first one it was kind of a glib mockery of what they call "social intervention" in art. We were calling it a fake art project. Because a lot of our audience are foreigners, we thought we would encourage them to communicate to local people. This is an efficient way to communicate to local people -- the front line -- the cab drivers. You've gotta ask them if they're willing to pop it in the cassette deck or not, you know.
So that was the idea at the time… more than just to garner attention.
SmBj: Have you heard stories from people on how these interactions went down? Any anecdotal feedback? Field reports?
Verktyget: Several field reports. Usually, the second or the third day after the party I'll get a phone call -- my cellphone will ring -- and I'll say, "hello"… and nobody answers. And then I realize that the caller has just put their cell phone next to the speaker of the cab, illustrating that it's being used in the way it was intended. That's happened on several occasions, I'll get a call and it would just be someone with their phone up to a cab speaker, listening to the tape.
It's like a quadruple shitty sound quality thing -- it's through a tape, through a computer, through a cellphone, my phone is a piece of shit also…
SmBj: Aren't they getting rid of the tape decks in cabs these days though?
Fløøød: Yeah, Zhang Shifu, when I met him he drove a Volkswagen Jetta, but now he drives a sedan with a CD player, and so he no longer has a tape deck.
SmBj: Oh shit, that's tragic.
Fløøød: Yeah. Last time I saw him he apologized. "I'm sorry, I really tried to get a tape deck, but it is not possible."
SmBj: So I guess that why this one, Taxee Tapes Vol. 3 is the last one then, huh?
Verktyget: It's the last in our series of Taxeee Tapes, but there is much more music -- some, yes, on cassette -- on the horizon. The cassettes-for-cabs concept is no longer viable what with all these fancy Hyundai Elantras and their goddamn CD players. Consider Saturday's release party as one last shuddering, sweat-filled tribute to the more enlightened cassette-deck-bedecked-cab-driving civilization of China's past.
As for this compilation, we contacted producers we knew understood 87FEI87's style-not-style. We under-estimated the number of people who would follow through, so this beast has become an ever bigger beast, with 21 sublime tunes altogether. And balloons. And T-shirts. And wigs. And more...
SmBj: So how does one get a bunch of cassette tapes made in Beijing? Walk me through that. How does that work?
Verktyget: There's a duplication house, which normally works in pirated DVDs or propaganda films or god knows what. Their main business is DVDs. I found them on Alibaba. And we're the only people they make tapes for. They have probably about half a warehouse full of leftover stock from the '90s -- leftover blank tapes from the '90s. They sell us these tapes at a cut-throat rate just to get rid of them. Quality is crap. I've seen their reels. Really shit reels from like 1974 -- it's all just shit…
Fløøød: When they finish up their stock, that's when 87FEI closes.
SmBj: How much is it?
Verktyget: It's 5 kuai a pop. No minimum number of tapes. The last time we did 200 copies for the skweee. There's no minimum. We just QQ them the stuff. They only roll on QQ, dude. I send them files on QQ and all they do it send me an emoticon of a guy doing a peace sign. That's it. Done. Two days later I go and pick them up.
SmBj: On the other end of it, what if people want to get one of them off you? What do they have to do?
Fløøød: They have to come to the launch party, man. I have them all with me and I hand them out to people who ask. Not even for sale -- we've just handed them out.
Verktyget: We tried to sell them before but it was a pain in the ass. We just give them out now and try to get our little money back from the bar cut. If we can get that, that's all we ask. We've lost money on all of this.
SmBj: What about an actual tape deck? Do they still make those? Can people buy them anywhere?
Verktyget: Taobao. I bought mine on Taobao…
SmBj: So you release the material digital as well. How much are you pushing the label? How serious is it? Is it a hobby? Are you trying to develop it into like a full-time thing?
Verktyget: Well, one impetus for 87FEI is to show the world that good electronic music is being made in China…
SmBj: What kind of electronic music are you looking at? Do you have boundaries of stuff that you're looking to work with and release?
Fløøød: When we talk to producers about creating stuff for us… well, we usually approach producers who are doing good shit we like anyways, and then our guidelines of stuff that we want to release from them is under 110 BPMs and something that is not four-on-the-floor. Just not popular shit because, for us, it's less exciting. We just try to bring people to a lower BPM and have them focus on the groove. Having a real sense of groove, not just dropping things syncopated right on the beat. Something more "felt" as opposed to something that's automated.
And all the producers that we've worked with so far have been comfortable working around in that framework. So, you know, we'll request that, and, I think, the results have been pretty exciting. Guzz, for example, is phenomenal as this passive sort of techno producer, but for us he made this Gorgio Moroder-meets-sex-with-Grace Jones kind of EP that sounds unlike a lot of his other stuff. It was different from the stuff that he was making.
Noise & Noise, it's a little more laid back that the stuff he's used to doing.
Verktyget: It's more experimental. Super atonal. Much more than his other stuff. One motto that we put up on the internet at one point, think it's still there somewhere is "Cerebral, danceable, and made in China". I don't know if we've fulfilled any of those criteria but…
SmBj: Is there a crowd that susceptible to this kind of music? Is there a scene?
Fløøød: I think they're all producers themselves.
Verktyget: Well, that's not entirely true. At Guzz's release party, I had a group of Chinese girls walk up and after hearing the sets, and one of them was like, "Normally, I'm into drum 'n' bass; I didn't know melody could be so much fun." So that's something else that we're sort of covertly going towards: bringing musical elements back into what people are hearing in live sets.
SmBj: Are you thinking about marketing to Chinese kids? Trying to increase exposure of this stuff to local audiences?
Verktyget: Well, he's saying [Fløøød] that we should try to get some other people to help out -- local marketing people -- to do domestic marketing but we don't have the manpower or the resources to get that going. Everything in Chinese we've scribbled up ourselves and got a friend or a colleague to look over. We'd like to be domesticated, but we're also concerned with looking outside of China as well, so that's more of the focus than the local side of things.
Fløøød: We're looking outside of Beijing, as well. Shanghai and Guangzhou are on our radar as well. It's all on the horizon. We've had people ask us how we produce our tapes -- Raphaël in Shanghai [DJ Laura Ingalls] for one...
SmBj: So what's the response like overseas then? Are you knocking on doors in Europe?
Fløøød: Well, we talk to other cassette labels overseas and we've had contact with other people who want to have our cassettes overseas. We've also done tours with the Scandinavian guys -- Daniel Savio, Mesak, Claws Costeau -- and after, they've gone back on their labels selling live performance's that they've done here and of the shows that Verktyget and me have done. It's on the Harmonia website…
Verktyget: They've been helping to push 87FEI on FaceBook and other channels -- Guzz's release in particular. We've also had some bigger names in the west do mastering for us -- Doshy, Mesack -- and these people help to put out the word as well.
SmBj: How deep does the business end of it go? Are you dealing with contracts? Song rights?
Fløøød: We had that conversation with our first release a while ago. If any of these releases start to make money, it's something that we'd half to talk about again, but right now they're all available for free on the internet. At this point, it's more about getting our music out there.
Verktyget: I saw John, DzM, who did our first release for us a while back and I have half drunk and I decided to pull his leg and tell him that we licensed one of his tracks to Pepsi. There was a glimmer of hate in his eye for a second and then he went, "Okay, that's good. I gave it to you guys. You do what you want with it."
Verktyget: It's the love and understanding that electronic music producers have, most of them, those that aren't directly commercial anyways, that they're not going to make money. We're not going to make any money.
There's no need to sign nuptials.
SmBj: What's the deal with this thing on Saturday. You've got both Dada and Temple?
Verktyget: Damn right. Gulou 206 represent! With 12 artists performing on one night, it would have been impossible to squeeze everyone in at just one venue. We witness a lot of intercourse between Temple-goers and Dada-goers already, so we thought, why not book both venues? Aside from ten of the capital's best, we have the legendary Howie Lee back from London, and Shanghai Ultra all the way up from some po-dunk town south of the Sixth Ring. Party starts early this time, from 10 pm at Dada.
The party upstairs at Temple won't get started until midnight, but afterwards... nipples.
Taxeee Tapes Vol. 3 gets released onto people's faces this Saturday night at Dada and Temple. It's 12 DJs performing, split into two venues -- Dada the whole night and Temple bar after the Beijing Beatles are done with it at midnight. Total. Chaos. No cover. Here's 87FEI87's bandcamp again, from which you can DL all this stuff. In the immediate future, look out for a special allied release of Chronmaster's newest project, the jaw-dropping rap-death prophesy pop of Dirge King. March 23.