Locked off from the rest of the world with its shuttered international borders, daily life in China has been a quasi-normal for most. It also fuelled a thriving congregation of local music communities to essentially take ownership of their rightful scenes, and grow the stature of homegrown artists.
Up until the pandemic, China was a haven for international DJs and artists to come through and reign the ranks and charts, festival headlines and bank on extortionate fees. That predicament may return one day later, but for now, DJs from neighbouring cities are being invited back to join and enrich a club culture that has predominantly been more connected to its regional counterparts than those in the West.
The only barrier though , is a 14 or 21 day quarantine at a pre-designated hotel not of your choosing.
So it’s beyond obvious to us that DJs around the world (and particularly those in Southeast Asia) have been wondering about what it’s like to quarantine in order to tour across Mainland China?
On a mission to debunk the myths of quarantining in China and for community gates to re-open for regional artists to reconnect on the Mainland, we caught up with Hong Kong-based DJ & producer Xiaolin, who is effectively the first underground artist to tour China’s club scene since the pandemic started.
The Minh 宀 club resident and Hex night founder shares her quarantine diary with us just as she gets ready for her shows at MCLAB in Beijing this Friday (tomorrow) and Elevator in Shanghai on Saturday, November 18.
What were your impressions of China's music scene from across the border and what’s the story behind your tour & subsequent quarantine?
“I didn’t want to make any assumptions about China’s scene as they would most likely be inaccurate. But from my first conversations with fellow 宀 residents who have already had the experience, China seems to be brimming with new DJ and production talent, which makes sense as it’s a lot bigger than Hong Kong. Labels like Eating Music are quite inspiring to listen to, and the guys at Baihui have been doing a great job with building a group of like-minded people. I was first introduced to Knopha through DJ homies Sunsiare and Mr. Ho, to potentially do a show on the radio. It then turned into planning for a tour during Golden Week, which got postponed to November. It can be hard to plan due to the constantly changing Covid rules — I’ve had to miss Zhaodai, Tag as well as Oil’s four-year anniversary for various covid and routing-related reasons. As it’s my first time touring the Mainland, I’m just treating it as a mini holiday to eat some food and get to know the vibe here. For me, it’s worth the 14 days of quarantine.”
How did you spend the 14 days?
“In quarantine, routine is important. As you know, you can’t choose your hotel, it’s assigned depending on the district. Every morning at 8am, 12pm and 6pm, your meals would arrive and they would call you to collect it from the door. You report your temperature at 8:30am and 12:30pm sharp. Those were the most exciting interactions of the day so I’d schedule my day around it. In the morning I woke up, meditated and did some yoga. Every other day I’d do a band workout or some circuit training. The ventilation in the room isn’t great so afternoons can get too stuffy to work, so after lunch I’d watch a movie (make sure they are downloaded pre-trip) or series, take a nap or do some reading and listen to music. From five onwards it gets cooler so I can start work. After dinner I usually work until 10, spend an hour calling friends and family, then shower and sleep. I brought a nice little diffuser from Muji that diffuses essential oils so it feels more homey. Scented candles also help.”
Tracks that helped you make it through?
“I thought I’d do a lot of digging but due to the super slow internet it was impossible to download tracks. So I listened to mostly music I had already and sometimes stream online (streaming takes up a lot of data). I would take a lot of time to make playlists for various activities such as working out, yoga, reading, shower etc. Mostly chill, mood-boosting music ranging from jazz, reggae, ambient and hip hop to soul, R’n’B, city pop and a bit of acid house. I went through a period of three days where I watched a lot of anime so I was listening to anime soundtracks from Studio Ghibli, and also Bladerunner: Final Cut soundtrack by Vangelis which was pretty nice. My favourite quarantine album was probably Leah Dou’s album GSG MIXTAPE.”
You mentioned indulging in anime. What other watching material helped you through?
“Essential quarantine watching materials: Anime series like One Punch Man. Studio Ghibli movies. Rick and Morty. I also rewatched a few sci-fi movies like Bladerunner Final Cut and Ghost in the Shell, as well as some canto classics such as 2049 and Days of Being Wild. Oh and before bed I would watch Blue Planet, that was great for sleeping.”
How did you stay healthy and nourished?
“Food was a bit of an issue as you can only choose between the “Chinese” or “Western” menu which were both pretty monotonous — I’d say the Chinese menu was probably better. You can’t have hot food delivered to you, they only allow snacks from outside. So most of the time I was pretty hungry and bored, hence making music was mostly motivated by that annoyed ‘hangry’ feeling. I made this acidy track called Acid Reflux, it’s pretty self-explanatory.”
What to do when the Quarantine Blues hits?
“Quarantine blues happened on the seventh or eighth day for me, when I realised there was still a whole week left. That day I broke my routine and couldn’t do anything, just lay in bed, face down, and tried to sleep it off. I also went on an Instagram rampage and started getting anxiety from the FOMO. After that day I told myself that’s it, no more Instagram for the rest of quarantine. It’s really best to stay off social media unless it’s work-related.”
How to dress for quarantine, and what was a quarantined Halloween like?
“There’s no one to impress in quarantine so comfort is key. It was very hot (the window only opens about 2cm) so less is best. I was in yoga clothes or a crop top and shorts most of the time. There were a couple days where I wore a bit of lipstick and mascara for a morale boost. I took long showers and tried to make the experience as spa-like as possible.
My quarantine hotel was right next to Elevator so that was slightly frustrating, but I managed to get through by watching both Bladerunners with a big bottle of red wine. That was the only bottle I had and I finished the whole thing over the weekend. I put on a mix and had a little dance by myself.”
And tell us about your happiest moment in quarantine?
“Happiest moments were whenever I received a small delivery package from friends outside, even if it was just a box of cereal or some oat milk. You really learn to appreciate little things like having warm food, doing a little workout and reading a nice passage from a book. At one point Mau Mau waved at me from across the street outside and that made my day.”
What’s your message to other DJs around the world who are ready to tour again in China?
“14 days is absolutely doable if you keep a calm, balanced mindset and stay disciplined. I saw it as a time to recharge and get some rest. If you do it right and feed yourself with positive words, you can come out glowing.”
What are you up to post-quarantine?
“I’m now in Beijing, so far the tour has been a lot of fun. Oil Club in Shenzhen was a lovely gig, and of course with great food. Hangzhou (where I played at Loopy) had some great Longjing tea. My Putonghua has definitely improved drastically since I’ve been here. I’m looking forward to returning to Shanghai (I’ve left my quarantine bag there) for some dancing and (a huge) breakfast.”