When all else fails, turn to your imagination.
And then head into your studio.
We spoke to 6 artists and groups from across Asia who’ve either recently hit our radar with their noteworthy presence, or have resurfaced with intriguing projects and releases on the horizon coming into 2021. The last year of pandemic-struck chaos and lull has had a silver lining for those who avoided ranting on Facebook, remained positive and kept their head in the music. Although we cannot wait for dance floors to reopen, tastemaking skills have been reborn in this new normal and we truly believe that there is more to come out of Asia’s burgeoning electronic music diaspora.
From raw soul and purist house etiquette via Batavia Collective from Jakarta to the contemporary amalgamation of traditional Korean instruments and electronic wisdom from Akimbo, we’ve got you covered over a wider-than-wide range of sonic gifts from the far East. So if you’ve not heard them already, let us introduce the artists who are taking inspiration from lanterns, janggu drums, space echoes and speakerless studios.
Her debut EP with Hong Kong club 宀’s new record label just premiered on Mixmag Asia, and it’s a real stunner. As a classically trained violinist with a background in music technology via The Juilliard School and Berklee Valencia, Xiaolin offers a fresh glimpse into the future of Asia’s electronic music diaspora.
She’s a very committed young lady, “Last year was a year of change and self-development and I spent most of my time in the studio — it hasn’t been easy.. (but) seeing the music come out as a finished product gives me the motivation to make more and it also clears my head, making room for more new ideas. I feel blessed to be surrounded by my Mihn family, the other residents of the club are inspiring to talk to and they really support and push me to be the best I can be.“
Jazz is what nurtured her from a young age, and today she finds solace in Soichi Terada, B12, Aphex Twin and Hiroshi Yoshimura. Combining her aspirational attitude with her musical taste buds and her lust for studio toys, Xiaolin presents herself as a serious artist in the modern age of rave. On top of her release, which rides on the back of her new residency at 宀 with a night called HEX, Xiaolin has an upcoming release with 20/20 Vision's 'Exit Planet Earth’ compilation together with fellow-Hong Konger Mr. Ho.
You know he’s a DJ’s DJ when he’s a resident at one of Asia’s most appraised clubs for underground aficionados, The Council in Singapore, as well as core member of party-under-the-sun collective Ice Cream Sundays. Sound literally has no boundaries for Singaporean DJ and producer, Bongomann. It does have barriers though, and that comes down to his meticulous selection across his diverse collection that ranges from drum ’n’ bass to house to techno and breaks. If it’s smooth, and it’s got groove, it doesn’t matter so much what form it comes in.
For DJ who’s only been playing just over two years, his level of philosophy about his art is deep and humbling. “In 2020 I ended up buying lots of ambient stuff. I'm still a fairly new DJ, I only really started gigging in 2018 so I'm still figuring out how my brain works in DJ mode, trying out categories and organisation that works for me. I suppose my diversity might come from many of my gigs being back to back scenarios. I wouldn't say I want to narrow my scope, but I do hope to achieve a better sense of focus and cohesion in my sets when we get to play out again. I feel like I might be getting there with my mixes, but playing records for a room full of people is a conversation, so who knows what's going to be said?”
Bongomann isn’t one to stay restless for too long though, and while waiting for dance floors to reopen, 2021 is going to be a year dictated by time spent in his studio. “I've been toying around with a live set that I'm trying to develop. I tried it out for Uploading SG on Singapore Community Radio (which you can check out below here), and while it's still pretty far off from where I'd like it to be, it was a lot of fun and pretty satisfying being in control of every element in the set. Right now, my live setup consists of a Digitakt, MAM MB33, Vermona Mono Lancet 15', my trusty old Boss Re-20 Space Echo and an Arturia Drumbrute. Been enjoying the hardware jams because it lends itself to improvisation - something I hope to inject more into my music.”
Armed with all the right tools, you’re guaranteed some Bongomann action on a compilation by Hong Kong’s FuFu Records and French duo La Mamie’s Mamie’s Records, as well as a remix for Halal Sol on his forthcoming EP for Darker Than Wax.
Seoul-based producer Akimbo isn’t a newcomer by any means, but he’s in a constant evolutionary cycle when it comes to musical inspiration. Last year, he embarked on an ambitious musical project with traditional Korean outfit Gyeonggi Sinawi Orchestra who is under the direction of the super creative Won Il — their highly appraised showcase at the Gyeonggi Arts Centre focused on Gokkuk music being reinterpreted by Akimbo’s soft-toned and graceful electronic sensibilities. Just to give you a hint, his club sound is filled with warmth and quintessentially intimate grooves, which you can get a feel of on Akimbo’s set for Mixmag Asia Radio.
Akimbo’s sonic aesthetic is a result of his keenness on music that comes loaded with history and authenticity — the proof is in the mix, have a listen to Akimbo’s set last year for Seoul Community Radio below.
First up this year is his new album which he’ll release this spring on his Seoul-based Tonal Unity imprint. Akimbo plans to ramp up the energy on his new album, telling us “all tracks utilise Korean instruments. This one is a bit more suited to the dance floor than previous releases, and I’m pumped for it to come out.” The album will come fired up with a remix from forward-thinking producer Auntie Flo.
Also on the calendar around the time of the new album drop, a full length and a companion short film of last year’s collaborative performance with Gyeonggi Sinawi Orchestra will be premiered online. The performance was an eye-opening collaboration for Akimbo, and he highlights working with “Daniel Kapelian of Seoul’s Oma Space, who brought to life a deeply meditative group concept utilizing textile and visual layering.”
Elsewhere on the label front, the Tonal Unity boss shares a new single from daegeum flautist Seungmin Cha that will roll out late spring or early summer with a gorgeous remix from Visible Cloaks. “This one is transcendent, and I’m honored to release it. The next VA compilation will be out in summer!” And, that’s not all, folks — off the back of last year’s project and the forthcoming film, Akimbo will be soundtracking an upcoming documentary on traditional Korean hemp production.
We spoke to Matthew Tong, aka Zimo, a young Chinese producer who shifts between his home city Hong Kong and London (but for now, he’s in London), and puts plenty of deep thought and care into his music and love for rave culture. Just over two years ago while he was still only 20 years old, Zimo had already put out his second EP called ‘How I Imagine Snow’. Check it out below.
His sounds are tough and humble, he breathes soul into his techno, and from how he describes his affection for creating sound, techno seems to speak to him. And he’s learning the humble way too — believe it or not, but his studio is speaker-less. “My studio space is actually used primarily as a DJ studio, instead of a production studio, where I'm hosting microraves weekly. So, I have to cross-reference multiple headphones and speakers in different untreated environments in order to get it right. Why am I doing this? Because it's a poor man's way to get the best results.”
The microraves Zimo refers to is what he considers as his positive answer to illegal raves, where his studio turns into a safe space for dedicated music lovers. He tells us, “I started hosting parties not just for fun, but to demonstrate a counter-narrative where mental health should be prioritised during this pandemic.”
Pandemic microraves aside, 2021 will be shining light on three releases from the young artist, the first one of which dropped last month. “Named after 'Avatar: The Last Airbender', Appa was a giant, fluffy bison which symbolises bonding and inner strength, offering protection along the challenging journeys of spirituality pursuers.” Zimo chronicles his process behind the release: “From March to August 2020 amidst the lockdown in the Netherlands, I reduced my interaction with the external world, which provided me a seemingly timeless period to explore my inner self and amplify my musical voice. The isolation and use of magic truffles also invoked in me a sense of modern shamanism.”
Zimo wants to see equality at the forefront of rave and dance music culture — he’s got plans for what he considers to be a safe house for artists, and you can also expect a slight deviation from techno towards ambient excursions, and plenty of nods to trance influences (he’s caught the 90s rave bug) coming through his works. You can peep it here.
Batavia Collective (BTVC)
Raw, rugged, soulful and sophisticated that’s how these Jakarta boys roll. Their influences evidently stem from deeper and modern varieties of black music, from jazz, classic soul and hip hop to deep house. Batavia Collective (BTVC) consists of Elfa Zulhan on drums, Doni Joesran on keys and Kenny Gabriel on synth bass — the trio are an unparalleled collective of deep minds that churn out warm, spacious, fire-kindling sessions of genre-bending music. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, Batavia is the former capital of the Dutch East Indies that would now be present-day Jakarta.
Between them, they have jazz, soul, electronica and a huge love for all things house as their musical arsenal. The innate soulful attitude that emanates from the Jakarta-based trio is what makes their sound so quintessential for modern Indonesia. Whenever we’re digging for music from around the archipelago, we’re always stumped by how effortlessly genre-bending and mind-altering the audio substances can be. And Batavia Collective are no different.
Their only release ‘Affirmation’ did its rounds last year hitting airwaves across Indonesia and Australia, and it's an absolute masterpiece of modern, thought-provoking and soothing sonic art that’s built on incessant groove. Check out the live session music video below.
This year, ‘Affirmation’ is hoping to get some remix treatment from select producers, and with shows halted for the imminent future, Donjoe tells us that facing this year is a real predicament for the band. But they remain hopeful and committed to unleashing more out of their Jakarta studio, “our music is best enjoyed live so it’s really a dilemma for us, but we still want to wait and see.”
They met in 2008 while on a trip to play for an NGO in Hong Kong (for separate bands), and a few rounds of spiritual beverages sparked a long lasting friendship that is Tarsius today. Diego was invited to play for a label launch as his new alias Tarsius, but he didn't want to do it alone. “I gave Jay a call and told him that I had an idea to play electronics while he plays drums. I had original tracks, so he just played over them and it was a success — people dug what we were doing and we enjoyed our new set up. This is how we got to our debut, ‘Primate’. We then released a crowdfunded vinyl edition of it the following year.”
Diego continues, “At the end of 2012, I saw Four Tet play at Clockenflap in Hong Kong. I brought our record to the festival and gave him a copy after his set. Sometime later in 2013, he tagged and messaged us on Twitter saying that he will play, ‘Nightlife’ on the BBC and that he’s been playing it around, including at his Boiler Room gig.” Next thing you know, Tarsius are performing at Clockenflap, and soon after in Osaka, at Wonderfruit in Thailand and at Bime Pro in Bilbao, Spain. They’ve been on our radar for the last year namely thanks to Mikail’s all-filipino Munting Ligaya mix he did for Mixmag Asia, and Tarius in 2021 is just as relentless with their uncompromising efforts as they were ten years ago.
“I really like Vex Ruffin’s first single, ‘Man with the Plan,” sets off Diego when I ask him about their plans for 2021. Vex Ruffin is a LA-based Filipino artist with Stones Throw Records, and Tarsius has teamed up with him for a recent single — Vex invited Diego for a guest mix on his NTS Radio show ‘Manila Times’ and Diego reciprocated with a Tarsius track. The exchange led to Vex dropping his vocals on ‘Disco Manila’. Check out the video to the funky vibes of ‘Disco Manila’ below.
This year, expect to hear remixes by Tarsius for Vex Ruffin, as well as for experimental Thai band Summer Dress. Other major works in the pipeline include a remix for ‘Agos’, from their 2020 album ‘Culture Cow’, by GPU Panic of Moullinex and Disco Texas. You can also bet on Tarsius jumping on stage the moment lockdown restrictions allow them to.