By William Wang
Ever since the 1920s, music has been taking on ever more tones of the electric. Keyboards and samplers were once misunderstood innovations, but are now an integral part of the pop music lexicon. Artists have never stopped looking for ways to apply the latest technology in their aural creations, and Beijing is one place that is leading the country sonically forward.
The technological explosion has hit China faster and harder than in most places, its effects far-ranging and manifest, especially evident at the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter (or in short BEME) last weekend, taking place at the Post Mountain.
Music ranging from experimental to dance-oriented styles and more were all represented. Musicians used a palette of sounds that stemmed from laptop computers, DJ equipment, cell phones and massive tangles of wires.
Visitor Guan Ziwen's forehead furrowed as she listened to the unsettling buzzes and static pops of the Mind Fiber performance. "That's not music!" she exclaimed within moments, as if she was deliberately seeking a debate about semantics. It's true that the early evening's music was flagrantly unconventional, lacking recognizable rhythms or melodies. At times, musicians explored how jarring and brash electric sounds could be. At other times, the same artists could show how electricity moving through wires could produce sounds equally sensitive and tender.
"The involvement in running a platform for electronic music has forced me to open myself to new sounds and to totally get away from what I like or dislike and this aspect of personal taste," said event co-organizer, Markus M. Schneider. "We're out discovering things, not only about music, but about our own encounters with music and musicians."
Schneider had teamed up with American Josh Feola to create the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter, each bringing their own acumen to the table. Schneider's background in Berlin electronica and Feola's underground punk, noise and experimental aesthetic unite in their mission to expose the full spectrum of electronic music being created in China.
"The single most interesting point about the Chinese music scene," Feola begins, "is that it results in so many hybrid forms because there hasn't been an entrenched history of independent music since the '80s. And of course, it's starting to happen in a time where there's already internet access for young generations."
He elaborates, "[In China Today] there's people influenced by certain electronic musicians, by certain rock bands, by certain experimental bands, sound artists. People that are doing very avant-garde things and people that are doing very pop things. You have very unique hybrids here in a way that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."
The two nights began with quieter or more experimental performances in one space, progressing towards music aligned more with nightclubs in Post Mountain's concert space. Some artists' methods were indeed unique, often creating music in ways that people had never seen before. A device responded to the electronic currents in an iPhone or computer, creating odd hums and abrupt pops. A man spun around with his laptop in hand, navigating a digital circuit board to extract heavily textured groans, rumbles and squeaks. Guitars also made an appearance, foils to the glitch effects and drum machines.
Respected producer and DJ, Dead J, wrapped up the event with his signature dark ambient electronica. Last year, Dead J created the soundtrack for the National Center for the Performing Arts' production of "To Live." True to club form, his performance started after 2 a.m., admittedly to a crowd that had thinned out.
"It's more like a journey for anyone who's taking part," Feola summed up. "The most important thing for us has been to bring these artists together and have them perform -- to make sure that this is a reality."