Saturday, September 30, 2006


Greater China: London


A: Dusk “Mantis (Blackdown remix)” [Keysound Recordings]
B: Blackdown “Mantis (VI3 mix) [Keysound Recordings]
(Buy a promo or listen to clips: here)

Throughout the early part of this decade, a single repeated message emerged out of the background noise and hum of daily data. China was growing. Very, very rapidly. While this decade has been dominated by the US’s interaction with the Middle East, few people have daily contact with the region. By contrast, over a period of several years, disproportionate number of friends or contacts began mentioning China. An architect described vast contracts for whole chunks of cities. A new media journalist highlighted the growing Chinese online market. A distance learning expert described the building of tens if not a hundred world class academic institutions. Anyone who followed politics mentioned the possibility that China could grow to superpower status, a welcome counterbalance to American unilateralism. As this decade unfolded the background noise grew into a hum: it was the noise of China growing.

The message wasn’t restricted to academic, mainstream media or architectural routes. It also began appearing through the hardcore continuum too. My passion for Wiley and Jammer’s “Sinogrime” (© Kode 9) experiments, Horsepower and Kode 9’s “Sinodub” excursions, documented here (scroll down to the post 'Fukkaz'), coincided with a time when there was a strong sense to me, as 2step collapsed and drum & base rotted, of the need for new sonic avenues. Around 2003 I suddenly saw a perfect yet lesser trodden path wandering between Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” Timbaland’s “Indian Flute,” Photek’s “Ni Ten Ichi Ru,” the Jammer/NASTY mix CD for Deuce, Loefah’s “Monsoon remix,” Kode 9’s “Fukkaz,” Wiley’s “Shanghai,” Horsepower’s “Sholay” up to Plasticians "Japan" (actually made from Chinese samples) and Forensix’s recent “1st Dynasty” [NB: the “Sino-” prefix was always clumbsily inaccurate, referring to anywhere “East-ish,” be it India, China, Japan, Thailand or more - just no nations bordering the Black Atlantic]

People perceive dubstep as having drifted out of 2step garage, in comparison to grime’s shift, but in those days around the turn of the millennium there was a definite feeling that rejection was as powerful a tool as inclusion, in order to move on. This manifested itself to me a rejection of lots of the sonic clichés surrounding genres persisted with: drum & bass’s Amen tear outs and sickly Rhodes chords, house’s fake warmth and hip hop’s reliance on tired funk/jazz/soul loops. That feeling, of the need to seek out new sonic cornerstones with which to build from, persists to this day.

I was lucky enough, while working at Deuce, to come by a CD of Chinese instrument samples. Loefah once mentioned a sample CD that he and the Mystikz went thirds on that produced a large number of their early classics, “Conference” included. This Chinese sample CD has been similarly central to Dusk and I.

Normally a track by us gets written, by us together, in a fairly similar linear fashion:

Loops>>variations>>arrangement>>mixdown>>mixed master

But we’d long talked about writing music in non-linear ways. About two years ago now, possibly more, Dusk played me a loop he couldn’t finish. It had a great bassline with this sweet Chinese melody. He’d called it “Mantis.” Last summer, while spending time on California’s Pacific rim, I revisited that loop. I added more Chinese instrumentation and darker gongs – and a track began to emerge, but without the original melody. It’s my mix of Mantis, a remix of a track that doesn’t exist, started because of a perfect melody I didn’t even use.

At the beginning of this year Dusk and I sat down and deleted the entire track. Left only with the sounds, we began writing a completely new one together. Out of a remix of a track that didn’t exist came a new collaboration by both of us, “Mantis VIP” (available on my 4Bristol mix, and a track that I do hope to put out properly someday). Then, determined to use that perfect melody, I returned solo to “Mantis VIP,” again deleted the track and began again. The result was “Mantis VI3” – the Sino-signature sound appears at the end. So far removed from Dusk’s original loop, we couldn’t really call it remix. The meandering pathway taken to get there seem somehow pleasing.

Dusk “Mantis (Blackdown remix)” >> Dusk + Blackdown “Mantis VIP” >> Blackdown “Mantis VI3”

The first and last part of the Mantis trilogy will now make up the third release on Keysound. Following on from the first two releases, the artwork (keysights) will reflect our London surroundings, just like the looped keysounds that each of our tracks sit emerged in. A recent digital camera disaster that killed my own camera so, unable to take the artwork shots myself, I recently set off with a friend Simon into the most Chinese part of our surroundings, London’s China Town, for visual inspiration. The following gallery was the result:










It’s also interesting that, long before it was finished, Dusk chose the name “Mantis” for the tune(s). By co-incidence, it turns out there is a Chinese mantis, (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and two styles of Chinese martial arts.

Insect: Chinese Mantis

The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry for the Chinese mantis:
“The Chinese mantis looks like a long and slender praying mantis, with different shades of brown. The adult has a green lateral line down its wing. It is typically larger than most other mantises, growing up to 15 cm (6 inches) in length. Their diet consists of caterpillars, butterflies, wasps, bees, crickets and moths. Like other mantids, they are known to be cannibalistic.”

Martial Arts: Northern Praying Mantis

The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry for Northern Praying Mantis

“Northern Praying Mantis is a style of Chinese martial arts, sometimes called Shandong Praying Mantis after its province of origin. It was created by Wang Lang and was named after the praying mantis, an insect, the aggressiveness of which inspired the style. Shaolin records document that Wang Lang was one of the 18 masters gathered by the Shaolin Abbot Fu Yu (1203-1275), which dates him and Northern Praying Mantis to the Song Dynasty (960–1279).”

“The mantis is a long and narrow predatory insect. While heavily armoured, it is not built to withstand forces from perpendicular directions. Consequently, its fighting style involves makes use of whip-like/circular motions to deflect direct attacks, which it follows up with precise attacks to the opponent's vital spots. These traits have been subsumed into the Northern Praying Mantis style, under the rubric of "removing something" (blocking to create a gap) and "adding something" (rapid attack).”

“One of the most distinctive features of Northern Praying Mantis is the "praying mantis hook": a hook made of one to three fingers directing force in a whip-like manner. The hook may be used to divert force (blocking) or to attack critical spots (eyes, face, acupuncture points). These are particularly useful in combination, for example using the force imparted from a block to power an attack. So if the enemy punches with the right hand, a Northern Praying Mantis practitioner might hook outwards with the left hand (shifting the body to the left) and use the turning force to attack the enemy's neck with a right hook. Alternately, she might divert downwards with the left hook and rebound with the left wrist stump to jaw/nose/throat.”

There are many styles of Northern Praying Mantis some hard, some soft, some rare, some common, including Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing and Secret Gate Praying Mantis Boxing. For more information: check Wikipedia.

Martial Arts: Southern Praying Mantis

The following is quoted from the Wikipedia entry.

“Despite its name, the Southern Praying Mantis style of Chinese martial arts is unrelated to the Northern Praying Mantis style. Southern Praying Mantis is instead related most closely to fellow Hakka styles such as Dragon and more distantly to the Fujian family of styles that includes Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, and Wing Chun.”

“Southern Praying Mantis is a close range fighting system that places much emphasis on short power techniques and has aspects of both the soft and internal as well as the hard and external. As in other southern styles, the arms are the main weapon, with kicks usually limited to the hip and under.”

“Like Wing Chun and Xingyiquan—other styles created as pure fighting arts—Southern Praying Mantis has relatively no aesthetic value, unlike its northern counterpart and many other styles. Southern Praying Mantis is informed by traditional Chinese medicine.”

“Though the origins of Southern Praying Mantis may be contested, what is indisputable is its association with the Hakka people of inland eastern Guangdong. The traditions … maintain that their respective founders Chow Ah-Nam and Som Dot created their styles after witnessing a praying mantis fight and defeat a bird.”

“However, the traditions of the Chu family branch contend that the name "Southern Praying Mantis" was chosen to conceal from Qing forces its political affiliations by pretending that this esoteric style of Ming loyalists was in fact a regional variant of the popular and widespread Praying Mantis style from Shandong.”


A long time supporter of dub and now dubstep, broadcaster/journalist Steve Barker now lives in China. Several months ago, during an email exchange, he recommended an essential compilation The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music. As a music fan, there’s little more satisfying than a recommendation of an entry point into an unknown and exciting field, like say Buzz’ Relics compilation is to Detroit Techno or Metalheadz’ first collection is to drum & bass. So while I wait for Amazon US to deliver my copy of The Hugo Masters, I asked Steve if he’d share a little of what he’s learned about the music of the PRC. This is Steve Barker’s guide to the entry points of Chinese music…

Steve Barker: “A few clues can be offered up to the naïve foreigner about to explore the world of Chinese music which, for pure convenience here, we can split up into traditional, modern interesting stuff and pop. Let's forget the pop which makes up around about 99.8% of what is easily accessible, most of this is 'cantopop', a syrupy Chinese derivative of Western pop originating largely in Hong Kong but now transplanted just about everywhere in Asia. Approaching traditional music the first stumbling block is Peking Opera, usually served up for the tourists, this is culturally dense and totally impenetrable, swerve around it.”

“For the virtually inclined a trip to the excellent site of Hugo records in Hong Kong will yield a stunning treasure house of exotic delights – I find I can't get this from Beijing at the moment but Amazon stocks plenty of their material. For an overview there are some nice sets but to dive right in go for the historical recordings of ancient Qin music, particularly the stuff from Sichuan. The GuQin (pronounced GooChin) is seven-stringed zither without bridges, the most classical Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. It is literally called Qin yet commonly known as "GuQin" where "gu" stands for ancient. Confucius was a master of this instrument.”

“When I first heard this sound I was struck by the similarity to slide guitar from Texas and Mississippi. There's a whole bunch other instruments that can be found described on the many websites covering traditional Chinese music, my only other advice would be go for the solo albums then the sonics can be better appreciated, then move on to group playing.”

“If you are in Beijing then there are two easy options. Don't go to the nearest record store unless you need bootleg Beyonce. Go to Wanfujing, the main shopping street – there's a subway stop there, where you will find the English Language Bookstore, three or four floors up there's an excellent selection of traditional music. Better still is the shop by the gate of the Beijing Music Conservatory, down by the South Second Ring Road, nearest subway stop Fuxingmen.”

“Without spending too much time on modern stuff there a couple of great portals into China, first up is from Laurence Li who's based in Shenzhen near HK, he runs Global Noise Online with lots of links into other sites in-country and its all in English - . The other contact is Yan Jun in Beijing who runs an improvisatory music night at the Dos Kolegas Bar in Beijing every Tuesday without fail; it's called Kwanyin Waterland – after the female Buddha. Yan Jun runs the Sub Jam label and you can find him at - he's also producer, poet, fixer, journalist and all round good egg - an essential top man.”

“Perhaps the most remarkable purchase I have made whilst in Beijing is a collection of 8 CDs by Sichuan folk music archivist and musician Huan Qing who is currently living in Dali, Yunnan. Compiled by Huan over several years there's Yangtze River Workers' Folk Songs, Ancient Songs of the Hani People, Sichuan Folk Artists, Yunnan Nu and Wa Minority, Yunnan Lisu, Yunnan Naxi Bamboo Flute, Yunnan Yi People, and Tibet Street Musicians. This last one was recorded by Zhang Jian of fm3 and put out on Sublime frequencies You pay around 15 quid for this stunning selection from the Sugar Jar Workstation in
Dashanzi-798 Art District. Good luck!"

Steve Barker - BBC/On The Wire ( and the Wire (dub column).


China has a population of 1.3 billion people: one quarter of humankind is Chinese.

-- Hugo De Burgh, “China: Friend or Foe?” (Icon). Buy it here.

The final piece in the confluence of Sino-influences in my life came with the impulse buy of Hugo De Burgh’s primer “China: Friend or Foe.” The fact was, despite all this hype about China, I knew very little about the vast country and have little opportunity to visit it in the foreseeable future. De Burgh’s book was a revelation, so I’d like to share selected quotes from it:

Internal geography

“Chinese provinces are as large as European countries, often with larger populations, and with histories and languages distinct from their neighbours’. Canton Province (Guangdong, adjoining Hong Kong) has 79 million people, Xinjiang is the size of Western Europe with a population of 19 million, and Sichuan has 87 million.”


“China is recognised as a rising power. It is establishing itself as an important factor for most countries. Yet this does not amount to a challenge to US dominance, because it is constrained by its poverty, domestic discontent, geopolitical vulnerability, dependence on foreign resources, and its leaders’ beliefs about China’s history and its relations with foreign powers over the last 150 years. How the world reacts to China’s rise may do more to determine its influence than China’s rise itself.”


“While the written language can be used by all Chinese, the spoken languages can vary as greatly as do European languages. Over 70 per cent of the population, living north of the Yangtze and in certain north-western parts of southern provinces, speak a form of Mandarin (Putonghua), albeit with local dialects. By contrast, the languages of South China are mutually incomprehensible. They include the Wu languages of Shanghai, Xiang in central and southern Hunan, Gan in Jiangxi, Northern and Southern Min in Fujian, Yue (including Cantonese) in Canton Province and part of Guangxi, and Hakka, the language of various people scattered in various parts of China. Standard Putonghua (Mandarin) … is always that of administration.”

“The Chinese written language unites all Chinese; until recently, it was used in common with linguistically quite different Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese too, since it is ideographic rather than alphabetic. What that means for practical purposes is that even when people cannot understand each other’s speech, they can communicate in writing, writing which each will pronounce completely differently. In theory, any spoken language such as English might be written in Chinese, though, as with Japanese, it would need to acquire grammatical particles and the ideographs would be given an English sound.”

Armed forces

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has frontiers 136,700 miles long, and its coastline measures 111,850 miles. The PRC is contiguous with fourteen countries, with three of which – India, Vietnam and USSR – it has had military clashes with in the last 50 years… Western military experts believe that, not withstanding [recent] advances, China probably does not have the capability to succeed in an attack on Taiwan [the Republic of China], let alone challenge the USA… The USA spends nearly eight times [on defence] what China does.”

Human Rights

“People are still subject to an approach to human beings learned from the Soviet Union in the 1930s by a Party which, in its pursuit of total power, abandoned all civilised values.”


“Conventional media can be divided into three types: first, the core Party and government organs, such as the People’s Daily or New China News Agency; second, those still closely controlled by the Party and State, but not the core, such as the China Economic Times; and finally, those that are technically ‘fringe’ and completely dependent upon the market, yet may – as with the influential Caijing, a bi-weekly journal, or the Xin Jing Bao – be leading media. The fringe media are not as closely watched as their counterparts in the other categories of media and therefore have more leeway. Government organs still retain ultimate ownership of probably all media operations and can shut them down at will.”

Central Government

“Foreign observers of government have often been convinced either that China is about to disintegrate because the centre cannot control the desire of the localities to do their own thing, or that China’s economic growth is making the Chinese State so powerful that it poses a mighty threat to the rest of the world. The first fails to take account of the centre’s ability both to hold on to key powers and to renew its institutions such that it could keep authority over the regions, while the second diminishes or ignores the problems with which the centre has to contend, and which lessen its ability to exert central power.”


“By tradition, China thought of itself as the centre of world civilisation; thus, defeat by foreign powers [including England] in the 19th century, and subjection to their rules and demands for territory or resources, were seen as humiliating violations. As awareness of China’s relative under-development grew, pride in Confucian civilisation gave way to an angry resentment against both that civilisation and against ‘the West’ (including Japan).”

“Until foreigners challenged, defeated and humiliated their country, most Chinese believed that China was the only civilisation. Today it is common to find people that consider China surrounded by enemies, selectively interpreting the history of the past 200 years in order to present their country as unique, not so much as civilisation but as victim. Observers argue that this is a very important component of modern Chinese identity, of nationalism, and a political factor of great power.”


“[China] is an economy of peasants freed from their chains…[and they] work crazily. With their labour and much ingenuity, China has become a leading force in many sectors from nothing… It has the fastest-growing economy and is expected to have surpassed Japan by 2020, re-establishing the centrality of China in Asia, and to have surpassed the USA by 2039.”

“The cumulative results of these [economic] changes have included and overall improvement in living standards; it is generally thought that 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty”

“Fifty thousand miles of three-lane highway were under construction in 2005, the size of the entire US interstate network; whereas these works too 40 years in the US, China plans their completion in five. Twenty-six Chinese cities are installing underground railways. There are 30 nuclear power stations on order.”


“Everywhere in China you come across pockets of the diverse and immensely rich culture – of music, the plastic arts, calligraphy, theatre, shadow puppetry, story-telling or whatever – that the foreign travellers used to dilate upon in wonder when they visited in the early years of the 20th century. But today there are, it seems, but pockets.

“Young students that sell xun [a kind of traditional flute that the author has encountered being sold] prove that culture is not just for the old, but to be honest, their contemporaries are more likely to be in a club sweating … to the sound of the electronic production of some dance music company in Los Angeles. The Cultural Revolution ripped traditional culture out of the lives of several generations; the government has been too preoccupied to shore it up, and commercial interests have provided globalised substitutes for mass consumption. In clothing, music and appreciation of the arts, things Chinese are for the elite.”


“The government is proud of the greater freedom afforded to religion since the 1980s, and points to Article 36 of the Constitution, which stipulates: ‘Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.’ There are thought to be about 250 million Taoists, 100 million Buddhists and around 30 million Christians.”

“On 25 April 1999, the government began to persecute a then little-known ‘way’ called Falungong, when 10,000 of its followers assembled to protest against a dismissive press article. This movement of practitioners of exercises traditionally associated with Taoism and of believers in a mixture of ideas both Christian and Buddhist, had until then been tolerated to the extent that many people in responsible positions had been happy to be associated with it, even though its leader was based in the USA. It was the demonstration that Falungong could mobilise so many people, without the security services being aware of its operations, that shocked the government into repression.”


“Transnational corporations claim that they are ‘glocal’ rather than local, that they respond to, and fit in with, local cultures. Nevertheless, to observers they are engaged in attempting a cultural transformation of China, deploying ‘a worldwide system of image-saturated information technologies to attract customers, including children.’ Among the results is the prevalence of commercially marketed celebrations … [that] all provide opportunities for spending and diminish the specialness of traditional Chinese festivals. Whereas in rural Cantonese society, celebrations of longevity were important features of family life, they are now being superseded by celebrations of youth.”


“Marketisation [has reduced] government interference in many ways: traditional markets have re-emerged, prices have been largely deregulated, and peasants will not in future be required to produce crops as stipulated by the government in its attempt at food self-sufficiency. Most of China’s peasants had been producing crops which are much more successfully produced in land-rich countries, such as the UK and USA with their large farms and fewer farmers. Where China has the advantage over them is in the production of people-intensive crops such as fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants… The corollary of this is that China now imports huge quantities of grains, particularly from the USA, which it must pay for in the export of people-intensive products, particularly to South East Asia. While these policies are showing signs of working, the gap between the urban and rural areas has continued to widen (in 2003, average urban income was over three times rural), causing dissatisfaction.”

Rural China/Urban China

“Even after the colossal changes which have turned China into the world’s workshop, over 60 per cent of its people still live in the countryside… That is around 900 million people. Although Deng Xiaoping’s first reforms helped improve conditions greatly, the limitations of the initial privatisation have become apparent. Local officials have begun to act like the wicked landlords of communist fiction, expropriating peasant land and leasing it or selling it to benefit themselves. At the same time, these ‘landlords’ exploit the peasantry with innumerable different local taxes, or demand unpaid labour in lieu of tax. Revolts have become common…”

© Hugo De Burgh 2006


boomnoise said...

Nice to see you're a fellow China watcher Martin. I'd recommend this:

An excellent collection of what's been going on in the Chinese experimental undergound, although perhaps not to everyone's tastes.

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