By Jocelle Koh
With a mesmerizing voice set against an electronic backdrop of colourful and dreamily textured synths, Hong-Kong Australian artist, DJ and producer Rainbow Chan stands out in a crowd; be it with audiences at home or abroad.
But what does ‘home’ mean to this diasporic artist? This is just the topic that Chan decided to explore in her last LP, as an extension of her recent observations regarding her heritage and belonging.
“This record was written over the course of three years, throughout which I had been working on other projects, studying, working and travelling. I see it as an extension of all of those experiences being between places and languages.”
Although Chan has never shied from discussions of her East Asian heritage; this second record sees the topic placed front and centre.
“‘Spacings’ was a break up album through and through and for that reason, the themes of the songs revolve around romantic love and heartbreak. While ‘Pillar’ has moments of love and desire throughout it, I think the themes of the new record are more expansive and part of a larger dialogue about belonging, migration and family.”
A record that explores her Weitou heritage and the intermingling of her experiences with the Cantonese, Mandarin and English languages, Chan manages to succinctly unpack her diverse backgrounds in ways that disrupt predominantly western conversations in the spaces which she occupies.
“The mainstream media in Australia is predominantly white and English-speaking. But this doesn’t reflect the reality of our society—we’re made up of beautiful, diverse communities. Part of my goal with writing songs in languages other than English was to decentre the conversation around music and meaning. As a person of the diaspora, I wanted to make a body of work which represented the hybrid and linguistically-vibrant nature of my upbringing.”
For the eloquent artist, coming to terms with her heritage is an ongoing conversation that started with a time capsule of cassettes brought with her when she migrated from Hong Kong to Australia when she was six. Rainbow acknowledges these challenges yet pushes herself to continue fostering dialogue through tracks such as “Lull” and “Gaosuwo”.
“(Gaosuwo) It’s the first time I’ve written a pop song in Mandarin. The record also sees me sing in Cantonese and Weitou, a Cantonese dialect spoken by the first settlers of Hong Kong who were villagers. I have Weitou ancestry through my mum. Like many diaspora kids, I wanted to fit in with Western culture throughout my childhood and teenage years. It’s taken me a long time to embrace my roots, and also to not feel like an imposter. So making music in Chinese was one way to express these feelings.”
The new record also sees Rainbow’s unconventional usage of personal sounds and experiences emerge yet again in her production. The effortlessly creative producer shared a little about the story behind one of her favourite tracks on the album, ‘Melt’.
“I really like “Melt”. I like its sparseness and haunting quality. If you listen closely, I’ve used a lot of symbolism in the instrumental sounds and vocal production techniques to reflect the act of disintegration.”
As an independent female artist who’s doing some radically different things on the Australian and wider Western music scenes, Chan is certainly a heartening representation of the possibilities that exist for up-and-coming artists. She shares what the response has been like to her music thus far and how she contributes not only through her music, but through her actions to the burgeoning Asian diasporic music scene.
“It’s been super warm! Hearing younger female artists, especially girls of Asian descent, tell me that I’ve inspired them makes the hard work I’ve put in over the last ten years worth it. I didn’t realise visibility is so important until now...I like contributing, in whatever small ways I can, to push these emerging voices to the fore e.g. including new acts in DJ mixes, choosing diverse support slots, running production workshops.”
Using quiet, careful words to describe her music and her experiences, Chan is certainly someone whose actions speak volumes. Inspiring for the confidence she has in the value of what she has to say, and impressive for the multitude of ways she continues experimentations in expressing it, Rainbow is a pillar of diversity for a world that at times lacks it; shining so brightly and vividly that one can’t help but stop and notice.
Rainbow Chan's album 'Pillar' is out on all streaming platforms now. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for more updates.
By Jocelle Koh
Inspired by a joke amongst friends, Singaporean rappers Masia One, Supa Mojo and General Ling have teamed up with German-Chinese producer team C.O.W to create a track that is larger than life. Bringing together the oft-opposing elements of positive, feminist messages and trap-heavy beats, the tracks combines the best parts of the many worlds this band of creatives have been exposed to across their lifetimes. We spoke in particular to German-Chinese production team C.O.W and Far East Empress Masia One to get their unique takes on their East-meets-West philosophies, and how this latest collaboration fits into it.
1.Tell us a little more about your new single ‘General Ling’! What’s the concept behind this bilingual, avant-garde production?
Masia One: I have met many people in my journeys that are passionate but tend to lose their way from lack of bravery to pursue their dreams. I imagined for this song “What if we all had a Dajie (older sister) that gave us the right advice that we trusted, and could steer us in the right direction?” Then I realized, we must all be our own Dajie, and take care of ourselves.
C.O.W: Since C.O.W. 牛 is a project, which redefines itself through each production, it was a thrilling experiment for us to work together with the amazing Singaporean artists Masia One, Supa Mojo and General Ling. Our concept was just to have fun producing things we haven't done before.
By Jocelle Koh
Malaysian-Australian artist Yeo is probably one of the most underrated acts to come out of the Australian music scene. A producer, singer-songwriter, DJ, music director, bassist and keytarist rolled into one, the jack of all trades has never been one to stay still musically, experimenting with everything from full-on country albums to electronic music, before settling into his current more R&B facing direction.
Over chicken rice and ice-cream (how all great conversations begin), we chatted about everything from our shared philosophies, growing up as a member of the Asian diaspora, and of course the veteran muso's recent musical exploits. In particular, the introspective artist spoke at length about his latest R&B single ‘By Myself’, featuring Singaporean artist and long-time collaborator Charlie Lim.
From the first listen, I could tell that this collaboration between Yeo and Charlie went much deeper than just a vocal feature. Long-time collaborators with the purest kind of respect for each others' craft, Yeo went deep sharing about Lim's participation on the track and how it all came together.
“I kind of went through a little bit of a crisis and that was at the end of a long struggle with a back injury…so my physical health became good, then I had to deal with mental stuff. At that point in time, all my closest friends came through and was like, Hey, we're still here for you. We’re not going anything…Also yeah, I made some pretty big mistakes and hurt a lot of people around me, and the people I hurt made a decision to support me through all the bullshit...Me and Charlie we live in different countries, we don’t connect as often as we’d like to. But eventually I came and saw him...and he was also really supportive as a friend. I guess I wrote the song about coming through that and reaching out to people, and I wrote his verse as well, the lyrics…and so I guess that’s how that song comes about.”
When Form Meets Function: Album Design in Taiwan (w. Hebe Tien, A-Mei, DJ Didilong, Easy Shen & Fleshjuicer)
Special Thanks to: Ministry of Culture, Taiwan
Album Descriptions: Matt Taylor
Foreword: Jocelle Koh
In our streaming-driven world, the value of physical albums often elude the best of us. Yet although the CD as a medium seems to somewhat have lost the functionality it used to champion, the Mandarin music scene has truly taken album design to the next level, embedding it deep in any hardcore fan’s music appreciation process.
The efficacy of printing in Taiwan combined with the free-flowing creativity on the scene has spawned new takes on album design that mash together concepts of progressive design and form promulgated by Western album art, whilst retaining the care and luxurious quality of these treasured pieces of merchandise as seen in Eastern music scenes.
Come with us as we delve into the stories behind the designs of some of contemporary Mandopop’s most well-loved and iconic albums; namely milestone works by Hebe Tien, A-Mei, DJ Didilong, Easy Shen and Fleshjuicer.
Hebe Tien 田馥甄 – Day by Day 日常 (2016)
Album Designer: Aaron Nieh 聶永真
Although being a singer is perceived to us as a life of glitz and glamour; to those who know better, sometimes they instead desire for one of pure simplicity. Hebe Tien (田馥甄) - one third of Taiwan’s most famous girl group S.H.E – understands this feeling more than most, and decided to explore this concept on her fourth solo studio album. To enjoy and savour the most trivial things in life is to understand that nothing is permanent, and even the small tasks and feelings should be treasured.
The packaging pays homage to the concept by taking care with even the smallest of details. A combination of bright and simple colours and minimalist design, the album brings together elements of engraving, hand-stitching and a variety of textures and symbols to create something extraordinary from the ordinary.
Image Credit: Di Wei
By Jocelle Koh
Chinese-American rapper Bohan Phoenix is someone who inspires me deeply. In the lead-up to our interview (and even earlier prior), I would read write-ups on his experiences as he seemingly effortlessly fused Eastern and Western elements in his music to bridge cultural gaps, and often a million questions would come to mind. Especially in own quest for finding ways to bridge cultural divides and navigate the complicated landscape of the contemporary music industry, it was nice to chance upon someone who too was thinking deeply about the same issues.
Armed with empathy in spades, a moderated perspective, and a steadfast passion that burns deeper than the average human being; Bohan is a great example of someone who I think could bring real, meaningful change to the Eastern and Western music scenes.
But unlike the other articles I’ve read which tout him as ‘China’s most uncompromising rapper’, or the answer to bridging cultural divides, I wanted to unpack his identity and his mission outside the confines of his skin colour, political context or the topic of his musical content. For music to make meaning, it has to come from the heart.