Liang Yi is a musical creator and bandleader from Chengdu, China, rocking the world with his electronic-rock band ST.OL.E.N.
The sextet has a dreamy trance-like sound and focuses on translating into sound the social aspects of life in China. With a full length album released in 2015 and a new EP made in Berlin in 2017 with producer Mark Reeder, they have just finished their international debut album and plan for its release. Their songs seem like anthems for a lost damned generation with ironic hints on socio-political aspects of living in China and a radiography of Chinese society.
It was a great pleasure to talk with him about such different aspects of music and artistic life in China. I hope to catch these guys live any time soon as there music is really hard to find even on the internet. Maybe this is a good marketing policy to raise the expectations for a future tour.
China's music market is not as bad as everyone thinks, but it's not particularly good. Similar to everywhere else in the world, hip-hop is the music that occupies a large portion of it. The independent music zone is much smaller and I think the cause of this phenomenon are mainly the environmental problems. When we were kids, we used to listen to the popular music from Taiwan or Hong Kong, they have these obvious melodies and lyrics that can easily make people resonate, but they are mostly popular love songs. I feel that we lost a large part of our aesthetic ability to make music, which has great influence on our generation of young people. Only those who love music will explore different and wider kinds of sounds. In the present, the young people in China still live in a world without music. For them, the meaning of music is just entertainment and trend. With the rapid development of cities, they have no time to taste and understand creative culture. I'm a little pessimistic, but it's almost true! Politics has a big influence on the spread of culture, but I think it cannot be a reason to retreat, because nothing can control passion and love. I don't have so many feelings about it as I am on the inside. I just need to keep looking for VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) and express what I want to say in a smarter way.
Most of my friends are rock, reggae and techno fans. But young people always love hip-hop because it is fashionable, everyone is fashionable so these are the sounds for young and middle-aged people. I think that luxury and trends always attract the young people more. With regard to culture, I think this city is a Chinese hope for us, it is inclusive, easy to be accepted here and people are interested in new things that can be quickly integrated into it.
Fashion seems to be more likely to inspire young people's imagination than music. A funny story: last week we went to some club performances, where every young man looked very fashionable and we all felt that we looked very old, like our style of dressing was of another culture. We are combining the hip-hop and Gothic elements in our style, haha ha, I think it sounds terrible, but at least we are more independent than most Chinese young people. People think that if are dressed in black we must be dressed but in fact we are really happy like this.
We had some special friends in the music industry who knew Mark and they gave our music to him. We were looking for a producer and Mark told us that he was interested in working with us. That was a surprise that made us very happy so we started looking for a recording studio. After spending a day there, Mark felt something was wrong, so we went to our own studio and finished the EP Why We Choose to Die in Berlin with computers and our own instruments. We worked very good together with Mark and this collaboration has broadened our horizons. We have now, I think, a deeper understanding of sound and what we need.
About the new album, we have already finished it, we are just waiting for the best time to release it.
From me point of view, I think in China you cannot find a good producer, maybe we have some great fancy equipment, but we don’t have someone who really knows music!
And how to produce it. That’s because people in this country are very very confused. We have in China some very talented artists and most of them have a variety of problems. For example, maybe some musicians have created good records or songs, but they cannot show them in live because of their strange cultural environment. Most people have gave up aiming for better music and performance. Only a small number of musicians are trying to convey Oriental thinking in the form of western music and it’s only them who try their best to make it into foreign markets.
The story is very interesting. We took part in a Chinese showcase and we had a very good performance. After this many music festivals were interested in us. On the second day, we had a separate meeting to see every director of the music festival that was interested in us. We met seven or eight directors, and they all said they liked our performance and wanted us to join their music festival, but they couldn't afford our tickets and performance fees.
We are not rich young people, we had no company at that time, so we performed for free, but we couldn’t afford getting abroad. We were so disappointed that we were standing at the gate of the meeting, and suddenly a person came up to talk to us and said, "I'm called Pierre and I can take you to a great music festival in France. I have seen three performances of yours in Beijing in the last three years, every time there was progress and evolution, so I want to help you.”
At first, we didn't quite believe it as you might know that many people like to talk big. We exchanged contacts and left. A month later, he told us that he has confirmed that we can go to France's Transmusicales Festival and start preparing for the visa. We were surprised and found the official information on the music festivals website. Almost all the European bands we liked were at this music festival. We were very excited and grateful to Pierre. Later, he taught us how to protect ourselves and some basic copyright awareness, because China is very weak in this area.
For us, our greatest fortune was to meet Mark and Pierre and learn about music and business. We haven't received feedback from Hamburg’s Reeperbahn and some other music festivals, but I think the chances of coming to Europe this year are very small, because the moment of our new albums release is too late for these music festivals to catch on. We really want to perform in Europe, but we need to wait for the proper opportunities. I believe there will be a chance! Especially in Berlin!
It was done by a very good friend and he is an artist too. These “live transmissions” are part of a program aiming towards something similar with the KEXP Radio Sessions. They would choose a musician or band to go to some special place to perform live first, and then do a series of video recordings. We were the first band of this project. The place where we performed was our favorite place, only four hours away from our city, where we have very beautiful snowy mountains with grassland animals and rivers.
We needed to bring so much equipment to the mountains and it was a huge work for everyone. This is why in that live show I’m crying, we just want more people to be interested and change something! The year before we lived there for a while. It is where we created our new songs for the upcoming album. We had an unforgettable time filled with special moments.
We have a lot of amazing natural landscapes in China! It's hard to describe it to you, come here to see it in reality!
Our debut album Loop was recorded in Taiwan. It is our first full length album and we had only one week to complete the recording because of visa problems. We managed to do it, but we do not consider it a very good record. It is too complex and loud. It's impossible for someone to listen to it time and time again. Aamir talks about a novel kite runner, the reflection of my inner weakness, and the other one is a love song. Do you like them? They are very old songs.
I think it's possible! In fact, I can imagine that feeling in high detail. It's just that more people need to focus in this independent culture and art industry of ours. We are trying to get more young people who like mainstream pop culture to accept our music. They just need a really good band to open up their world! We want to influence the next generation of Chinese youth. But we still need to work harder. I believe that good music or art can shake all the people anywhere.
Most of our families do not know what we are doing. They are still used in classifying it as entertainment. Of course, it is entertainment, but for us, creating music is much higher than the art of entertainment. Our families are very supportive of us, but they will always worry that what we do cannot serve us in our lives. They always feel that the life of this profession is short. In the first five years of being in a band, we can hardly afford to live our lives. We can't do regular work because we needed to spend a lot of time on rehearsals and composing every day.
During that period, the situation was not that good, but our parents always supported us financially, although sometimes they were scolded, but mostly because they were worried about us.
We have a saying in China, that there is no eternal feast in the world. So we try to avoid participating too much in each other's lives. We spend a lot of time together as all friends do, but most of us only talk only about music and band related topics. But we love each other and often encourage and remind ourselves why we are doing this!