Guangzhou Underground is a relatively new label based in (you guess it) Guangzhou, China’s third largest city in the Guangdong province of China. Their mission is to bring the underground sound of mainline China to the rest of the globe and while their musical scene is behind that of Bejing and Shanghai, they intend to make themselves heard. They were also kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the sounds of Chinese dance music culture, their influences, and getting the label heard at home and abroad.
Guangzhou Underground is now on its fourth release and each has been very unique with a wide variety of styles from drum & bass to house to UK garage and even some bashment vibes. What’s the plan for the label’s sound moving forward?
Just following our noses really. While there will always be a focus on the deeper ends of house and bass music (especially DnB!), we don’t want to be restricted by it; which is the same approach we take with our parties here. We’ve got chilled electronica and ambient coming up with a new producer called Kaison, and an E.P of experimental bass and techno with Zenwan who’s already done a remix for us.. As far as DnB goes, we’re doing a full E.P with Future Ghost and we’ll hopefully be working with Tim Reaper again. We love the idea of cross-genre remixes, and want to keep that as a feature of the label. Chocky’s remix of Future Ghost ‘Come Home’ was a great example of how that can lead to really some inspired results. What has been surprising is the resistance to that idea; some artists we’ve approached for remixes stated flatly they didn’t want to go outside their (sub) genre or tempo range!
What are some of the driving influences for the label?
We love labels like Ninja Tune, Warp, Planet Mu, Honest Jon’s etc that can literally release any kind of music, and they are the templates for us as far as A&R goes. The name itself was a tip of the hat to Glasgow Underground, a label that represented a specific location but had a completely international roster. In terms of what drives us…we’re all music fanatics and dig like crazy. Starting a label has been a natural extension of that – it’s a buzz to connect with artists we like, select tracks and remixes to release and just put something back into that big ocean of music out there.
We understand there are some censorship issues that plague the people of China. Has GU had any issues getting the label off the ground?
None at all, thankfully. Problems from censorship really only arise if you’re dealing with political or ideological issues, and even then, only if you’re directly challenging the Party line. As a dance music record label, that’s not really something we’re likely to brush with. A very real problem relating to censorship however is the Great Firewall; because of the division between what’s available inside China and in the rest of the world, there’s almost a completely different internet culture here. Facebook and Soundcloud are blocked so promotion on those platforms has little effect, and there aren’t really any Chinese equivalents to work with.
We hear almost nothing about about the various music scenes in China. What would you like to tell people reading this in the rest of the world about what you’re doing in Guangzhou and Foshan?
Despite being China’s third largest city, Guangzhou is waaaaay behind Beijing and Shanghai for dance music right now. Both of those cities have established clubs and promoter networks that are becoming increasingly connected with the international DJ circuit. They also have producers like Howie Lee and Tzusing who are deservedly getting international recognition. But here in South China, ‘dance music’ largely equates to electro house and local ‘high music’ (sort of like the happy hardcore or trance equivalent of Chinese pop). Underground dance music is still something new, but there’s definitely an appetite and a curiosity about it. A big reason for setting up the label and doing the parties is to try to push things along here. We know it will be an uphill battle for a while but we’re just going to keep plugging away.
What’s the local response been like for the label?
Limited right now, to be honest! We’re still mostly known for our parties here, and most of our energy – at the local level – goes into promoting those. A big factor is that the very idea of an independent dance music label is unknown. As I explained before, the Great Firewall means there’s a different culture here as far as media goes; everyone gets their music from cheap/free Chinese digital stores that are configured for the pop market. The idea of browsing for dance tunes on Beatport or Juno just doesn’t exist. It’s something we’re working on cracking though.
Do you have any releases from Chinese producers that we should know about or that might be featured on future releases?
Zenwan, who is based in Guangzhou, will have an E.P with us out soon. Very excited to see what this guy will do; he has his own style that reminds me of very much of Shackleton crossed with Source Direct. But aside from him, the ‘Chinese’ side of the label is something that we’re eagerly trying to develop. As I said, everything is still relatively new here and there are things going on, albeit in disparate little cliques. It’s just a case of keeping our ear to the ground and continuing to make connections. Something we are currently working on however is re-releasing tunes by Chinese electronic artists that never got international distribution. If that comes off, expect some really interesting music to appear on the label. Watch this space.
Thanks to Simon and the rest of the GZUG folks!