The Importance of J-Pop with Rainbow Chan
Sweet exteriors give way to darker intents with Sydney's favourite pop-chameleon Rainbow Chan.
Photography Michela Brookman
Rainbow Chan is very petit, pretty, and in possession of the longest arms I've ever seen on someone her size. Considering all this it's easy to throw words like cute and gawky around when writing about her, but you'd be mistaken for assuming she's as sunny as her name.
Sure there is her Disney princess voice and candy-coated sound, but dig a little deeper and you'll find sombre glitch driven baselines and intricate electronic textures. Recently her tracks have developed a darker, more mature sound; with her Long Vacation EP securing her a gigs around the country including the Sydney Opera House during Vivid Festival.
With a busy year behind her, we checked in to see what 2015 holds in store.
Obviously a lot of people really dug your EP, what can they expect from your album?
I really got into a lot of early Japanese electronic musicians like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yasuaki Shimizu. Their music is almost like an imaginary world. It uses lots of marimbas and plate reverbs to create this ethereal, slightly exotic sound. So I became really obsessed with that and R&B and pop structures and tried to combine to two.
Does your background affect your style and the influences you draw from?
I was born in Hong Kong and I have a lot of ties to Asian culture so a lot of Asian music like folk, J-Pop and Canto-Pop influenced my childhood. I'd be listening to this then waking up and watching video hits and listening to Britney Spears every Saturday morning. So in hindsight I feel like that has played into my music, being able to conflate a lot of different genres into one.
You play the saxophone, was that the first instrument you learnt?
Yes. I was really obsessed with this one particular anime series when I was kid. It was called Orange Road and the main girl character is this slightly badass cool girl who plays saxophone. So I think I kind of wanted to be her. Also my band conductor said that I had the longest arms that he had ever seen and that saxophone would be fine for me because I could hug it like a monkey.
What was the first song made you want to be a musician?
I think there were various points in my life when certain songs had this really visceral effect on me, pop songs particularly. I remember this song by Kandi called "Don't Think I'm Not" about when you're out in the club. When I was nine or ten I recorded it off the radio onto a cassette and I remember trying to transcribe the entire song so I could force my family to listen to this thing I had created. But there was also one point where I thought I really wanted to be a hip-hop dancer.
With those long arms!
I just remember I really wanted to be J-Lo's back-up dancer. But now it's really cool because I do get to dance and sing so I came close to that dream.
What's your process?
Often I will experiment with things and create loops in a straightforward set-up, just trying to create strange sounds or rhythms. Then I put that into an archive so I have a collection of different textures and loops. When I have an idea everything flows out naturally, then I program the beats in the computer, do demo tapes with my voice and try to build up harmonies working quite vocally.
What are your plans are for your side project Chunyin?
Chunyin has developed into a slightly darker production driven, non-vocal, dancey project and at the moment I've got a release lined up with someone overseas, which I'm really excited about. Chunyin has also refreshed me and fed back into my Rainbow Chan stuff and made me want to step up the production level of that.
Watching your clips you can come across as sweet, but in your live shows you see this other side that's a bit wild. Do different parts of your process bring out different parts of your personality?
I feel that because the sounds I choose can be quite sweet and saccharine people project those sounds into my image rather than really digging a bit deeper into the lyrical content, often the things I sing about aren't sweet. It's a feedback loop where people have this idea of me that isn't necessarily true and I'm not trying to become edgy or badass I'm just aware so I try to bring out other elements to counter that.
If I'm on stage I don't try to put on a front, I once talked about my vagina on stage. I don't set up barriers, maybe that's not a great thing, but I feel with the more music I make people will get to know me a bit more just like getting to know anyone.