i-DJ: howie lee on china's emerging edm scene

Get down and dirty with the freshest sounds of China’s electronic scene, thanks to an exclusive i-DJ mix from Beijing’s Howie Lee.

by Hattie Collins
21 December 2015, 4:47pm

Thanks to upstart label SVBKVLT and its sister club, Shanghai's Shelter, the Chinese electronic scene is making more and more noise on a global scale. Traditionally associated with punk and rock, contemporary Asian musicians are turning to digital-based soundscapes to express themselves, proving that bass music isn't solely the preserve of the West. Though the scene is thriving 'n' surviving, it's doing so against all odds, with platforms like Soundcloud banned throughout the country. Proving it's about a "can't stop, won't stop" attitude, producers like ChaCha and 28-year-old Beijing producer and DJ Howie Lee are slowly winning international acclaim. Lee mixed up a storm at this year's SXSW with his set of Western bass entwined with Chinese textures, while releases like Eastside Sampler Series and Borderless Shadows and remixes for Snoop Dogg have won the support of Plastician and Scratcha DVA.

Chinese electronica is bubbling up and Ballantine's Whisky's latest issue of UNDER THE LABEL, a series of zines which seeks to explore the untold stories of independent records labels across the globe, focuses directly on this burgeoning scene. Guest edited by Rinse FM's J-Cush, Issue 2 is championing those characters that have stayed true to their passions and helped push this scene from the underground up. Read the zine here. To celebrate this launch, we have an exclusive mix from Howie himself, featuring tantalising tracks from Damacha, Zhi 16, Lee and ChaCha.

Press play to find out what's going on behind the great firewall of China…

Howie, you're making a name for yourself internationally as one of China's leading beatmakers. How do you think you've done that?
Never give up and always be humbled and willing to learn from others. I've been making electronic music for long time. All my friends give up making music or trying to use music to make money, or they just stopped learning and became trapped in their small world. You always need to look outside of the box.

How has the support of Giles Peterson, Scratcha DVA, Plastician etc., helped spread the word?
In China, DJs rarely play local producer's work and the scene is really small. The support of these world-leading DJs is really helping my music to get heard. It motivates me to be more creative.

What/who influences your sound?
I listened a lot of hip-hop instrumentals when I was young; DJ Krush is probably one of my biggest early influences. I've been listening to all sorts of music, I've played in a punk pop band, a disco punk band, then when I started DJing I played electro, then dubstep. I'm not listening to much rock nowadays, but still it shaped my aesthetic.

What changes have you noticed in Beijing culturally and musically in recent years?
I could probably write a few books about this! The growth of the scene in Beijing and amount of people who are listening to independent music is crazy. Still, most people are into folk and rock music. The electronic scene is still very small. Most people now understand guitar music, but still only a few people can understand machine made music. But if you think about 20 years ago, nothing like this existed. The Internet is still not technically opened up yet. All social networks from the West are banned, including soundcloud.

Do you think China can start to make as much noise in bass music as the UK, the US and Europe?
Of course, Asian music is booming. Koreans are doing it properly, spreading their music to the West. Chinese people are way richer than before and starting to think about lifestyle and aesthetics. China has the biggest population of the world, so there is no way the music can't go outside of China. But it's not [happening just] yet. There's a few years until Chinese people can really find their roots and build the pride of Chinese music.

How do you think that will happen?
Chinese musicians need to break rules instead of being too conservative. And they need to know their position in the world, rather than only look at China itself.

You have to stay true to yourself?
I always talk to people like, you have to be true to yourself otherwise music won't solve your problems. I see music as a mirror of your inner-self. You have to be true to yourself in order to see who you are. To make better music, I need to understand myself and my emotions better. That's how I approach and practice music; always find the weakness, face and solve it, then you can improve. 



1. Chacha & Hamacide - Qi Dai Xiang Yu (COCOWILLIAMS Remix)
2. Thruoutin - 奇怪的地?-?
3. Zaliva - D - Kindred Disease
4. ?'恋C11 - 蹭吃蹭?-?!
5. Jeanie - Pipa
6. Howie Lee - 只要你一?'??'就大叫
7. Jason Hou & Dokedo - 嘎?"嘎?"
8. 张学友 ft. 狠?'?"?孩,Bloodz Boi & 3Bangz -婚前性行是情?'(Howie Lee "QJ范冰冰" edit)
9. Sonia Calico - More Tea (Remix)
10. Sweet Man - 不能?-?就?-?了
11. Zhi 16 - 乐场
12. Soulspeak - Zapp Your Brain
13. Petechen - Dinglingling
14. Damacha - Huangpu Ocean
15. 狸猫 Aristophanes - 左右为难 (Prod. Lidly)
16. Howie Lee -?-海
17. ?'恋C11 - ∂ floating tots
18. Hoookie Wee - 看着?'的嘴巴吧
19. Jason Hou -
20. Bohan Phoenix ft. Duzzo Dave - Motivasian (Prod. Howie Lee)
21. Harikiri & Bloodz Boi - 夏利


Text Hattie Collins

chinese music
scratcha dva
Howie Lee
giles peterson
hattie collins