Howie Lee is one of the most important names in Chinese contemporary electronic music. His latest LP ‘7 Weapons’ is a gleaming display of why such recognition is so.
Beijing-raised audio-visual producer Howie Lee is known for experimental works that explore the human condition through multifaceted soundscapes. Fusing Chinese instrumentation with traditional samples, Howie’s work sees a perfect collision of folk and modernity, a dystopic electronic proposal that ranges genres from trap and bass to techno.
Released September 4th on Belgian label Maloca Records, ‘7 Weapons Series’ is the latest set of hybrid club tracks from the producer, taking inspiration from Gu-Long’s novel series of the same name. Across the album, Howie explores what he calls ‘the weapons and tools of a musician to fight for their vision of the world through art’ such as the effects of sampling or experimenting with sounds to give them new meaning and context.
Howie established the Do Hits collective in 2011, which has since gained a reputation as one of Asia’s most forward-thinking crews, featuring the likes of Alex Wang and LOFIMAKER. Meanwhile also making his own mark globally with futuristic productions on labels such as SVBKVLT, Alpha Pup Records, Trap Door, amongst others.
We touch base with the Howie Lee talking on his album, what it’s currently like to be an artist in his country and his many inspirations.
I was amazed by listening to 7 weapons, it definitely feels like a really fresh and more mature album. When did you start putting it together and what was your main concept?
7 weapons, 7 songs. I always think that as a musician you fight for justice and I use music as a weapon, to sort of defend my values from the imaginary enemies. I used this idea as a concept.
I had all these tracks as demos and one day, Maloca asked me if I wanted to release an EP from it. I kind of organised some of the tracks, some of them were really rough at the time, more club-focused. I think in March or February, I started properly putting the album together because coronavirus came and I had a lot of time, I worked on it for roughly about two or three weeks. Then I felt that it was ready.
Since your last work ‘Tiān Dì Bù Rén’, how do you think you have grown as an artist? You were expressing ideas around themes such as human will vs human destruction. Have your ideas changed in these topics since?
I think I’m always growing by learning new stuff and by giving myself more interesting questions for my music to answer. I’m always thinking that I’m not mature and is a personal goal that my next album will be more and more mature. I do think that ‘Tian Di Bu Ren’ reflects me a lot in what I’ve been doing for the recent years, a lot of experiments and a lot of the stuff I haven’t done before like singing. I think that the new one, 7 weapons, is different cause I was on tour for the Tian Di Bu Ren, I was playing a live audiovisual light show and is all played in a more staged set up. 7 weapons, is more like finishing of some of the stuff that was previously unfinished, making use of some tools I hadn’t used in a while like those that DJing live provided me.
And in terms of ideas featured, I think the main concept for Tian Di Bu Ren, is a bit difficult for me to explain in English, the concept is from China and our understanding of philosophy because it is kind of a western word for metaphysics. Here in China, we don’t use as much the term as it refers more of the talks beyond humanity. My concept refers more to the idea that we shouldn’t care so much about ourselves. My ideas haven’t changed a lot since, it’s always a big concept behind my music and I just try to reflect that, is something in myself that’s very difficult for me to express another way than through music.
Your music stands out from the other stuff being put out in the east. Do you feel you connect with the music scene in China? What is it like to be a musician there?
I think I’m very unique. What I’ve been doing is different from what everyone else was doing in Beijing. I also live really far from Beijing too. There is an electronic scene there but I’m always kind of far from it and by myself. I’m more enjoying myself being isolated, rather than playing out and going out and hanging out with other people, doing music with other people. I’m a weird guy so I try to stay by myself, I find it really hard to do gigs in the city. I was really active in the scene for a long time, but in recent years I’ve been more isolated.
I think being a musician in China is cool because compared to London or Berlin there’s not so much competition here, everyone is doing their own things. There aren’t many real musicians in our world, there are so many folk musicians who consider themselves musicians but in the underground or more contemporary music scene there aren’t many people doing this. They have trouble making a living out of it, especially in recent years. Beijing is becoming more and more political, a lot of venues are shut down and for me, it is difficult to even set up a DJ night because of this situation.
Overall, I think Beijing is a city that’s getting more and more attention to new music and experimental stuff, it is contemporary in terms of having different musicians. Beijing has a very rich background in underground music. The rock scene was really big for a long time, there were many rock clubs. It is really interesting, it’s kind of rough and people say different things about this city but it’s a very straight forward and cultured place.
You’ve lived in London in the past. Has this experience inspired your productions at all?
Living in London inspired me a lot because I was very influenced by British contemporary music, basically bass music. Before I went to London I was always curious about how these people manage to produce this music and play it live and how they do it. I did figure it out when I was there trying to dive into the scene and to see how people do everything. When I came back to China I used this experience to make stuff happen in our side more related to what was going on at the moment in the UK.
How would you say that your music reflects who you are? Do you normally make tracks with a concept in mind or do you allow experimentation to guide you?
Music is me, it’s kind of the most efficient way for me to express myself. I do visual stuff as well but I think music is my most familiar language to understand myself and that’s how people see me too. It’s part of myself. Sometimes I try to have a concept before and then I start to compose but most of the time I make out the concept after I have the tracks finished. Most of what I do is experimenting and improvising.
What would you say it’s at the core of your music? What do you want to get through with your music?
The core is not music at all. I think is just my fate, it happened that I know or I treat myself of it just happened that I was doing music. It could be sculptures, it could be writing… it doesn’t matter too much. I have to find a balance in my life to get through the whole concept of living. I’ve found that, for me, music and performing live have to be peaceful. This peacefulness is the core and what I’m looking for[with my music] Some people find peace and meaning through being quiet, and others find it through being really loud, like Japanese noise guys and very fast hard rock rockers, but the thing they are looking for is peace.
How did you get into music, would you say there was a specific moment when you realised that you wanted to do this?
I wasn’t really into music when I was young. Around when I was 12 or 13 I started to listen to some pop, hip hop and punk stuff. I was so surprised by it and then at around 14 my friend showed me other music styles and I was blown away. I don’t remember if I realised I wanted to do this at the moment but I did realise at some point because it seemed so fun.
Could you tell us five tracks by artists who have particularly inspired your work?
Bamba Pana – Poaa
Voice of progress/junior reid – Mini Bus Driver
Clark – Good Bad Good
Alabaster Deplume -Visit Croatia
Bibio- Sleep On The Wing
Howie Lee’s ‘7 Weapons’ LP is out now.
Grab it here.