On May 8, Shanghai-based musician and producer Henry Robinson (aka Cruel Buddhist) dropped Lockdown Loops, a mixtape of 15 tracks recorded during Shanghai’s lockdown.
“These raw one-take live recordings are a mix of music I made to soothe myself with peaceful vibes, to voice a sense of creeping doom, and to send my mind away as I stared into middle space,” wrote the musician on Bandcamp.
An attempt to play two keyboards at once allegedly played a part in birthing the spontaneous DJ’s latest beats.
“To me, the best moments in music are when I [am] in harmony with the flow, acting spontaneously and unselfconsciously. I find this feeling is tandem with some Daoist ideas.”
Robinson’s very stage name reflects his approach toward creation: Core concepts of Zen and Daoism are never far from Cruel Buddhist’s mind.
As he puts it, “being in a state of flow, embracing making mistakes, and capturing the moment of inspiration as it strikes” make up the artist’s modus operandi.
“The recordings I make in the moment feel way more magic[al] than when I go back and try to replay them. The original recordings have the aimless joy of creation in them, and not the labor and forced intention of recreating something that has already been invented,” muses Robinson. “This philosophy, which guides most of my music, is perhaps best embodied in Lockdown Loops.”
Hailing from Wisconsin, Robinson was born with ADHD and grew up as a hyperactive kid who was often grounded for long periods, shares the artist with RADII. Music served as an outlet for his excess energy, and he has found peace and fulfillment in it.
Robinson made his first trip to China with his then-girlfriend during his college years. Later, he moved to the city of Nanchang, the capital of East China’s Jiangxi province, to work as a full-time musician in hotels and bars. He eventually moved to Shanghai in 2016 in the hopes of improved opportunities and larger audiences who might appreciate his original music.
“Being in China has offered me a realistic opportunity to support myself with my music, which is really all I want to do in life,” says Robinson candidly.
Shanghai-based label Eating Music has been indispensable to his artistic growth in “innumerable ways,” from connecting him with like-minded creatives to exposing him to Chinese fans.
Mixtape aside, Robinson has been working on an EP titled Sonder, which will be released later this year. The first lockdown in 2020 saw him stringing together seven tracks, which he has been perfecting ever since — proving he can turn his usual music-making process on its head.
“Sonder is very much an experiment that grafts more intention and perfectionism in my music. I usually let go of both of these things for the sake of character and soul,” he says. “This time, I wanted to see what I could do to improve on that impressionistic style with some hyper-focused analysis and re-editing.”
The upcoming EP’s title comes from John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a famed compendium of “beautiful new words that we need but do not yet have,” reviewed YA author John Green. ‘Sonder’ describes ‘the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.’
Robinson has interpreted its meaning as ‘compassion.’
“I think ‘sonder’ is a reason to be kind and also not to fear showing who you truly are. So my Sonder EP is a little window — among many — which I welcome you to peer into and see into my world.”
All images courtesy of Henry Robinson and Eating Music