Sound Between Worlds: Eternal Dragonz Interview

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8:03 AM HKT, Wed May 23, 2018 8 mins read

Since launching in 2016, Eternal Dragonz has planted its flag around the world in measured steps. The decentralized team behind the label, with core members in Sydney, Los Angeles and Portland, OR, is focused on releasing music from across Asia and the Asian diaspora, an idea that grew in part from co-founder Tzekin (formerly V Kim)’s own experience as a producer in Australia. The overall goal is to tear apart stereotypes of what “Asian music” is supposed to sound like (“No gongs, no erhu,” Tzekin told me in a 2016 interview), to provide a platform for fresh sounds emerging in deeper, darker corners of cities like Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei, and to unite like-minded artists from all of these places, as well as Asian artists in Western countries, under a single banner.


Over the last two years, Eternal Dragonz has maintained a diverse output, curating regular online DJ sets, trickling out releases like a 2017 EP for Shanghai-based producer SCINTII and an original soundtrack for the latest video work by artist Lawrence Lek, and supplementing these streams with offline events such as a memorable party at now-closed Hong Kong club XXX, and a recent field trip to Taiwan, where they met up with legendary producer and soundtrack composer Lim Giong.

The latest project from Eternal Dragonz is a Singles Club series, which launched last month with a track for Hong Kong rapper Fotan Laiki and Beijing rapper Bloodz Boi. Their second release in the series — two tracks by Singapore/New York vocalist Slodown, produced by Tzekin — is out today (find it here or on Spotify).

I took the opportunity to catch up with two of the label’s prime movers — Tzekin, and LA-based member Angela Lin — to talk about Eternal Dragonz’ “amorphous” approach to representing Asia through music that straddles the divide between dubious constructions of “East” and “West.”

Singapore/NY artist Slodown

RADII: Who all’s involved with Eternal Dragonz at the moment?

Tzekin: Angela and myself are leading the music side these days — we just got back from a trip in Taiwan. There was an interview with Stella (SCINTII) on Native Instruments this week that called us “amorphous.” I kind of love that description. It’s accurate.

Angela: We’re definitely amorphous in the sense that we love to collaborate with different musicians, artists, and designers. In terms of day-to-day management, it’s currently me, Justin [Tam, aka Tzekin], and Eric Hu, but we’re always on the lookout to find different team members.

You’ve had a pretty wide scope of action in your first few years, putting out a few releases, curating regular online DJ sets, and throwing events around the world. What have the highlights been so far? Do you have a clear area you want to focus on in the future?

Tzekin: Going back to Hong Kong last year and playing with the Absurd Creation crew — Fotan Laiki, Kelvin T, T0C1S, Tsalal — meant a lot to me. My dad grew up in Hong Kong, and I saw a part of that city he never saw. It was nice to be there and play to a crowd of people I identified with on a deeper level. Like being home, even though my Canto is trash.

Angela: In the future we’d like to focus on larger album campaigns. Currently most of the music we’ve released are singles, EPs, and one-offs. There are a few projects with bigger potential that we’re very excited for, including Justin’s release [as Tzekin]. My dream goal for EDZ though is to throw a cool, intimate music festival that gathers all of our collaborators under one big party!

Geographically where all have you been so far? Is there any part of the globe you’re paying special attention to?

Tzekin: I’m probably the furthest away, in Australia. My timezone makes it hard for us to do Facebook calls. I always love to see the stories of Asians like us who’ve lived or studied somewhere else in the world and then returned to where they call home.

Angela: I grew up in North Carolina and relocated to LA two years ago. It was in LA that I found a really vibrant scene of Asian-American artists that inspired me to get involved in Eternal Dragonz. Since my family is from Taiwan, naturally my attention is focused on Taiwan.


I saw that you recently visited Taiwan and met Lim Giong, who was the soundtrack composer of cult 2001 film Millennium Mambo. He’s also a seminal figure in Taiwan’s electronic and experimental music scene from what I understand. Can you give a brief intro to him and his work? How did you cross paths?

Angela: When I first watched Millenium Mambo I didn’t move at all, I was mesmerized by the scenes of Taiwan in the early 2000s — the fashion, music, everything. Lim’s score stood out above all because it included distinctly Taiwanese rock, drum n bass, and techno in just one movie. It wasn’t just music that copied Western sounds, it was its own completely new, very “Taiwanese” sound.

After Millennium Mambo I delved into Lim’s entire discography. I was surprised to find he was originally a famous Taiwanese folk-pop singer — someone who my parents recognized for his hit “Going Home.” Although Lim started as a vocalist, his work as a producer has become incredibly varied — he’s delved into ambient and experimental techno, and has been an active film composer. His work on the film The Assassin even won the Cannes Soundtrack Award [in 2015].

Angela: We crossed paths because after hearing his album Folk Paradise after months of searching for it online, I was determined to reissue the entire album. With the help of some friends in Taiwan I was able to track him down, and reached out to him via email. He only speaks Chinese, so funny enough my mom has been helping me translate our entire exchange. When Justin and I decided to visit Taiwan, we met up and discussed a few cool projects, including Folk Paradise.

Currently the only way you can hear anything from Folk Paradise is through two very odd videos on YouTube – it really deserves a second listen. Folk Paradise encompasses the Eternal Dragonz sound — each track is a cover of a different Asian folk song, but produced by Lim to fit in different genres like breakbeat, trance, techno, and more. When I hear folk songs that my grandma used to sing to me redone in trance, I just get so so excited!

Last month you launched a new Singles Club series, starting with “Dong Leng Cha” featuring Fotan Laiki and Bloodz Boi. How did you put that duo together?

Tzekin: In 2017, on our first night in Hong Kong at the Airbnb, our art director Eric Hu showed us a video of Cooking Bitchess on his phone. For hours we talked about how different dialects of Mandarin inform flows in rap. We heard Laiki might swing through at our show with x/o at XXX. You can see what happened in that photo [below]. Veron [x/o] went for karaoke with them and Kelvin T afterwards, but I think the rest of us went to bed — we were flying out to Seoul.

And then with “Dong Leng Cha,” Eric heard Bloodz Boi’s track, Angela and I called him and Laiki on WeChat, and then just helped them put that out.

Eternal Dragonz at XXX, Hong Kong, 2017. L to R: x/o, Eric Hu, Fotan Laiki, Kelvin T, Anna (Cooking Bitchess) — Photo by Michelle Cho

What’s the overarching concept for Singles Club? What else is coming in the series?

Angela: We wanted the Singles Club to really showcase all the amazing variety and talent coming from Asian musicians all over the world. Albums often take a really long time to release, but with the Singles Club we can show off all the good shit people are making right away. I love albums, but the reality is we live in a single-driven music industry. The Singles Club is also a bit of an A&R move for us to see what reacts well, and help gauge which artists we want to continue working with.

Our latest release is two R&B slow jams, “Skyline/Sunset,” from Singaporean artist Slodown. Both tracks were produced by Tzekin. Slodown just has this really special voice that makes it feel like he’s singing right in your ear… His EP Nomance with producer Yllis is already one of my faves of the year.

I think at the end of the year we’ll compile all these singles together as a snapshot of musicians we’ve worked with throughout the year.

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Focusing specifically on China: your first EP release was for SCINTII, a Taiwanese artist based in Shanghai who’s been earning greater international attention with her work in the last year. As a label interested and invested in China but also working overseas, what do you find interesting, unique, or special about the music coming out of China/Shanghai? What other artists are on your radar — either ones you are working with or ones you’re following?

Tzekin: I heard SCINTII or Stella’s music from my friend Yun Nien. We met in London and she sent it to me over Messenger when I was back in Sydney. What interested me was Stella’s story — her growing up in Taipei, moving to London and learning the sound of that city and the clubs there, and then going back to Taipei with that sound, and eventually to Shanghai. To me, that was the kind of “East to West” — as much as I hate those two words — story that we wanted to tell.


Tzekin: As an “Asian” in the West you straddle two worlds. We’re trying to tell the story of those people hanging between both of these worlds, trying to fit into the West — where a lot of “electronic music” seems to originate — yet always pointing back to their home in Asia.

Angela: My day job is in the music industry, and I grew up in a town where I was often one of a handful of Asian people at any event. The music industry in America is dominated by white men, which can be extremely claustrophobic. My outlet for that frustration was to connect with other Asian artists and musicians. Music from China is unique because it really combines my love for music with my love for my heritage. Artists on my radar: Sonia Calico, Golin, Ao Wu, 9m88 and so much more!

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In your experience so far, has Eternal Dragonz succeeded in changing people’s preconceived ideas about music, art or creativity in Asia?

Tzekin: There are so many great people — like Do Hits in Beijing, Absurd Creation in Hong Kong, UnderU in Taipei, No Music 매월 in Seoul — that are defining the music of their cities. Eternal Dragonz is trying something a bit different, and representing the diaspora that got planted in these terrible Western countries because our parents wanted to study IT or finance in America, the UK or Australia, or for people who’ve left their homes to see something else in the Western world.

People — especially the non-Asians in a desert utopia like Australia — need to realize that just because we’re Asian, it doesn’t mean we’re going to play out some twee shit sampling gongs or cute J-pop or whatever. For us Asians outside of Asia, we have a much deeper story to tell.

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Angela: I think that Eternal Dragonz has also succeeded in changing the music industry’s preconceived ideas about music. The way Asian musicians have been portrayed and released are often through a white lens or a white-owned label. We’re very proud to be Asians who are representing culture and attitudes that are authentic to us.

Besides the Singles Club series, what’s next on the agenda?

Tzekin: I have an album getting mastered now. It showcases rappers and singers from everywhere in Asia. It’s telling stories about these Asian artists with a sonic palette throwing back to American R&B/rap and the weird and difficult club music I really love, and I know a lot of EDZ-affiliated artists are informed by — Alice Vicious and Moldy from Seoul, Slodown from Singapore, Lil Asian Thiccie from Kuala Lumpur, Catarrh Nisin from Hyogo, Anna from Hong Kong.

Angela: Music will always be our focus, but we are excited to explore projects outside the realm of music. We’re looking at a few things: reissuing important art books, photo series, events etc.

Keep up with new moves from Eternal Dragonz on your social of choice (Facebook/Twitter/IG) and hear the latest on their Bandcamp & Soundcloud pages.

Cover image: Karaoke Vol. 1 by Eternal Dragonz

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