CITY MIX is a RADII series in which we give you a sonic spin through the underground music of a Chinese city outside the Beijing/Shanghai nexus.
Tianjin is a city I used to know very little about, despite the fact that it is roughly 30 minutes from Beijing (where I live) by high speed rail. After years of living in Beijing I never had the drive to visit. Over time I gained little tidbits of trivia about the place, like how it is one of the four “city provinces” (aka direct-controlled municipalities) of China, along with Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.
Historically, Tianjin was colonized by several European nations, and was Belgium’s only colony in China. I even heard that Gustave Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower, had a hand in designing one of Tianjin’s most iconic bridges. Culturally, Tianjin is supposedly where the Chinese comedy word-play style, crosstalk, originated.
But what about the music scene? Around 2010-2012, there was only one band that I came in contact with that would regularly tour Beijing from Tianjin: Wanderlust. That was really where my knowledge began and ended.
Recently I was invited to play a show in Tianjin, and it was my chance to see what this city’s music scene had to offer. My visit inspired me to put together a mix showcasing some of the artists I’ve found out about there. I followed a similar format to my Shenyang: an abridged guide mix from a few months ago.
Click play to hear hip-hop, electronic, post-rock and experimental music from Tianjin, and read a bit about each artist below.
As I mentioned above, three-piece outfit Wanderlust used to come to Beijing quite frequently, and I can remember seeing them play Krautrock at several defunct venues like D-22, What Bar, and Hot Cat Club. The group eventually disbanded after its members went to study abroad. The main songwriter, Zuo Wei, is now living in Toronto, and is still making music under the moniker WISEFAKE. The Tianjin diaspora is something I will talk about more as the mix develops.
Despite some recent moves to ban the genre from certain media outlets, hip-hop is still very popular throughout China, especially in smaller cities. I came across a few MCs and producers still riding the trap wave of shows like The Rap of China, and wanted to include them here. Each9 is a young MC from Tianjin who collaborates with quite a few other MCs from the city, and is one of the few guys there that shared his tracks with me.
SHINE G is one of the more active MCs in Tianjin, collaborating with EACH9 and a whole bunch of other Tianjin rappers. The track on this mix was produced by a young Beijing-based producer called Xue Sheng Tang — I’d say that there is a big Keith Ape influence with some of his tracks. You can watch the video for the track “B.M.W” here, where they drink booze, curse and stand in front of cars.
He Xian Wen Lu Xiang is another MC, one whose name I guess could be translated as “Crane Asked Sin Sin Deer.” There is not all that much information on him available, but I particularly liked the Chinese traditional instrument samples on his song “Miao.”
Most of the research for this mix was done through word of mouth and WeChat conversations. The majority of the locals I talked to turned out to be DJs, and the other MCs were helpful, but slightly aloof to the idea of my mix. An exception to this was the producer NinjaBlade, who recently did a show in Tianjin with Beijing-based producer ANXT. He recommended a lot of music, and primarily puts out hip-hop and house. He introduces himself as a DJ, rapper, sound engineer and Texas Hold’em player. NinjaBlade is also the founder of the Ninja Music record label.
Former member of Wanderlust, Carpet of Let, and a few other musical endeavors, Zuo Wei aka WISEFAKE now lives and makes techno in Toronto. He recently put out an album called SAKURA BENTO, which you can check out on Bandcamp. He also recently started the label Brief Note; which has artists from all over on it.
I discovered quickly that finding out about Tianjin music online led to slim pickings. A lot of artists seem to have left for more developed music scenes elsewhere. Beijing is the closest option, and that is where the producer and designer VU currently resides. He is the co-founder of techno label Prajnasonic.
Continuing with artists who have left Tianjin to do music in other cities, Xie Yugang is one of my favorite ambient musicians in China, though he’s better known as the frontman of post-rock group Wang Wen. He grew up in Tianjin, but left in the ’90s to study in Dalian, where he still lives today. His track “Snowing Night” is off of his solo album from last year Echo Library. His band was recently in Iceland recording a new album, and there are some soothing vlogs about their trip and recording process here.
I played a lot of hip-hop at the start of this mix, but another genre that’s quite popular in China is post-rock. I found out about TYTS from a compilation of Tianjin rock music released in 2016 called THE TOWN AND CITY·ABOUT THE DAY AND NIGHT. Sadly I could not find out too much more about them.
The last transplant on this mix is Wang Ziheng. He’s been a regular of the experimental scene in Beijing for a number of years now. Running the unique dive bar SOS and performing emotionally powerful live sets on saxophone is what I know him best for.
The first time I saw him live was at a now-closed venue in Beijing called XP. The recording on this mix was most likely done at one of the Zoomin’ Night shows in an underpass near Sanyuanqiao in Beijing.
Tianjin has a population of roughly 15 million people. That is almost double the amount of London or New York, yet there just wasn’t that much music to be found. Unfortunately, this is the case in a lot of mid-level cities around China. That’s not to say that there isn’t good music being made there — finding what is there makes compiling these mixes more interesting. I am by no means the authority on Tianjin underground sounds, but I hope this mix helps show what the city has bubbling.
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Cover photo: Wei Wei Zhang
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