Yin: Howie Lee on “Socialism Core Value II”

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Feb 18, 2018 2 mins read

Yin (, “music”) is a weekly RADII feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.

Indirectly following up on the Do Hits Year of the Rooster compilation from around this time last year, label-runner Howie Lee has just released a new, vaguely Spring Festival-themed album: Socialism Core Value II.

SCV II is a sequel to an album of the same name released by Howie last June, which consisted entirely of edits of Chinese folk and pop songs, and he’s still sampling heavily on part II. An early-album standout is “高级动物 Gao Ji Dong Wu”, which takes its title and some guitar from a song by pioneering Chinese rocker Dou Wei, cutting those with a bass-heavy mid-tempo beat and a robot narrator repeating the catchphrases one sees on red propaganda banners hanging around major Chinese cities: fuqiang (wealth and power), minzhu (democracy), wenming (civilization), hexie (harmony), ziyou (freedom); pingdeng (equality).

Incidentally, you can hear the slogans from this track repeated on loop at the website for SCV, a clothing brand spun off from the concept by a mysterious sub-group:

fuqiangminzhu.com

SCV II distinguishes itself from its predecessor by expanding Howie’s sample base beyond the world of Chinese pop or folk, and into more experimental, abstract territories.

One track (“荒城 Huang Cheng”) is a reworking of material by experimental musician and field recorder Huan Qing from the quiet city of Dali in southwestern Yunnan province. Another influence that pops up throughout — especially in instrumental overlays added by Howie on top of the dense network of samples — is the work of innovative pipa player Li Daiguo, also based in Dali. (Read more about Huan Qing and Li Daiguo here.)

“I think the sound is more diverse,” Howie tells RADII, comparing Socialism Core Value II to the first installment. He says that some of the tracks on the new album date to before he headed off to London to receive his MA in Sound Art in 2013. “A lot of the older songs are experiments, and some of the them, I wanted to combine two songs into one.”

Regarding the concept, Howie insists it’s pretty straightforward: “I’m very surprised that a lot of young people actually don’t really know about the core values. So I’m just trying to emphasize them.”

Howie tells us that he has quite a few projects lined up for 2018, including a film, a live set evolving to incorporate more vocal performance, and at least one EP seeking a home. We’ll keep you updated. In the mean time, dig around inside Howie’s head via this long interview conducted last year for RADII by Philana Woo:

 

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