Interview: Zhao Renxiu and Ale Amazonia, Behind China's Newest Creative Hub

By Sarah Forman, January 15, 2019

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Innovative documentary filmmaker Zhao Renxiu, aka Cab, was the first to pioneer a new three-pronged project, Subtropical Asia. Later, she was joined by another familiar face on the scene, her business partner Ale Amazonia, drummer of punk-rock band Dirty Fingers and musical man about town. Between their event planning, special operations and documentary production, the company has been exploring and connecting the creative community across Asia. Here’s what the two of them have to say about Cambodian death metal, aggressive natures and Damo Suzuki.

Where did the idea for Subtropical Asia come from and how long have you been working on it?
C: I founded Subtropical last summer, originally as a music event label. In early 2018, I resigned as a former partner from my ex-company and went to Cambodia to film a documentary about two slum-born orphans who formed a death metal band, which changed their lives. The documentary screened at Wacken Open Air in Germany, the world’s largest metal music festival, and was covered by major media outlets there. It was so exciting, I decided to do it full time. At the same time, Alex also quit the White Light White Tower project in Beijing and came on board. In September, I moved from Beijing to Shanghai and started the official operation of the company.

Who else is on the team?
C: Alex is my closest working partner. I’m usually the one who thinks about strategies and figures out how to push things ahead. We also have two other co-founders; one is a former journalist from Rolling Stone, Fabian Peltsch, who lives in Germany and China. He has a strong sense of content and he has contributed a lot to our documentary projects. William Griffith, the founder of the Live Beijing Music WeChat, also works with us. His stability balances out Alex’s and my aggressiveness. I like to work with people who have strong personality but also can complement us in terms of ability. We’re all about getting things done.

What’s the most exciting project you’re working on now?
C: Damo Suzuki’s China tour documentary. We’ve already finished the initial cut, and other post-processes are underway. It’s expected to be online in January 2019.

What’s the connection to new Shanghai venue Subland?
C: Subland is a space for creative minds, cutting-edge artists and independent cultural enthusiasts in Shanghai. Every week, we have live music, workshops, movie screenings and other activities. We spend our days there, so basically it’s now the office for Subtropical Asia, and we hold a lot of events there. We hope to have more organizers and people who are interested in building the cultural community to run the venue with us, like our most recent partner, the comic zine Shaving in the Dark.

You both have been involved in the creative scene here for some time now, which was part of your motivation for stating Subtropical Asia and opening Subland. How have you seen the music industry change in the last 5 years? 10 years?
AA: Development is really the only word for it. China’s economic growth quickly pushed every industry into a more advanced stage, and the same is true for the music industry. Now independent artists have several ways to promote, manage and distribute their work. Labels know that, so now everyone in the industry has to have a better understanding of other aspects of career development, like management of resources, online distribution, live streaming, promotion and so on. It’s less romantic than it used to be, which sucks on a personal level, but is important and necessary to establish a strong, healthy and self-sustaining environment.

To learn more, visit: subtropicalasia.com

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