Guangdong band Zhaoze blend everything from psychedelia to post rock to traditional Chinese music to make songs and albums that are mesmerizingly beautiful. Their live show is one of the best around, as the band use the electronic guqin to summon ideas of modernity mixed with something a bit more ancient.
The band have been making electronic guqin-based music since 2010, with their album Cang Lang Xing. Since then, the band has pushed the boundaries of what traditional Chinese instruments can do in modern music.
We spoke with the band’s vocalist, electronic guqin player Hoyliang, about what we can expect from their upcoming show at Bandai Namco Shanghai Base, which will combine two hugely creative musical pieces.
Your latest tour of China focuses solely on Birds Contending and 1911, which you will play back to back. Why choose these two pieces of music?
We had only played 1911 as an integral one-hour song at a tour in 2012, the year after we released the album. Since then, we always just played some of the songs movements or the shortened version of it. Now, we have another 43-minute-long track Birds Contending, and if we play that, it would be half the time of a full concert.
So we just thought we could make a concert for only these two works, both in the complete version.
Also, very important is that there’s actually a tie between the concepts of these two works.
Birds Contending received huge praise last year when it was released. That album/song is over 40 minutes long. Was it always the intention to make the album out of just one song?
Yes, we intended to make a long track at the very beginning, like a symphony, although we didn't know the exact length of it.
Birds Contending was recorded in a forest in Belgium and includes found sound, such as the sound of birds singing and rustling leaves. Can you talk about why you chose this setting?
Initially, we booked the studio in Zottegem for a few days for the rehearsal and recording of the album. Then one morning, Roy (bass) and I were walking to the studio on a path though the forest. We heard the birds chirping and singing, and sun light was shining though a pine tree. It was so wonderful and I was inspired by it immediately and thought that it would be a better place to record the work Birds Contending, with the concept, the mood and ambiance based on that natural setting.
Zhaoze translated into English means Swamp. Can you talk about why the band is named Swamp?
Swamp is about nature and our heart, the word is contradictory; vibrant and dangerous, stagnating yet flowing... it’s poetic.
Also, we have to address your use of the guqin. Such a special instrument with a wonderful sound, why use this instrument?
Just like you said, the guqin sounds so wonderful and special. That’s the reason.
The guqin is the most traditional Chinese instrument, it’s quite unique in many ways; the aesthetic, the sound, the tuning, scales, skills, rhythm and much more. Now, I am able to play it in many new ways; with a cello bow, using electronic sounds and by plugging pedals into it, which allows even more possibilities, and helps to create a brand new style of sound or music.
Image courtesy of Zhaoze
Your live shows are known for being mesmeric and absorbing. In which setting do you feel more comfortable, live or in the studio?
We prefer live much more than in the studio. After all, music was born out of live shows.
How much improvisation do you guys allow for when on stage?
We have used quite a lot of improvisation in our shows for years. Recently, we prefer to combine the performing style of classical music and rock, so we have tried to play mainly the original version while still allowing space for improvisation or rearrangement.
Although, we don’t want to set a rule for that. We’ll change it anytime if we like.
[Cover image courtesy of Zhaoze]