When I first sat down with Howie Lee in Beijing, I asked him about the EP he’d released a few days earlier. He blinked at me in confusion, and I began to wonder whether I had made some mistake. “Socialism Core Values III?” I said tentatively, and he laughed. “Oh, that’s garbage,” he said. “Just edits, simple stuff.”
I had, in fact, made a mistake: Socialism Core Values III was part of a trio of more casual mixtapes, full of tracks sampling music from grandiose socialist anthems sung in televised Spring Festival galas, 1980s Chinese pop hits, and old folk songs. The night before our meeting, I had watched him litter a DJ set at Beijing’s Zhao Dai club with these tracks and more like them. The audience had responded with joyous disbelief. At one point he played an old Chinese rock song he hadn’t touched up at all—just put the song on and stepped back, watching as the Chinese in the crowd roared the lyrics, and grinned widely, raising his arms to the ceiling and belting out the chorus with them.
第一次在北京和 Howie Lee（李化迪）见面时，我问起他前几天发行的单曲。他懵然地看着我，让我怀疑自己是不是说错了什么。“《社会主义核心价值观III》？”我试探着说，他听后大笑起来。“哦，那是随便弄的。”他说，“就简单编辑了一下。”
事实上，我确实弄错了。《社会主义核心价值观III》只是他即兴打造的混音带三部曲之一，其中采样了春节晚会上气势宏伟的歌曲，还有 1980 年代的中国流行乐和民歌，都是一些不常被用来混音的声音片段。我们见面的前一晚，他在北京 “招待所” 俱乐部（Zhao Dai club）里放歌，整晚放的都是这些音乐。台下观众始料未及，反响十分热烈。表演过程中，李化迪甚至直接播放了一首完全没有经过混音的中国老摇滚曲目。当播放键按下，台下的观众狂喜着大吼歌词，他在 DJ 台上后退一步并举高双手，与大伙儿一起合唱起来。
The audience clearly found something culturally validating, even empowering, about hearing Lee update this type of music, so often regarded as cloying or tacky, into something danceable. But Lee’s point is that, when DJing, he plays a mix of experimental, underground music and old Chinese songs; in China, he says, this works better than anything else. “If you go to the UK, or anywhere else, you hear the local hits. We play Western hits too because we grew up with them—but we don’t want to abandon our Chinese memories.” When I mentioned that I had Chinese friends who rolled their eyes at such music, he laughed, and then grew serious. He admitted that he too had gone through a period of deriding the saccharine side of Chinese music but now sees such an attitude as unproductive hatred of his own country’s past. “At one point I thought, well, this kind of music is too much, but it’s who I am.”
Lee’s simple remixes reflect his audience’s nostalgia as well as his own. “So many times,” he recalls, “I’d get out of the club drunk at three a.m., get in a taxi, and hear these songs. I’d feel like crying, and not know why.” Sampling them now is a mark of respect: why would he sample a song he doesn’t like?
Lee initially came to DJing by way of punk and rock music. “Nothing has hit me harder than rock did,” he told me, pointing out the rock hits I’d heard him play the night before, the kind of thing he used to DJ in college parties. “I used to play bass in a punk band for a few years in university, we would play underground clubs, Mao Livehouse, places like that.” He left the band around the time he graduated college when they entered talks with a major Taiwanese label that Lee felt was too mainstream. “I didn’t want to sign to that stupid thing,” he says, waving a hand dismissively. “So I quit.”
It was then, around 2009, that he started DJing and producing in earnest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his past as a bass player, his 2010 release 0010111 00100000 010001000 0110001 01111001 0111011 is full of bass-heavy tracks that sound as though they belong in a club setting. Coming up in the EDM trap wave, by 2012 Lee had gone so far as to secure an official remix for hip-hop great Snoop Dogg. Then came a geographical shift: feeling inspired by the scene in the UK, he moved to London to do a master’s degree in sound art. Starting in 2014, his tracks became cleaner and smoother, with finer detail, more groove, and a noticeable attention to the design of the sound.
But Lee says with a shrug that he found the UK scene less complicated than he had imagined, so rather than stay for very long, he learned what he could in a year and decided to bring it back home. Upon his return to China, his label Do Hits Records solidified a reputation as a touchstone of China’s underground music scene, releasing volume after volume of compilation albums featuring a wide array of forward-thinking producers.
起初，李化迪是从朋克和摇滚乐转向电子音乐的。“没有什么音乐比摇滚更能打动我。”他指着那些摇滚唱片对我说道，这是他昨天晚上播放的音乐。“我曾经在大学的朋克乐队里担任贝斯手，我们当时就在地下俱乐部、Mao Livehouse 这些地方表演。”大学毕业时他退出了乐队，当时乐队开始和台湾一间大型的唱片公司接触，但李化迪觉得这家唱片公司太主流了。“我不想签那种烂合约。”他说，挥手表示不屑，“所以我就退出了乐队。”
2009 年左右，他开始尝试 DJ 和音乐制作。2010 年，曾经的贝司手发行了一张贝斯味儿十足的专辑《0010111 00100000 010001000 0110001 01111001 0111011》，留下了俱乐部音乐的足迹。随着在 EDM trap 浪潮中崭露头角过后，2012 年，李化迪被说唱歌手 Snoop Dogg 力邀参加了官方 Remix 的制作。之后，他来到英国，在当地多元的音乐场景的熏陶下，让李化迪倍受激发，于是他来到伦敦攻读声音艺术的硕士学位。从 2014 年开始，他的音乐变得越来越简洁、流畅，细节更出众，听上去变得更有律动，对声音的布置也显得更为突出。
但李化迪逐渐发现，英国的音乐场景并没有像想象中那样高深莫测，所以并不适合长时间居住。一年后，他又带着自己学到的知识回到了中国。回国后的他创立了电子音乐厂牌 Do Hits Records，该厂牌迅速晋升为中国地下音乐圈的中流砥柱，接二连三地发行了数张合集，这些作品是都来自五湖四海具有前瞻性的音乐制作人们。
Listen to some of our Howie Lee’s earlier works below:
Over the years, Lee slowly started to add in more sounds inspired by Chinese music. Concerned that the West has undermined Chinese people’s confidence in their own musical traditions, he set out to “bring China back from Western cultural colonization.” Lee once described himself as a nationalist, though in our conversation he amends this to “civilizationalist,” noting that Chinese culture extends beyond the People’s Republic, as well as the malleability throughout the history of China’s borders, which have included very different people at different times. Still, he says, “We have to accept that we’re different, politically, historically, culturally.”He cites the theory that Westerners exist more as individuals, whereas Chinese people exist in a Confucian relationship to those around them. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We can still be friends.” This conviction has led him to absorb and replicate the sounds of China and the rest of the world. He does not shy from synthesizing these diverse sounds with the kind of music he was making before, but he does avoid privileging sounds of the West over the rest.
多年以来，李化迪开始慢慢吸收中国音乐精髓。在他看来，欧美音乐的影响让中国人对自己的音乐失去了信心，于是，他开始着手于 “让中国摆脱西方文化殖民” 的创作方式。李化迪曾说自己是一个 “民族主义者”，而在我们的谈话中，他把这种说法改为了 “文明主义”。他认为中华文化的范畴远远超出于了共和国的定义，它的延伸性超越了历史上中国的边界，涵盖着不同时代下的特定人群。他说：“必须承认，我们在政治、历史、文化背景上的不同。”他指出，西方更强调个人，而中国则更强调以儒家伦理维系的人际关系。“但我不认为这是一件坏事。大家还是可以做朋友的。”这种信念促使他不断吸收和运用中国和世界其他地区的音乐元素，毫不闭塞地将各种多元的声音与他自身的音乐风格融合，创作时也会有意避免让欧美音乐元素喧宾夺主。
With his 2015 release Mù Chè Shān Chū, by far his longest project at the time, he incorporated more eclectic sounds from a wider range of influences. The listener hears not just punk and electronic, but also hip-hop, classical, folk, and a noticeable increase in Chinese strings and percussion. On his following two EPs, Homeless (2017) and Natural Disaster (2018), he honed an aesthetic that’s at times disturbing, full of distorted samples of folk music from China and its neighbors. He increasingly used vocals, but stretched and pitched them bizarrely, pairing them with strings and percussion edited to climax at unexpected times or in unexpected ways.
2015 年，李化迪推出个人迄今为止最长的专辑《木屮山出》，融合了来自领域更广、更丰富的音乐元素。你不仅能听到朋克和电子音乐，还有嘻哈音乐、古典音乐、民俗音乐的融入，其中中国味的弦乐和打击乐元素也明显增多。在随后推出的两张 EP（《无家》（2017）和《自然灾害》（2018））中，他琢磨出一种富有煽动力的美学风格，运用了大量来自中国及其他亚州地区民间音乐，进行了风格上大刀阔斧的改编。相比于以往，他在作品中加入了更多人声采样，以拉伸和扭曲的怪异方式呈现，搭配古老的弦乐和打击乐，以出人意料的方式达至高潮。
Listen to select tracks from Mù Chè Shān Chū, Homeless, and Natural Disaster below:
Technology has opened doors to more and more sounds, and Lee seems intent on using them all. His music is a thousand things at once, with familiar sounds finding a new expression. Lee says as much when speaking of his transformation of folk, which he describes as a “kind of a deconstruction—destroy the old stuff to build the new old.”
“A lot of people doing traditional folk music don’t like what I do. They’re really hardcore,” he says, with obvious relish. “I appreciate that so much. I think they should preserve their tradition because they come from that background. But I don’t come from that background. One day maybe they’ll understand me.” Lee’s folk sounds are thrilling and unsettling—clearly drawn from tradition but unfamiliar enough to make you sit up and listen.
The result is a global amalgam of sound, at once archaic and futuristic, pure and broken, melding ancient sounds with the noise of industry and the internet age. The contradiction is a reflection of a society struggling with how its cultural norms and traditions collide with technology, increased access to the rest of the world, and its own swift development. Given how well these elements blend in his music, there’s reason to hope they can do so in the rest of the world, too. Lee sees the contradiction as something that goes hand-in-hand with the immense amount of capital circulating in China. “It’s destroying a lot of stuff, but it’s destroying and rebuilding.”
Listeners can expect further explorations of these collisions to continue on Howie Lee’s new album, titled Tian Di Bu Ren. Lee’s shift from pure electronic to the inclusion of more natural sounds was on full display on the Do Hits 8th anniversary tour earlier this year. Though he mostly performed surrounded by keyboards and MIDI controllers before a huge screen full of computer-generated imagery, he also came to the front of the stage to sing unmic’d, kneeling with a stringed instrument on his lap. He recites for me a list of instruments he used in the recording process—“a lot of drums, jazzy drums, saxophones, a little bit of zurna flute, bass, guitar”—then adds that he’s been playing with programs on his iPad and more complicated editing. He’s even incorporated artificial intelligence software, which he feeds samples to manipulate and copy. “It generates this weird-sounding, wild, and crazy stuff. Something a human cannot make.”
He is also beginning to experiment more with lyrics. Previously, on tracks like “A Junkie’s Whispering” on the Homeless EP, inspired by a fascination with music in languages he did not know, he rapped in technologically pitched-down nonsense syllables. “I listen to music in other languages and have no idea what they’re saying but it’s so great—so why can’t I make something up? That was my point, for a while. But now I’ve started to write lyrics, I think lyrics can do good things,” he says. Thematically, some songs on the new album are inspired by ethnic groups such as the Miao living in China’s mountains, and by the influx of those people to the cities, where they live in the new mountains: apartment buildings. “They have this culture in the mountains in China where they sing to the women, back and forth—I’m kind of writing the ‘loneliness mountain songs’ for people living in the concrete jungle.”
在李化迪的新专辑《天地不仁》中，你会听到他对这些对立面的进一步探索。今年早些时候，李化迪在 Do Hits 八周年巡演派对上将全电子声效的表演方式抛之脑后，并融入更多现实的声音。即便你还会在大屏幕前，看到他忙不迭地操作着键盘和 MIDI 控制器，但那些未经处理的人声以及架在大腿上的弦乐器，不由让人眼前一亮。他为我一一罗列了演出中用到的乐器——“各类鼓、爵士鼓、萨克斯、唢呐、贝斯、吉他”，然后在 iPad 上进行更为复杂的编曲。他甚至加入人工智能软件，输入采样，让软件自行操作和复制。“软件可以生成各种奇怪、夸张和疯狂的效果。这是人类做不到的。”
这一次，李化迪还尝试了更多歌词方面的创作。此前在 EP《无家》中，出于对未知语言的迷恋，他用胡编乱造的喃喃废话创作了歌曲《A Junkie’s Whispering》。李化迪说：“有时候我听外语歌，也不知道他们在唱什么，但是听起来很棒，就想我为什么不能也胡编乱造一下呢？有一阵子我都是这么想的。但现在我开始写歌词了，我觉得歌词也可以很有用。”从主题上讲，新专辑中部分歌曲灵感为居住在中国山区的少数民族，以及这些少数民族涌入城市后居住在 “新大山”——公寓楼的现象。“在中国的山区有一种文化，男人会和女人对唱山歌，我这算是为生活在混凝土丛林中的人们写的寂寞山歌吧。”
At the time of writing, three singles have been released in advance of the album. The first, “Tomorrow Can Not Be Waited” [sic], featured a curious music video that explored the relationship between Daoism and virtual reality. Next came “Enter the Tigerwoods” and “21st Century Suicide,” both of which blur the lines between electronic music and more traditional recording techniques. They both display fascinating continuation of Lee’s work, but “21st Century Suicide” is especially striking as a three-act piece. Beginning with a single staticky bass note, it features Lee’s heartbreaking vocals and a mix of Chinese and Western instruments, and ends with a flute playing over a blast of synthesizers and frenetic drumming that build up and then fade out into a single breathy bass note that seems to disappear into the wind.
Listen to some of our favorite tracks from Howie Lee’s Tian Di Bu Ren below:
When I point out to Lee that his professed faith in the collective identities of culture and nation might be at odds with his idiosyncratic sound, he makes no attempt to reconcile these contradictions. He compares it to the search for the Way, as expressed in Daoism and Buddhism, and relates the story of one of Buddha’s followers asking him in confusion why he was telling people about the Way if it was truly so unexplainable. “The common argument is that once you start to talk about the Way, it disappears—the real Way is not something you can explain, but the Buddha still has to tell people it exists . . . This is the big conflict,” he says earnestly. “This is something I have to explore through my art, and the more I do it, the more I will understand.”
Lee’s music is something he creates to say what he can’t put into words yet, a manifestation of his search for the Way. He tells the story of his search to make sense of all the clashing elements of our modern world, complete with the sonic textures of everything from mountains to cities, from the real to the virtual, from the ancient to the futuristic. It’s a world so full of contradictions that, when one attempts description, it defies clear portrayal, slipping through the listener’s ears and ultimately beyond their grasp.
李化迪通过音乐来表达他无法言喻的事情，这是他对 “道” 的追寻。在讲述自己寻 “道” 的故事时，他融入了现代社会各种冲突的要素，从山脉到城市、从真实到虚拟、从古老到未来，并力求理解它们的真正意义。世界本身就存在很多矛盾体，当你试图描述时，它们好像并没有那么明确。这些相互矛盾的声音闯入听者耳廓，让人猝不及防。