Aloe Records

questions and answers about Aloe Records

Note: This interview were compiled and published on radii, in the context of a three-year-long lockdown policy that has just been lifted in China.

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Interview date: January 13, 2023

Question: Kyle Mullin

Answer: Sun Yizhou

1. Tell me about founding Aloe Records. How has this experience been, and what do you want to achieve with it? 

Aloe Records was founded in 2022. I‘m responsible for most of the distribution and publishing by myself, along with three other friends: Li Yakun, Zhang Cai and Bian Xingchi, who helped me with record design, translation and maintaining the website.

2022 was a unique year for Chinese musicians. There were many gig cancellations, neighborhood closures, travel restrictions, protests…for some, it was hard enough to survive, things one can only understand in person. My instinctive reaction was to look outward from myself to find some connection. I made many recordings at home, some of my own and some in collaboration with others. In the process, I slowly wanted to reduce “myself” and make some releases for others. Thus, Aloe Records was born.

Aloe Records has released two tapes so far, and there will be more publications in the future, unlimited medium. The label is an extension of what I’ve been doing and I have no more ambitions besides itself. It is growing as I myself change. For me now, going slowly and low-key, everything is facing uncertainty.

2. How does it feel to put out Yan Jun and Zhu Wenbo’s music on your new label, and what do you think about this new music?

When it comes to the choice of releases, I prefer musicians that have influenced me, or live pieces that have touched me in the past. Yan Jun and Zhu Wenbo are definitely two of them. I will briefly introduce their works.

Yan Jun - It works

A block structured piece joint of loud noise and small silence. Yan Jun has a belief in using cheaper/less equipment and simple concepts to oppose the systemic “noise music”, which is one of his many things that inspired me.

Zhu Wenbo - Four Lines and Improvisation

In the 2017-19 Beijing New Music Scene, improvised music needs to find a breakthrough by incorporating the rules of rationalism and suppressing the emotional part of improvisation, i.e. composing based on improvisation. I think this new work is the result of and reflection after that period of fermentation.

3. Michael Pettis told me improvization musicans and venues make any music scene better in general. In Beijing, for example, members of famous rock bands had improviation side projects, and this helped push their overall creativity in other genres. He also said this is very good for a music scene in general. 

What are your thoughts on this? What experiences do you have in this regard that inform you opinions?

Ha! Many friends would say that every improv musician in China has one rock band, if not more! It really seems like that’s the case. On the one hand it’s the rock music tradition of the Chinese underground since the 90’s, on the other hand it’s true that bands flow into the experimental/improvised music scene with more audience and capital, but it’s not really that much.

As for me, that’s probably not my era …… at least not for me at the moment. I don’t know how to play an instrument, much less a guitar, and have trouble fitting into a traditional band arrangement. Or maybe no one wants to play in a band with me, I don’t know. There is no reference value here.

4. What do you think about the experimental music scene in Beijing in general these days?

In these three years of covid-pandemic, Beijing has become less connected to foreign scenes and more connected to scenes around the country. It’s bad, and good. A change in the musicians’ creativity and mentality has also occurred, but they may be the only ones who know it. The recent loosening of the prevention policy in the country would have been a bit sudden for anyone, and I don’t think Beijing was prepared for it. The numbers of gigs are gradually returning to pre-covid time, so maybe this year will be slightly different from the last three years.

Kyle Mullin is a Beijing-based Canadian freelancer who has written for National Geographic, The Guardian, Wired, Spin, Forbes Asia, and is a former editor at theBeijinger.