Electronic Music in China: tamiX Rocks the Buchla Modular
We know lots of electronic instruments built in China, but who knows much about Chinese artists? Mark Jenkins spoke to one with some highly unusual performance ideas.
tamiX – the stage name for Nan Chang – has been rocking clubs and events around Shanghai for a couple of years now, though you may not have heard any releases from her yet. Like Skrillex, Colin Benders, and some others, she’s chosen to market her music mainly through live appearances and YouTube. But there is an album deal in place now with US label Detroit Underground.
How did you settle on the Buchla system as your main set-up?
I learned something about MIDI and computer music in high school. But mostly searching the internet and watching YouTube!
I started building a Eurorack, but didn’t get on too well with it. For me, Eurorack means fragmentation and distraction, the systems are hard to manage well, and there’s a lack of performance tools.
So I was persuaded by Jun Yan, who’s the godfather of Buchla in China, to sell all my Eurorack modules, the only ones I kept are for controlling visuals.
Apart from being expensive and hard to get, Buchla modular systems are perfect for me – the Buchla 200e modules all have a matching design and philosophy, and I’ve had great support from Buchla, I met the team at NAMM 2022.
And after a friend of mine picked up the 223e controller during a photo shoot, I put a guitar strap on it and played it like a Keytar. I put sensors on other parts of my body too and move around during the show.
The current tamiX live setup is a three row 24U Buchla system, an Akai MFC24 stereo filter, a Koma Electronic Commander, two Eventide H9 effects, an Expressive E Touche, and other controllers including a custom joystick module. It takes about an hour to set up for live shows, two hours if the show is farther away and reached by train with everything disassembled and flightcased.
You also decided you don’t want to use computers. Why?
For me, computers are always just computational machines, not an artistic tool for musicians and visual artists. Yes, they have endless and unlimited possibilities. For AI, it might be true; but for human beings, it definitely is not.
Are you finding a lot of opportunities for live performance?
Thanks to living in the city of Beijing, where there’s great diversity, I have lots of opportunities to do live sets – in underground nightclubs, live venues, tiny stages in coffee lounges, arts galleries, or even fashion shows. I have lots of dimensions to experiment with my approach to music.
There are a lot of very talented electronic musicians in China, though they don’t make a living from it – I help run a bi-monthly event called Modular Commune where some of those people can get a chance to play. As well as those events I create live improvised visuals for other performers using lasers, games consoles, and liquid oil baths, and also give some lessons at the local skatepark.
On the TamiX YouTube channel you can find clips from some of these events including fashion shows, which must have been fun to perform at. But how is concentrating on live shows and YouTube working out, as opposed to selling albums?
I really learned that from Colin Benders, who also attracts a fan base via YouTube and Twitch, not traditional online music platforms. It’s the best way to show the audience the real live experience.
One day I got a message on Facebook, they asked if I had interest in releasing an album on the Detroit Underground label.
And I gave a performance on the first day of 2022 in a newly designed fashion lounge, so I thought it would be great if I could record and shoot the whole live performance as my first release, and it finally became the ‘X New Year’ album.
I’m planning to make a whole series of photo books about myself. It’s an adventure story with lots of fights and rescues. I’ve already finished all the photo work, and hope to publish before the end of 2022.
A special edition of the X New Year already exists as a photo book and USB stick (mail order it from Signal Sounds), and tamiX is now busier than ever with more recordings and publications.