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WATCH: Chrononautz Shanghai Video Diary
Luke Cartledge , May 25th, 2016 15:10

Leeds-based improvisatory duo share their experience of performing at Zhang Ding’s Enter The Dragon installation

Chrononautz, the improvisation-led techno two-piece whose latest LP, Noments, was released on tQ’s own record label last year, have documented their recent performance at Zhang Ding’s Enter The Dragon installation in Shanghai with a video diary, which you can check out above.

Having originally become involved with Enter The Dragon during the installation’s tenure at the ICA last October, the duo were asked to continue their association with Zhang Ding when he took his work back to his home country this May. One half of Chrononautz, Dom Clare, has offered us an exclusive insight into the installation and their time in Shanghai – read his account below.

“Our performance at the first Enter The Dragon installation was intense, with eight monstrously huge cross shaped mirrors rotating at speeds which delivered a cold wind to your face, immersed in darkness and melting colours from laser reflections. We were lucky to get the show in the first place, thanks to Nik Void who recommended us to Matt Williams from the ICA after she was asked to perform, but already away elsewhere. We initially had little contact with Zhang Ding, but we felt we understood what he was aiming for when the details arrived.

"We’re punks at heart, not the well-publicised nihilist sort, but the let’s-get-along-and-make-something-new-and-positive-for-everyone sort. Enter The Dragon is the mark of a new China, experimenting and challenging themselves and others, based on a spirit of collaboration. When we met Zhang Ding for the first time, it was like meeting someone who you’re already good friends with, on the same wavelength. At the same time, Enter The Dragon is incredibly psychedelic and confrontational, with a large scope for personal freedom of interpretation both as a musician involved and for the audience.

"I cast my mind back to the 18th May, when this journey didn't seem real. It was just shy of a month ago that we were asked to travel to Shanghai for the honour of performing at the opening of Zhang Ding’s Enter The Dragon II installation with MHP’s Experimental Ensemble Of Shanghai. I pondered briefly on the ridiculousness of the situation. We haven’t even played in our local nightclubs or art gallery, some of our closest friends still haven’t seen us perform, and yet here we are on the way home from performing for an hour in a 61 storey skyscraper in the biggest city in the world, in the most populated country on Earth.

"We rose early on our first morning in Shanghai, for a substantial “breakfest” (sic). Noodles before 10am? Yes. And how was that? Really good actually, it works! Mild panic set in that we didn’t find any adapters in the airports, and we set off to search for some, which we don’t find. We did, however, see a man with a red bucket taking water from a fountain to stop it from overflowing – it hadn’t stopped raining since we arrived.

"There’s no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in China, but everyone who has a phone uses WeChat which basically combines all three. Xiao, Zhang’s frankly exceptional assistant, advises us to take a taxi to the art gallery, but we opt instead for the subway which turns out to be even easier to navigate than we expected, bringing us out into the light drizzle directly beneath the towering 278 metres of the K11. Jaws to the floor doesn’t quite cut it.

"The installation is different to when the ICA hosted it in London. No revolving mirrors this time, but just as intense and disorientating. Speakers are gridded out in surround sound around the room, with the different performers set up in a spot of their choice – a corner, in the middle, by a speaker, etc. Encircling the room is a vast array of lights, strobes and LEDs. The outer walls are mirrors or blank canvas, reflecting the light or throwing shadows onto the walls. The lighting engineer is a female in the middle of the room, who, when performing, was in pure tunnel vision. A blank stare straight ahead, as her hands dart around the lighting desk with incredible speed and finesse.

"Kelvin Lords, Yan Jun and Anuar Kaldekhan play first. The three performers complement each other well, building an hour of improvised whirrs from live-programmed Max patches, heavy chorused guitar drones, piezo mics and effects. Having been attending noise shows for 15 years, it’s a performance that stands out – Zhang Ding and Matt from the ICA have clearly got a depth of knowledge to find people that work well together for the first time.

"The audience is diverse and captivated. High-end fashion, big business, weirdo freaks, students, office administrators, young, middle aged, older, male, female. The atmosphere fizzes as much as the music. A lone dude stands inches from a strobing wall in the corner, cupping his ears as if to focus the sound right into his mind, and dancing curiously. A well-dressed couple pose for a selfie, drizzled in shimmering purple light. A boy stands, tipping his bowler hat and leaning against his umbrella stylishly as his parents photograph him. Other children dance wildly, darting around the contemplative spectators, stood still, presumably in an effort to take in the immersive experience.

"Time to play. Like always, the show is a blur to me. We improvise, so there's never a chance to soak it up as it happens. If I look up to take stock of what's happening, I lose the thread of where we’re taking things. The Experimental Ensemble of Shanghai begin: 10 minutes them, 10 minutes us, each group blurring the sounds between changes, before we improvise together as a whole for the last twenty minutes. A pot dial flies off one of my synths as I change a setting, a power adaptor decides to cut out mid set, I usher a lady stood close to me to hammer my phase pedal on and off - which she relishes with a mischievous smile as strobes and cameras flash in our eyes. We enjoy playing on the floor, we’re used to it from our old bands, and it feels especially good doing it when making dance music because it doesn’t usually happen in that world, being on a level rather than elevated above an audience.

"There’s an after party for the other event in the K11 in the car park on the 6th floor, a concoction of cocktails and interactive art stalls. We take a wrong turn and end up on a balcony that should have been closed but wasn’t. Not knowing we shouldn’t have been there, we spend five minutes admiring the views of the skyline, looking upwards as the K11 morphs into grey cloud. We’re spotted and directed to the party, have a quick beer with Jenny before she takes us in a taxi to the Enter The Dragon after party. Street Fighter II is projected onto the wall, and there’s a small DJ booth where MHP DJs acid house and Kelvin Lords rocks an old skool jungle set. We set up to perform again in the corner of the dancefloor. We bang it out at 140bpm, wild and hard for 50 minutes before the power cuts.

"A few paragraphs into writing this, we decided to get home and jam out a version of something we played in Shanghai. We record the track, eat lunch in the sunshine with Leon’s family, and start making our plans to return. With the time difference, we had to stay up all day or else be totally out of sync with the UK (nothing new there, you might add). Passing the time, I quickly put together some of the video footage we took on our phones to go with the track, and so concludes our Enter The Dragon II adventure.”

Chrononautz will play a homecoming show in Leeds, at CHUNK, on 18 June. More information about Zhang Ding’s Enter The Dragon is available here.