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Aimee Armstrong , May 14th, 2018 16:01

New producer announces To Shock the Sky and Shake The Earth, discusses social media and the dance underground

To Shock the Sky and Shake The Earth is the debut EP from Berlin-based producer Xin – it’s a collection of five tracks which are admittedly hard to pin down. The music is simultaneously impenetrable and enticing. With a disregard for form, it’s packed with sporadic shifts in direction, one minute showcasing pretty ambient music, the next noisy sound collages. Alongside this, the whole project is wrapped up in a neo-futurist aesthetic, something that’s encapsulated perfectly by its cover art.

Xin is also keen to discuss the distribution of their music stating that they "don’t believe that there should be one way to do anything, or in convention for convention’s sake". This is echoed by their decision not to stream and large platforms: "I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of making and releasing music, and trying to find less harmful ways of being in the world."

In conversation, Xin discusses the troubling presence of social media in the electronic underground and the influences on their music itself.

Could you explain to me the title To Shock the Sky and Shake the Earth?

Xin: It’s kind of a joke, actually. I often find naming things to be very difficult, and I spent ages playing around with different words/phrases that were just kind of stuck in my head. This particular phrase comes from a Chinese idiom, which happened to sound really nice in English. I liked this one because it sounds really poetic in English, but I don’t think it’s as graceful in Chinese. It’s only four syllables, and my mom uses it to describe my loud sneezing. (That kind of ruins it, doesn’t it?)

What influences are you channeling into the project, I can hear things like Amnesia Scanner, Holly Herndon and Chino Amobi in there

X: A lot of my favourite music is kind of hard to place, genre-wise. Stuff that really sticks in my head often borrows from loads of different genres and conventions in a way that might not make sense. I also listen to a wide range of music, so I guess it all ends up influencing me, some in subtle ways and some less so. The artists you mention are definitely super exciting to me! I’ve definitely been listening to them a lot recently (the recent Amnesia Scanner single with Pan Daijing is so great).

I guess other stuff I’ve been listening to while making this range from Julianna Barwick to The Mover. I’m also really interested in writing stuff that pulls away from the grid and is more rhythmically fluid, so DAW’s are not the most friendly to this idea – I think what Lanark Artefax is doing is pretty great, too.

I was wondering if you could expand upon the decision to not stream on large platforms?

X: In the past couple years, I’ve been thinking about underground music’s reliance on corporate platforms, such as Spotify, Red Bull and Facebook. After all the shit from Radar Radio came out, I saw a tweet somewhere that asked what the point of the underground is, if it’s only replicating the same harmful structures of the mainstream, which I think is a really important question to ask. It’s got massive implications that get really thorny, but I feel like there needs to be more of a conversation around these these topics.

I guess the decision, along with the lack of Facebook Page/Instagram/whatever (admittedly I do have a Twitter) is a small way of trying to experiment and contribute to this conversation. Is it viable for artists to not use these platforms? Not having disposable income shouldn’t bar people from accessing music, but also artists should be able to get by and get paid for their work! I saw Kepla tweet that they’re happy for people to email them asking for music if they can’t afford it, which I think is really cool. It raises loads of other questions, but I think they need to be asked.

The music industry looks so uniform, for all the political music out there, I’m just wondering if the political ideas should demand more radical forms or ways of distributing as well.

What alternatives to streaming would you recommend?

X: I don’t think it’s streaming itself necessarily that’s the problem, but it depends on the platform itself — how it operates, what kind of dynamics it gives rise to. I think Resonate is super exciting, but it’s also still in Beta and doesn’t have a large catalogue yet. I don’t think a concrete "solution" or "alternative" exactly exists, but that it’s important to pursue alternatives, and to give people the space to explore/do things on their own terms. The decision not to stream is similar to the decision not to do a physical release; I’m just trying to figure out how I’d like to do things, and how to operate while being less harmful, I guess.

What are your opinions on huge artists like Taylor Swift in the past boycotting Spotify. Do you think that’s wholly disingenuous? Or do you think there’s some good to be found there?

X: I didn’t follow this all that closely so don’t know loads about it, in all honesty. I remember when I first heard about it, I didn’t think it was disingenuous or anything, but I definitely remember rolling my eyes thinking that Taylor Swift doesn’t need more money (haha).

That was a couple years ago, though and my opinions have definitely changed. I’m all for a less uniform music industry, so I guess I appreciate the gesture. When someone with that large a following makes a statement like that, people pay attention! Plus, I think the music world should have room for artists to take a variety of approaches in their careers.

It should be said that the boycotting raises some interesting points about privilege, too. I think it’s only from a position of privilege that people can make these decisions nowadays, and I mean that on a much smaller scale as well (I don’t have to prioritize gigging to get by, so I can afford not to be on Facebook).

Do you think the reliance on things like Facebook for artist promotion will eventually collapse? Or do you think it will just become more and more relevant?

X: I sure as hell hope so. I’m personally very anti-Facebook, I think their business model is manipulative and insidious, that the platform is bad for wellbeing/mental health/attention spans, and that it encourages a culture where image is valued over substance, and so on…

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to have a vehicle through which to communicate directly with their followers, but hopefully this will move to less harmful platforms, or less uniform means. I feel like this conversation is evolving a lot, especially since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people are thinking more critically about it. As of now, I still think it’s a privilege for artists to be able to not use it, but hopefully that will change and it’ll become more viable to avoid Facebook Inc.!

To Shock and the Sky and Shake the Earth drops on May 25 via Subtext Records hear ‘Black Light, Blind fire above and preorder the EP here