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Howie Lee
7 Weapons Series Noel Gardner , September 16th, 2020 08:41

Looking back to the 1970s stories of wuxia author Gu Long, Beijing-based producer Howie Lee may just have produced his funkiest work yet, finds Noel Gardner

The concept, such as it is, behind this extended player by Beijing electronic producer Howie Lee seems pretty neat: ancient aesthetics meeting modern-era media, nature’s fragile beauty bruised by a stamp from humanity’s boot. I say ‘seems’ because it’s all pretty loose, as concepts go. The title references a series of martial arts-themed stories by Chinese novelist Gu Long, written during the 1970s and central to the author’s esteemed status in the wuxia genre, but Lee’s seven track titles here bear no relation to any in the Seven Weapons series itself, although they do all read like something you might expect to find on a fantasy book jacket.

And what of the music? Well, if we were insistent on trying to fill in the blanks between story and sonics, we might suggest this 25 minutes of ultramodern digital production, ultratraditional Chinese folk tunings and itchy jazz excursions is reflective of both discipline and strength, and how taught skills are passed down through decades, if not centuries. That’s really just hypothetical, mind, but perhaps it speaks well of 7 Weapons Series’ evocative attributes. Certainly, it continues to mark out Lee as someone forging a path of his own: active for about a decade, his first above-ground attention came from an unlikely Snoop Lion remix in 2012, when he lived in London. Latterly, a brisk workrate has resulted in releases such as the three Socialism Core Value EPs.

I’m not entirely certain if any of the acoustic sounds heard on this release were played by Lee or a cohort, or if they’re all sampled, but it’s incidental to the listening experience. ‘The Unreasonable Song’ pairs an airy zurna, a woodwind instrument most commonly found in the Middle East, with artfully arranged drums which skip from distinguishably analogue patter to coldly digital judder. There’s more freewheeling woodwind on ‘The Mistranslated Silence’, percussion from a xylophone or something very like one on ‘The Reflexed Bamboo’, flute on ‘The Drained Stream’ (conversely, the main synth riff that enters precisely halfway through this track sounds like a half-recalled cop of Wiley’s pop breakthrough ‘Wearing My Rolex’!) and harpsichord sweeps on the especially folksy ‘The Lotus In The Backwater’. The two Tao Of I releases by Iona Fortune, a Scot currently living in Switzerland, strike me as doing something similar to this, although her interest in Chinese folk and philosophy has been cultivated from a greater distance than Lee’s.

This release might also be the producer’s jazziest and funkiest – heck, you’d have to conclude jazz-funkiest – one yet. ‘The Wriggled Wind’ starts off on an almost jazz-house tip and develops into something still more upbeat, lengthy drum-free periods trading places with some Herbie Hancock key-noodle. And then you have ‘The Border-Walking Monk’, whose robust syncopated drums and confident electro-grime bassline sounds more like something you might find on a label like Gobstopper. Not sure anyone says ‘sinogrime’ any more, and when Howie Lee was asked about it in 2016 he was ambivalent at best in his response, but 7 Weapons Series is a short and satisfying saunter through those ethnographic waters which has the bonus benefit of actually hailing from China.