Harsh Sonics: An Interview With Pan Daijing

Following the recent release of her second EP, Pan Daijing tells Aurora Mitchell about her relationship to noise music and the value of queer spaces

“You want to make something real, you have to experience something, not just something you’ve read or you’ve listened to… something that is you.” Chinese-born producer and performance artist Pan Daijing is imparting wisdom to me from her apartment in Berlin, sitting by the window as icicle-sharp rays of sunshine occasionally pierce the view of her through the screen on Skype. She’s just come back from an early afternoon meeting with a friend, which is an environment in which she prefers to spend her time with those she’s close with. Daijing’s music may be dark, crawling with guttural noise and punctured, hissing drums but she’s a positive, open person who doesn’t find herself going out much. Positive energy is what she hopes people take away from exploring her music. Guiding listeners into the obsidian depths of her noisy techno, it hopefully allows them to process frustrations and problems and come up for air towards the light at the other side.

After a debut tape titled Sex & Disease, which gave us glimpses at a softer, more melodic side to Daijing, she decided to release an EP with Dubai-based label Bedouin. Despite not being a huge fan of putting records out, she connected with label head Salem Rashid and he picked out four tracks from those she had sent that he wanted to release. It just so happened that those were four pieces she had produced with one political statement in mind – and so A Satin Sight was born. ‘A Season In Hell’, one of the record’s four cuts, is the first track Daijing ever made. It’s an example of how darkness can be processed in a therapeutic way and how heavy and uncomfortable sounds can produce a calming effect. As the track builds, a high-pitched ring runs circles around the track, creating a sound similar to that of a finger tracing rapidly around the edge of a wine glass. It should be grating – the high pitch making you want to throw your headphones to the ground – but it’s intensely calming as you focus your mind on each circle of sound.

Focusing intently on the healing power of harsh sonics across the duration of our hour-long conversation, we uncovered different corners of Daijing’s mind together – moving from practicing meditation with noise music to the darkest period of her life while living in Shanghai to the daily conflicts faced by the queer community today.

A Satin Sight is noticeably more noisy than your debut release, Sex & Disease. I find it really interesting how bursts of noise create these really intense techno experiments and I wondered how you first became acquainted with utilising sound in that way and got into noise.

Pan Daijing: Noise helps me to confront problems. I want to be able to and have been practicing being able to face problems and accept them. Noise is something that’s so brutal and it cracks me open, so that I have to face everything. And yes, that process is not very pleasant but after that, you can touch the bottom and start from the beginning. Good noise music can really have that power. The masters of noise for me like Merzbow and KK Null – they really understand noise as a form of art and some of their recordings, you can hear the layers – they drive you into a black hole. Dark is definitely the word because noise is not bright but to confront the darkness of your personal experience is to bring you to a brighter side later.

Noise music is listening music. It requires some certain kind of strength. I’m not very much into philosophical noise music, it’s more a noise wall or harsh noise which has very interesting concepts behind it. I like rawness. When you come from more of a dark side and you start from that point and then you go to the light, that’s what I resonate with. This kind of darkness, when something hurts you so much you can’t moan about it every day any more, it’s like when someone you’re so close to passes away and you can’t cry. That’s how I feel. I’m a really positive person, I do a lot of yoga and boxing and sports. There’s of course, a reason why most people do what they do in art and music, it’s not that they choose to do it, it’s that they had no other choice. For me, doing music is the only way to be able to go through it – it’s like a therapy, there’s no other way to express these things that are so hidden. I can’t take it out to the surface and cry about it every day. I don’t even think about it unless I’m doing my music.

Could you tell me more about the gear you work with?

PD: I travel a lot so it’s very hard for me to have a month even to stay in Berlin. Sometimes I’m just here for a couple of days and have to go again so I have smaller stuff that’s my favourite that I’ve been using from the first day I started making music and I still love it. I definitely have had phases of digging a lot into gear. I bought some and sold some. Mainly when I play live or travel, I take four pieces of gear with me. A very simple noise sequencer made by this guy named Mochika from Peru. I think there were only 100 or 200 around the world, it was a handmade thing. I have that alongside the classics by Roland and Korg – sometimes I use Korg keys but that’s it. For me playing live, those are enough with some pedals but I did a lot of recordings with the gear I don’t have that I’ve had a fantasy to record with. I was lucky enough to be able to record with a Buchla.

Maybe it’s just my personal experience that make me feel this way: a lot of people have gear and talk about gear, but really what’s amazing about the Buchla is that when you play this synth and record, if you’re a genuine person and you are honest with what you like when you’re recording, you end up seeing who you really are while playing this machine. That’s how I felt the two weeks I was at [Elektroakustisk Musik i Sverige in Stockholm]. I was recording day and night with a Buchla and I don’t know much about the physics behind it. I read through the theories and got the basic idea for what sound would come out of it and then I ended up getting stuff that made me feel like part of me and part of this thing I’ve been touching every day for the past two weeks had come together and that’s what I felt was most amazing.

One of the things I was thinking about when listening to A Satin Sight was that there’s a calming nature to noise even though it’s not a sound that’s naturally thought of as gentle or soft.

PD: I used to do yoga meditating with noise because the masters of noises have layers, the surfaces have spikes but when you get into it, it’s a thick, big, warm water kind of feeling – it surrounds you. Noise music can be really soothing in a way, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of the frequencies. In every genre of music, the practice of listening is very important. With noise music, it’s really important to separate your feelings and how you receive the music physically and mentally. I take frequencies and information differently so at the end of the day I can make the most use out of the signals to help me thrive from this specific mood and feeling. The purpose is to thrive from it, it takes a lot of practice to do that.

Your track ‘A Season In Hell’ is named after the extended Arthur Rimbaud poem. Why did you feel that connected to the track you named it after?

PD: He named it A Season Of Hell because it was the darkest time of his life and when I was living in Shanghai… I haven’t been doing music for very long and I come from a different background, and my family would still ask me when I am going to have a kid. I have the pressure of doing those kind of things. When I was living in Shanghai, I was pretty ill and it was a very dark and sad breakdown of my life which was also when I really decided to go with doing music and art, which was a big challenge for me at the time. Everyone has this period in their life where you are really touching the bottom of your life chart and that’s how I felt. It was made in Shanghai and it was also the most difficult time for me so I decided to use that [name].

You did a Headphone Highlights show for RBMA which centred around Queer Voices and it came around the time of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando which made people think a lot about queer nightlife and the importance of it. I was wondering how queer nightlife run by/for queer people has impacted you personally.

PD: I never thought that a boy with a boy or a girl with a girl is something different which I found is very lucky and rare. Where I grew up is a very conservative place but we are definitely not homophobic which I think helped me to be an open-minded person and accept who I am. We didn’t really have queer nightlife but I used to live in San Francisco and I’d enjoy going to Aunt Charlie’s a lot, which is a bar where they have drag queens every Tuesday night. I was a big drag show fan! In San Francisco, I used to go every week and I found this not-heterosexual going-out experience very comfortable.

It’s such a different energy.

PD: It’s sad to say but people who are heterosexual have a privilege. They don’t have to worry about some things. When I went to Moscow and I was with my partner, we were in a restaurant and there was this table of ladies and they would stare at you and then they would stand up and come up to you and leave the restaurant. I’ve heard of Russia being a very homophobic place but wasn’t expecting it to be that hardcore. I don’t think the queer community are in a weaker position but they definitely come across conflict more on a daily basis in regular life. You go to school or go to work, you don’t know what is going to happen. I think that’s why they are more open-minded, they have more sympathy and can understand when people have struggled and when people are expressing something in a different way – they are willing to inhale it. They can feel something that they resonate with.

Pan Daijing plays this year’s Sonar Festival. For more information and tickets, visit the Sonar website

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