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#lamonoCHATS: Chinese Man, trip hop with a twist of Zen



2-Chinese-Man---©Leo-Berne

During the nineties, in United Kingdom, more precisely in Bristol, a new musical genre was conceived; known as trip hop, it’s a fusion between hip hop and electronica, until the point where neither of both is completely recognizable. It can have many different styles, depending on the selected samples: funk, dub reggae, soul, house and many other forms of electronic music. Chinese Man is, nowadays, one of the most important bands within this genre. Formed by three French dudes, they’ve been working together since the year 2004, and now they have endowed us with their most recent album, Shikantaza, which is marked by a strong Zen vibe and plenty of Oriental influences. Their amazing hip hop beats and daring melodies probably make this their best work so far, though that is an arguable statement. Written and recorded between Marseille and Bombay, at the end of the day, is a record worth listening from beginning to end. A few days ago we had the pleasure of talking with them, so that they could transmit us their calmness and meditative spirit. T: Felipe Duarte

Your new album, Shikantaza, has strong Oriental influences, like the presence of the sitar, Japanese voices, and an overall Zen vibe. What brought you guys down this path? We’ve always been influenced by Asian cinema, comics and aesthetics in general. The Zen vibe comes from the way we live our project; we work quite slowly and take our time in our lives in general…

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On your track Maläd there’s a voice in off from Alejandro Jodorowski. I’ve been a big fan of his work for a long time now, but for those who don’t know who he is, what can you say about him? How did you get him to participate in the album? Alejandro Jodorowski is kind of a genius, he’s a writer, movie director, philosopher and we have been big fan of his work for years. We had the chance of meeting his wife, who helped us convince him to participate in Shikantaza. We think it’s the first time he does this kind of collaboration.

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The three of you have been involved in music for a long time, long before Chinese Man came together. Do you have any advice for those artists and musicians that have been doing their craft for a while now and still haven’t met any success? Unfortunately there’s no miraculous recipe for success. You have to believe in your music, work hard and be a bit lucky… Our generation has a good way to communicate though: the internet! It’s a really great tool to deliver your music worldwide and meet other artists that can help you too… Sorry, that’s the best advice we can give!

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Many tracks in Shikantaza have a swing-like sound; is there any genre you would never consider sampling or using in your music? Honestly, we could sample any kind of music. It would maybe be difficult for us to use hardcore techno because it’s a style we don’t really like, but, who knows? Maybe one day!

What is the best and worst thing about being three heads working together? Three people is the best balance for us because there’s no heads up when it comes to decision making, it’s always two “against” one, so it’s easier to make choices. Also, after more than ten years working together, we know how to deal with each other’s feelings, so there are no bad things about being three “heads” in Chinese Man. We try to respect each point of view.

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You worked on this album for two years, that’s quite a long time. How was the process behind it? First of all, we don’t know how to work faster! So the creating process was the same as we always do: a lot of hours listening weird old vinyl records to choose the samples we were going to use, and then months of slow composition like artisans!

When you guys are creating an album, do you create the tracks in a random order and then organize them the way you want them to be on the album? Yes, we don’t think about the final track listing when we compose. We start to think about it when all the tracks are ready. It’s kind of a long process to find the right order for the songs, but we always manage to come up with something that makes sense.

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Tell us about Chinese Man Records and some of the artists your work with. Chinese Man Records is an independent label that we created in 2004, even before the band. Our first ambition was really to create a collective, not just musical but also with graphic designers and video makers. We now work with musicians such as Taiwan MC, Scratch Bandits Crew or Baja Frequencia… We can also talk about Fred & Annabelle, who create most of our videos, or Julien Loïs, he design all of our artwork, posters, etc. They are all very talented artists that make the label what it is.

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If you could choose any three rappers, dead or alive, to collaborate with in three tracks, who would you choose and why? Notorious B.I.G., Roots Manuva and A Tribe Called Quest, because they are all the best in what they do! 

Most of your songs have a childlike tone, where does this come from? It’s just because we are still children in our hearts ;)

What is Chinese Man doing this year that just started? After the release of Shikantaza in February we’re about to start a big tour across Europe that’s gonna last until next December, so it’s gonna be a very cool but exhausting year!

3-Chinese-Man---©Leo-Berne

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