Interview: XLF

Beijing club scene verteran reveals plans for new live band

Xiao Linfeng, aka XLF, has put his fingerprint on almost all of Beijing’s major dance music clubs, parties, labels and festivals over his 15 years in the game. From all-night raves at 798 warehouses to intimate showcases of experimental electronic music at Modernsky Lab, the venue he currently manages, XLF has been an indefatigable force in elevating Beijing’s electro underground to an international standard. This year, he’ll launch a new multi-media live performance project along with fellow producer 1van and VJ XXX. He’ll also actively push at the edges of what he can do with Modernsky Lab to survive the ‘cruel’ reality of Beijing’s recent hostility toward live music venues.


We caught up with XLF to talk about the larger changes Beijing’s club scene has undergone over the last decade, his current party label Beehive, and his plans as a performer and promoter in 2016.


You've been active in the Beijing nightlife scene for a long time now. What are the most significant ways in which you've seen it change over the last 10 or 15 years? Over the last 15 years, I've witnessed some small-scale promoters steadily grow big, and steadily decline. There have been more and more outstanding electronic music producers and DJs coming out, really quite a lot. I've welcomed new music bars, been to a lot of club openings, and seen a lot of them go away too, seen many people in the scene strike off and look for new directions. 2016 will usher in yet another new journey for the Chinese electronic music scene.


What are some of the venues, labels, or promoters you've co-founded or been involved with over the years? I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with quite a few great projects over the last ten years: the INTRO electronic music festivals at 751 D-Park, Crab Island, and Shougang Capital Steel Factory; the Spooked Halloween parties at Ku-18, Pace Gallery, and the Blue Warehouse in 798; the Nova party at the Green Warehouse in 751; and a few indoor parties at some electronic clubs around China. I've also been actively involved with a few parties and labels, including PENG, Acupuncture, Ciqi, and now Beehive.


When was Beehive launched? How is it different from other parties around town, or other parties you've been involved with in the past? Beehive was launched in December 2014 by me, Lio, and Kaize. We aim to break out of the confines of different music genres – house, techno, tech house, new disco, indie-dance – and bring people quality music that can let them escape the daily routine and enjoy the natural sensation music is supposed to bring you. Our main focus is on the quality of music. Skill in mixing has almost nothing to do with your technical skills – although to be a good DJ, you need to be good with all the technics. But the best DJs in the world are the people who know how to control the crowd, to flirt with them, to infect them. They know how to tell people a story with music, make them fall in a different world and lose control.


What is the ideal crowd for a Beehive show? No particular traits – it can be anybody. We think electronic music is receiving more and more attention in China. More people are realising that going to a party just for music can be magical, but you don’t need to think of it as a big thing with a dress code, or follow what other people are doing or listening to. Our music serves the more discerning audience, who stand in front of the DJ for one reason and one reason only: to get lost in the groove.


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You'll be performing live with 1van at the Freaky Love event on Valentine’s Day at Modernsky Lab, and again at the Black Sheep party on March 11 at Lantern. How did this live project come together? Do you have any plans for further performances or recordings? In 2015, the night before Halloween, Goethe Institute invited 1van and I to perform at the opening party for their new venue. We talked it over and decided to form a band, to play live together on stage. For equipment, we use a few old analog synthesizers, FM synthesizers, drum synthesizers, electric guitar, and some other conventional electronic music instruments. On Christmas Eve, at UCCA's anniversary party, VJ XXX joined us, and we worked well together. We decided that starting from this year, we want to make multi-media work combining music and visuals. We're not sure about the style yet, we're just going to roll with it and see where it takes us. The Valentine's Day show will be the first show we'll play since we formed this group. In the future we'll be playing as a band, and using live performance to replace the DJ part of our shows. For releases, we're thinking about putting out a 60-minute live recording after our set is more mature. Let's see how it goes.


You're currently the manager of Modernsky Lab, which has had a pretty successful first six months. How did you get involved with the venue? Modern Sky's CEO Shen Lihui has always wanted to do electronic music-related productions, be they physical releases or shows. A natural opportunity presented itself as Modern Sky was beginning to plan Modernsky Lab, a new chain of venues that will be opened throughout China. These two factors coming together led me to begin working with Modern Sky. The goal is to become a platform or a space that contains multiple art forms, such as independent music, electronic music performance, gallery exhibits, relevant industry salons, and workshops, and to offer opportunities for people working in music and art to present themselves, to release their work and gain a better understanding of their own practice.


Modernsky Lab's bookings alternate between rock and electronic music. How do you hope to mix different audiences or fans of different styles of music at the venue? At the moment we're still studying, trying different things and seeing how it goes. Expectations are always rosy, but reality is cruel. For now, Modernsky Lab will remain tough and versatile enough to reach the next phase.


XLF performs live with 1van and VJ XXX at Modernsky Lab on Sunday 14 February and at Lantern on Friday 11 March.

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