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Sabiwa + Lafidki + Pisitakun + Sonia Calico

The Glove That Fits, London, UK
Photo: Pisitakun by Jonathan Crabb

Tonight’s showcase is organised by Chinabot, Eastern Margins and Yeti Out, collectives who specialise in curating contemporary art and music from Asia. Hailing from Taiwan, Sabiwa’s laptop-based audiovisual performance makes use of dislocated vocals, field recordings and acidic synths to create an ethereal take on techno. The beats are erratic, disappearing as quickly as they surface. Judging from the corresponding projections of parrots, bees and jellyfish, themes of nature and transformation, link Sabiwa’s compositions.

The vibe gets darker when the Cambodian musician Lafidki aka Saphy Vong takes to the stage. Hunched over a laptop and two sequencers, Vong’s minimalist dance music fuses industrial house beats with a saturated high end. Coupled with glitchy visuals, Lafidki’s psychedelic interjections create a web of unsettling visions. 

Vong is the founder of Chinabot, which has put out eight releases since its inception in 2017. Later clarifying, over email, the reason for initiating the project, Vong states that: “There is an erasure of Asian people’s narratives from electronic music. I want to find a way to rewrite these voices into history.” 

He went on to say that there is an overall “fetishization of social troubles” by western creatives who appropriate Asian culture and aesthetics, but ignore their own role in the “colonization of ideas”. The information exchange works the other way, too. According to Vong, the Cambodian electronic scene is dominated by expat DJs who spin only commercial tracks. Chinabot attempts to challenge the globalised nature of electronic music by providing Asian artists with a platform to experiment; a place where they can “be proud of their culture and background”.

That being said, it is difficult to uncover any distinctive aesthetics in Sabiwa and Lafidki’s sets. Their music explores tropes that are transnational, borderless. This assertion, however, may be down to latent references that are unrecognised by western ears. 

The most affecting set of the evening comes from the Thai artist Pisitakun. His latest release, SOSLEEP, was created in response to the death of the artist’s father. Traditional instruments like the pi mon and the khean are pitted against drum machines and synthesisers. The beat is led by field recordings of a heart rate monitor and fortified with metallic kick drums and crashing waves of harsh noise. The resulting atmosphere is that of an oddly groovy catharsis. 

In our post-concert Facebook chat, Pisitakun explains: “I was in an ER and woke up to the chaotic noise happening in the room. Some stranger in the next bed passed away. Death [is] like sleep. People could just go in a second. The name ‘So Sleep’ was my SOS for when there’s no help, emotionally”.

By the time Taipei’s Sonia Calico steps up to the decks, the crowd is ready to be coaxed out of the darkness. Calico’s DJ set is diverse. It’s peppered with Korean grime, reggae bangers and pop remixes, as well as a few of Calico’s own productions.  The music elicits conversations about language, emigration and integration from some of the more loquacious dancers. Their conversation brings to mind Vong’s other reason for organising this event: “Noise shows used to be a lot less diverse, but more people are finding diversity in these spaces. I like the idea [of going] to a noise show and then dancing in a club, but [at] the same event.”

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, November 2018

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