Back in 2006, Vince Li and Ou jian were living in a house known as the Rose Mansion in Hong Kong, located in the center of Tsim Sha Tsui, where the city noises never fade. They decided to form the band The Offset: Spectacles with Vince on guitar, Tom Ng on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Ou jian on bass, playing an obscure form of Cantonese rock. Making use of sound engineering equipment he shipped back from Canada, Vince transformed the apartment into a lo-fi recording studio and the band recorded their first EP using a 2-track reel-to-reel system.
But the Hong Kong music scene proved unwelcoming to the fledgling rock group and the band found it hard to build up a fan base or find similar bands to play with. In 2009, they packed up their gear and moved to Beijing where they finally met bands who shared the same ideas about rock, like Soviet Pop and Hot & Cold. Still, even in Beijing, they quickly realized there was a lack of labels working with musicians of their kind, leading them to hatch the idea: Why not create our own label? And so Rose Mansion Analog was born, a DIY analog music collective and indie label.
Since then, Rose Mansion has been making waves in the Beijing music scene, establishing themselves as innovators and tastemakers despite their “antiquated” approach. We sat down to talk to Vince Li, co-founder of Rose Mansion Analog and guitarist of The Offset: Spectacles to try to uncover their secret:
The Creators Project: Can you briefly explain analog recordings?
Vince Li: Way before the modern computerized recording technology, analog recording was the main method for almost a century. “Analog” is a comparative term to digital—digital recording started in the 90s, a technique that translates sound waves to digital code. Analog recording engraves the curves from sound waves on vinyl. When the needle comes across it, it creates vibration that is magnified by electricity. Analog recording is an expression of physical movement.
How did you learn this kind of recording method?
I used to visit a record shop when I was living in Canada and I got pretty close with the shop owner. When I wanted to make my own music, I asked him for advice on how I should start and he recommended that I learn about the equipment and instruments of my favorite bands and try to emulate their sound, which is what a lot of people did and still do.
I've always been a big fan of Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey… so, I started to check what type of guitars they used, etc… and eventually that led me to analog recording.
What exactly attracted you to this kind of sound?
There is something “warm” about cassettes and vinyl. Besides the melody of the music itself, there is the visibility of the spinning sound, and a kind of “environmental” sound when you play a cassete or vinyl. It is not just an acoustic experience, it is also an integration of music playing. I think that analog systems add physicality to the listening experience.
Who are the members of your label?
Our members include Li Qing and Li Weisi from Soviet Pop. They mainly use analog synthesizers for their music, and these old-school tools change sounds by voltage, so the outcome is affected by the weather and other issues, which produce very subtle changes. The brothers from Hot & Cold are good at making sound with their existing equipment. They would explore all the sonic possibilities on a few instruments and tools and only when they reach the limit would they go for new stuff. Of course, there’s the three members from The Offset: Spectacles and Yang Zijiang, Zheng Changyu from Golden Driver, who used to do a lot of DIY stuff and catalogues.
Under the current musical circumstance, we seem to be categorized as the minority who love odd music, but this so called “avant-garde rock” has really existed since the last century. We love music made before the 80 when there wasn’t any digital equipment, so eventually we replaced our equipment with old instruments in order to get that unique sound. This might sound conservative, but when The Offset: Spectacles were formed in Hong Kong, we attempted to express our feelings about the city through Cantonese rock music in our mother tongue and we were one of the first bands doing that. We only wish we could express our ideas better.
Six cassettes released from Rose Mansion Analog:
1st row (from left to right)
“Sacred Vacation” – Hot & Cold , “Conclusion / Introduction” – Hot & Cold , “OST to 3 Pieces of Drama” – Lu Xinpei
2nd row (from left to right)
“Solid State Gold” – Dirty Beaches , “The Offset：Spectacles” – The Offset: Spectacles, “Dialogue” – Soviet Pop
Technically speaking, are you looking for a breakthrough using old techniques?
We do not reject digital technology, as we are living in it, and we do use computers and the internet. It gives us opportunities to get in touch with other labels in the same genre from all over the world. Rose Mansion Analog was formed over a year ago and we have released six cassettes. When people buy them, they also obtain a digital download. Offset: Spectacles and Soviet Pop will release vinyls under the label as well.
We did find an interesting new sound during our recording process and we call it “the ghost rhythm.” It comes from a sound crash between three different instruments when they play at the same time on speakers. Art is all about how to deal with psychic phenomena.
Do you have any expectation for future technology in music?
Now there is technology that can input digital files into vinyl. I hope to materialize digital information. Also, 3D printing transforms the crazy ideas designed on a computer into an actual object. If these technology become more user-friendly, and accessible, then everybody can produce their own music.
Image Courtesy of Rose Mansion Analog and Madi Ju