Experimental music from China - Yan Jun, Wu Na, Xiao He, Zhang Jian

YAN JUN personifies the Chinese musical underground, or sub-underground – just listen to his multimedia poem “Against All Organized Deception” ( He promoted the DIY reuse of the Western surplus saw-cut CDs flooding China, which led to an explosion of styles. WU NA will challenge Yan's sub-post-modernity's with the sliding overtones of the ancient guqin/zither.
Experimental music is an offshoot of China's recent explosion of styles—and FM3 are at its frontier. Half of FM3, keyboardist ZHANG JIAN recorded at Staalplaat and struck gold with the Buddha Machine (
On his latest double album “The Performance of Identity” XIAO HE combines acoustic guitar with unlikely guttural vocal sounds. Live he creates intricate multi-layered soundscapes, or plays a Peking Opera clown.

Text by Jeroen Groenewegen


Steim Beijing Underground.gif - design by Kai-Ting Lin Takuro Mizuta Lippit/ dj sniff

Yan Jun
Born in Lanzhou (1973), but now based in Beijing, Yan Jun works with feedback noise, drone sound, voice, field recording, site-specific sound installation, impro music and environmental sound as well as writing, publishing and curating. He regards these however as one and the same thing.
Yan founded Sub Jam and its sub-label KwanYin Records, runs the weekly Waterland Kwanyin event and annual Mini Midi festival since 2005.
He has published 5 essay collections about Chinese new music and 3 poetry collections.

Xiao He
He Guofeng, known in the world of music as Xiao He, is one of the most creative and influential artists in the Beijing music scene. Besides his recordings and his solo and ensemble music performances, he is active in drama, writes incidental music, and is a creative force in the underground movie industry. He is also the head of Maybe Horse, a Maybe Mars sub-label dedicated to supporting and developing Beijing’s and China’s most innovative folk and ethnic musicians.
Xiao He first attracted serious attention in the late 90s with his experimental band, Glamorous Pharmacy, a fluid ensemble that mixed folk, jazz, experimentation, improvised performances and action art to create a strangely surreal sound that never seemed to settle anywhere before turning around and heading of in a different direction. At the time China’s musical underground was small and fairly homogenous, but the playful and anarchic spirit of the members of Glamorous Pharmacy suggested several new doors into various styles that were eagerly opened and pursued by other musicians. Glorious Pharmacy glorified in the creation of new “branches” of Chinese underground music, variously called among other things “introverted”, “weird” and “malicious” music.
At the same time Xiao He, which is the alias he settled on for his folk and improvised music performances, played guitar, drum and accordion at River, a legendary old Beijing folk bar. Between these two projects Xiao He quickly developed a serious following among artists and music fans in the China music scene. In 2003, Modern Sky, China’s largest independent label, released his first CD, a live recording called “The Bird that Can Fly High Landed on the Cow that Can Run Fast”. Almost immediately this was received as one of the most important recordings in contemporary Chinese music.
Except for a very few special performances with Glorious Pharmacy, today Xiao He only plays solo performances. Calling these multi-faceted improvised performances “Free Folk”, as much to express his anarchic playfulness as to suggest the total freedom which he approaches musical instrumentation, vocal performances and stylistic experimentation, he has become the inventor of a deeply weird and immensely moving style of music, mystical and surreal, which abruptly veers from the plaintive cries of Mongolian or Western Chinese music to the barbed and sometimes childlike humor of the avant-garde. Complementing his stylistic creativity is a wholly unique way of playing acoustic guitar, loops, synthesizers and any other instrument that catches his fancy.
After his 2009 European tour, Xiao He released his second album, a double CD, with Maybe Mars. The album, “Identity Performance”, consists of improvised live and studio performances and two separate CDs – one for the live shows and one for the studio performances.
His new album is a milestone for Xiao He. The live performances are based on 30 hours of recordings going back three years, which he has assembled as his “personal symphony”. The live performance CD includes selected recording from six different shows and focuses on the irreversible and unrepeatable character of live performance. The other CD was recorded in his studio and focuses on the quality of the sounds and experimentation with the recording process. The studio recording juxtaposes thousands of ways of combining vocal sounds with the sound of his guitar as he wrestles with and reinterprets his understanding of Minimalism.
(text taken from

Wu Na
Wu Na is an award-winning guqin player who began her training at the age of nine. In 1997, she entered the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where she majored in guqin, and in 2004, she became the first musician in China to receive a Masters degree in guqin performance.

Wu Na’s dual education in both Chinese and Western music has inspired her to seek a new voice for the guqin in contemporary music, and she has performed and recorded with jazz, rock, experimental avant-garde and music, classical musicians.

Wu has made several brief performance tours in Asia and Europe and in 2008, received a scholarship from the Asian Cultural Council to live in New York for five months in order to research contemporary art and music in America.

Zhang Jian
Born in Sichuan, China, Zhang Jian is a freelance musician and one of the first generation of China's live laptop performers.

He has participated in studio recordings of more than 30 popular music albums since 1995 and composed music for dozens of films, theatre and TV programs.

He is however perhaps best known for founding FM3 in 1999, and their representative work, the Buddha Machine.