One of the most revered and roundly applauded independent experimental electronic music labels in the world is Shanghai’s own SVBKVLT. Started by The Shelter and ALL Club founder Gaz, the label has grown from humble origins as a beats tape peddler into the globally checked go-to taste definer for “the future sound of China”.
From their home base at ALL Club — incidentally, also Shanghai’s premier destination to see people dressed in cellophane, a snorkle, glitter, and like, one riding boot or some shit — the SVBKVLT events are key nights for people looking for the next ideas in music and art coming out of this city.
This weekend, SVBKVLT caps off 2021 with their last event of the year: a super involved two-day club night, apparel launch, art installation, and video premier. Performing live and DJs sets are basically all the key artists who are defining the current sound of the label — a nice full-stop to a weird-ass year.
And an unmissable two days for casual and deep-dive fans of counterculture music, art, and experimentation.
SmSh: For people not familiar, can you introduce the label SVBKVLT.
Gaz: Okay. Um. Originally, “Sub-Culture” was just an event — it was a party that started when we opened The Shelter. Mainly concentrating on Bass music, like a lot of Dubstep stuff. This was 2007. And we were hosting in people like Kode 9, Pinch — people like that. And then that grew into the record label called SVBKVLT in 2013, which was, at the beginning, just a small cassette and t-shirt label.
SmSh: Going right for the money makers right out of the gate.
GW: [Laughs.]. Yeah, exactly.
So, it was just a small thing at the start. Just releasing beat cassettes from local producers. ChaCha did the first one. Her Faded Ghost stuff. Caliph8 from the Philippines. Laura Ingalls. And then, gradually, it evolved into a more proper label.
SmSh: Would you describe the label as very tied to the city of Shanghai? Or maybe more so the scenes coming out of ALL and The Shelter?
GW: It’s definitely tied to Shanghai and China — that’s where the base of it is. But even at the beginning we were signing people from The Philippines. And definitely over the last few years it’s spreading out even more — we’ve got artists in Japan, England, Korea, and Indonesia. And doing collaborations with Nyege Nyege, which is a collective from Uganda. But, yeah, the core of the label is in Shanghai.
SmSh: Coming from a Bass music background what’s the sound of SVBKVLT today? Is there a unifying aesthetic or viewpoint?
GW: Well. It’s just experimental electronic music. Still, I guess, mostly dance music but not necessarily.
SmSh: Can you point people to a few releases to check out if their looking for in-roads into the label / artist roster?
GW: Yeah, we’ve got two compilations — CACHE 1 and CACHE 2. Which definitely would give you an overview of the label as it is now. CACHE 2 came out in 2020. CACHE 1 came out in 2018, so both are recent enough.
For artists, 33EMYBW — check out both her albums. Hyph11e’s debut album “Aperture”. Eli’s [Osheyak] latest release with Nahash, “Club Apathy”, and his latest mixtape here. Also, Gooooose - “Rusted Silicon”.
There’s a lot of new releases by those two compilations will do for people looking to get an overview.
SmSh: How does the label work with the artists releasing music? Are these releases collaborative in the sense that you're influencing artist direction, thinking of the overall sound of the label? Or is it like… carte blanche and one of your artists will just present you with a block of music as-is to be released?
GW: I guess it’s different with different artists. Yeah, the artists have complete creative control, and it just depends on how much they want me to get involved. Some of the artists, they will just give me an album and that’s the way it’s been released. “Here are the tracks, here is the order, here is the artwork — done“. Whereas, other artists might give me a load of tunes that they want feedback on and want to work together to come up with artwork.
SmSh: I guess people send you music all the time. What sorts of things are you listening for in deciding whether to work with people or sign new producers? Is there a certain sound or aesthetic that you’re gravitating towards?
GW: Not really. I just like things that are hard to put a name on. I like things that are hard to put a genre on. Like, I don’t want someone to give me a straight-up grime beat or — you know, like something I can label and put a genre on. That doesn’t interest me so much. We’re kind of looking for artists with their own sound.
SmSh: How has Covid-19 impacted the label?
GW: Well, 2019, everything was looking great. We had started touring properly. In 2019, we did Europe, a bunch of us went to Africa. Uganda. And so, yeah, the touring was picking up a lot, and a lot of the artists had signed to booking agencies right at the end of 2019.
January 2020, we were named label of the month on Resident Advisor. And so it looked like 2020 was going to be amazing. [Laughs].
And then, literally, about two weeks after that article everything went to shit and we had to cancel tours we had lined up for 2020 and 2021.
But we haven’t slowed down the releases. Everyone’s been stuck at home making music and we’ve put out a load of albums.
SmSh: Have you found it difficult to put out albums without touring to support them?
GW: Actually, we’ve found that more people are listening. In a way. Because people were just at home. So, people had a lot more time to look into music and people were buying music off BandCamp and such.
So in a way, it feels like more people are listening.
But also, yeah, without the touring…. I mean a lot of the music we put out is club music and live performance, and obviously some of the context is lost.
SmSh: Would you say ALL is the home base for SVBKVLT?
GW: Yeah, for sure. I mean we started at The Shelter and then we came here.
SmSh: How is the club side of things going? I guess Shanghai and China is in a bit of a bubble, with rebounding after the lockdown a lot quicker than the rest of the world. And then also still closed off in terms of foreign artists being able to enter the country.
GW: Yeah, it’s a weird one at the moment. Everything has been re-opened now for what feels like so long. And everyone’s attention is focused inwards. The number of clubs has been multiplying but the number of artists and number of DJs is kind of the same. It’s getting harder to come up with fresh line-ups because everyone is playing all the clubs.
I mean, it’s been good for local artists who are able to tour China, and getting good slots and good opportunities there.
SmSh: Leading into discussing what’s on for this weekend, it seems that ALL has always been really open to visual arts and installations, incorporating these elements, creating something more than just a straight music / club event. How did that all come about?
GW: Well, that was something that also started at The Shelter. We did about a year’s worth of events with [digital / installation artist] Kim Laughton, and he would do a piece for each one. So, it sort of came from that and more people starting coming with their own work. It’s, basically, just about giving an artist a budget and the freedom to sort of change the space in an interesting or provocative way.
ALL is quite a flexible space — a blank canvas in a way. So we encourage the artists to change the space, so that when you walk in it feels different.
SmSh: What’s happening this weekend?
GW: So, yeah. Its a two-day event, basically. And the first day is a collaboration, with SVBKVLT and Nutemperor — a local clothing brand and fashion designer — and Wang Jingxin, who is a digital artist we’ve worked with quite a lot in the last few years.
So, for the Friday, it’s that collab. And Nutemperor has deigned a few pieces of clothing. We’ve got those items for sale and then he’s doing an installation and decorating the club. And Wang Jingxin who is a long-time collaborator with the label, she’ll do visuals for the night. She’s been working with us on the posters, visuals, and video work. She just did a music video for Prettybwoy, for his new album. She did a video for Yen Tech’s album, which came out earlier this year.
And then on that night, we’ve got Tzu Sing, who hasn’t played in a while. Osheyak is playing a new live set with a loads of new material he’s been working on for his next album. So, it’s a little bit of a preview of that. And then Hyph11e, who also hasn’t been playing for a little while, is coming in. Then a DJ called Tutu from Beijing who’s coming down, and Chuan, who’s like a newer DJ from Shanghai — one of my favorite DJs to come out of Shanghai in the last year or so.
SmSh: So, that’s Friday…
GW: And then Saturday is part of a project called “Trans-Aeon Express”, with weirdcore, who is a visual artist from the UK — kind of Aphex Twin’s main collaborator on visuals, but he also works with loads of people doing sort of live visual stuff. He’s worked with Radiohead and others…
So, he did a solo exhibition in Beijing called “Orient Flux” at the end of 2020 — had to do it remotely of course — and San San [33EMYBW] and Han Han [Gooooose] did the soundtrack for that.
SmSh: How did that come about?
GW: We met weirdcore through Aphex Twin, who had invited San San to support him for his show in Manchester in 2019. And we also did a showcase set for UNSOUND festival in Krakow a couple of months later, and weirdcore was there, so linked up there.
SmSh: And the soundtrack for the exhibition is being released at the end of the year? What’s it sound like?
GW: Yeah, it’s kind of a continuation and extension of weirdcore’s “Orient Flux” project. It’s not quite a soundtrack; it’s more of a proper album. A couple of tracks are from the exhibition and a couple are sort of more inspired by the ideas and concept.
Sound-wise, it’s…. hard to describe. Definitely not as clubby as their other music. Gooooose’s side is a little bit jazzy and San San’s is less beat driven then her other stuff. Usually, she’s quite rhythmic…
Yeah. It’s experiential, soundtrack-y type stuff — that’s hard to explain…
SmSh: On the Saturday, you’re doing a first-look at a music video connected with this?
GW: Yeah, on the Saturday night we’ll be premiering a music video we’ve been working on.
So, the exhibition itself was this huge installation that you could walk through. It was basically like this futuristic train station that you walk through, and then you get on the train, and it’s, basically, a train traveling through time.
And the video is the video from the train window. So, you’re basically flying through time and loads of people rushing by.
For the video, we’ve removed the people from the original video footage at the exhibition, who were just random people, and we hired a green screen and shot additional footage using people from Shanghai. DJs, artists, designers — the people around SVBKVLT and ALL recently. And we’ve put our footage into the original video piece.
So, we’re doing a first-look at that as well as hosting in 33EMYBW doing a live set. Gooooose will be doing a live set. Zhuozhuo AKA Aka Chen Tianzhuo from Asian Dope Boys will be DJing. Another DJ called DJ Chiro will be DJing, as is Bysanz, who’s been away at uni who came back recently.
SmSh: Tell me about this Zeke poster. I still remember that Zeke poster from… like, when was that party. 1867?
GW: Yeah, the poster that we made for the whole weekend is by an artist called Zeke Clough, who we worked with over the years back even before SVBKVLT. He’s from the UK and he does all the artwork for Shackleton. Hand-drawn illustration work. But back in, I think, 2011, I did a long series of posters with [screen printing studio] Idle Beats. And his poster kicked off that series. I think we ended up going for more than two years — maybe more — I think we did like 30 posters.
This is the last thing we’re doing this year, so it was nice to get in back in touch with him.