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Grime Music in Shanghai Is Having a Moment

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Tuborg Open Hub

Sometimes, the best music comes from unexpected collaboration. To explain why, Tuborg and VICE are exploring experimental collaborations and unique musical exchanges from around the world.

Ever since Drake got a Boy Better Know tattoo and started putting words like “blem” in his songs, it’s been pretty clear that grime is now a global phenomenon. Once produced solely within a few inner London boroughs, the sound has taken on new influences and ideas as different countries and cultures have engaged with it on their own terms.

It might not seem like the most obvious fit, but really it should be no surprise that grime has made its way into the clubs of Shanghai, Beijing and beyond. China’s UK expat community is growing every day, while we are also witnessing the emergence of a younger native Chinese generation who are engaging with Western trends with a newfound enthusiasm.

Although the majority of grime tracks rely heavily on MCs for personality and emotional charge, most Chinese grime so far has eschewed wordplay for sample-based instrumentals showcasing a diverse range of sounds and ideas. Here are five producers we’d like to introduce you to.

Kilo Vee

A regular at Shanghai’s influential Push & Pull club night, Kilo was originally into hip-hop and funky, but fell in love with grime after hearing it on a night out. Although a lot of his beats are influenced by trap and still retain elements of hip-hop, when he plays out his sets tend to be packed with two-step, as shown on mixes for London’s Radar Radio and releases of experimental grime instrumentals through the Shanghai label SVBKVLT.

ZEAN

Another Push & Pull stalwart, the Shanghai producer’s more traditional grime instrumentals have been picked up by UK radio stations like Rinse and Radar, the latter giving him his own regular slot. His music is heavily influenced by his native country, regularly featuring samples from kung fu films and Chinese wind instruments. International attention has followed, and ZEAN has had single releases on the American label Liquid Amber as well as Beijing’s Do Hits.

Swimful

A Brit currently living in China, Swimful is probably the most well known name on this list, regularly appearing on Rinse and collaborating with international rappers like Lil B. Synth-heavy and direct, his sound will be more recognisably “grime” to UK ears, and his last EP for SBVKVLT – Pearls – is filled with instrumentals that recall the early eski beats of grime legend Wiley.

Naaah

A close friend of fellow grime producer ZEAN, Naaah brings a more melodic approach that relies heavily on Chinese vocal and classical instrument samples. Having started out doing trap remixes of 90s hip-hop, the Shanghai resident has developed his sound into something more forward thinking. As you can hear in tracks like “Swim Air”, he manages to create two-step that sounds at once traditionally Chinese and quintessentially grime.

Howie Lee

Probably the most experimental name on this list, the producer, visual artist and head of the Do Hits label is something of a legend, not just in his hometown of Beijing but nationwide. Like most of the names on this list, his earlier work – particularly the Mù Chè Sh?n Ch? album – was more hip-hop based, but his latest EP, Homeless, sees him experimenting more widely, welding dubstep elements to a stark, minimal grime sound. He’s supported legends of UK bass music like Kode9 and Bok Bok, and has been rewarded with his own Boiler Room set.