Liu Xiaoyuan, 31, is an automotive engineer who works helping to design cars in Beijing. ‘It is a job which can feed me well,’ he laughs, and he says he enjoys it. ‘But not as much as the music. If I only do the music, to be honest in China it’s very hard to live.’ In the music side of his life Xiaoyuan goes by the name of Punx, and he’s one of four producers who co-founded Beijing-based techno crew Prajnasonic.
He met one of the other co-founders Xing Jiangbo, or iimmune, after going to watch his post-rock band Glow Curve. They later bonded over music and drinking. ‘We sometimes played music together at the same event or party, but it was always organised by someone else. So at the beginning of last year he and I thought we should organise an event ourselves.’
In February 2016, they held the first Prajnasonic party at Dada, inviting fellow producers Far Infinity and VU to join them. ‘After the event we talked a lot, and we thought we should do something, like a label. Nowadays there are lots of DJs but it is hard to find the producers who play live sets except when someone invites some foreign artist to come, so we thought we should do this.'
Unlike Xiaoyuan, Liu Yiwei, 39, works in the world of music full time on projects like product sound design, film soundtracks and advertising. He’s also spent more than 24 years involved in China’s underground rock and electronic music scene, and has two producer aliases under the Prajnasonic umbrella – Far Infinity and Yamashiva.
‘I’m a wide-ranging music producer, so the two names are designed for different music genres,’ he says. ‘Far Infinity is ambient dub, downtempo, and Yamashiva is the newest name, which will focus on experimental and techno. Yamashiva’s concept is a mix of two names: Yamaha and Shiva – a global corporation and a Hindu god. Prajnasonic also came from the same concept.
I like this kind of contrast between a commercial society and an ancient religion.’
Since that first party one year ago Prajnasonic have put on eight events, including mini-tours taking their techno to Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing. And now they are setting off on another trip to celebrate the release of four EPs from the four co-founders.
A standout track is ‘Post Human Sports’ from Punx’s EP of the same name, which without any ado whacks you round the head with a belligerent bassline, enough to demand the attention of any dancefloor. It’s quite the piece of engineering.
‘There is some kind of magic inside techno, it’s kind of the root of electronic music,’ Xiaoyuan says. ‘Starting from Kraftwerk, you can find the early shadow of techno. It’s quite like tai chi in China – it’s just one becomes two, two becomes four and four becomes everything.
Some people will sometimes tell me, “I don’t feel the drop, it’s very flat,” but the change is very slow. Techno is about building up a song world which you can get into, like something is growing and growing. It’s different to music with drops.’
Like most techno crews a slight obsession with hardware runs through their work and live shows. ‘Sound quality is one thing, but nowadays the software is getting better and better, it’s hard to tell the difference,’ Xiaoyuan says. ‘But in a big club, you can feel the difference with the dynamics, and when you change the parameters, the hardware is very smooth. But the most important reason is that I like to communicate with the machine and the feeling of control. You can’t feel that with software.’
The spirit of the underground – not doing something in the pursuit of fame or fortune but purely for the joy of doing it – is well and truly alive here in Prajnasonic. And while it’s still early days for the crew, they have had interest from other parties about future collaborations and are on the lookout for producers to join their ranks. But success is still very much defined in their own terms. Asked of his hopes for the future, Yiwei says, ‘Exploring the deeper corners of the electronic music spectrum: this is our goal.’
By: Tom Clark