Original Talent: Rainbow Chan
Earlier this year, we kicked off a new series thanks to ORGNL.TV, a new editorial channel by Stolichnaya Premium Vodka. Every month from here on in, Original Talent will be profiling a new and original artist on the electronic music scene and this time, we’re talking to Sydney’s own Rainbow Chan.
If you’ve had a read of Nina Las Vegas’ list of five local producers to watch, you would have seen homegrown fast-riser Rainbow Chan get a shout-out. As NLV put it, Rainbow Chan – yes, that’s her real name – has carved out her place in the local scene with music that’s “heavily layered, warm and boundary pushing”. In the months since that article, it’s been all systems go for the Sydney-bred talent. She’s performed at OutsideIn as part of Since I Left You, the live recreation of The Avalanches’ seminal album (we called her a “ball of crazy talent and energy” at the time), dropped her stellar Long Vacation EP and generated enough buzz from that to both successfully use Pozible to crowd-fund its vinyl pressing and get Yeah Yeah Yeahs man Nick Zinner to sign up for a remix. So with her profile getting bigger by the day, we tracked Rainbow Chan down for a catch up.
So how did the Nick Zinner remix come about?
I was lucky enough to play a Virgen Acrolyte in Karen O’s pyscho-opera “Stop the Virgens” as a part of Vivid Festival 2012. For two weeks, we worked with a group of amazing musicians and Nick Zinner was one of them. When I showed him my EP, he really dug it. Having heard a few of Nick’s remixes, I thought I had nothing to lose by asking him to remix a song. Surprisingly, he said yes and shotgunned Haircut! It’s nice to know someone of such fame can also be so humble.
You used Pozible to fund the pressing of your Long Vacation EP to vinyl with great success. Is crowdfunding something you’d encourage other independent artists to make use of?
Unless you’ve got a label who can throw cash at you, it’s pretty difficult to distribute your music in a physical form. I knew I wanted Long Vacation to come out on vinyl and crowdfunding seemed like a smart way to do it. I’ve heard people dismiss crowdfunding before, likening it to “begging” for money. But that’s crap. If anything, it’s a good way to interact with your audience as you get creative and reward them with extra gifts. The vinyls are practically pre-ordered so it’s stress free. We’re so interconnected now with extensive social networks and a collapse of the artist/fan barrier. Why not make use of something pragmatic and great?
You’ve built up a pretty solid discography already. Do you feel like every track is better than the last, or is there one song from your back-catalogue you’re particularly proud of?
As I write autobiographical songs, it is hard to separate certain tracks with old sentiments that I simply don’t connect with anymore. That doesn’t mean that I am not proud of the music I have made, it just becomes a little less pertinent. The Long Vacation EP is probably the first collection of songs that I reflect back on and feel really happy about. It may also have to do with the fact that it had a stronger aesthetic and holistic approach so the songs are linked with collaborators whose artworks, photography and film clips I admire. I would say that Haircut is one that I am particularly proud of because it hasn’t only gotten me through some tough times but I know it’s helped other people too!
What’s been the biggest challenge for you as an artist – has it been mastering technical stuff, funding things, getting exposure or something else entirely?
I think the challenge comes from not losing belief in yourself and accepting that music is not a conventional career. The nature of this industry is ephemeral. Trends come and go. There isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to have a sustainable future. But that’s precisely why it’s important to not let things like exposure get to you, especially if it’s going to compromise the type of music you want to make. Surrounding yourself with like-minded artists and fostering that sense of community or dancing/sweating it out at each other’s gigs is far more fulfilling than preoccupying oneself with industry stuff.
You’re one of the rare electronic acts who both sings and produces. What came first for you – vocals or production?
Singing definitely came first. I used to be in a children’s choir for over a decade… you know with the robes, hands behind back, singing with rounded vowels, “bumblebee” vocal warm ups etc. I grew up listening to a lot of Western and Asian pop, Chinese folk and in my late-teens I started to delve into electronic music. During uni, I became more engaged with electronic music and studied its history. Now both singing and production work hand in hand for me. I love that you can push timbre and rhythm to their limits through production, but I’m a sucker for a good vocal hook. Like Solange’s stuff, she is doing it for me big time at the moment.
Do you have plans to release an album soon?
I’ve been writing a lot of material for an album, hopefully to be released next year. The songs thus far are a mix of darker electronic vibes and 90s RnB hooks. I’m currently obsessed and writing with this Ensoniq synth that my friend Moe lent me. I’m also going to be doing a bit travelling in Hong Kong and Japan early next year so I’m planning to adorn the album with more record and filmic samples, field recordings, and obscure Asian instruments.