One musician taking electronic music into some intriguing fusions is Beijing born FIFI RONG.
Now resident in London, she first came to prominence as a member of THE TENORIONS but has since embarked on a journey which has involved collaborations with TRICKY and releasing her first album ‘Wrong’ in 2013.
With influences such as COCTEAU TWINS and MAZZY STAR, FIFI RONG’s development of her own traditionally inspired brand of crisp electronica has resulted in her most impressive body of work to date.
The six track ‘Next Pursuit’ EP combines the vocal mystery of KELLI ALI and the quirkiness of MOLOKO with an exotic beauty. The title track is a particular highlight but there is much more. The eerie ‘Intimacy’ plays with a sparse backbone and comes over like a less intimidating PORTISHEAD while ‘Breathless’ sees Miss Rong play with her native Mandarin language for a unique, downtempo culture blend.
‘Wishes Fault’ ups the tempo and melodically references the more traditional aspects of the Far East with a hypnotic resonance. The windy acoustic excursion ‘Cold In You’ is an interesting diversion in the manner of LANA DEL REY that showcases FIFI RONG’s versatility before the closer ‘Equality’ which takes a spacey R’n’B template and adding the vocal menace of Róisín Murphy.
FIFI RONG has manifested her own dream laden template with her hypnotic vocals as a focal point. With the release of a new EP ‘Next Pursuit RMX’ and an upcoming show at The Barfly in London’s Camden, she kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about her career so far plus her upcoming collaboration with YELLO.
Since arriving in the UK, you have undergone an artistic journey of several years to reach your ‘Next Pursuit’?
Yes. In fact I had undergone a whole life journey to reach my life purpose i.e. music right now. However, the journey is not as rollercoaster-ish as before. Now, it’s a momentum of constantly reaching for better production skills, new ideas and more authentic ways of capturing my current thoughts and philosophy. Music should mature as the artist matures, and I demand growth as an artist.
The UK embraces all kinds of experimentations in music genres. There’s a sense of freedom here, and I never felt any limitations of what I can or what I can’t. That matches my personality really well.
If it’s not new or it’s been done before, I’m not interested, and that sense of freedom to create is important to me. I was never really apart of the Chinese group, so I was not accustomed to anything. They thought I was weird.
When you first become known in the UK, you were using the Yamaha Tenorion. What interested you about using electronically derived sounds and processes for your music?
I get bored of traditional sounding genres easily. I would be learning an instrument, and get bored before getting good at it, and plus I don’t find the idea of playing someone else’s awesome composition with my own interpretation very attractive. The space to create in a given genre or an instrument is a lot narrower than what the computer can offer, unless one imposes limitation on him or herself.
MAZZY STAR appear to have been a strong influence on you, has there been anyone else?
I wouldn’t say MAZZY STAR is a strong influence as much as MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD or COCTEAU TWINS. I would say Chinese folk/traditional style is an inherent element, and then there was Brit rock, R’n’ B, neo-soul and dub reggae, UK garage… now I’m digging MOUNT KIMBIE, BURIAL, FLYING LOTUS types of sounds. As I said, I get bored easily.
Hmm! Maybe new / hybrid / alternative singer-songwriter / producer…
I know this is not the most satisfying answer, it’s arguable whether singer/songwriter is a genre, but without it, my music can be misunderstood as just music with no songs. But that is untrue.
Your own recording of your TRICKY collaboration ‘Only If I Knew’ pointed to a crisper, less claustrophobic approach?
Yes, it’s one of my approaches or varieties, but it doesn’t mean I won’t go back to my earlier sound. I just do whatever feels right for the track at hand.
One fascinating aspect of your music is how you use Chinese harmonic interplay within your melodies and vocals to provide quite a unique sound alongside the Western and African derived dance styles. How challenging is it to mix it all together to produce a coherent piece of work?
There’s no challenge at all. It’s like asking me how challenging is to speak English with a little Chinese accent? It’s natural to me, both my music and my accent.
Can you remember when you first had a dream in English and what it was all about?
Yes, when I was a little kid I had a dream speaking English fluently and living in a Western country while I didn’t know a word of English. And when I woke up I was utterly disappointed. However the good thing is, my dream always comes true 🙂
It’s a co-production with Sadsic, the tempo is the original 140bpm I did, but the rhythm variation is thanks to Sadsic’s addition.
What is ‘Next Pursuit’ is about?
There are more conformists in the world who will tell you to be realistic and do what you should with the best intention than that tiny percentage of people who are living their dreams and tell you yes go for it.
‘Next Pursuit’ is essentially about the attitude of not settling for less and making compromises in life and be honest with myself. There are pressures from both sides, family, friends and people in general thought the music path is almost an impossible one, unrealistic, and I should get a real job in return of years of education. Then there are people in music attempting to influence me towards their ways. It is a tougher problem as sometimes I can’t tell if it’s good or bad straight away, more commercial doesn’t mean worse, but whether I’m comfortable with it, it will take a long time until I realise.
Videos are a part of your artistic ethos. How important is it for you to present a visual aspect of your art to compliment the music?
I would walk around all day thinking about music but I not how I look. I’m essentially just a music maker who spends most time in my home studio. Now my music has integrated into live performance so I have to wear those additional hats you see. So I need to think about what you see, some of the time.
Your music has had a positive response in the UK and Europe. But has there been much reaction to what you are doing back in China at all?
Yes, interestingly as I haven’t promoted or released there. In China, most social networks here are blocked, but they always get their ways around to find the music and upload it on their equivalent Chinese social sites.
Yes, we are collaborating on the songs ‘Electrified’, ‘Big City Grill’ and one more track hopefully. Boris Blank reached out to me by email and said he really liked my music and the way I do my harmonies in my tracks. And that’s about it! 😉
Where would you like to take your music next for your second album?
More to my current music tastes I think. I don’t know until I start making it. It will be a documentary of where I am right now. Sometimes it’s not good to think too much… music and intention don’t go well together, for me at least.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to FIFI RONG
FIFI RONG plays The Barfly in London’s Camden on WEDNESDAY 29TH OCTOBER 2014, tickets are available from www.mamacolive.com/thebarfly
The ‘Next Pursuit RMX’ EP is available now from https://fifirong.bandcamp.com/album/next-pursuit-rmx
Meanwhile, the ‘Next Pursuit’ EP is still available as a CD from www.fifirong.com or can be downloaded via the usual digital outlets.
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
16th October 2014