Behind: Unchained Asia
Flowing against the busy rush of conventional bass-focused labels, and bringing to the forefront a new generation of artists and sounds, Unchained continues to expand through a combination of unparalleled passion, proactiveness and an innovative aesthetic.
Pulling together a spectrum of talent from across the globe, Shenzhen and Hong Kong based record label owners, Lyndon Jarr, Daniel Power and their close crew Abby (Just Bee) and Nick (Immuno) have worked tirelessly since 2016, carving their own output-powerhouse in the form of ‘Unchained Recordings’ and umbrella ‘Unchained Asia’.
We’ve often featured Unchained releases in our Watch Tower Playlist, and always eagerly anticipate the next. It was only fitting that we took some time to speak to the minds behind the movements, from the conception of the idea, to it's progression over the years. We find out what the new year brings for one of South China's biggest bass music outlets.
Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. When did you meet, and how did Unchained come to fruition?
Daniel Power: Unchained started as a small club night in Shenzhen, I was inspired to bring Drum and Bass to the city and so started doing local events here. Alternative strains of electronic music were predominantly confined to EDM and Techno so it seemed like a no brainer at the time. After a while I saw the rest of the gang all playing in Hong Kong. I noticed them all initially as they were just the best local DnB DJs to me and were all “on the level” so to speak. We started playing at all the parties together and very soon became like family basically!
Lyndon Jarr: Yes we had all played a lot in Hong Kong and I was running DnB events myself down there - so it was a lucky coming together for all of us. From that sprung a real acceleration in DNB in South China. We found out that people were super hungry for it and so our events just kept ramping up. After a couple of years we decided to get a label going as it formed part of our longer-term mission of pushing forward the local scene. If we aren’t pushing local talent then we are touring label artists locally. Whilst we sometimes do workshops and masterclasses to help spark more local talent, a label was an important part of the story for us.
Abby: I had been involved in the Hong Kong bass music scene for a year or two, DJing and also running a few DnB/bass-related events prior to playing in Shenzhen for the first time in 2015. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a scene full of fresh and hungry ears and it just snowballed from there. The four of us clicked very quickly and naturally because of our similar musical antennas; at the start it felt like we were challenging each other to play the best sets that we could and over time watching each other grow and evolve as artists, DJs, producers, promoters and record label owners – that I feel is the backbone of the crew: a shared passion for good music, good vibes and genuine support for each other in both our musical and personal endeavours.
Nick: I had been living in Hong Kong for about 2 years and was only getting to mix Dnb at my apartment. I managed to get some sets through some of the Hong Kong promoters, and from that I met Abby and Lyndon. It wasn’t long after that when I met Daniel when he had come to Hong Kong for a weeknight event. As the others have said previously, the music brought us together. When I started playing in Shenzhen it was really cool to see the locals starting to get into it, they were all new to it but you could tell that they loved it. Now we see the same faces on the regular when we throw parties, and there are also some great local DJ talent popping up in Shenzhen that are also doing their own parties.
Making noise from the start, with recognition from MixMag to Noisia Radio, Inspector Dubplate, BBC 1xtra and more. Has the expansion changed the structure or running of the label, and what lessons have you learnt along the way?
Lyndon Jarr: Thanks for the acknowledgment man! Yeh we got off to a good start, to be honest it’s still early days and we are still finding our feet but the short answer is yes, we have definitely had to organize and specialize between us to cover more ground. All of us provide creative input and we are always bouncing ideas off each other so we are all responsible for everything at the end of the day, but at the same time we have had to segment our workload to evolve - so Daniel tends to focus on our tours, events and the bigger picture in general, I manage most of the label activity and our workshops/education projects, Abby runs our radio and mix series whilst Nick takes care of sound quality at our events. What he does can’t be understated as I honestly believe quality sound is at least half the success of a good party. We also have some other crew that make their own important contributions behind the scenes too such as Tenille, James and Sinistarr. I think apart from structure the key to how we evolve is having passionate committed crew, I think a lot of labels are having the same challenges, though at the end of the day, having enough helping hands to steer us in all the directions we want to go, there is just so much ground to cover.
Abby: Can I take this moment to give the crew and co. respect and big thanks for being awesome at everything they do to make the Unchained movement come to life!
Nick: Likewise to what Abby said! I also think that the team works well together and we all have the same vision. Everyone is open to suggestions and we are always able to discuss all topics.
Recently you ran an event with Redacted in the UK, how does the scene compare to China’s?
Daniel Power: Yes that was an incredible experience! Seeing the Unchained name around the streets of Bristol and getting to play a show there and connect with the heads was awesome. Big up to the Redacted crew, awesome bunch of people and great energy. I think they all have some bright futures ahead.
Definitely a big goal of ours now is to be doing more Unchained events outside of Asia.
I would say the biggest difference for me comparing our parties in China to the UK is there is no preconceived notions or expectations in China it’s basically a blank canvas so that is very fun and exciting. Also there is zero drug culture in Shenzhen. Everyone is sober or just had a bit to drink at best so you feel the vibe and crowd is 100% in it and so genuine. We have had many DJs recently like The Upbeats, Fabio, Fixate, Ant Tc1, Logistics, and DJ Zinc to name a few saying how much they have loved playing for us in Shenzhen and how great the vibe and crowd has been!
You recently released a Various Artists compilation titled ‘Unchained: The year of the Rat'. Can you tell us a bit about the release, and what we can expect for the year ahead?
Lyndon Jarr: Yeah, we are incredibly excited about it, not only because it’s our first compilation but because of the broad ground it covers across the 170 bass spectrum whilst staying cohesive. We are proud to be representing two very talented local Chinese artists, Radiax and 3asic, as well as some of our current fave established and emerging artists from literally every corner of the globe. We hope people liked it.
In the year ahead we continue to push higher and are really honored to be working with artists like Doctor Jeep, Was A Be, DJ Madd and many more we feel have something special to contribute to Bass music as it evolves.
Daniel Power: Yes and the whole VA concept of The Year of the Rat is something we hope to make a regular thing. If we can go another 11 years and go through all the Chinese Zodiac animals that would be a brilliant achievement I think! On the event side, the Coronavirus outbreak, or ‘scare’ you could call it, has set us back a couple of months at least - we have had to cancel a couple of China tours already, big shame but it allows us to regroup and focus on planning even bigger and better events further down the line. Once this whole thing subsides then we plan to accelerate bringing in both our own label artists as well as some more recognised faces for the Chinese bass music community – which is growing fast.
Abby: The Chinese Zodiac signs VA concept hit us like a lightbulb moment (we should do the rest of the zodiac signs!) I think it’s a great initiative to push local talent to the forefront of the international bass scene as well as to connect with talented artists from all over the world to push the envelopes of bass and electronic music together.
Nick: The others have summed it up pretty nicely already. Providing high quality bass music to masses and having a good time while doing it is the ultimate goal.
What do you look for when signing an artist or song? Do your tastes differ from one another?
Lyndon Jarr: Good question, well the label has a vision and a purpose and so we try to stick to that when possible - whether it’s our events, label releases or producer workshops. We are fairly driven to help develop the bass music culture in China and Asia. At the same time yeah we all have different tastes, Nick and Bee tend to gravitate towards bass grit, I like to look for subtle hooks and rhythm.
Daniel Power: Yeah and for me I’m always thinking will this tune go off in the club in China will I be happy smashing it out in a set and if the answer is yes it’s a big thumbs up from me. We try to tow the line between DnB and Halftime with a little footwork and jungle sprinkled on there too. But I feel we all have quite similar tastes to be honest and it’s why we were all drawn together so strongly from the start I think!
Abby: A few things I tune into when listening to music: whether it makes my ears and brain perk up (bass grit certainly does); will it go off in the club; and for Unchained Recordings if it aligns with the label vision and purpose. As much as we have our own individual tastes, there is an intersection where we’re all on the same level. One cool and fun thing I remember was distinctly hearing the influence of everyone’s tastes bleed into each other’s DJ sets at one point!
Nick: When first listening to a track that a DJ has provided, I make sure I am listening with an open mind, as well as trying not to think too much about who the artist is while it's playing. This is so I can listen to the tune with an unbiased ear. Imagining if the track will smash it in the club is a big thing too. We all have slightly different tastes which I think helps with having a broader outlook on the tunes that we are signing. We have now all influenced each other music wise since we all started playing together which I think is an awesome thing to say about what we are doing.
Thanks for taking the time out, is there anything else we should know about?
We all just want to thank everyone for any support or love they have given us so far. It’s incredible for us to be doing this and starting something in South China and now being able to start to spread globally is beyond a dream. We have lots of plans for the future so watch this space!