Ambient Music in China

Source: Radii China.

It’s chaos out there — not just in the physical sense as the world cumbersomely adjusts to a pandemic and its many repercussions — but also mentally, where echo chambers are filled with panic, fear, and noise. The world is louder than ever, which means that there hasn’t been a more opportune time to switch off and slip into the comforting world of ambient music in China.

While China’s avant-garde scene has always occupied a compact yet active space within the community, from the abrasive noise of Torturing Nurse to the more esoteric conceptional innovation of musician Yan Jun, its ambient scene has only seen spurts of vitality since the turn of the century.

Some notable outliers have been electronic duo FM3 (made up of Zhang Jian and Christiaan Virant) whose Buddha Machines were “calm in a box.” Their wild popularity internationally in the late ’00s belied the meditative and intimate headspaces within the music. Then there’s veteran musician Dou Wei (former vocalist of formative Chinese rock band Black Panther, ex-husband to pop icon Faye Wong and father to Leah Dou) who after two decades transitioned from rock star to prolific experimental artist and hasn’t looked back since.