Anyone who’s been paying attention to Beijing’s dance music scene will remember Dead J as the dude in a space suite who makes awesome electronic music. His latest album, 2011’s Tíng Tái Lóu Gé (Chinese Pavilions), incorporates minimalist oriental percussion and string instrument plucking sounds with scratchy glitch noises, giving traditional Chinese music a refined, modern kick in the ass. The album pretty accurately sums up Dead J’s style—a sophisticated blend of Eastern and Western influences that yields a sound that’s decidedly new and greater than the sum of its parts.
But Dead J is much more than a DJ who’s been pioneering electronic music in China for the past ten years, he’s also an active theater music composer whose richly pervasive yet hollow ambient soundtracks have helped initiate a new wave of interest for contemporary drama in China. His long-time collaboration with Beijing’s well-known experimental theater director Meng Jinghui allows his minimalist, ghostly electronic music to become one with the actors on stage as an integral part of the performance.
His most recent music composition for theater was for the play To Live, adapted from the celebrated novel by Yu Hua, which opened this week at The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The controversial story was re-imagined by world-renown movie director Zhang Yimou into film 18 years ago, and this second attempt to bring the story to life is being directed by Meng Jinghui, accompanied by Dead J’s music. Dead J gives it a score that’s full of ambient, glitch, and techno sounds combined with piano, cello, and classical music elements.
The rest of the year, Dead J will focus on making a new album. He’ll be performing two shows in Berlin this November, after which he’ll embark on a mini tour of Europe. We caught up with the influential musician in Beijing to capture the intimate video portrait above, detailing his conceptual approach to music making and performance.