object blue: A face in the crowd
“When I first started using Ableton to make stuff, I thought ‘well, I have no leverage compared to everyone else,’” object blue admits. While absentmindedly peeling an orange at breakfast, she’s telling me about a period in her early 20s when she had all the drive but none of the tools. “I was like ‘what can I do to make my music not noticeably as crap?’ The only thing I can do is make really weird stuff, like no time signature, no tempo,” she laughs. “I would like to tell 23-year-old me that that’s all been done before now.”
While she says a lot of people making music have musical parents or have been “DJing since they were 13”, blue grew up in the suburbs of Beijing in a relatively sheltered community of expats. “My family aren’t very musical or into the arts in general and I didn’t really have a club or community to go to,” she remembers. Fortunately the internet was there to pick up the cultural slack her immediate surroundings didn’t provide. “What I often did was find albums that I liked in CD shops when I went back to Japan, ‘cause CD shops were really hard to come across in China, except for the pirated stuff. I would read the liner notes on CD booklets and see the collaborators then look them up and find people talking about those artists.”
© Oscar Eckel
Among her musical discoveries through this advanced method of forum sleuthing, Björk, Aphex Twin and Aaliyah became major influences. There are many elements from these early inspirations that still thread through her deconstructed club music today. The high frequencies she discovered from Björk surface as frantic drum sounds on her first EP Do You Plan to End a Siege?, and her track (time to) WORK makes use of Aaliyah vocal samples.
Before these releases, blue officially emerged on the music scene about three years ago where she got her rise performing sets of mostly unreleased material. Following up on her growing reputation as a live artist, she unveiled her production skills with Do You Plan to End a Siege?, released with London’s Tobago Tracks. With her fresh sound design-centred approach to techno, her witty online presence and performances at places like Unsound Poland, she’s quickly become a newcomer with serious clout.
I first met blue in a toilet queue at the 2018 edition of Berlin Atonal. Having attended the experimental music festival right around the time she started making music, landing a spot on the bill was a bit of a milestone. She played a blistering live set of fast-paced experimental techno with surprising vocal samples and piping hi-hats. Afterwards, in the five minutes we had together as people snailed in and out of the stalls, she declared her love for experimenter Lucrecia Dalt before lamenting the Berghain installation from three years ago by her all-time favourite artist Alva Noto. She’s both a passionate stan and a blunt critique in true internet music nerd fashion.
© Oscar Eckel
“I love the forgiving nature of dance music. I can play really weird stuff but as long as it's got a good beat underneath, people keep dancing”
Even as her career blossoms, shifting her role from consumer to performer, the forum reader inside never dies. Take the time she shared a bill with Alva Noto in Amsterdam. “I asked him for a photo and he was like, ‘maybe when I’m done eating’ and I was like, ‘oh my god I’m so sorry’. I wanted to die.” The German electronic artist did eventually finish his meal and loop back for a photo. “I took a selfie with him. And then my fucking phone froze and the photo didn’t take.” She laughs as she recalls her partner’s observation: “blue, you’re like a cartoon character, this is something that could only happen to you!”
Similar to artists like Ziúr and Deadboy, blue’s productions sit in the realm of experimental club music, a genre which allows her to continuously push at boundaries. “I really love the forgiving nature of dance music and culture. Like I can put really weird stuff over it but as long as it’s got a good beat underneath, people keep dancing,” blue says. She tells me of a significant gig at one of her favourite venues, London’s Corsica Studios. “Up until then – and this is still sometimes the case – I’d always hear people talking [over my set],” she says. “So I was like ‘I’m playing on Corsica’s Funktion Ones, I’m going to play as loudly as I can, I’m going to shut everyone up’. I wrote a really aggressive set of material and that’s what became …Siege.” In July 2018 she followed the EP with Rex, which takes a gentler approach while still maintaining an experimental club fervour with a driving and eclectic mix of percussion the sharp edges of each sound feel refined and sanded down.
© Oscar Eckel
“I never thought more than 200 people would listen to my music,” blue says through puffs of a long slim cigarette. “I never thought I would play a gig. I never thought I would be recognised on the street. And I’m not complaining… but I’m finding it a bit weird. Some people have messaged me saying ‘you’re my role model!’ and I’m like ‘you clearly haven’t met me because I’m a fucking mess!’”
Underneath the veil of object blue’s alluring confidence is someone more shy, who blushes when she talks about her girlfriend, whose perfect afternoon is spending six hours alone digging through freesound.org, who dances in her own personal rave world in the front left corner of her favourite artists’ shows, and embarrasses themselves in the pursuit of that one selfie. When she dedicated her first release to “all the women on the dancefloor” it wasn’t just an ode to us, but a celebration of herself.
Photography: Oscar Eckel
object blue plays the night programme at Simple Things, Bristol on 19 October.