SVBKVLT is the label spearheading Shanghai’s futuristic sound
Get acquainted with our newest crackaud.io resident: Shanghai-based label SVBKVLT.
In recent years, China’s burgeoning underground scene has steadily edged towards international recognition, shaping itself into a space for global exchange and collaboration. Zoom in to Shanghai, and you’ll find a scene of producers pushing at the limits of club music’s potential. Artists within this community have seemingly thrown out the rule book, instead carving out a sound that pulls from international influences and fuses them with traditional Chinese music. Hyper-rhythmic, brash and bass-heavy, Shanghai’s underground scene is not one that has time for nostalgia.
At the forefront of this movement is SVBKVLT, an imprint founded by Mancunian export Gaz Williams – who also ran the now-defunct underground hub The Shelter. With a back catalogue that began from niche cassette releases, the label has since expanded its reach and roster; within just the past year alone they’ve pushed works from 33EMYBW, Zaliva-D, Slikback, Hyph11E, Indonesia’s Gabber Modus Operandi and more, while remixes have been helmed by artists such as Dis Fig and Gqom’s youngest veteran Citizen Boy. Recently, the label kickstarted its East Africa and East Asia exchange with Slikback’s Hakuna Kulala label and Uganda’s Nyege Nyege.
As SVBKVLT embark on their monthly residency, we catch up with Williams to chat about the label’s trajectory. Below, we talk SVBKVLT’s turning points and how it reflects the city’s changing landscape. Listen to the first episode of SVBKVLT’s residency here.
Seven Orbits cover © Matteo Zamagni
How did the label start?
SVBKVLT started as a small cassette label in 2013, kind of an offshoot of a club night we were running at a club called The Shelter. I was running a label with Michael Ohlsson (of Dada Bar) at the time called Pause Music, but as Michael moved to Beijing to open Dada up there we decided to stop the label and I started my own. It started more like a small boutique music and clothing label, producing small runs of cassettes and limited edition shirts, but shortly after I realised fashion definitely isn’t my strong point and no one really buys cassettes. So I dropped the tapes and focused more on the music side of things.
What are the aims of the label?
I guess the main aim of the label is to support, promote and give a space for the community around the label to experiment and grow, as well as welcoming new members along the way, and developing conversations and collaborations with other artists and music communities from other places. As the label grows the importance of collaboration and experimentation between different people and sounds becomes more apparent to us and something we want to do more of.
Left: Gooooose performing at Spiritual Sauna, Milan
Right: 33EMYBW performing at Spiritual Sauna, Milan
Were there any turning points for the label?
The first release was Faded Ghost’s Ghost Ark, an experimental, ambient project from vocalist and producer Cha Cha, which was quickly followed up by beat tapes from Manila’s Red-I and Caliph8, as well as Floyd Cheung from Hong Kong and Laura Ingalls – whose debut album under the name Nahash is coming out in a couple of months.
The next turning point was stopping the cassettes, getting distribution though Cargo and releasing a 10-inch vinyl single from SLV – made up of producers Downstate and Hamacide – called Dagger, with a remix from longtime friend and supporter Desto. It was also the first release that got some international media attention so that was pretty exciting.
What happened next?
After a few more releases, The Shelter closed for a month or so to renovate and we reopened it with the launch of a compilation called Downpour. The night was huge, admittedly mainly because it was the reopening, and there was a nice buzz about the release. It also included 33EMYBW’s debut track.
The following release, SBKT006, was Swimful’s PM2.5, which included a remake of Wiley’s Shanghai. This track became a bit of an anthem in Shanghai for a minute, people cheered when DJs dropped it. This felt like things were changing up a bit and people were really starting to get behind local music and producers.
Later that year Tzusing booked Osheyack for his Stockholm Syndrome night at Shelter and not long after we released his Fake/Fraud/Fiction EP. Osheyack has since become an integral part of the label and its sound.
The Shelter shut its doors in 2016. What happened with the label at this point?
Shelter was made to close down as we couldn’t renew the lease. During the time between Shelter closing and the ALL club opening we were hanging out at Elevator a lot, and one night Zean was DJing and dropped a track which caught everyone’s attention. We went over to the booth and asked what it was; it was Black Pepper by Hyph11E, which I immediately asked if I could sign, and not long after her Vanishing Cinema EP came out. Following on from Swimful’s Shanghai remake, Black Pepper became the next SVBKVLT anthem. It introduced the label to a much wider audience at the time.
Hyph11E and Slikback
How did the label expand internationally after that?
A year and five more releases later came 33EMYBW’s Golem album which, although kind of slept on when it first appeared, was really a breakout for her and turned quite a few heads, including Aphex Twin who booked her for the Warehouse Project in Manchester. This was followed closely by Scintii’s Aerial/Paperbags and Mun Sing’s (one half of Giant Swan) Scissor EP.
Last year the label seemed to turn a big corner. It started with one of my favourite releases to date, Swimful’s Folding Knives, and then in April we released the compilation Cache 01. One of the first songs that was finished for it was Tzusing and Hodge’s Electrolytes and I passed it around to the crew while they were working on their tracks; people really went for it and made bangers. We did a small tour in China, Russia and Japan for the release – it was the first time we did showcases outside of Shanghai, and it set us up for the year.
Since then theres been Gooooose’s Rusted Silicon, Zaliva-D’s Calling and Gabber Modus Operandi’s HOXXXYA – which I signed in the Berghain toilets after seeing them perform at CTM. Slip B by Slikback and Hyph11E became the first part of an ongoing exchange with Uganda’s Nyege Nyege alongside Slip A with Osheyack, Yen Tech and 33EMYBW. SVBKVLT’s last release was 33EMYBW’s Arthropods, which was well received and ended up in a lot of end of year lists.
Yen Tech at Unsound © Kacper Michalak
Though SVBKVLT’s roster of artists pull inspiration and rhythms from dance music on a global level, there’s a unique, futuristic feel that connects them together. Can you elaborate more on Shanghai, and China’s, electronic scene and what makes its sound so distinct?
China has had a relatively short clubbing scene compared to, say, Europe, especially when it comes to non-mainstream styles of music. Because of this a lot of people were exposed to different genres of club in a short space of time. The Shelter used to host many types of events, from house and techno to dubstep and DnB, via reggae to hip-hop, as well as more experimental noise nights. You would see a lot of the same people at these different events. The crowds are really open and come to hear new things without many pre-existing expectations, and so this has given artists, DJs and promoters the freedom to make, play and book riskier stuff than in a city or community that has solidified scenes and have separated things by genre and style more strictly. It’s quite interesting to see when overseas DJs come over and play it safe for the crowds here as they expect them not to be so open, only to find that their set doesn’t go down too well as people much prefer the more varied and experimental sounds.
At the same time Shanghai, and China, moves at a very fast pace and people, at least with this generation and scene, really keep up with fashion, technology, and trends, so are constantly pushing things forward. There isn’t much of an appreciation for nostalgia and things move on very quickly, everyone’s looking to create something new. I guess this may be a reason why there is a futuristic image and feeling.
A lot of music produced here is a product of these things. It’s different influences all put together, and at the same time trying to push things forward.
“It’s quite interesting to see when overseas DJs come over and play it safe... only to find that their set doesn’t go down too well as people prefer more experimental sounds”
Left: Hyph11E, Vanishing Cinema cover © Wang Newone
Centre: Gabber Modus Operandi, HOXXXYA cover © Chen Tianzhuo
Right: Cache 01 cover © Kim Laughton
The label has a distinct aesthetic too with its artwork. How do you approach the process of getting the cover art designed?
We are lucky to have a lot of talented and forward-thinking visual artists in Shanghai, such as Kim Laughton, Wang Newone, WJX, WOMB and Chen Tianzhuo. Their visual style and direction has been a big influence in how the label’s aesthetic has evolved. Some artists already have an existing idea of what they want for their cover, or even do it themselves, but for quite a few releases we will choose an artist we like and let them do whatever they like.
What can we expect to hear from SVBKVLT’s crackaud.io residency?
Some artists are doing mixes and there’ll be live sets. Hopefully this will allow our artists to showcase or express whatever they like, whether it’s their influences, what they like to listen to, or maybe they’ll try out new ideas. We also hope listeners enjoy it (laughs).
Future plans for the label?
The next release is the debut EP from Seven Orbits, coming out on 20 March. After that there is an EP from Osheyack, an album from Nahash, Hyph11E’s debut album and the long-awaited sophomore LP from Yen Tech. Everyone is working on new music and so there’ll be a lot of new releases this year. There will also be a few vinyl presses of some of the releases from last year.
We are doing some European showcases in May and June, and more later in the summer. Also we’re making the next plans for the exchange with Nyege Nyege and we’re hoping to start some collaborations with a few other artists and collectives.
SVBKVLT Tour 2019 poster © WJX