Wooozy Interviews Genjing

In honor of International Record Store Day, Shanghai-based music blog Wooozy.cn recently did an interview with label owner Nevin Domer about Genjing and vinyl culture in China. You can find the Chinese version up on their site, and the English version below.

What do you think of the Record Store Day? And are you excited that Uptown in Shanghai is listed as an official store this year for the first time?

Yeah, I am excited. I actually didn’t know much about Record Store Day before but am a huge fan of “brick-and-mortar” stores and the communities that grow up around smaller mom and pop record stores.

Will Genjing have any special release this time for Record Store day?

Ah, no. That would be cool but we aren’t quite at the level where we can afford to do a special release for Record Store day. At this point in China vinyl sales are still pretty low and the culture around vinyl is still pretty young (for rock and indie music at least, maybe the electronic scene is different). I feel like most of my work now is just trying to raise awareness about vinyl. I have a bunch of releases lined up with some great Chinese bands but they will come out slowly as I try and build my promotion and distribution networks.

How did you start Genjing Records and why?

I wanted to find a way to better connect local bands with the international DIY scenes and it seemed like vinyl would be a good way to do it. Vinyl has always been a staple of the underground scene and valued by collectors way more than CDs. There are many reasons for that, but suffice it to say I realized that if a Chinese band wanted to be taken seriously by scenes abroad they really needed to have vinyl. Plus I love vinyl and there wasn’t anybody else doing it in China so I thought it would fill a gap in the industry here.

In Chinese, Genjing means the root of a plant, which gives people a very strong and solid feeling. Is that the feeling Genjing’s bands want to express in their music?

Actually, and I don’t usually tell people this, the name Genjing [Rhizome in English] comes from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It refers to a type of root that branches out underground and sprouts up at random. Deleuze uses it to describe a non-hierarchical network and I like to picture the label in the same sort of way–networking out across the Chinese underground and popping up as seemingly random collaborations with various groups and people. Taking the name from French philosophy may seem a bit pretentious but it’s not really the name that matters; it’s what the label does that will color the name. I hope the image of roots will also help people to envision the community network that Genjing references and tries to support.

Genjing’s first two split 7”s (Fanzuixiangfa / SS20 & Fanzuixiangfa / Daighila) were released in March and June of 2010. But then the next one (Demerit / SS20 split 10”) wasn’t released until August of 2011. So what happened to Genjing between those times?

When I first started releasing records I wasn’t really planning on starting a record label. I play guitar in Fanzui Xiangfa and the first several releases were just for my band, but as time went on I wanted to help other Chinese bands to release vinyl and create a label that would connect with DIY scenes abroad. It took a long time for me to get everything started as I wanted to have a solid foundation to what I was doing and it’s only been in the last year that the label has really started going.

I have to admit I had never heard about Genjing until last year. I think it is a quite low-key label. In the early period, was Genjing’s focus more on the Western market?

At that time it was more in the research and planning phase. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the scene needed and how I could be of best help to the bands here. I also spent a lot of time building the website. There are still more aspects of the label that I have planned but haven’t been able to implement yet. I guess I’m not in a big hurry and want to go slow, but do something meaningful for the Chinese scene and, of course, have fun.

When you started the label, did you consider it as a punk label? And why after three punk releases, the genre has been expanded to shoegaze last year and even experimental rock this year?

Well yeah, I guess when I started I was thinking it would be mainly punk and hardcore music because those were the scenes that I had the best connections to abroad. The more I got into it though the more I decided I wanted to support all kinds of interesting artists in the Chinese underground and not constrain myself to one style. I wanted the cutting edge of the Chinese scene to dictate the direction of the label and not be confined to any one genre. I choose to work with bands based on how active they are, how much of the DIY spirit they possess and how much potential they have abroad. I want to use the label as a platform to give bands a boost and give them exposure abroad. Once they get that exposure though they have to be able to take advantage of it themselves, so I wanted to work with bands who could do that. I want Genjing to support exciting DIY communities regardless of style, but punk will always be a part of that.

Genjing focuses on releasing 7” vinyl. As the label founder, do you have a preference for 7”s over 12” releases?

I personally love 7″s and they are a staple of punk and indie scenes in the West, however the choice to release 7″ so far has mainly been a financial one. Genjing doesn’t have the money to pay for bands’ recordings and we don’t have the resources to fully manage any of the bands, so instead of releasing full LPs we prefer to work with bands who are on other local labels or releasing albums themselves. We’ll release a single, EP or split for the band and use it to gain exposure abroad for both the band and their local label. The hope is then that people will come to the band or their label and want to purchase their CD or book a tour for them abroad. In this way Genjing can provide a resource for the local scene by helping out local bands and labels through cooperation, not competition. That said I would like to do some 12″s in the future, although probably more splits and comps then actual LPs.

Punk culture has a very tight relationship with vinyl culture. And many punk bands like to release splits with like minded bands. How do you view the “split” concept?

I love splits and they embody one of the core ideas in the label, that of connecting scenes in China with those abroad. A split release forms a bond between two bands and two communities. It can help introduce Chinese audiences to foreign bands and introduce Chinese bands to audiences abroad. It’s this sort of mutual support that maintains DIY communities abroad and is needed to China in order for the local scene to become healthy and connected in a more international context.

What about the distribution of vinyl records in China? Is it much more difficult than with a CD release?

Questions of distribution all come down to a focus on scale. For Genjing I am not interested in selling a large number of records in China. If I can sell 100 copies of each release then I am happy and I want those to go to true collectors and fans who care about the bands. So for this reason I am not trying to get my releases into every store across the country but instead focusing on places that already draw the right kind of audience. I am always interested in increasing promotion though and do want the bands to gain exposure, but with Taobao, Bandcamp and Paypal it’s pretty easy for fans to buy the music even if they don’t live near a good record store.

How do you work with the bands? Do they come up with the idea to release a vinyl and then approached you, or is it the other way around?

In the beginning I would approach bands but as more and more people learn about the label there are plenty of bands approaching me. Genjing is run like a typical DIY label – we don’t sign bands, we don’t own any rights to the music, and we don’t manage the bands. We can’t pay for recordings and the bands receives a percentage of the vinyl produced but no money. There is a lot that we can’t do, but by using our network and helping out with promotion we can build a platform for bands that they might not be able to build on their own. From there it’s up to them to take advantage of the new opportunities. On this level profits are pretty much non-existent and the focus is on supporting the scene and creating more opportunities for Chinese bands. It’s much more like a mutual support network than a business.

Genjing also has some record partners, like Tenzenmen in Australia and Share in Obstacles in China / France. How does Genjing help them?

I really prefer to do co-releases whenever possible and feel that this is core to what we are trying to do. If we do a minimum run of 500 copies for a record then Genjing may only take around 100 copies for China, Tenzenmen in Australia may take around 50, a label in France may take 50, a label in Germany 100 and so on. This way we can actually produce a larger number of vinyl and lower the cost for everyone involved. It also means that a Chinese band will all of the sudden have distribution and promotion all over the world. The logos from all the partner labels are printed on the release and hopefully kids in China will begin to learn about these labels and the bands they work with in their respective countries. It’s a way to tie these international scenes together and to put out releases that one label on their own may not be able to afford to do.

These past couple years, a few Beijing and Shanghai bands have started to release vinyl singles and full length albums. Do you think it will become a trend in China or just some special cases?

Yeah I hope so. It’s almost impossible to sell CDs in China. I don’t know if vinyl will catch on but I hope that for at least a dedicated minority of the kids it will. Bands need a way to support themselves and should be able to make money off of merch, but they also need to offer their fans something of value – a product that is seen as personal and unique. Vinyl is only one of many formats but it’s a format that has a lot of possibilities visually, everything from crazy large package art to the color and design of the vinyl itself. Hopefully through vinyl bands can give their fans the sort of collectors objects that fans really want and fans in turn can give money back to the bands to support their art.

I heard that there are no vinyl manufactures in China, so how did you produce your records? Do you think if there were factories in China, more bands will be encouraged to release vinyl?

The biggest problem facing vinyl in China is that it all has to be manufactured abroad, usually in Europe or the US, and by the time it reaches the local market the costs have more than doubled with shipping. The ability to manufacture vinyl locally would be a huge asset to the local scene but I also recognize that domestic demand has to increase in order to make the investment of a local vinyl plant feasible.

I was very impressed by your interview with Mark Webster from Suyin Records. in the interview, he mentioned that the only thing Coldplay should do is to only release 7” singles, to help bring vinyl back into people’s eyesight. Do you think the labels and bands who like vinyl culture have the responsibility to rebuild the vinyl scene, to push the vinyl culture, and let more bands and music fans into it, especially in China?

In the underground scenes abroad vinyl has never gone away. Through the 80’s, 90’s and until now underground bands in Europe and the US have continued to release EPs and LPs on vinyl even as CDs grew and then died in popularity. I think it would be great if the mainstream embraced vinyl again and with increased demand manufacturing became cheaper for everyone, but in actuality I care less about the format then I do interacting with international scenes. If it was just as easy to reach people with handmade CDrs then I would do that, but for now at least vinyl still remains the preferred format of the underground.

If a Chinese band like The Offset:Spectacles only releases their record on vinyl do you think it will prevent most people from listening to them?

It really depends on the band’s audience and what format they feel will best connect with their fans. In my own experience I find that I first hear most bands through mp3 downloads, usually the illegal kind where I don’t pay, but if I really like a band or an album then I will shell out the money to buy a copy of their release on vinyl although usually not CD. With the vinyl I get the large format artwork, liner notes and the feeling of holding something solid. It becomes more of a collectors item for me that I will listen to occasionally while I still listen to the mp3s on my iPod during my day-to-day. I feel like most people do like to support their favorite bands and want to spend money on merch but they need to be offered something that they don’t perceive as cheap or disposable.

Seems that all the western media is talking about the vinyl revival? So do you think CDs will disappear in the next 10 years?

No, I doubt the CD will ever disappear and I think along with vinyl and tapes handmade CDrs with unique packaging can be very viable for bands looking to do releases with a limited number of copies. I think what we need to realize though is that electronic formats like MP3 will become the de facto format where most people listen to music and physical formats will be more for collectors and fans. If that is the case then the physical product, whatever the format, should be designed in a creative and appealing way. You need to produce things that your fans are going to actually want to own. Already in Beijing, labels like Sub Jam are doing that now for CDrs and Fuzz Tapes for tapes, and Torturing Nurse in Shanghai has been doing the same sort of thing for awhile.

What’s the next plan for Genjing Records?

Lots of plans! There are a lot of projects that I am working on and they are all coming together in one stage or another, but I don’t really want to talk about any of them yet until I have a better feel for the timelines. I don’t want to jinx it. For now I will just say that you can expect us to keep burrowing through the Chinese music scene and sprouting up with exciting cooperations from the underground.