The producer the world’s biggest labels are ALL trying to sign…China rocking the dancefloor…
Interview by Dan Prince
China’s numero uno. DJing to over 350 million people? World get ready…
Tolein a massive welcome to DMCWORLD, you have just been in London…but where in the world are you right now?
I am doing Master degree in Audio Production at University of Westminster at the moment. So London is home currently with lots of trips back to China on the music side
The best new piece of new music you have heard today?
Well, it’s Zedd’s latest release called ‘Candyman’, a really cool collaboration between producers. Also a great genre blending track.
Tell us about the Chinese New Year Gala Show on TV…we hear over 350 million people were watching?
Yeah, I really enjoyed that performance. It was broadcast on one of the biggest national broadcasters, called Hunan TV. I was collaborating with 2 famous musicians, a pianist called Yundi Li and a cellist Nana Ou-Yang. The track I produced for the show was a mashup of remixes of various classical pieces by Chopin and Beethoven. With the electronic beats behind the classical instruments. I was really pleased with the results and it got great pick up in China on national media & social media.
2015 was a huuuuuuge year for you with two Top Ten UK Club Chart hits and a huge track produced for Sony Music. Word on the grapevine is that there is a big new ‘Algorthym’ EP about to drop. Tell us about it…
As you can imagine, I am still playing with influences & sounds to learn and develop my own style. So the EP has different flavours of electronic music fused with some great vocal styles from the heavenly Eliza M all the way through to a UK Grime rapper called Skripture. The EP also features some pure club dance tracks, one of them is a track called ‘Dance of the Monkey’ that I produced for the celebration of the Chinese New Year of the Monkey. So something for everybody I hope…
Okay let’s rewind for a moment. You are from Xinjiang in China, the 8th largest country subdivision in the world spanning over 1.6 million km2. What is your earliest memory of music as a child?
Disco was quite popular in China when I was around 5 years old, I can almost say it was the first time I listened to dance music, and it might be the reason why I’m still a big fan of 4 on floor beats right now. There are also many people from minority nationalities in Xinjiang who adore dance music culturally and ethnically. I guess that’s also an influence driving me into the dance music industry.
You site your influences as Skrillex, Knife Party and Avicii – at what age and how did dance music enter your world?
It was at the age of 19 when I first heard Skrillex’s track ‘First Of the Year’, I was suddenly blown away by its aggressive and innovative use of sounds. Then I started listen to artist like Knife Party, Vicetone and Avicii etc. These artists’ work have the biggest influence on me both sonically and professionally.
What was it about this sound opposed to pop music that turned your head?
I always think electronic music, the way tracks are produced and the use of technology. It feels like the ‘sound of the future’, it’s just so attractive, diverse and always moving forward.
How early on did the idea of a career in music start to form in your mind?
It was around the end of 2014 when I finally decided to chase the thing that I love, and focus on music as a profession. Also I met my manager at the same time who gives me the biggest support to try new things and experiment with my sound.
What did your family think of this idea?
Both of my parents are doctors and doctor is what they want me to be in the first place. But they fully respect my choice for my career and it’s actually them who got me into music education at an early age. Now I have full support from them and I’m doing my best to make them proud.
How easy / difficult was it to make your first steps into production / DJing…how did it happen?
I think Internet makes everything easier to learn, there are millions of tutorials, reviews and production tips available to watch, all I needed was time to practice. Also the beauty of electronic music is that all you need for production is a computer, a DAW and a pair of monitors. Now I have access to state of the art recording studios, but I still love the home set up.
What was your first real ‘break’ into the music industry?
It was the track ‘We Are The Network’ which got me to No.9 in the UK Club Chart, my very first bit of success of my career in the West. It’s a track combining Chinese traditional instruments with electronic music, showcasing first I’m from China, and second, to my Chinese people, that ancient instruments can be blended with modern beats perfectly, and it sounds great!
At what point did you think to yourself, hold on a minute Tolein, you have a chance of making it in life in music?
There is not really a point where I suddenly decided to commit my everything to music. It was the little successes I made and my manager, parents and friends’ support which gradually built up my confidence and dedication to music.
A quote from Tazmania Records President Mike Ferullo… “for the first time in the history of electronic dance music we have a talent coming out of Mainland China that in our eyes can compete with the biggest DJ producers in the world.” Tell me about the emotions yourself and your family had when hearing this…
For me, it’s like a mission, a responsibility to push China’s music out to the world and bring electronic music back to China, as we know the scene there is still very ‘fresh’. My mom was pretty excited about the comment while my dad thinks what I do is more important than other people’s comments and I do believe hard work pays off.
What is your studio set up at the moment?
Pretty straight forward. A mac mini, a midi keyboard from Roland, an Ableton Push controller and my monitors. I use macbook air and HD25 for my DJ gigs.
What are the 5 big tunes in your box this weekend…
– Tolein – Fantasy feat. Yundi Li & Nana Ou-Yang
The Hunan TV collaboration track, I love watching people’s comments under it.
– Mark The Beast – Breathe (ft. Niks)
Artist just discovered, amazing dubstep track with the best snare sound I’ve ever heard.
– Zedd & Aloe Blacc – Candyman
Old and new, contrast and vintage.
– Samuel Sun & Tolein – Dragonstep
Collaboration between me and my best friend.
– TV Noise – Tell Me (Original Mix)
Best future house found this week.
What is coming out next from you studio wise?
I’m currently working on a remix of a legendary Chinese TV series track called ‘The Journey to The West’, also a remix of my Sony Music track called ‘Together’ and a collaboration track with Skripture, a high profile UK Grime rapper & producer.
Tell us about some of the crazy famous DJ encounters you have had in China…
Dan, you know what happens in the club, stays in the club!!
What is the coolest thing in your house?
My girlfriend? LOL…My studio setup definitely, I love them.
Let’s zip forward in a time machine to March 2017. What do you hope to have achieved overt the next 12 months?
I wish to jump into the dance charts a few more times and obviously more DJ gigs in China and internationally. Also some more TV performances would be great. Production wise, to just carry on learning my craft and helping promote Chinese electronic music.
A few fellow Chinese producers you are giving high fives to at the moment?
Samuel Sun, as I’ve said, he’s my best friend and also an electronic music producer. Also Panta.Q, an awesome Chinese dubstep producer and remixer.
And finally, what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
‘Less is more’. A simple line, but works every time when I’m stuck in the production process. It’s easy to go ‘over-decorated’ in the arrangement process and mixing session, too much of something will create chaos and muddiness in the mix, so my own principle is utilizing everything that you have currently and then think of adding new stuff to your mix.