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Interview with me:mo

img  Tobias Fischer

Why are history, memory and nostalgia so particularly important to you?
Traditional Chinese culture has always been an integral part of my life. The city I am living in and all the details of life in it are like media containing within them all these traditions. This has changed dramatically since the 1990s, with transformations taking place at lightning speed. New things have appeared and the old traditions have lost in importance. And yet, they're the essence of Peking’s cultural deposits, they are what really makes up this city. They provide me with the warmest and most beautiful memories.

In Beijing, elements from the most diverse times are literally standing side by side. In which way is the notion of history particularly present here, would you say?
There is a dire trend of thought in China, which is to disparage our own history and culture. The mainstream ‘thinks’ that progress should be reflected in an increase of material wealth and in the economy. Therefore, there is no place for appreciating the value of history and culture in the development of Beijing. Being shallow, ignorant and stupid in city planning, the government has transmogrified the city into a modern, monstrous Beijing over the last twenty years. The historical and cultural Beijing has disappeared.
How would you describe the city today?
To put it in one word: Diabolic. Beijing has been designed to be an international metropolis, which is a paradise for all kinds of vultures. But for the majority of natives, this city has lost its appeal.

In which way were the old days really better?
It is not that the old days were better; rather, the present is utterly awful and stands in total contrast to the old days. In such a situation, one cannot but feel nostalgia. Surely, the booming economy has enriched our lives in terms of material wealth. But there are things that cannot be measured in big apartments, cars and money. The quality of our lives should not be reflected in and determined by physical objects. What we have lost in the process of development is exactly what is most precious to me: Traditional lifestyles, traditional buildings and humanity. It is not as though these fundamental aspects are actually obstructions in the development of the city - but this is something the stupid decision-makers could not realize.

What about Beijing's scenes for the arts and music?
I am not familiar with the music scene in Beijing, not to mention the arts scene. However, as a bystander or audience, the ‘artists’ or ‘arts scene’ in China are far less flourishing then they appear to be in the media or as they like to describe themselves. Those who have a vested interest and impostors in the name of art make the whole scene a complete mess. Perhaps one of the prevailing problems is that there are only very few jobs in this scene; another problem is that the majority haven’t learned how to appreciate music and other art forms either. They treat them with an attitude of seeking novelty; they don’t have a clear understanding of the arts, not to mention what is underground or mainstream. China’s social and political situation may account for this mess. Of course there is some progress but it is hardly significant. Compared to Western countries or Japan, China’s music and art scene is still in its infancy. The ‘great leap’ in arts like the real great leap period in history is not something to be proud of, as Chinese media are suggesting. Perhaps one day, when Chinese people can really appreciate music and arts as something natural in their lives, will there be a prosperous art scene.

When I visited the city two years ago, I was very much under the impression that the new music scene existed mainly in clubs, while the traditional music scene lived on in the parks, through spontaneous live performances.
I am not sure whether the places you went to were clubs or live houses; there are no more than ten venues that program rock, indie or electronic music gigs and only in these venues can you see the Beijing indie or underground scene. All the others are all commercial nightclubs, where visitors will not go for music but drinks or excitements. As to the park performances, they are the entertainment of pensioners and most of them deal with traditional music. They are interesting and I like them. But the Internet is the most important way for me to get information on music; of course, I also pay attention to the Chinese indie music scene, although I have few contacts with other musicians. Another way is to exchange information with friends who are focusing on the indie music scene.

How and when did the idea of composing an album on the themes of memory and the city of Beijing concretely come up?
I already had this idea when I was working on the last me:mo album, Acoustic View. Half of this idea was expressed in that album. It is now fully expressed on ‘Peking Scene’. Both albums were created under the umbrella of the same criteria, from music to art design, one following the other. Also my personal style in terms of music expression improved over the course of composing and creating these two albums.

Was there a sort of tangible concept?
I just went with the flow. Composing is not something that can be done by just sitting there - feeling is crucial here, every piece in life can potentially be a part of it. This process includes all emotions, moods and trivia in my daily life, so to compose is part of my daily life; I enjoy this process very much and hope for it to continue until the end of …
The disappeared scenery, humanity, liveliness and miens of the city and people who live in it are all part of my nostalgia. The more I grow up the more I understand and miss them. I feel sad when I see that places where I used to live when I was a child have been completely transformed without leaving any traces of the past. What this means is that the past will only be in my memory, people will not be able to bring back their memories with their eyes, the memories have, as it were, been cut off. More and more of this kind of encounter will eventually form a kind of feeling. Regardless of whether you choose to call it sadness or nostalgia, it is very deep. This is where my musical sensibility comes from. Every track on the album embraces it, tracks like ‘Radio Moment’ or ‘Comfortable Courtyard’ will, for example, recall my memories of school trip, the amusement park, parks and school bus.

So seeing images of the past can conjure up musical ideas?
I am a regular visitor of a website about old Beijing, and there are numbers of old pictures of Peking; people discuss the past in there and many topics and pictures could stir up my feeling. The traditional Beijing is a combination of particular images and sounds. Beijing's traditional color is grey, and the city is vast and delicate in details, sound is something that hovers above the city as an embellishment. The beauty of harmony and calm of the city express itself through visuals and sound and you can actually feel that. A friend of mine said that my music has a strong sense of imagery which is very Beijingish. I think that is the best compliment for my music.

Do you think Peking View also has a universal meaning outside of its immediate context?
This is a difficult question, I shall put it this: There is no one piece of music that could reach a universal agreement in an audience’s cognition. Besides, I think my music is rather personal expression than universal acceptance. However, if an audience could understand what I am expressing, then I would be gratified even only ten or twenty people would do so. Isn’t it wonderful that musician and audience can reach a consensus only through music?

By Tobias Fischer

me:mo discography:
Static Scenery / 静景(Guava) 2006   
Acoustic View (Shanshui) 2007   
Peking Scene (Plop, mü-nest) 2010   


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