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Rainbow Chan: Pop Sensation

Meet the creative powerhouse

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Rainbow Chan is a Sydney-based artist whose saccharine style of pop first impressed in 2011 after she took out FBi Radio’s Northern Lights Competition in 2011. Since then the singer and producer has gone from strength to strength, releasing her critically acclaimed Long Vacation EP in 2013 and tantalising the senses with singles—’Nest’, ‘Last’, and ‘Work’—from her forthcoming debut album.

Your album Spacings is coming out soon, what can we expect from the release?

I wrote the songs over the period of a year. Phonically, I guess the tracks are at the intersection of a lot of my influences. There’s R&B in there, some coral arrangements—I really like vocal harmonies—and a lot of retro East Asian pop music influences. At the time was I writing the songs I guess I did a lot of growing up. It was a pretty full-on year; there was a lot of change and a lot of growth and a lot of loss at the same time. I think the ideas in the songs are about losing things, but also being okay with the idea of failure. There are a lot of transient sentiments in there.

You mentioned East Asian pop music, how has that influenced you?

I think growing up and immigrating from Hong Kong I had a lot of influences from Chinese culture and Japanese culture, as well as the Western music I was consuming as a kid when I first moved to Australia. When I look back I have a very nostalgic feeling towards the East Asian music that came out in the ’90s. It was my attachment to home that I could have with me in this new, foreign place—this is before the internet and grandma used to make these mixtapes and send them to us. I think music was a way to connect my family who were on different sides of the world … pop music was a way to mediate that distance and ultimately my music is tied to that sense of nostalgia and migration.

Have there been any particular Chinese artists that have had an impact on you? 

I really liked this male pop star, Aaron Kwok. I guess when he first came out he was predominantly a dancer and he was known for having a baby voice—his voice wasn’t very thick. But he would make up for it with really elaborate dance video clips. He was my favourite. Like, I had this t-shirt that I would wear around the house with his face on it and my mother claims that his lyrics were my first words. I feel like he subtly shaped certain elements of my aesthetic; I even had a similar haircut to him at one point, this sort of mushroom bowl cut.

There’s also another artist called Faye Wong who I really like. She’s the Bjork of Chinese pop music, she’s quite alternative and she’s been around since the ’90s as well. She used to cover a lot of Western songs and do these Cantonese and Mandarin interpretations of them. When I listened to her as a kid I always thought those were the originals but when I came to Australia and heard the Western versions I realised they weren’t—it really intrigued me. She was my first introduction into this idea of copies and versions; like, what is an original if your perception of it is skewed or filtered through something else?

You actually make art around that phenomenon [Shanzhai] don’t you?

In terms of Shanzhai, which is that specific counterfeiting phenomenon, China has kind of adopted the role of chief pirate in the global economy. For me, I’m interested in looking at the innovative ways that a ‘copy nation’ enhances or improves another product. And then looking at how those tensions between the original owners and the imitators kind of exist so that we can protect hegemonic powers, and how intellectual property rights are a way to sustain those power relations … I want to explore the way objects, and the visuals of objects, are circulated in the media—how the way we buy things can produce different power relations.

Are you exhibiting anything at the moment?

I’ve got a show at Firstdraft Gallery throughout August. It’s a group show curated by Tom Smith and the exhibition is called Same Same. The work I’m creating is on Shanzhai. I’m making copies of counterfeit perfumes out of jellies—it’ll be a sculptural piece with a sound and smell element.

And you’re about to release a new EP under the moniker Chunyin through the UK label, Off Out—

Yeah! It’ll be a 12-inch record coming out in September called Code Switch. It’s three tracks that are techno and dance based songs. It’s all new material and it’s quite heavy. There’s a lot of jacking rhythms and the sounds in it are quite metallic and industrial. But it was really fun to write music that didn’t have my voice on it and for it to be more of a bodily experience.

It must be strange working on two musical projects that are so different.

It’s difficult at times. I feel like the context of whatever I’m doing has a lot to do with it. I really wanted to allow myself to let Rainbow Chan become a pop project … there’s a lot of stigma against people who make pop music as somehow selling out, but I feel like those sentiments are really outdated in this day and age where everyone gets coopted into commercial logic. The more I made songs for the album, the more I developed that aesthetic and became comfortable going full pop with Rainbow Chan. But at the same time there were other spaces where that didn’t make sense. I wanted to explore a wide range of my interests and things outside of pop, which could be realised in the Chunyin project.

And are you excited by your upcoming tour as Rainbow Chan?

Yeah, I think it’s going to be great. I’m joined by Moon Holiday (Alex Ward) and Corin, they’re playing in my band and the few shows we’ve done so far have been fun. I feel very energised on stage with them, they’re able to realise my songs in a really dynamic way. Moon Holiday is the supporting act but each leg of the tour there’ll also be a special guest so that’s exciting … I think it’s going to be really great to play the album in a live setting.

This article originally appeared in the August edition on Limit’d.

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