Subsequent to my trip to Hong Kong last June for Music Matters, Dirt Star (a musician based out of Shenzhen in southern China) and I connected through Twitter. I quickly became interested in this Western expat who started from scratch as a one-man band, utilizing a modified acoustic guitar with built-in midi controller for rocking beats in sync with Ableton Live. Over time, he became a jack-of-all-trades, playing in a number of bands, including a stint as an electronic DJ, as guitarist and lead singer for an indie rock band, a street performer, an electronic jazz artist. He's even performed pop songs before live audiences of over 20,000. Dirt Star now performs in a 3-piece punk rock and has shared stages with some of the biggest names in alternative music, including the Dirty Three, Feeder, the Rheostatics, and China's biggest diva, Faye Wong.
Dirt Star recently released his latest project called "On The Street", a collection of nine electronic-garage-punk-rock songs. The English language album is a departure from his debut album, "The Score", which featured songs in both Mandarin and English.
So how did you end up in Shenzhen, China?
I'm originally from North America, but I'm an adventurer at heart, and love to discover new places. I passed though Shenzhen once on a music tour, and fell in love with the city's dynamic energy and melting pot.
How important is the neighboring live Hong Kong scene for a Shenzhen-based band? How about the Beijing underground scene, home to 300 indie bands?
It's kind of two separate scenes, but there are more and more crossover opportunities -- definitely excited to see more interaction between the two cities. It's great to see how many bands are coming out of Beijing these days. I've played there in the past and it's always a lot of fun.
Is there a lot of collaboration between independent bands in major Chinese cities (Shenzhen, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai,...)?
I recently produced an album for a local singer named Liang Ying. On the album, we collaborated with a bassist in Taiwan, an accordion player from the Ukraine, and a guitarist in Beijing. We collaborated the whole time with each musician over the Internet, sharing files using Drop.io, and keeping on top of the project schedule using Google Sites. Each of us uses our own personal studio setup - either Pro Tools, Nuendo, or Ableton Live. With more and more computer savvy kids in China every day, it's really going to be an area that expands exponentially.
While your first album featured a mix of Mandarin and English songs, this latest release in primarily is English. Why the English focus? Won't this make it harder to connect with your fanbase?
Actually, I think creating in multiple languages has helped me to expand my fanbase. In the future, I plan on doing a CD with both an English and a Mandarin version of each song.
Where else have you played in Asia? What most differentiates music fans in the various Asian countries you've toured?
I've played on festival stages in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong. And it may sound cliche, but it's really true - fans in each place I've played share a common bond that transcends all their differences.
We've all heard of the scourge of piracy in China? How does an indie musicians such as yourself manage to survive?
Piracy is definitely bad for CD sales. On the bright side, the new music economy that we see today has allowed for a lot of musicians to get exposure that wouldn't be possible otherwise.
I really believe that if a young musician can get their act together in China, there's a great opportunity to get paid. For example, Liang Ying currently has a 30-city tour in the works. 30 cities! The big rewards are going to be found in other growing parts of the music industry, especially in live shows, licensing, creative sponsorships and touring.