- A producer known for high-impact club music takes an organic turn.
- Beijing-based Howie Lee routinely waxes philosophical about Chinese identity, society and culture through his cyberpunk-influenced compositions. His 2017 track "Four Seas," for example, refers to "the surrounding waters of the traditional Chinese worldview." Lee, known for his self-described "Made In China" aesthetic, usually expresses such wide-ranging concepts through experimental club tracks that connect the dots between Chinese instrumentation, trap, thundering bass and techno—a hybrid style that forms the majority of his output. But on his latest release, the Do Hits label boss touches on these themes in a more downtempo mode.
Sonically inspired by "ceremonial Taoist music, early Buchla synth experiments and FWD>> nights at London's Plastic People," Birdy Island is by far Lee's most organic work. Unlike his usual high-intensity maneuvers, this album feels resoundingly calm, thanks in part to a four-piece choir consisting of Beijing's Fishdoll, Shanghai-based vocalist and producer Yehaiyahan, West By West and Lee himself. But this eight-track LP, heavy on ambient and folk instrumentals, is not merely pastoral—its placid tones and inventive concept also offer scope for reflection on the state of the modern world.
Birdy Island is based on the idea of a floating theme park where birds and ancestral spirits make up the primary residents. According to Lee's vision, this imaginary landmass was built by a Chinese investment company aspiring to strengthen ties between the spiritual and natural world after years of economic decay. This unspecified conglomerate invites Lee to compose the park's soundtrack, which the LP represents.
This is a surreal tale with many possible meanings. To some, it may speak to pervasive worries about the extent of Chinese surveillance, or China's political and economic influence over nations that accept the country's investments (as Lee imagines China's economic power reaching into the spiritual world). To others, Birdy Island may evoke what's known as the "Chinese Dream"—President Xi Jinping's blueprint for the world's second-largest economy to "rejuvenate" and become an influential and leading superpower. Lee's spacious compositions leave room for interpretation.
Geopolitical themes aside, the album also touches on Chinese spirituality. "Birdy Island to me is a palace in the clouds and the birds are worshipped like Gods... not like a western God, though," Lee explained in a press statement. Birds play an important symbolic role in Chinese mythology and their sounds feature heavily on the album's title track alongside bells and lush synth textures, its most peaceful and relaxing element.
Like much of Lee's output, Birdy Island may be rooted in China-centric issues but it still carries plenty of diverse influences. "Island Birdy" samples Bollywood vocals, "Foreign Flowers" has hints of warped drum & bass and "Feather Signifier" is steeped in jazz fusion. A clear reflection of Lee's deep love for Chinese culture and traditional folk music, as well as a reminder of his multifaceted methodology, Birdy Island makes for easy yet insightful listening that connects across cultures.
01. 光阴向太阳 (Time To The Sun) feat. Yehaiyahan
02. 羽毛能指 (Feather Signifier)
03. 波、波、波 (Wave, Wave, Wave)
04. 域外花 (Foreign Flowers)
05. 岛鸟 (Island Birdy)
06. 鸟岛 (Birdy Island)
07. 神往的门 (The Door Of Aspiration)
08. 偶像的黎明 (Dawn Of The Idols)