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 (http://www.alivenotdead.com/dirtstar) 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
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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
Q. 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.
Q. 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
Q. 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