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Chinese Man comes to India

We caught up with the French trip-hop collective ahead of their Mumbai gig

By Vatsala Chhibber  February 12th, 2016

Music from French trip-hop collective and label Chinese Man – composed of SLY, Zé Mateo and High Ku – is as easy to love as it’s hard to define. The former schoolmates first pooled resources in 2005 to create their singular mix of hip-hop, reggae, dubstep and curious, multicultural samples. “SLY was originally a graphic designer, Zé Mateo a DJ and I was a rapper. The idea was to release music on vinyl, just a few copies for DJs that we knew. It worked quite well locally so we decided to do it more seriously,” says High Ku. The band, best known for their electro-swing influenced single ‘You’ve Got The Tune’ (2007), performs in Mumbai this week. If you can’t quite figure out the Chinese Man’s eclectic vibe, Ku has some answers:

Chinese Man was born from an Asian fetish
“There are many stories behind the name Chinese Man! But the real story is really simple – it’s the name of the first track we produced together. As we were all keen on Asian culture in its entirety – movies, history and mythology – we found it funny to keep that name.”

Their music-making style is old-school 
“We really love traditional/classical sounds from everywhere; can be India China or South America. We source everything through vinyls exclusively. We dig a lot, listen to a lot of old vinyls from our family’s collections and sometimes find the sound that inspires us!”

They’re still finding an Indian groove 
“We don’t prepare much for our DJ Sets, so we can’t tell you [what to expect] right now. We adapt according to the vibe of the venue and the audience. Of course, we’ll play some of our tracks but also some music we love to play as DJ – some hip-hop, reggae, jungle, dubstep and rare grooves from all over the world. We want to keep some surprises so people have to come to the gig to know if Calling Bombay is going to be on the setlist.”

They don’t miss work on holiday 
“We are actually in a studio right now with musicians we met thanks to [percussionist and composer] Viveick Rajagopalan. We also know Tritha who collaborated with Taiwan MC (another artist on the label Chinese Man Records) last year on the track ‘Balma’ – released this month on The Indian Groove Sessions. Hopefully this trip will create new non-planned connections.”

They don’t sync playlists 
“The three of us don’t often listen to the same music. But you definitely should check Scratch Bandits Crew (track ‘Blank’ for example in their Stereo 7 album). Some other tracks that we all heard recently were ‘Borders’ by MIA, ‘Love for That’ by Mura Masa, Hopopono by Gogo Penguin, ‘Cityboy’ by Alo Wala,  ‘Convoque seu Bud’ by CRiolo.”

Chinese Man will perform at the Lost Party launch at Blue Frog, Mumbai on February 13

Photograph: BOBY