Australian electronic-music fans will already know Rainbow Chan – she’s been an original and highly creative fixture on the scene for four years, both as Rainbow Chan and side-project Chunyin. She’s releasing her debut album, Spacings, later this year. The singles released so far, Nest and Last, speak to her eclectic catalogue of influences: from the cassette tapes her grandmother would compile for family road trips to field recordings captured on a beach holiday (the sound of cicadas, fireworks and crinkly biscuit packaging shaped the beat of one track). From this emerges songs that are rich in texture, imagination and pop hooks, and more candid in narrative than Chan’s been before.
Broadsheet: Can you tell us a bit about your grandma and the mixtapes she would send you to you?
Rainbow Chan: My grandma is a pocket rocket who does the eighties perm + windbreaker + shopping cart look better than anyone else. She was born in Johannesburg, moved to China during WWII and ended up in Hong Kong. She prefers Western music to Chinese music. I think this stems from the fact that English was her first language, which she has since forgotten, so there is an element of nostalgia for her in English-language songs. I vaguely remember the track order of my favourite mixtape, which went Sue Thompson – Sad Movies, Del Shannon – Runaway, The Cascades – Rhythm of the Rain etc. Golden oldies have a strong sense of melody, which has influenced me. I also fetishise the grainy sound of cassettes so I often use distortion to simulate that warmth.
BS: Is your recent single Last representative of what’s to come on your debut album, Spacings?
RC: I was listening to a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra at the time and I became obsessed with various mixes of Japanese electronic music from the eighties. I liked the way they incorporated analogue synths with folk percussion, creating a sort of “world music”. The strange, woody percussion in Last evokes that aesthetic. I’d been making a lot of techno for my other project Chunyin, so I created a dance beat for RC as my interests were evolving. The record has a variety of genres but the songs are thematically linked by heartbreak.
BS: What can we expect from your live shows? How easy is it to translate your music?
RC: I’ve just started touring a new set-up with my friends Alex Ward (Moon Holiday) and Corin helping out on vocals, samplers and synths. It’s very empowering to be joined by two artists I respect. I can let go on stage and not worry about “proving” to people that I created that beat by pressing a button on the sampler – “look, it’s me, I did this pre-recorded thing in a semi-live way!” I feel like that’s a remnant of rock aesthetics, whereas electronic music doesn’t really need to do that. Instead, I want to make people enjoy themselves, dance. I want to facilitate the social setting by bringing a strong energy to the space.
BS: Fantasy support slot – any artist, any era, anywhere?
RC: Diva Plavalaguna, who is the blue opera singer from The Fifth Element.
Rainbow Chan plays Vivid x Heaps Gay 2016 at the Factory Theatre on Sunday 12 June.