Radiant Dragon makes sprawling electronic songs that sound by turns like John Carpenter, Can and Carl Craig. His music has a distinct dramatic quality. He builds and sustains tension, takes you to weird places, and sings like a broken-hearted robot. He's prolific and seems like a really nice guy. He sends me a steady stream of tracks he's worked on and always takes time to reveal a bit about them, to explain the stories he's trying to tell. So far I've loved everything he's sent, so I caught up with him to talk about Stonehenge and Buddha Machines.
What exactly is a Radiant Dragon?
Radiant Dragon is the friend in your headphones who's going with you on a round-the-world sonic odyssey. It's also my Chinese name, I guess because my parents thought it would bring me good luck.
You send me very nice emails explaining what your songs are about. You've said they are "travelogues through imaginary places." Do all of your tracks have a story behind them?
Most of the songs are written before or just after going on a journey, so the travelogue and soundscape are really tied together. Sometimes you leave in an optimistic and expansive mood, and at other times it's with more sadness, reluctance and regret. Although the tracks always have a story behind them, sometimes the story and the settings are from two different memories.
"Preseli" is a song I wrote when I wanted to follow a girl but wasn't able to. I borrowed the setting from my best friend's house in Wales, by the Preseli Mountains where the Stonehenge bluestones come from. The thought that even ancient monuments traveled hundreds of miles to their final resting place made me aware of how everything is in constant change—and of how temporary we are.
Download: Radiant Dragon, "Preseli"
"Cloud Seeding" is a brighter song, something that takes the fantasy of sharing an adventure at face value. Like if you could go with a friend to the upper atmosphere and watch clouds slowly forming over the earth below, that would be pretty great. Sometimes you need to have dreams like that to deal with the reality of separation.
Download: Radiant Dragon, "Cloud Seeding"
You've remixed/been remixed by lots of bands I love. Which is your favourite?
I try to bring out elements that were buried in the mix, and to work in contrast to the feel and style of the original. Somehow my remixes always end up being structured as folk songs rather than as dance tracks. I think a lot of that comes from playing guitar, because when you play songs you add new sections organically and jam out on them. It's hard to pick a favourite, so I'll choose according to the time of day you might want to listen to them.
Bands always get their dancier singles remixed, but Egyptian Hip Hop's backing vocals had such a Brian Wilson vibe to them that I swapped the disco for something way more spaced out.
Another uptempo original that I stretched out, warped and twisted to make it sound like something out in the darkness was really going to End It Tonight.
What is your live show like?
I treat playing live differently each time, by remixing the samples and blending them with a Buddha Machine and live guitar lines into a gamelan computer soundscape. Sometimes I really screw up, but occasionally some great accidents occur—like unexpected polyrhythms, ghost harmonies, and melodies that echo and bleed into one another. It's the human error aspect to electronic music that makes each performance enjoyable.
There's a krautrock influence in some of your songs. Is that because you were born in Germany?
I just happened to be born in (West) Germany, and wasn't there long.... For me, the appeal of krautrock and kosmische music has more to do with the slow evolution of a track, the subtle introduction of new melodies and rhythms, and the cosmic vibe. It's interesting to see how Kompakt's minimal techno grew from those roots—even though it's played in clubs instead of communes, all those elements are still there. Strangely, probably the most German influence in my music is made by English and American musicians who happened to be working in Berlin. The feel of Bowie/Eno's "Low" and "Heroes," as well as Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" is amazing. All their contrasts work perfectly—melody against noise, song against soundscape, electronics against humans. It's just incredible.I think everyone can relate with the desire to belong and the sadness of alienation. I've been lucky to have had great friends, but find it difficult to feel at home anywhere. Something about the simultaneous warmth and coldness in some music really appeals to both sides of me.
You've got an album out soon on your own label. Tell us about that.
I figured that since October 2010 will be the anniversary of me recording my first demos on a four-track, it would be good to put an album out. Now I'm recording in my basement studio instead of my bedroom, so that's some real progression.The album, Overseas will be out on my imprint Cloud Factory on 18th October 2010. Released on Limited edition 12-inch LPs and Download. It'll come out together with the Carn Ingli a mixtape of RD remixes/remixed.