DJ Jasmine Li started her musical journey as a child prodigy at the age of 5. She first started playing the Pipa, a lute-like stringed instrument with over two millennia of Chinese tradition before venturing into modern electronic music. DJ Jasmine has elevated electronic music in China and remains on the forefront of Asia’s contemporary underground house and techno scene. Hailing from Guangzhou, she is the co-founder of Shanghai’s popular after hours club Celia. Borin Sopheavuthtey caught up with DJ Jasmine just before she performed in Pontoon last weekend, in a gig jointly hosted by Pontoon and Meta House.
Good Times2: Can you briefly introduce yourself?
DJ Jasmine Li: I’m from Shanghai and I have been based in Guangzhou for 12 years. I’m a DJ producer and also working on a project for six months. I have been DJ-ing for 10 years. I have been playing a Chinese traditional musical instrument called Pipa for 35 years. This year I am 39. I have been playing music almost my whole life. I started to play when I was four or five years old. I started off with the Pipa when I went to school. I still play this musical instrument.
Good Times2: How did you get into this industry?
DJ Jasmine Li: Back in 1997, there were many big clubs in Guangzhou, playing electronic underground music, focusing on house, tech house, and techno. It was really inspiring and I just fell in love with those music genres. I think electronic music is so beautiful. I went to clubs a lot just to listen to the music back then. I felt like it was so different from traditional music. This inspired me to be a DJ and play the music that I really like. Luckily, I met a DJ from Hong Kong. We met and we talked and he agreed to bring me into the scene. It was such a great opportunity for me.
In 2003, I started to take basic DJ lessons and this friend of mine from Hong Kong told me how I could develop myself more in the future. He also taught me some skills and directed me to websites, where I could learn about electronic music. I saw it more as a passion and for that reason I chose to become a DJ. Back then, a teacher of mine told me, ‘You can easily become a DJ because you have a musical background. You had been playing the Pipa since you were a kid, you will pick up DJing very fast. Why not start now?’ After three months of lessons, I started to have gigs.
Good Times2: Have you been DJing in other countries?
DJ Jasmine Li: Yes, I have been travelling a lot in the past two years. Most of the time, I travel to Europe. In 2016, my first gig in Europe was in Amsterdam, it was called ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event). It was organised by my current manager and there were 10 artists from China. He wanted to showcase Chinese contemporary art and culture in Europe.
Good Times2: How would you describe your music?
DJ Jasmine Li: I mix traditional instruments, like the Pipa, and modern electronic dance music for most of my work. I just do whatever that comes to my mind. As a music creator, you cannot just play song-to-song, you have to create the sound, create the environment on stage. You always develop yourself, asking what is still lacking in order to take yourself to the next level. I just produce music and I have fun seeing that people enjoy it. I have put some tracks online for people to download for free. They are on Soundcloud and you can also find some tracks on YouTube and Facebook.
Good Times2: What is it like to be a female DJ? Do you face any challenges?
DJ Jasmine Li: I believe there are a lot of female DJs in the world. For a female DJ, passion is very important. As long as you have passion, you can do whatever you want. In China, we do not say the word challenging, we called it sharing. I’m talking about sharing as a musical experience. It means that if you share what you have, there won’t be any competition.
Good Times2: How is the DJ industry in China?
DJ Jasmine Li: It is so common now, as everyone can be a DJ. Compared to 20 years ago, is it a lot bigger now. Back then, people could not play music on their own laptops, but they can do so now. There are DJ programmes on laptops, which you can just press and play. I discovered that anyone can be a DJ if you have talent in music and understand music. It also depends on how you look at music. If you play music with passion, you can express your DJ experience to the world. It is going to take time to learn the craft, but as long as you don’t give up, you will get it.
Good Times2: Do you plan to release an album?
DJ Jasmine Li: I have a studio and I am still producing music in Shanghai. I also make music with my partner DJs and some other artists. Surely, we will release an album. Now, we have an EP coming up. It will be a mix of Pipa and electronic music. Our first step is a tour in Europe and the next will be the EP. After that, we plan a longer version album. That is my project this year and I’m very excited.
Good Times2: How long do you intend to stay in Cambodia?
DJ Jasmine Li: Only two days. After Cambodia, I will be performing in Vietnam and then back to Shanghai to continue my work.
Good Times2: Besides DJing, what else do you do?
DJ Jasmine Li: I used to have three clubs. In 2016, I opened another club. My latest club, Celia, opened from 2:00 AM to 10:00 AM. In this club I was the music director and I also brought in local and international DJs. I also was in charge of customer relations and socialised a lot in the club. Right now, I’ve decided to take a break to focus on my DJ performances. I sold this club two months ago because it took a toll on my DJ work, which I thoroughly enjoy. Currently, I’m working on another project with my partner Eric. This involves managing artists as well as bringing in international brands into the Chinese market. Most of these branded products have never been in the Chinese market before. So we are like middlemen. We help test the waters for these brands to see if their products would sell well in the Chinese market. As for artist management, we also do the same thing. We gather them, promote them and support them as well as showcase them overseas. We also bring underground international artists to China for people to get to know them.