Interview: Rainbow Chan
Hong Kong born Australian singer Rainbow Chan is one of the most multi-talented and sonically exciting artists on the Australian scene. She is not only a singer, songwriter and producer but also a renowned visual artist, holding her first solo exhibition earlier this year.
Releasing experimental pop music since 2012, Chan has recently released her new single ‘CSR’, a gritty, sparse techno track with sonic throwbacks to both the 1980s and 1990s. We recently chatted to Chan about her career, her music and her upcoming second album.
Hi Rainbow! Firstly, how is everything right now in the world of Rainbow Chan?
Things are great, thanks! I’m currently on a research trip between China, Hong Kong and Seoul. I’ve loved connecting with the local music scenes here, as well as playing my own shows across the different cities.
You were born in Hong Kong and moved to Australia when you were six. What are your earliest memories of music?
Music was always around in the house because my older sisters played piano. But besides that, I was obsessed with the Cantopop singer, Aaron Kwok, as a kid. I owned his t-shirts, watched his music videos on repeat, and collected his Yes! Cards, which were shiny little celebrity trading cards that came with every issue of Yes! Magazine (like a Hong Kong version of Smash Hits.)
What music did you listen to growing up?
Growing up in a bilingual immigrant household was confusing and stressful at times. But one thing that was definitely a positive was being exposed to music in different languages. I think it established from an early age the ability for pop culture to transcend borders and the fluidity of musical genres.
When did you decide to pursue a career in music?
I think “a career in music” is an ongoing gamble, a daily pursuit you could say. It also means working several other part time jobs, making music and demos in your own time, going to gigs and supporting friends, getting used to being rejected and critiqued, but still somehow wanting to do it. For me, the turning point was probably after my first album [2016’s Spacings]. I finally felt that that my music didn’t just have a bit of traction, but it had legs. I worked really hard over a period of 6 years or so - you can think of it as the longest interview ever - and finally found out that I got the job.
Your new single ‘CSR’ is fantastic, can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind the track?
CSR is a playful track that absorbed some influences from my travels around East Asia. I really loved the multilingual nature of the dance floors there, which is also similar to the inner workings of my own head. I wanted to reflect that thinking and make a club track for Australian audiences (but not exclusively to, of course) that flows between Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
You are one of the very few visible Asian-Australian females in the Australian music industry. Did this make it harder to launch your career, and do you see yourself as a role model for younger Asian-Australian women?
At first, I wasn’t as aware of my identity as an Asian-Australian female but as it was increasingly made known to me by others, I started to see the power of reclaiming that visibility as a way to challenge the status quo. I’m genuinely stoked when I hear younger artists being influenced by my work or ideas. And it’s an absolute bonus if they are POC or female-identifying, because I know how isolated I felt when I was growing up, not seeing anyone who looked like me on TV or on radio. If my music can contribute to the positive changes that we are currently witnessing in the industry and in our social climate more broadly, then yes, sure, I’ll partake in helping to push other marginalised voices to the front.
What are your thoughts on the current gender equality debate in the music industry? Do you think we have a serious problem with sexism, both from within the industry and how the general public perceives female performers?
We’ve still got a long way to go and while productive conversations are happening online, we have to make sure that equality is being built into our systems and social structures so these changes can translate into real life.
In your career have you experienced episodes of sexism, or where you felt you were disrespected because of your gender?
Yes, all the time. But I’m positive that there is more awareness and emerging support networks to nurture ourselves and others. Things like Girls Rock!, Women in Electronic programs at MusicNSW, All Girl Electronic at I.C.E Parramatta, NECTAR and LISTEN are just some of the few wonderful groups working to dismantle the patriarchy.
You also teach music at Sydney University. How does having a ‘day job’ inform and contribute to your music career?
I have the dream ‘day job’ because it is so intricately connected to my music career. I feel like I’m simultaneously making, researching, teaching and learning alongside my students.
You recently began learning Weitou folk songs, and have an interest in both mistranslations and dying dialects from across the world. Why do you think this is so important?
I think making pop music can actually be a really isolating process. Quite narcissistic and in your own head. When I started to learn Weitou folk songs recently, I was reminded of the power of music to connect people in intergenerational, cross cultural ways - something with firm roots you know. It has the power to conserve knowledge, traditional rituals and social politics. In the face of globalisation, I see my Weitou project as a way for me to resist the homogenisation of culture.
Will this play into your future music releases?
Yes, watch this space.
You are also an established visual artist and had your first solo exhibition this year. Are there any plans for further exhibitions?
Yes, watch this space also.
What’s next for Rainbow Chan?
Album no. 2 and then a nice hot bath.
Rainbow Chan’s latest single ‘CSR’ is out now. To listen, http://hyperurl.co/rainbowchan_CSR