Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with San Huan! Together we discussed 3rd Ring Road, influences, working with Big Leap Collective, their upcoming EP “I Store My Anger”, and so much more!

1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?

I’ve been well. My life’s been full of change lately and I’m trying to stay level-headed through it all.

2. You grew up in Beijing in the 2000s and early 2010s. What was the music scene like in Beijing?

I grew up in the 2010s in Beijing surrounded by commercial music: Western and mandopop, EDM, singing competition ballads. My friends and I started going to bars and clubs in high school where they played really bombastic EDM. I found music by sending mp3s back and forth with friends and downloading things on Limewire, which resulted in an eclectic collection of indie rock, indie pop, and obscure electronic tunes. I wish I had been tuned into the underground in Beijing at the time; I’ve heard there was a big punk scene, but I was never involved.

3. Your name is a reference to the 3rd Ring Road in Beijing.

Yes. The name for this project is in reference to the 3rd Ring Road (referred to in Mandarin as Sān Huán Lù), which encircles central Beijing, where I grew up in the 2010s. Back then, the city had an improvisational, chaotic energy. You’d go to a restaurant and find out it had gone out of business; entire new city districts seemed to spring up overnight. Growing up surrounded by feverish construction and rapid change made reality feel like a hallucination. I developed a strong sense that life was absurd.

4. Mustard wonders what your relationship with music was growing up? When did you decide you wanted to become a musician?

Sound has always been my most direct line to the transcendent – I have memories of hearing a synth line or a melody in a song and feeling like I’d seen a portal to something greater. In 2020, I downloaded Ableton and began messing around, manipulating samples and such, and eventually it grew into a series of songs I wanted to release.

Even now, I don’t think of myself as a “musician.” It’s a medium for my explorations and concepts about things that cause me unease or inspiration. I am just as excited to explore those things visually, or through spaces and events in the future.

5. Who (or what) influences you?

Artists from Beijing’s scene of the ’90s and early 2000s—including painter/performance artist Zhang Huan and photographer Wang Qingsong. They captured what it was like to be a fragile human body in the midst of a rapidly industrializing society. There was a combination of beauty and violence in their work, a visceral feeling.

More recently, queer techno raves. I’m fascinated by the creation of temporary spaces where we shed our daily selves in search of freedom or ecstasy.

6. What is your songwriting process?

I’m always making little sonic explorations, and I also keep a long note of phrases or thoughts I just can’t seem to get past. A song happens when I manage to combine a sonic sketch with a concept or thought.

7. When did you begin doing work with Big Leap Collective? What are some of your favorite things about Big Leap and the Bay Area music scene?

I began volunteering as a live sound engineer intern with Big Leap in 2021. The Bay Area scene and Big Leap in particular is so generous and giving. Being an artist in the Bay is already hard with the cost of living so everyone is down to earth and really sweet.

8. 2021 saw the release of your two singles “Constance/Saltwater.” How are both of these singles connected?

Those songs were the result of my earliest trip-hop experiments, where I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and I was feeling my way towards a soundscape that felt true to me.

9. You explore beauty and pain throughout your music. What role do each of these play throughout your life?

That contrast, of the bleakness and wonder of life, is what fascinates me. There’s a track in the EP called “Once More” where the narrator is listing the ways that the world feels apocalyptic and painful. At first, she concludes that she’s sticking around just “to feel free again,” if only briefly. But by the end of the song, she adds that she’ll also persevere by finding “umbrellas to sell the next time that it rains.” It’s the coexistence of the urge towards freedom and beauty, contrasted with the uglier trait of ruthless self-preservation… it’s that combination in people that I can’t get over.

10. What can fans expect from your upcoming EP “I Store My Anger..”

I explore a lot of contradictions. For example, there’s a song called “Factory Girl”, which is written from the perspective of a young girl in China, who gives up her youth to work in a factory, and contemplates materialistic desires. It’s about being harmed by the hustle while also choosing to harm others when you look after yourself and embrace capitalistic standards in pursuit of power and stability. 

Sonically, the EP varies from ethereal dream-pop to industrial electronics. I listened to a lot of Cocteau Twins and Nine Inch Nails while making it.

11. Did you get a chance to release some anger on your upcoming EP?

I hope so, but it’s an ongoing process.

12. Can fans pre-save/order “I Store My Anger..?”

It’ll be out everywhere on June 16th.

13. A human gets the chance to see you perform. How would you describe your live performance?

I play my live solo show like a DJ set. I play rearranged versions of my songs and mix them together with other tracks while singing live. It’s really important to me to keep an element of improvisation, so I use loops and extended sections.

14. Do you have any upcoming shows?

Yes! In June, I’m playing a house show in Brooklyn and an experimental DJ set in collaboration with some friends at PALLAS in San Francisco. Follow me on @san_huan_ on Instagram to stay posted.

15. What is next for San Huan?

I am excited to perform live and continue evolving my sound

16. Where can readers listen to your music?

I’m on all the places, for the whole list.

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