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Chasing new arts

Updated: 2014-12-26 07:39:13

( China Daily )

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Singer-songwriter Long Kuan is making music again after a long hiatus. But she's finding methods to express herself in many other ways, she tells Chen Nan.

Not many female Chinese singer-songwriters have made a career abroad before making their mark in the domestic market. Few have been able to break into the scene overnight with an eccentric music style. And few have had the audacity to withdraw from the limelight at the peak of her career. Long Kuan has done all of the above and more.

Rarely having been seen in public for years, Long showed up at a flea market at Treescape Gallery in Qianliang Hutong in downtown Beijing and introduced herself with a new identity: a designer of eco-friendly products.

"I am having so much fun with designing and making handicrafts," says the 35-year-old, pointing to wooden necklaces and brooches, which she made out of recycled materials.

She calls her studio in a three-story house at the eastern outskirts of Beijing her "wonderland". She spends most of her time there, decorating the house with her imagination, in such ways as hand-painting illustrations on the walls and planting vegetables and sunflowers in the backyard.

Since the 2005 disbanding of the pop duo Longkuan Jiuduan, which was composed of Long and composer-producer Jiu Duan (whose real name is Tian Peng), Long has been traveling around the world.

In January 2013, along with two friends, Long founded her studio and named it Hakuna Matata, which is a Swahili phrase meaning "there isn't a problem".

With no idea about what to do with the studio at the beginning, they started with cleaning and decorating the house themselves. They collected lots of abandoned old furniture and made decorations from used materials, such as a piece of clothing made from jeans and a round table made from a cable reel.

"It has become our habit to seek valuable stuff in dumps," says Bo Niu, one of the co-founders of the studio. Both Bo and Long are vegetarians, and they became friends at a vegetarian party years ago. "She is full of ideas. None of us knew how to turn a piece of useless wood into a doll or a plate. We learned together from zero."

Long is also devoted to animal protection and has made a two-minute movie, Robbers, which was inspired by her recent trip to Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand.

She has been in no hurry to return to the music scene. After signing with Beijing-based indie music label Taihe Rye Music this year, she has released just two singles, Up 2 You and Hi, Here I Am.

"I have never relied on music to survive. Music was my hobby, and now I have found new hobbies," she says.

Born in Beijing, Long moved with her parents to southern China, where she studied piano. Like many teenagers, Long became a rock fan in middle school, and her life was changed by an interview of Cui Jian, who has been hailed as Chinese godfather of rock 'n' roll.

"Most young people live the way their parents expected. I don't know - who dares to make decisions for themselves?" Cui said in the interview. At 15, Long decided to drop out of school and become a singer-songwriter.

"My parents thought I was crazy, but I insisted. I don't want to live my life in vain," says Long.

Her first single, Light, was released by China's biggest indie music label, Modernsky, in 1997. A year later, when she was backpacking in Britain, she formed the pop-punk band Mika Bomb, along with lead singer Mika Handa, in London. Soon the band signed up with indie music label Grand Royal.

For a very long time, Long recalls, she lived a surreal life. In the daytime, she washed dishes at restaurants and cleaned toilets in hospitals to make ends meet. At night, she performed with the band, receiving cheers from the audiences.

In 2001, after the band toured around Britain with its debut album, The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb, Long left and joined a Dutch electronic music group, Arling & Cameron.

"I lost my interest in punk - electronic music is much more suitable for my personality, which is full of color and fun," she says.

The band's tour around European countries in 2001 was suspended due to a car accident on the way to Spain. Then Long returned to Beijing to take a break. There, she met songwriter Tian Peng.

Long didn't plan to stay but was tempted by the idea of releasing an album for Chinese music lovers. To their surprise, their hit single, Nobody Would Be Like What I Am, topped most domestic charts soon after it was released in August 2004. The electronic beats and Long's silky voice made the band the biggest surprise of that year.

However, as they enjoyed the fame, the frequent promotion and commercial performances made Long both exhausted and bored.

"I spent a lot of time traveling on the road but only sang one song. I made a lot of money, but it was a waste of time," Long says.

For early next year, she plans to hold a live concert - an intimate one with few people. She will design the stage and decorate the venue.

"Music is not the only thing in my life. I want to do many others things, such as learning ikebana. I have moved forward," she says.

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 12/26/2014 page20)

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