An arm dangles in the air where two streams of red light meet. A hand, emerging from a loose white sleeve, appears to be floating in the darkness. But there is a body there; the artist is present. Pan Daijing has her back to us, moving closer to the light only so we can watch her stroke her own hair, a gesture that is at once maternal and sexual. You can almost feel this gesture on your own body, anticipating the moment when the hand becomes a fist, and pulls.
This tension, between warm affection and a kind of aggression, underlies if not defines Pan Daijing’s work as a producer and performance artist. While her music is often described as dark, “that’s not really my approach,” says the Chinese-born Berlin resident. “I try to […] create this kind of intimacy that’s not out of fear, but out of love. It doesn’t have to be in a soft way — it can be heavy and intense as well. But I don’t think it’s dark.” Take ‘A Season in Hell’ or ‘Tenderloin Tanz’ from A Satin Sight, her most recent release on Bedouin Records, next to the ambient track she produced with HVAD for a PAN compilation. The difference is less of a contradiction and more an illustration of the range of intensities of sound that Daijing explores.
And indeed, despite the rather serious and dark atmosphere that night at FIBER, a festival for “audiovisual art, digital culture and electronic music” Daijing’s performance—the last of the day—felt, rather fittingly, like a lullaby, even as faintly carnal gasps, groans and moans came into the fold. The layers of sound, soothing in effect, and the almost non-human visual and audio elements create an immersive sensation that both keeps your on edge and lulls you into a trance-like state. Tension with a resolution.
This process, which she calls “psychoanalytic” and “like therapy for me”, begins with the body. “For me music is definitely like the most physical thing, from the first time I got into it. Cause this kind of straight, physical attack is kind of unavoidable—which is an extremely powerful thing.” Her use of the physicality of noise itself—more evident on Sex & Disease, released on Noisekölln Tapes in 2015—is a resolutely material approach to music that challenges any notion of music as a universal or even particularly ‘human’ language. “I do not relate the body to human much. Like when we talk about sexuality, it doesn’t have to relate to sex, it can be philosophical, so for me the body is a kind of media. It helps transforms things in different ways just like sound. When you take music as a form of art, it just transmits messages through sounds—that’s what the body does. It’s a tool for us to communicate with.”
Despite the facts that her movements—from quick disappearances behind the booth to brief, repetitive gestures—are carried out with precision, for the last year and half improvisation has been the basis of Daijing’s approach to performance. “Most of my performance is about this real-time interaction with the audience.” Improvisation, of course, takes practice: “I feel like the more I practice the more patient I get. I don’t force things to happen or want it too much, try too hard—I feel like I just kind of open a door.” The spatial element here is not unimportant—always working contextually, Daijing notes that space of the performance itself influences “how ready we are to receive this.”
‘This’ is not a particular message, per se, but rather an experience. “I try not to feed any information […] It’s more like I like to invite the people that I share the time, that moment, with to create something together.” There’s a saying in Chinese that describes what she aims for: “It means to just touch the surface of the water, and the wave goes really wide. That’s what I want to do as well. I don’t want to put my finger inside the water, I just want to touch it.” This mode of touching can be uncomfortable, disturbing even—perhaps moreso at some of her other performances than this evening’s—and so fittingly, she adds: “I want to trigger.”
Though she doesn’t have many tools nor see herself as a “gear fetishist,” Daijing is on intimate terms with the tools she does use. “They have become extensions of myself. […] The gear I use is also super intuitive, it’s not really something you can preprogram—you have to do it live. I always get touched or amazed by how powerful this is, so also for me every time it’s an exciting process.” Among these, her voice is a particularly privileged tool: “I don’t really do sampling work, I just compose on the machine live. Everything for me is physical, it’s me, it’s personal, what you hear, it’s me, there.” Diamanda Galas, Daijing’s favorite vocalist, showed her how vocalists can develop their own voice, in both senses of the word: “I think that’s why she’s so powerful—because her voice is her. I’m sure she can sing other ways as well but the way she uses her voice, it’s her.” For next project, due to come out at the end of the year, Daijing wants to push this mode of vulnerability—which is at once also a form of strength—further: “I’m whispering to you and I’m screaming at you and that is just you and me.”
During Daijing’s performance that evening, the figure of the siren came to mind: I felt like I was being lured, gently, into something slightly sinister. But the siren is, of course, one of the oldest tropes in the narrative of female sexuality as dangerous, and such politics are not the source or target of Daijing’s performances.
“I don’t really consider gender as a very important role in my performance. I do think about feminine and masculine all this kind of things a lot, but not really in the gender-political context. And the aggressiveness or provocation I’m transferring is not really to that. It’s on a personal level, not on a political level. Because I prefer to have an intimate moment with the receiver instead of pushing them away.”
She admits, “definitely intimacy with strangers, it’s a political thing.” But her performances are not intended as overt political interventions, despite the temptation (including my own) to read them that way, given that she is a woman in a male-dominated industry. But she does not position herself that way: “I’m still super new to this and I hope in twenty years I still don’t know what the ‘music industry’ is. This is my goal. I don’t want to be a part of this.” She also hopes people come see her because of her music, and not because she’s a female artist. “I’m really careful. I think I’ve done the right thing not to put my gender in front of my work. I’m not hiding my biological gender but […] I’m not exaggerating on that, which is not really my focus.”
It’s not that Daijing rejects feminism, but rather the trend of feminism within music. “I personally feel it’s a little bit sad and frustrating that any trend is leading music. It should be the other way around: music should always come first.” And she’s also critical of the use of feminism as a kind of marketing strategy, which in fact can end up marginalizing female artists. “Instead of making all-female lineups, why don’t you make a female headliner with all male support acts – why do you have to have four guys and one girl opening or closing, or only female?”
Gender is not the only way in which the decks can be unevenly stacked. “I mean, I do look different because I’m in Europe now but I don’t want that to be the matter. I feel it’s a little bit sad but I have to admit that it’s easier for some people to do what they do because of who they are, but I don’t want to think that way.” Partially because she feels “lucky” to perform and share her work, but also because it inhibits the creative process.
“When I perform at least, I don’t want to over-think about everything I do, I just want to get into this trance and […] forget about my existence […] and I can’t think about political issues at that point. I can think about it in advance, and in my records, in my projects in my other art stuff I transmit it in a different way but in that moment – the moment – I just want this vulnerable, loving, intensity – it’s like making love with someone and that is like the best moment you have. And it’s beautiful, and I just want something like that.” And believe me: it’s sex like you’ve never had before.