- Rochelle Beiersdorfer
Pretty Cold Summons a Storm of Dark Wave and Dance in Beijing
In this Temper Fact Checker, we dive into the dark depths of dance music with Beijing’s Pretty Cold, a cold wave DJ collective that is heating up the capital's nightlife.
See the China Temper posting with minor edits here.
Want to indulge in some Pretty Cold? Check out Edna and Kyle Page’s Mixcloud accounts here and here, respectively.
All photos courtesy of Pretty Cold.
Pretty Cold is a DJ coven that brews soundscapes that bewitch the mind and gets the body moving. Think discotheque and grimoires joined forces. Unlike their moniker, there’s nothing bitter or standoffish about the aural collages that Pretty Cold concocts.
A soundscape from any of Pretty Cold’s DJs is aural art of astral proportions. Usually over 40-minutes long, a track from any of Pretty Cold’s triad takes you on a journey of twists and turns where the bizarre can be anticipated. Actually, it’s preferred. “I like to keep things as weird as possible while not completely emptying the dance floor,” Xuran, a DJ originally from Holland and the last to join Pretty Cold, states, “ideally, every song has some kind of surprise element to it, to keep some kind of tension throughout the set.”
Coalescing elements of post punk, industrial, gothic rock, cold wave, EDM (electronic dance music), minimal synth, sound clips, et cetera, there’s a lot going on in any tune constructed by the trio. But regardless of what songs or electronic fuzz they decide to utilize, there’s only two objectives that inspire what goes into a set: to spread underground, unknown music to the masses and to play stuff they personally enjoy. “I’ve always seen my role as a DJ as being primarily curatorial,” says Kyle Page, co-founder and an American national who has called Beijing home since 2004, “I just want to share the history of the music I love best. The parties I’ve been involved with have all been about advancing types of music that weren’t getting much airplay in China whether that was indie rock and dancepunk in the 2000s or cold wave now. I’ve always been more interested in DJs that play good songs as opposed to technical wizards who seamlessly mix lots of generic dance music. I just want to play the music that I want to dance to.” Xuran concurs, saying a DJ’s personal preference in music is a vital “asset.” “To me, going to see a DJ who mixes boring music together seamlessly on a very nice sound system is not much different from your parents buying an even newer, bigger television to watch the same braindead shows in even higher definition.”
Pretty Cold’s soundscapes are anything but mindless loops of trendy beats orchestrated by a technical whiz kid. For example, Edna, co-founder of Pretty Cold, strategically weaves sonic patchworks of edgy yet melancholic songs and glitchy, electronic sounds to compose soundscapes that possess a strong transcendental ambiance. Similarly, Kyle Page’s works are club anthems that will sweep you onto the dance floor with their strong 80s industrial vibes that are so danceable you’ll be, at the very least, finding yourself bopping to the count.
Like the patternization of ice crystals in snowflakes, every DJ in Pretty Cold has their own unique backstory.
“I never really found my kind of party or place where I could enjoy the kinda music I like... this was the case everywhere I’ve lived,” confesses Edna, a native of Mexico’s and Texas’ borderlands, “I always wanted to have a space to share and enjoy music with like-minded humans. I guess this is what triggered me to start, to fulfill my own personal desire. I’ve never DJ’ed in my life until I met Kyle and had to learn how to use the machines…in one day for our first show.”
“After I moved to Beijing I started hanging out at Waterland Kwanyin a weekly experimental night at the sadly long gone 2 Kolegas Bar,” Kyle replies when asked about his personal voyage with DJing, “I met some guys from Tag Team Records there who were doing a biweekly Indie music party. They had heard that I had been doing community radio in the states and asked if I wanted to fill in on a few dates. Pretty much since then I’ve either been part of a local party or working on my own stuff.”
Xuran’s origin story, unlike Kyle’s and Edna’s, commenced long before finding himself in Beijing. “I started DJing when I was 16 or 17, …when goth music was making a short-lived revival in Holland.” Xuran recalls, “back then I was complaining online about the music played at goth clubs, and some DJs took notice and took me under their wings. I was a resident DJ at a few parties in Amsterdam and Rotterdam…[before] I moved to Beijing.” Xuran joined Pretty Cold in 2018 when he was “informed by Edna to be 'one of us’ just a few minutes after introducing” himself. “The rest is history.”
The history of Pretty Cold, as a DJ collective, didn’t start to crystalize until 2016 when Edna got a reply from Kyle in a group chat for a “well-known live music bar.” “One day I just mentioned that someone should start a ‘dark-wave, cold-wave, post-punk’ party, and of course nobody backed me up” Edna tells Temper, “I wasn’t really serious about it until Kyle Page commented back agreeing to my silly suggestion.” Soon after they had their debut gig at Temple Bar “as after-party DJs” and since then have been blanketing both Beijing and Shanghai in bleak aural minimalism that you can rave to, of course.
MUSIC AND FASHION
“I certainly think the expectation is that they [music and fashion] are deeply linked, but it’s weird to me that we think a sound has to look a certain way,” says Kyle when recollecting about once annoying a reporter because he showed up wearing a floral shirt and not meeting her expectations of how a goth DJ should look, “I guess just being a DJ that plays that kind of music wasn’t enough. I think she would have felt more comfortable if I slept in a coffin and had a spider web tattooed on my face.”
When asked about what fashion means to them, the trio unanimously agrees that it’s a tool used to express something, albeit group inclusion/exclusion, both, or some personal message to the world. “…other than covering up the body, it’s a way to make oneself feel apart from each other, and [send] some kinda message to…others, I guess,” responds Edna.
The message that Pretty Cold portrays to the world when performing is one of function. “I go for more comfy fashion choices,” continues Edna, “I know I’ll be dancing like crazy for more than 6 hours. I wear what I would wear anywhere…. I’ve been asked many times by some, what I wear when I DJ, (maybe they have this idea of a girl DJing in extravagant latex clubwear?) I tell them I wear my work clothes.”
But the notion of what is fashion extends farther than just the physical, at least for Kyle. “…I think there is also a kind of sonic fashion that transcends the visual,” he declares, “I think that's what coldwave is –a kind of aural ideal that [unites] people within the dictates of its themes and signs. If coldwave makes you dance then you are very fashionable to me.”
For those who haven’t descended into the dark underbelly of electronic music, cold wave is a subgenre that formed in Europe during the late 70s/early 80s. It combines elements of post punk and electronic music. It is closely related to other musical dissidents such as dark wave, new wave, electronica and industrial metal. #TemperTeachings
Pretty Cold’s eternal icy burrow is Beijing where they frequently bring the house down at Dada Bar, a Beijing haven for electronic music and cultural events on the fringe.
Want to be chilled to your core with hot beats? Unfortunately, due to the resurgence of coronavirus cases in China, specifically in Beijing, you’ll have to wait because Pretty Cold, as of posting, has no gigs planned. But no need to boil over, just keep an eye on their official WeChat account for news on their next gathering.
We all have a taste for the avant-garde and the dismal. When it comes to quenching this inclination, Pretty Cold delivers by channeling the absurd with the obscure. A track from Pretty Cold has no generic rime and reason, instead fusing a plethora of underground music genres and electronic grooves to produce sound-worlds that are grungy, haunting and frostbitten. To put it another way, they’re icy sonic prisms of song and static to get lost in. And just like a winter’s morning, they’re invigorating by getting the body moving and the blood pumping.
So, escape the blistering pandemonium that is modern life and plunge into a cool meditation. After all, we all need a cooldown here and there. Time to submerge in sonic shadows and “make this world colder.”