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A music producer, DJ and one of the co-founders of the electronic music label Natsume, Yagyu Ranzou is a man of many guises, and of many names: N9999, DJ SQIJ, Virtual Matsunichi, Caprice32, and the most notorious, NinjaBlade. Under the alias NinjaBlade, Ranzou manipulates various musical genres to create artistic club anthems. “NinjaBlade is a kind of weapon with ninja,” Ranzou tells Temper, “I am a ninja, [and] music is my weapon.”
The ninja persona isn’t just a gimmick. Yagyu Ranzou practices the way of the ninja, or ninjutsu [忍术|rěn shù]. “Ninja culture is my cultural foundation,” he states, “As far as I understand, ninja is more like a kind of religion. [It] cultivates your mind…and strengthens your body.”
As the nom de guerre implies, NinjaBlade constructs beats that are stealthy and sharp. With a strong hip-hop undertone, a NinjaBlade tune is an aural throwing star that fuses everything from electronic, house, pop and even Chinese folk. “When talking about DJing, there are many styles,” Ranzou emphasizes, “I like the uncertainty.”
This inclination for the ambiguous is most apparent in the musical compositions that Ranzou has released in the last few years under the moniker NinjaBlade. Expanding what artillery is at his disposable, these electronic beats are experimental and atmospheric blows that employ scripted dialogue, traditional Chinese melody, catchy beats and glitch-y, computerized instrumentals. In short, they’re a few minutes of sonic escapism that incite curiosity.
A newer aural assault entitled “腦刀BrainBlade” is a quintessential example of this, attacking your eardrums with such precision and sparking your imagination with a heavy tribal vibe. Through its twists and turns, it lures the body and mind to move and imagine.
Ranzou’s journey with music started like anyone else’s: he got his hands on some albums and listened to them. But unlike most music creators in China, his story doesn’t start with discovering western sensations in a pile of dakou. Ranzou’s exposure was self-inflicted when he purchased the pop classics Jay by Jay Chen and Visual Diary by Edison Chen. “After listening to these two albums, I simple knew that music would be my future job,” Ranzou recollects. With that, his musical voyage began in the early 2000s, starting with hip-hop and branching outward. The pseudonym NinjaBlade wasn’t coined until 2006 after two years of studying bass guitar. In 2010, he started DJing and in the last decade has co-founded a party crew (Sound Apes), experimental music outfit (Black Sheep Wall) and an independent electronic music label (Natsume).
With his own music, Ranzou’s sound has evolved from being hip-hop centric to pivoting towards more experimental and atmospheric styles, even venturing into playing around with harsh noises.
FASHION AND MUSIC
“I think they are both art and means of expression,” Ranzou responded when asked for his two mao on the connection between music and fashion, “what we wear is a part of self-expression.” From vintage football jerseys to pink/purple gradient braids, Ranzou uses his fashion sense, or “counter fashion sense” as he prefers to call it, to unabashedly express his individualism and love for football.
When DJing though, Ranzou mixes it up in a Natsume tee, his normal gig garb which he feels represents his and his label’s attitude. When he’s not adorned in retro sports memorabilia or repping his music label, he can be spotted in free swag. “…a few brands that think my temperament and their products really fit will send me some clothes and shoes, such as Dada Supreme, Reebok, Carven, etc.,” Ranzou says, “of course these [brands] are ones that I like, so I agree to wear [their products].” He goes on to say how the affair between music and fashion is a win-win situation. “They complement each other. For instance, Supreme does a lot of collaboration with hip hop artists,” Ranzou asserts, “a lot of people who wear the clothing style will then transition into loving the musical style.”
Based in Tianjin, you can occasionally find Ranzou in one of his many guises stalking the electronic music scenes of Beijing and elsewhere.
Ranzou’s next crusade (as N9999) will be on July 30th at CLASH撞 in Beijing (Chaoyang District).
With fascinating structures that are sometimes unorthodox, the sonic smokescreens that NinjaBlade drops will transport you to a realm of auditory delights, where anything goes and the ninja reigns. So, sit back, put on your headphones and check the shadows.