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Lui Peng: “There’s definitely space for East Asian artists to thrive on a larger spectrum”

Today, Lui Peng premieres his music video for On My Mind. In this interview, he negotiates the cultural differences within his British-Chinese identity. In revisiting his connections with his grandfather in Wuhan and observing cultures in various regions, the recording artist explains that his Asia tour had brought him closer to something that was left aside for a long time.
Lui Peng: “There’s definitely space for East Asian artists to thrive on a larger spectrum”

by SAND Magazine

November 16, 2018

Do you remember distinctly the first time you thought about your cultural identity as a British East Asian?

Both of my parents are biologically from China. When I was little, I made great effort to fit in the UK and had placed my Asian roots aside. That happened for a long time as I was trying to absorb everything that was around me. It was only recently that I thought about reconnecting with my cultural roots.

One of my goals has always been to travel the world with my music. These days more often we have gotten enquiries from Asia – with labels from Korea wanting to license some of my music, for example. I saw this as an opportunity to take the plunge. I spoke to my managers and asked them if we could set up some shows or travel plans towards Asia, and they were amazing enough to be able to set up this tour.

You got back in touch with your granddad in Wuhan. Having moved to the UK since you were nine, was there anything much you recalled about the place prior to the recent trip? 

The environment that I was born in 25 years ago is very different now, as you can probably imagine. My last memory of the place was in 2010, and even since then everything I knew has changed so tremendously that it’s barely recognisable. It was really refreshing to be in a city that’s up and coming, and explore from an adult’s perspective where I’d go out and meet random people, visit family, see what Wuhan has to offer on my own accord – I’m quite an introverted person at heart, so I really enjoyed that.

Since I left the country at a young age, I haven't really gone back very much since. My mind is very integrated into the Western society and my lived experience in the UK. On a day to day, most people who see me expect me to speak Mandarin or behave very much ‘Asian’ because of how I look. Once they hear me speak, they definitely take more notice into what I have to say because I naturally speak in English and share a common way of interacting with any other person born or raised here.

Going back to Asia, where I’ve always felt quite detached from, has been a real eye opener. This was the first time in my adult life I properly observed what other people who look like me are achieving, and what they are about as people.

As someone of dual nationality, what are your thoughts about artists who try to strike a balance between Western and Asian-oriented sounds? We see that a lot with hip hop and rap music. What about pop songs?

To be honest with you, I don’t feel like it has been capitalised on a great deal. Yes, K-Pop artists have been leaning over and taking their successes from Korea to America. However, I don’t really think sounds from Asia have been a huge deal or at the forefront of media at all. Hopefully somewhere down the line, one day.

As for my own sounds, I’m trying to steer away from the ‘pop’ label-stereotype and just create music that I like from within instead of absorbing external influence. There’s definitely space for East Asian artists to thrive on a larger spectrum with markets looking for active Asian representation.

Artists in music who actively put their ‘Asianness’ at the forefront tend to adopt or own a certain aesthetic. Is that something you’ve questioned while thinking of your artistic identity?

Yes and no. Yes as I’ve done some research on what successful Asian artists like Dean and G-Dragon are doing. However I don’t really subscribe to that whole fashion-centric image, dance and big flashing lights type of aesthetic and performance. Given my personality, I’m drawn towards the laid-back, low key sort of setting where I’m not trying to be anyone apart from myself. I’m wearing clothes that I like, making sounds that I enjoy projecting and putting them together in a package that feels genuine to myself.

How did the video for On My Mind come about?

We were originally going to do a documentary-style video filled with scenes of all the different countries that I’ve visited in Asia. However, we didn’t actually film as much as we thought we might have. We did not get enough time to go the places we wanted to film at either. Even though we were in Singapore for four days, there was actually very little time due to shows and networking conferences.

So my videographer Chris and I adapted on the flight and decided to make use of Tokyo’s landscapes while we were in the city. We thought the song had an awesome night time vibe to it, and wanted to make the most out of the streets in the early hours of the day.

In songwriting, have you dealt with other topics aside from relationships?

Yeah. Girls and relationships have always been an easy point to write from, for me. That said, one of my songs Nocturnal was written from an entirely different point of view. It was about having euphoric experiences outside of love or courtships.

Everyone writes about love, and there are a billion and one examples on the Internet of people offering their own versions. These songs do really well because everyone can relate to the themes in their own ways but I’d like to explore other subject matter and tell stories from other experiences. I just have to storyboard these ideas and hone them.

Watch the video for On My Mind here 
More about Lui Peng here


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