Championing their ethos of educating, promoting and pushing the Drum & Bass genre on the eastern side of the globe, Unchained Aisa is a premium DNB label coming out of the Asiatic continent in the last 10 years.
Headquartered in both Shenzhen, China and Hong Kong, the label was established in 2018 by Lyndon Jarr and Daniel Power. With the help of their crew Kian Chong, Abby Yuen and Nick Gavin, Unchained has been home to some of the finest talents in Asia and Europe.
Unchained’s best trait is that it isn’t just Drum & Bass. Along with their DNB excursions, the label has been pushing supreme quality music that is in and between Half-time and Leftfield Bass.
Following the release of Sub Yao’s ‘Backwitda’ EP in 2018 to kick things off, Unchained Asia has hosted some huge names in the scene like Sinstarr, Kabuki, Rider Shafique, DJ Madd, Rohaan, Arkaik. While belting these releases, they brought the hottest Asian Drum & Bass talent, Radiax into the scene. In addition to releasing music, Unchained Asia also conducts regular activities such as producer mentoring, workshops, masterclasses, and DJ coaching through their “BiT Therapy” sessions.
We were keen to know more about Lyndon Jarr, one of the founders of Unchained Asia, who sat down with us for a candid conversation about the label’s inception, challenges pushing the genre in the continent, their rise to prominence and lots more.
- What inspired the idea of Unchained Recordings? How and when did it come about?
Lyndon: Some years back both Daniel and I began pushing events in Hong Kong and China in a big way. Most of the action was in China, especially Shenzhen the birthplace of the Oil club which is sorta like the bass music mecca of Asia you might say. We were getting a lot of traction and both Nick and Abby were a big part of this too. We really wanted to consolidate on the growth and interest in Drum and Bass. A label made sense as our ultimate dream was to help incubate more local Asian producers and raise as much awareness as we could to keep things moving.
- You guys run one of the finest labels in Drum & Bass but also the only label from Asia that is true to the sound. What time in the label’s tenure do you think was definitive in achieving this goal?
Lyndon: Ahh thanks so much, appreciate the acknowledgement!
Our vision was super clear well before we launched our first EP with Subp Yao – who has become like close family to us now!
Our vision hasn’t changed since day one.
I would say firstly it started with the individual musical passions of all of us – Daniel, Abby, Nick and myself – with Kian bringing in his influence more recently.
But more importantly, whilst our DNB roots were key driving forces, our vision was to bridge east-west culture – sounds a bit cliché but we’ve all had such incredible experiences in Asia – so it’s all very personal to us. Helping raise the bar and helping the progress of music in the region was our way of giving back.
At the same time, we want to keep exploring the inspiring new sounds that individual and non-consensus artists have to offer. I think our first release, and many since have demonstrated that our agenda isn’t particularly about chart hunting.
We also had in the background the fact that the fabric of underground music in China was richly influenced both Hip-hop and Trap. Whilst this wasn’t our native language, it still spoke to us, so Halftime was a good level of communication that both west, east and ourselves could embrace. Artists like Ivy Lab, Chimpo, Fracture, Fixate, Alix Perez and even some of the Wonkay artists were all inspiring examples.
- After a long hiatus, we have seen some serious injection of Drum & Bass artists from East and South-East Asia. What do you think has changed in the last few years?
Lyndon: I think there could be a lot of reasons – social media, more artists traveling in the region; I also think the new generation of youth are open-minded – they’re curious, they’re driven and they’re embracing underground music.
- We’re also big fans of the cyberpunk-y artworks of your releases. What was the idea behind it?
Lyndon: Dan saw a poster at club Dada in Shanghai for a night there – he showed it to us and said “I’ve found it!”……it didn’t take us long to reach a consensus that the vibe was on point! The poster was done by Tracy Chahwan – an artist gifted in telling her own stories and experiences through wonderfully rich stark aesthetics. Her unapologetic illustrations as well as her protest of issues like injustice, violence, prejudice, racism all struck a chord with us. Please look her up and support her if you are feeling it!
We use illustrations of the artists themselves on covers to help to put them more at the focus of attention – they’re the important ones in all of this, the label is nothing without their hard work and goodwill.
- What according to you were the challenges you guys faced while expanding the genre and Unchained’s reach in the region?
Lyndon: I think the main challenges we’ve had were staying motivated when life became confronting for us. Over the past few years, we’ve all had to work through a lot of things, even without Covid: illness in our family, death amongst friends, threats to our livelihood, not to mention our own emotional issues. It‘s just somehow worked out that when one of us went into a dark place someone else in the group could step in a keep pedaling – so I think we’ve been able to navigate by being supportive with each other.
In terms of events, Dan has been in charge of that end for a long time whilst I’ve been focusing on the label. He makes it all happen in China now. I am back in Australia spending time with mum right now, Kian is in the UK and Nick and Bee are in Hong Kong unable to cross the border to Oil Club in Shenzhen. So Dan has been carrying the flag over there since Covid began. We used to book international artists almost every month which was a huge shot in the arm for the scene – we can’t do that right now, so that will just have to wait. The flip side is that we get a chance to show off more local talent so there is a silver lining, we are proud of some of the younger lads coming up the rank.
- Similarly, with the Indian subcontinent where Drum & Bass exists in pockets but hasn’t blown up the way it has in other parts of Asia. What do you think needs to change?
Lyndon: Well there are some sick artists coming out of India now man so I get the idea things are about to crack. I hope so! I went to India a few times when I was younger and even started to get some tabla lessons – music is such a powerful force there!
To answer your question though, I had a long chat with my good friend who Neve pushes the scene in Italy with his wonderful crew at The Dreamers – his view was that growth always needs fresh young headz and I couldn’t agree more.
This means established artists, crews and promoters have more responsibility than anyone else to focus on helping new crews and artists. In China, most everyone work together and are on good terms. I don’t know what things are linked in India but my opinion is that if everyone works together and supports new talent and promoters then this is rich soil for a sustainable growing community. Either way, the pay it forward mentality is healthy and makes for a happy community.
- We’re big fans of how you diversify your catalogue with the perfect blend of Asian and European/American artists. Could you tell us more about your approach while scouting artists and your music?
Lyndon: I think this one is just about staying on the lookout for talent and then finding out what is important to them. Whilst demos are great, we are always looking for artists that match our vision and we hope to keep diversifying!
- You guys began the year in great fashion and now you seem like you’re about to close the year with a bang. Can you give us a glimpse into what we can expect from Unchained in the coming months?
Lyndon: Sure, we have Dead End about to drop his biggest EP ever in my opinion! Such a lovely guy and his music doesn’t have too many parallels for proper bass-driven halftime where music is at right now. We have a Vinyl EP by Zed Bias dropping before Christmas with two special guests collaborating with him Strategy and Mark Force (‘Bugz in the Attic’). We only have a limited run so for any collectors out there so the pre-order is up now, the pre-order is up now!
If you are a Drum & Bass head based in any part of Asia, get up and support the scene and be a part of Unchained Asia’s journey in taking DNB from the Asian continent to the world.