Imagine an eco-resort in Malaysia’s Berembun jungle that doubles up as a recording studio, boasting names like Daedelus, Modeselektor and Kode9 in its guestbook? It sounds like paradise, but to German-born producer Christian Schwanz, aka CEE, it’s just home.
Well, home and work. During the several years that hes lived there, CEE has fostered a micro-climate of tropical creativity at The Dusun. Projects like Soundlab and The Dusun Sessions have sparked collaborations between musicians from all over the world, including CEE’s own Bass Sekolah project with local artist Darren Ashley.
CEE’s latest release comes under his own name, although it features a typically diverse roster of contributors. The ‘diversions 01’ EP, released on August 18th via Dubai label 264 Records, includes guests from Singapore, Poland, New York and beyond (check out ‘Pilunja’, featuring Najwa Mahiaddin & reesh9000, below).
We caught up with CEE to find out more about The Dusun and the sonic adventures it’s spawned…
What exactly is the jungle studio?
It’s actually a little resort called The Dusun. A family business one hour away from Kuala Lumpur at the fringe of the Malaysian rainforest. Over the past couple of years more and more music friends stopped over while touring Asia and collaborations kept happening. Electronic Beats dubbed it “jungle studio” last year in a little feature about our first CD we released called THE DUSUN SESSIONS. The piece went viral and the name stuck.
How did you end up in the jungle?
Love and music. Tour life. My wife is Malaysian and 7 years ago I moved from Vienna to Kuala Lumpur. We didn’t feel the city life that much and were lucky enough to build a little house and then another little house on a piece of land that my in-laws own. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in Malaysia. Our place is like a free little country, which is super important to me. I need to feel free and safe, which is not the most normal thing to achieve in this country, to be honest. But that’s another story.
Back then could you have imagined what an institution it would become?
Never. I mean I was always very close to nature. I come from the North of Germany. From the coast. City life is great too, but this is a dream come true. It’s also not always easy to be this close to nature. It can be dangerous: too hot, too wet, too hazy, but it’s still our best option, right now. We are raising our kids there. And grandma lives there as well.
For THE DUSUN SESSIONS I mainly worked with music friends. Phon.o, Perera Elsewhere, Housemeister, Daedelus,…. and I got Darren Ashley involved. Together we started Bass Sekolah, which is now on ice. But to be honest, everything happened very naturally because I am also the booking agent for the artists on THE DUSUN SESSIONS. The idea was to not push things and see if we can come up with something in a few off days while the artists were touring Asia. It didn’t work out with all the musicians visiting, but that was also never the aim. Keep things flowing.
What happens when electronica producers work in the heart of the jungle? How does their music and attitude change?
Anyone who ever had the chance to come to THE DUSUN was always flashed by the natural level of jungle noise. All these critters just never shut up and that was something very new to all my friends. Some expected more melodies and not “just” noise, but yeah…. it all comes in waves. You gotta get up early to hear the birds for example. Later on the crickets start, when it gets hot. At night the frogs go nuts. That always had an impact on the musicians and producers. Kode9 and I talked about the role of these high frequencies and how the brain is more active while experiencing such a wall of sound.
Do you have a favorite session or song? Tell us a bit about it.
I am super happy with the overall outcome. ‘Withdraw’ is very dear to me, because I just knew I wanted to work with Nadia Reid, but I wasn’t so sure how we can make sure that she keeps her zone and who she is, and musically, me as well. I never thought I could produce a song like that. I would love to do more stuff in this direction.
What’s the scene like in Asia? What are some of the problems that it faces and how could they be overcome?
Its growing. Which is very exciting and of course great to be part of this growth. A project like SoundLab really manages to connect the region, which is super important. Asia, like any other place, has a lot of talent, but I think that for a while people here didn’t know their position in the global music scene. Asia, like other parts of the world, was neglected. People created amazing things, but sometimes they were just copies of things they discovered in the Western media. They also didn’t get the right platforms, the right places to perform and make their very own thing. An exception was always Japan. That was a world of its own, for ages. But other parts of Asia were still trying to find their voice, without copying something else that’s really good. This is changing quickly. People run their own independent clubs, record labels, have crews. Over the next five years things are gonna explode, I am sure. Festivals in the west will make sure to have Asian artists on the line-up.
Where are some of the electronica hotspots in Asia?
India is a hotspot, for sure. They have festivals like Magnetic Fields, blogs like Wild City or crews like Krunk. They also have the huge festivals like Tomorrowland, etc. I always admired the scene in China, a club like Shelter is something so unique and universal. It could be anywhere, really. I mean that in a good way. The B-Sides in the Philippines is strong and so is Jase in Vietnam, they’ve been running things for ages. The scene is supportive and has local key players doing their thing. But it also depends what kind of music we are talking about. Indonesia has a whole bunch of super cool and crazy rock and punk bands.
So what’s next for the jungle studio? And for you?
I am keen to start a little residency program, but that’s still a dream at this point. I am also releasing a solo EP very soon. Stay tuned for that. I also started touring solo again and that’s a lot of fun. My wife and I are expecting another baby, so I will need to slow things down again soon. But we all know that I can never stop this music thing.
Photo by Nikt Wong