Laughing Ears on new album Blood
Shanghai-based producer Laughing Ears takes a tale from Norse mythology as the inspiration for her second album, Blood – she tells us why that story resonated with her and how it influenced the album
The ways in which we process grief can often take unexpected turns. For Shanghai-based producer Li Jingping, aka Laughing Ears, it was the expansive and very strange world of Norse mythology she turned to for answers following the death of her uncle last year.
On her second album, Blood, she explores the theme of blood ties in relation to the character of Fenrir, a giant wolf born to the demoniac god Loki, who is bound in chains from birth due to fears of his strength and inherited evil from his father. An image of Fenrir is interpreted on the artwork for Blood, created by Brooklyn-based artist Nic Symbios, where he can be seen in all his menacing glory under the light of a full moon; all demon-eyed, fangs-bared, and chained to a rock.
Li draws comparisons between the story of the binding of Fenrir and her uncle’s lifelong battle with alcohol addiction, which eventually resulted in her family committing him to a psychiatric hospital where he died by suicide. “I relate Fenrir to my uncle because they were both in the same situation in some way,” she says. “Fenrir and his family have always been enemies of the Protoss [an ancient race who consider themselves to be the firstborn race of the universe]. The Protoss is like the attitude and tolerance limitation of society towards marginalised people like my uncle.
“It was not my family’s intention to lock my uncle in a psychiatric hospital. It was just that he could not live on his own and would still drink and cause trouble, so he was forced to enter the hospital,” she continues. “I don't want to complain or criticise anything about society or others. I just want to express that those who are imperfect and incomplete are also pure, and will always be loved and treasured.”
A video game sound designer by day, Li’s interest in these sorts of otherworldly tales makes a lot of sense, as does the decision to release Blood on experimental, Mexico City-based record label Infinite Machine. The otherworldly influence, naturally, extends across the sound of the album, with the fragmented beats and soundscapes very much in keeping with the stylings of the label’s previous releases from the likes of Bwana, Ziúr and Liar.
There’s a harshness and a coldness to many of the album’s tracks, particularly on title track Blood and the pounding Murderous Means, but the album’s punk leanings can be heard in full effect on the magnificently dark Buona Fortuna, which sounds like it could be an offcut from a Death Grips release. “[With the] sound design, I like to see what happens if I play with all the knobs at once, from all the oscillators to the effects ratios, and I try not to think in a musical way,” says Li.
Made between her home and work studio over the course of last year, the album started to take shape while the COVID pandemic was unfolding across the world, “both before and after [China’s lockdown],” she says. While here in the UK we continue to live in a world of COVID limbo, back in yet another nationwide lockdown, over in Shanghai and across China some sort of normality has returned.
Clubs have been allowed to reopen across China but with travel bans still in place the line-ups have become more localised, with the usual big-name international bookings unable to tour around the world. “The situation in Shanghai is pretty good right now,” says Li. “The government banned big events like music festivals... [but] most of the clubs in China are back open and because there are no bookings of international DJs and artists, local DJs are very active. I went to clubs not only in Shanghai but also in Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Beijing.”
A brief escape from reality can sometimes be all it takes to help us make sense of our own, and with plenty of time to escape during lockdown, by making Blood Li was able to come to terms with her uncle’s death while honouring his life at the same time.