“I’m sure at least 30 per cent of the people that will come tonight will have never heard or seen anything like this before,” says London-based designer Yang Li. Known for his work in fashion, Li creates avant-garde, contemporary garments that have taken to runways across Europe, and in 2014, he was shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize that recognizes up-and-coming talent in the industry. But this evening something different is on display: the worldwide premiere of the performance installation Yang Li/Ve Human Mas/Chine.
“This installation allows basically any artist to plug into it to create a concert in a non-conventional space,” muses Li. He wears a long red jacket and moves swiftly and meticulously about Leisure Center in Yaletown before settling into the downstairs media area. Up on the main floor, the installation sits stoically; it is an oversized black box on wheels, made in collaboration with revered architect Olaf Kneer.
Made to look like an amp or storage trunk used by musicians on tour, the structure has the words “Music is a physical experience there is no substitute” splashed across its exterior, and inside, all the equipment—lights, speakers, switchboards—are readily available. In just a few hours, experimental musician Pharmakon will arrive at Leisure Center and take the stage, opening the trunk and bringing her abrasive vocals to the floor.
“This kind of music, you have to really go there and search for it. It’s not easy to be found,” explains Li, who adds that Pharmakon is a leader of the underground noise scene in New York. She creates space for the onlooker to integrate into the performance, her distorted vocals and stochastic chords easing those familiar with the industrial noise genre. But for new listeners, it likely creates a sense of discomfort. “It’s very confrontational,” says Li. “It’s quite brutal, even.”
Li believes that this type of foreign experience, whether that’s by way of the music or the clothing, will shock, excite, and spark a sense of curiosity. And in Vancouver, a city he considers quite sheltered and clean-cut, that’s all he asks for. “It needs provocation,” he says amusingly. “It needs a bit of corruption.”
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