​An Interview with 3He, China’s IDM Virtuoso


3He is the best IDM artist you’ve never heard before. Unless of course, you caught his mind-blowing set at SXSW 2019 during the Cao Tai Music Showcase. A music industry veteran, 3He (real name Ge Fei) graduated from the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in the 90s and has been producing electronic music since 2006. Since founding Cao Tai Music in 2009, Ge Fei has been knee deep in both managing the label and producing his music. 3He (short for Helium-3) and his unique brand of IDM combines skittish beats and tinselly synths, drawing influence from his vast musical knowledge that ranges from the Chinese folk music he grew up with to his IDM contemporaries at Warp Records. We had the wonderful opportunity to interview him about his music and the Chinese indie scene. Check out the interview, in both Chinese and English, below:

James Gui: 你是怎么开始做音乐的?你从小知道你以后要当一个制作人吗?

JG: How did you get started with making music? Did you know you wanted to become a music producer when you were little?

Ge Fei: 我很小就喜欢音乐,我的外公和爸爸都喜欢演奏民乐,二胡笛子这些,我妈妈喜欢唱歌,在我初中的时候我的舅舅学习吉他,我很喜欢,就跟着他学,那个时候也刚刚是台湾流行音乐盛行的时代,我非常喜欢听收音机,看mtv,后来大学的时候开始玩乐队,我当时很喜欢英伦摇滚乐,radiohead是影响我很深的乐队,我大约是在2000年左右开始接触电子音乐,一开始特别喜欢AIR,zero7,化学兄弟,这些相对比较主流的电子音乐,之前没有想过当一个制作人,但我从2000年开始使用Cubase制作音乐,直到2006年才开始正式做制作人。

GF: I’ve liked music since I was very little. My maternal grandfather and my dad both liked to play Chinese folk music, like the erhu (2-string fiddle) and dizi (bamboo flute). My mother enjoyed singing, and when I was in middle school my uncle started learning guitar; I really liked it, so I learned alongside him. At that time, Taiwanese pop music was just beginning to become widespread--I loved listening to the radio and watching MTV. Afterwards in college, I started to play in bands, and at the time I was into English rock bands--Radiohead is my biggest musical influence. Around the year 2000, I started getting into electronic music. At first I especially liked AIR, Zero 7, The Chemical Brothers, and other relatively mainstream electronic artists. I hadn’t thought about becoming a producer, but in the year 2000 I started using Cubase to produce music. I hadn’t become a serious producer until 2006.

JG: 你最近喜欢听什么样的音乐?

JG: What have you been listening to recently?

GF: 我最近主要在听一些比较老的音乐,包括warp公司早期的一些专辑,也听一些老的摇滚乐,例如Pinkfloyd,还有日本的音乐。

GF: I’ve mostly been listening to relatively old music, including early Warp Records albums. I’m also listening to old rock artists, for example Pink Floyd, and also some Japanese music.

JG: 你当草台回声的创造者,也当音乐制作人,应该挺忙吧?

JG: You’re the founder of the indie label Cao Tai Music, and also a producer. How do you juggle the two?

GF: 我是精力比较旺盛的一个人,我几乎每天下班回家会在打开设备玩上2-3小时,后来我发现,这对我来讲是一个很好的休息,在音乐里的那些时间我会沉浸其中,忘掉其他所有事情,这很有意思。

GF: I’m a person who is relatively vigorous and full of energy. Almost every day after I get home from work, I’ll be messing around with beats for about 2-3 hours. After a while I realized that this is, to me, a really good way to unwind and relax. When I’m immersed in the music, I forget about everything else, and it’s very fun!

JG: 你最喜欢吃的菜是什么?

JG: What is your favorite food?

GF: 作为一个四川人,我离不开川菜,除此之外,粤菜是我可以接受的,但川菜是不能没有的。

GF: As someone from Sichuan, I cannot be without Sichuan food. Cantonese food is also acceptable, but I can’t live without Sichuan food.

JG: 你对中国indie music 有什么印象?最喜欢的新音乐对是哪个?

JG: What is your impression of Chinese indie music? Do you have a favorite new artist?

GF: 我觉得中国的indie music经过了20多年的发展,尤其是互联网带来全球的音乐资讯,中国音乐人从早期的模仿,到独立原创性,慢慢地开始形成自己的风格,虽然整体上还不算很有体系,也还没有出现足以影响到全世界的音乐人,但我感觉也快了,因为我身处在中国的音乐环境里,这几年变化很大,年轻人很有热情去做自己喜欢的音乐风格,他们有很多奇妙的想法。这几年让我眼前一亮的新乐队是秘密行动Stolen,他们这一次因为签证原因没有来到sxsw,但他们的音乐真的是很棒。

GF: I think that after 20 years of growth, especially with the help of the Internet, Chinese bands have come from imitating others to producing their own independent and original sound. A unique style has gradually become to take shape. Although as a whole the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet, and there haven’t been any bands with global influence, I feel like it’ll happen in no time. I’ve been surrounded by the Chinese music scene, and the changes have been vast these past few years. A lot of passionate young people are making music with their own style, with their own fantastic ideas. The band that’s caught my eye in the past few years is Stolen (秘密行动). This year they couldn’t come to SXSW because of visa issues, but their music is really great.

JG: 除了Aphex Twin 以外,你也喜欢哪个IDM artists?

JG: Aside from Aphex Twin, what other IDM artists do you like?

GF: 除了Aphex Twin,像µ-ziq,Squarepusher,Autechre也都挺喜欢。

GF: I also like artists like µ-ziq, Squarepusher, and Autechre.

JG: 你希望你的音乐可以让听众感到什么?

JG: What do you hope people will feel after listening to your music?

GF: 电子音乐最让我着迷的是我一个人沉浸其中,不需要跟其他乐手配合,我喜欢这样的独立感觉,我可能听音乐,玩乐队太久了,电子乐的时候,我总是要寻找尽可能不太一样的声音和结构,我希望我的音乐能让听众感受到一些他们没有听过的声音和节奏。

GF: I’m most captivated by the ability of electronic music to immerse me within its sound, without needing to conform or coordinate with other artists. I like this kind of independent feeling--maybe I’ve listened to music, played in bands for too long! When I’m making electronic music I’m always seeking out sounds and structures that are as diverse as possible, so I hope my audiences can encounter sounds and rhythms they’ve never heard before through my music.

JG: 你在SXSW有什么特别的经验吗?今年跟去年一样吗,还是有些差别?

JG: Have you had any special experiences at SXSW? Has this year been different from last year?

GF: 今年SXSW草台回声主办了厂牌showcase,在遥远的美国办这样一个活动对我们来说是一次很可贵的经验,我们感受到奥斯汀当地人的热情,我们团队都很喜欢这个城市,还有今年的展览,我很喜欢一些新的科技应用,日本馆给我印象很深,他们的3d打印寿司,机器宠物都很有意思,让我感觉很未来。SXSW每一年都很有特色,我希望明年能继续来。

GF: This year, Cao Tai Music organized its own showcase. For us, hosting an event in a place as distant as America was a really precious experience. We felt the passion and hospitality of the Austin locals, and our bands all really like this city. Furthermore, from this year’s exhibition I really liked some of the new technology showcases. The Japan exhibit had a deep impression on me: the 3-D printed sushi and robotic pets were all very fascinating, and made me feel like I was in the future. SXSW is special every year, and I hope that I can come again next year.

JG: 你作曲的时候有什么样的想法?

JG: What goes through your head when you’re composing music?

GF: 大约七八年前,我完全投入电子音乐创作以来,几乎完全改变了以前的作曲方式,尤其是开始使用模块合成器之后,突然有一天我意识到电子音乐最有意思的地方,或许那就是它的本质吧,是创作者(人)和机器之间的某种神奇的交互,事实上,我现在已经很少主动的基于某个预先构想的动机去创作,更多的时候是打开设备,在不同的调制下去发现机器创造的声音和节奏,我跟着它去产生和建立音乐的结构,我现在很少去关注这个曲子是什么key,什么速度,很多音都不在十二平均律之内,RANDOM的大量运用,让节奏也几乎每一小节都完全不同,这给了我很大的感官冲击和想象自由。

GF: About 7 or 8 years ago, when I starting throwing myself completely into making electronic music, I changed up my previous compositional style almost entirely, especially after I started using modular synths. One day, I suddenly realized the most interesting part of electronic music, or perhaps its essential quality: the mysterious synergy between producer and machine. In fact, nowadays I very rarely have a solidified concept in my mind beforehand. More often than not, when I open up my DAW, playing with different kinds of modulations I’ll discover the machine’s own sounds and rhythms, and work in tandem with the machine to produce and establish the structure of my music. Now I don’t really think about what key I’m in, or what tempo; a lot of my notes aren’t even in 12-tone equal temperament. It’s mostly random, and I allow the rhythm to be completely different in every segment as well. This gives me a huge sensory impact and freedom in imagination.

Thank you to Ge Fei for taking the time to do this interview! You can find his music on SoundCloud, Apple Music, and Bandcamp.


James Gui is a DJ for Record Hospital and The Darker Side. His TDS show airs every other Saturday from 9pm-10pm, and his RH show airs every week from 11pm-12am.