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Chi Lei:Not Just a Punk

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2016-05-21 13:52

“Rock music has had a very big impact on my life. One of the biggest impacts is that it let me open myself up and helped me to understand the meaning of freedom and independent creative spirit. It let me fall in love with free art creation.” Chi Lei first rose to prominence with his band Faint Fever and his series work Five Star Guest House which gained popularity online. This 35-year-old has such a long back catalogue of work that it’s an effort to list them all: he had his own album, his own magazine, he had done design and art, and opened his own company; he even represented a car brand. While most people would not even do one of those things in their entire life time, Chi Lei somehow does them all - when asked for the reason, he explains that it’s because he is fearless. 


He started his band Faint Fever in 1999 and dropped out of school soon after because he found the rigid education system unbearable. A year later, Faint Fever released their debut self-titled album which became his initial cry and catharsis from his discontent with the world. This album was listed as ‘No.1 Underground Album’ by Popular Music Magazine. 

“I have an OCD personality but I believe that sometimes obsessive personalities pushes civilization forward! Once I have a clear goal, I want perfection!” His works are full of graffiti-style images - he combines photography with painting, and weird ironic surrealism with pop art. Using symbolic language of rebellion to express his ironic attitute, his works cross many fields from painting, film, installation to fashion. Once new work of his come out, they would spread quicking online and controversy inevitably follow in their wake. 


Chi Lei has cooperated with many superstars and celebrities during the course of his work. But no matter how overexposed they are already, Chi Lei has the uncanny ability to bring out a previously unknown side of them through his photos. When Chi Lei was doing photography for Director Zhang Yuan, during the plan conception, he proposed naked photography. Zhang Yuan said: “Even though I know that I’m a fatty, but I wanted to support the young generation with their art, so, surprisingly, I agreed without much hesitation.” The unusual collaboration yielded some great results. Musician Zuo Xiao Zuzhou said, “Chi Lei’s work has a strong sense of formality and a modern electronica taste.” Art critic Jian Cui comments: “Chi Lei’s works describe how I see this world too. A world that is surrounded by Chinese people who have all kinds of different ideas. All those thoughts and methods that provoked the world from 1970s, from Jamie Reid and Jean-Michel Basquiat, all the artists with the origin of punk wouldn’t hide their thoughts and opinions. That’s exactly what Chi Lei did. When the sounds of rock mixed into the noise and subway and fashion, then let your senses be stimulated - welcome to the world of Chi Lei.” 


VANTAGE: Let’s talk about the celebrities that you have worked with. It seems that you can always get the new side of them. I wonder among all of those people, who impressed you the most? 

Chi Lei: Honestly I don’t have much particular impression. I just hope that I can have more initiative every time so I can create interesting things. I don’t want to be the worker just clicking behind the camera. 


VANTAGE: I remember when the Five Star Guest House became very popular online, I wonder, where did the motivation for that artwork come from? 

Chi Lei: The motivation was very simple. It was just for our own magazine, we created this China-themed series. This messy society is a very rich source for inspiration. I represented it in a dark humor and added part of film story telling. We didn’t actually expect it to be so popular online. 

VANTAGE: As for the artworks Chi Lei, Lover’s Skin, and Domestic Mad House, what issues did you intend to express? 

Chi Lei: I think the series of Domestic Mad House had quite direct expression. For people of my age, “domestic” is quite an interesting word, like Stephen Chow’s movie From Beijing with Love, it is humorous, playful, cruel, and nonsensical. In the translation for the title, I just directly used “Local”. The people in the film are just ordinary people in our daily lives, they were not mad people but they were sick. I wanted to create this film because I saw something in the social news about these so-called “mental patients”. However, in art creation, I don’t want to be too political, that’s not my intension. So I thought, why don’t I do something interesting? So I wanted to use a comparatively popular method to express those characters like “green scarves”, “five bars”, “money-worshiping stars”, “governors”. I hope to let young people of my age enjoy it and find it interesting even if they don’t know anything about art. 


VANTAGE: So about your Logo design for Midi Festival, lots of people thought it looked more of a sign for environmental organization rather than “Rock ’n’ roll”. What would you say about this? 

Chi Lei: Rock ’n’ roll is not only about black, white, and red, or a derivative skeleton motif! I think the biggest difference between Midi and other commercial music festivals is about the culture that it is carrying. It’s more like a legend. Its significance is not comparable. So in consideration, you cannot just use a rock ‘n’ roll sign. The green butterfly is the combination of two guitar picks, which is the very basic symbol of Rock ’n’ roll. On top of that, a butterfly from guitar picks also symbolizes how it carries a hope and infinite energy. So in my opinion my design was right. 


VANTAGE: In the album Waiting for Curtain Call, there seems to be a bit of a Primus influence in the bass line. 

Chi Lei: At the time we didn’t have developed internet so if you wanted to listen to music, you needed to rely on tape or CD. The band Primus really resonated with me so they had a big influence on my music creation. Also most of the songs were created by me and I am heavier on the bass. I was actually listening to them yesterday and I think their music is just like my mind - strange but interesting. I don’t know if this band influenced me or because I am a different person myself but I believe this is all arrangement of God. Everything is just so accurate and perfect. 

VANTAGE: A lot of people are saying the print media is on its way out and new media is taking over. As an experienced expert in this industry, what do you think about it? 

Chi Lei: It’s just the media having a more suitable carrier. New media will definitely become the main stream. So, in my opinion, this is the inevitable change of an era. However, in this world everyone has his or her own preferred way of getting information, so the future of the media will surely be more diversified. All I need to do is to have a good plan for my audience. 

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