Introducing the very talented and gorgeous Rainbow Chan! Rainbow is a musician, visual artist and academic living and working on Gadigal land, Sydney. She makes electronic music, which draws upon Western and East Asian pop cultures, language and heartbreak. Driven by a DIY spirit, Rainbow likes to combine catchy melodies and off-kilter beats made up of field-recordings and found sounds. She is also a passionate mentor and has worked with MusicNSW, I.C.E Parramatta, Hack Sounds and Bunga Barrabugu programs at Sydney Conservatorium where she lectures in Contemporary Music Studies.
In terms of Rainbows visual art practice, she makes large installations that feature video, music, painting and sculpture. She is currently researching women’s oral history, folk songs and language with a focus on her ancestral ties to Weitou people, the first settlers of Hong Kong.
We spent the morning with this passionate lady and chatted music, COVID, love lives and fashion!
Wearing Cecilia Dress
When did you first start making music? Did you always want to pursue music?
I started writing music in high school as a way to deal with the intense emotions that we feel in our teenage years. It was also a strategy to charm my crushes haha. I was very academic at school – I remember my career’s adviser said it would be a waste for me to study music instead of something like medicine or law. But I gained a sense of purpose and confidence through performing my original music so I decided to pursue a creative path at uni, where I majored in music and English. During this time, I started making bedroom demos and sending them to community radio. I played small gigs around campus and local bars. It wasn’t always easy but I don’t regret a thing!
Wearing Esther Dress
How do you think your music has evolved since starting out?
My music is intricately tied to my personal experiences, so my songs have inevitably changed over the course of the last decade. I would say that aesthetically, the sound has become more expansive as my technical skills have improved. Thematically, I am not afraid of exploring wider socio-political issues in my lyrics now, rather than just singing about love. It was also a little nerve-wracking to start writing music in Cantonese, Mandarin and most recently, Weitou, which is the dialect of my mother. However, I think there’s spirit of curiosity and intrigue in my music which remains the same.
There are quite a lot of layers to your songs, do you come up with all these sounds or do you work with other people on this?
I write, perform and produce everything myself. There are a few songs which feature collaborators but in terms of the production and arrangement, it is just me. I come up with these ideas by collecting everyday sounds on my phone and turning them into beats and textures in my song. I write both on the computer and on live instruments like piano, guitar and saxophone. I was classically trained so have a background in understanding harmony, rhythm and musical structure. But this training also means that I know how to bend or break the rules, which is what I enjoy more.
Wearing Natasha Mini Dress
How has COVID affected your life as a musician?
It’s been difficult as my live performances and artist residencies have been cancelled or postponed. But I’m relatively lucky because I still have my teaching job at university and have been commissioned for virtual performances. I can’t complain too much, really!
Have there been any positive outcomes from COVID? Has it helped you creatively at all?
It’s allowed me to slow down and write quieter songs. I haven’t played guitar in years but I found myself gravitating towards the instrument again and focusing on lyrics. Having limitations imposed on you can actually generate more creative flow so I am leaning into the isolating aspects of COVID and writing a lot of songs about distance and entering my 30s.
What’s your personal style of dressing? Do you have a go to look for performing?
I’m quite a petite person so I love boxy and drapey shapes as a contrast to my small frame. When I’m performing, I love a good pair of wide leg pants. They give me the freedom to dance around and they always look striking on stage.
Where do you see Rainbow Chan heading in the future?
I want to build a sustainable creative practice which facilitates other emerging and/or underrepresented voices. I want to build on my role as a curator of live performances, as a creator of story-telling platforms and as a mentor in electronic production and song-writing. I’ll always be making pop music and performing on stage. But moving forward, I’m more and more interested in taking on a bigger role behind the scenes and building community.
Photos by Kaitlyn Bosnjak