Benoit Florencon is a Shanghai photographer who recently put together an awesome documentary project on the city’s underground electronic music scene.  It’s called Inner Spaces, and features some of our favorite producers – (Jay.Soul, the Acid Pony Club, Empfab and Mia to name a few).  The busy dude was nice enough to give us a few hours of his time to discuss the project before running off to shoot AM444‘s new promo photos (look out for those!). Check out Inner Spaces on issuu here. How did Inner Spaces start? I’ve been in Shanghai for awhile, I’m connected to the music scene, I like those guys a lot, I wanted to do something that was beneficial to everybody.  And I’d never really done a full-on project for myself, it’s pretty much my first project.  I’d been shooting here and there and putting things together, but I’d never really had a ‘start, middle, finish’ type of project, so, it was sort of a first try at that kind of thing. Was there any sponsorship involved, or were you doing this for a blog or website? I did want to have it sponsored at one point, but I’ve done everything on my own so far, so I don’t really need to have a logo on it, it didn’t make sense.  That’s why I decided to release it online, because the full idea is to finish shooting it in the summer, add more people, and then when it’s more substantial have it printed, and do some kind of release, have a party.  But again, how did it start . . . I worked at Kin for a few months, and I guess that’s how I met Jay. I came to China to finish my masters in Chinese, but I dropped university after a few months, and found a job as a journalist for an American company, doing interviews over the phone every day with people in Pakistan and New Zealand . . . and then I was hired by the e-commerce company for a few years, they fired me when the economic crisis hit. But back to the project, I had gathered a few contacts, and I’d been helping Katrina from Free The Wax on a few shows, Samiyam and Gaslamp.  When they left, actually, I put on the last DJ Vadim at Shelter in April with my roommate, and I got to meet a few more people . . . There’s an American photographer, Rafael Rasheed who did a book called “Behind the Beat.”  It’s studio photos of mad famous people, J Dilla, MF Doom. Was that an inspiration for the project? It was totally an inspiration.  I didn’t want to just suck up the whole formula, there’s no pride in doing that – the concept is cool and it would be cool to replicate it with a twist in Shanghai, do it with up-and-coming, not famous at all people, and make it interesting somehow.  So that was the idea at first. And then I thought, maybe a bunch of photos of gear is not that interesting, and especially when I realized that in Shanghai half the people don’t have gear at all, it’s like some monitors and a laptop, a mixer if you get lucky.  So I was like, yeah, maybe if I get interviews from everybody . . . and at first I wanted to release interviews from everyone, but when I had all the interviews together there were a lot of things overlapping. One idea along the way was to actually record all the interviews, and to put together a photo slideshow, edited with some music of theirs in between – that could’ve been really nice, but so much work, and also not an easy format. Yeah, the format you have it in is really nice for sharing. I’m just upset that it doesn’t work on ipads yet . . . but anyways, I sent an email to ten people to start with, the people that I knew, that was like, look guys, I have this idea, I want to do a project about producers in Shanghai, shot in their studios, what do you think?  And everyone was like, that’s great, let’s do it.  And every time I was shooting someone they’d give me the contact of someone else.  I started with Charlie, Didjelirium,  who’s a good friend and Ceezy who I worked with at Kin.  And then Chacha, and Chacha was like, I know this guy MHP, and she gave me his contact, and he was extremely nice.  That was one thing that struck me as I was shooting, that everyone I met was just extremely fucking nice. I would imagine that underground music producers aren’t the most camera-comfortable types . . . That was a bit of a problem – but only Raph and Clement from the Ponies were like, we don’t want to see our faces on camera . . . I’d never met them before actually, and they were great, super full of shit. But their faces are on there in the end? Yeah, but to have Raph, I asked him to stand there and he was like *squints and slowly leans away* But basically it started like this, contacting people and everyone was really supportive, giving out contacts – Chacha gave me MHP’s and Sig’s, and Hamacide, because Sig and Hamacide were roommates at the time.  And Hamacide gave me Laurent’s contact, LLND. The project has been finished for a long time – the content has been sitting on my computer for six months.  I’m a perfectionist . . . I had a first version – I spent a lot of time with Ken – Keflione – as well, since he does a lot of font- and typography-related things, and I’m not a designer at all, and you don’t wake up a designer. Were there any big challenges putting it together, or finishing it? Yeah.  When I started, I didn’t really have a definite idea.  I like these people, I want to do something for them, so I went into their studios and took pictures of people and their gear, of them working, and did interviews.  And then I’m like, I got a thousand pictures, I have fifteen interviews, what am I supposed to do with that? So there wasn’t a definite vision of how it would look when you started? Not at all, and it actually looks really different now than how the first version looked.  It was hard, to decide how to lay out everything, how to use the interviews. What’s the future of the project-  you’ve talked about working it into a book – will that be the point that you can release from the whole thing and start a new project? Yeah, I guess it’ll be case closed after that.  One more step could be to replicate the idea in different cities, but how interesting can it be to have the same thing in Beijing?  One cool thing could be to go around china and find one kid in Urumqi making music, and just shoot a few people from all over China . . . but I’m thinking once it’s published, it’ll be on to finding a next project.  I mean, that would be the easy way, to just stick to it . . . like the old rockstars going on stage and nobody cares anymore. How has the response to the project been so far? Surprisingly quite good so far, it’s been  posted on some really good websites: hypebeast, notcot, iconology to name the ones I check on the daily.  It’s had thousands of views so it was quite rewarding to see my work up and shared on social platforms. So far media response in Shanghai hasn’t been as big as outside, which is actually quite funny since I did the project with the outside world in mind, not the Shanghai bubble. What’s your personal take on the Shanghai music scene, and how it’s evolving? It’s slowly, very slowly, expanding. More musicians, but also more local fans, which is good. I don’t go out much anymore, but the last couple times I was out at music venues I was surprised by the number of Chinese kids. It’s definitely a good thing, but it still needs maturity, both on the audience and on the musician side. And definitely more support. Some people are already putting tons of work to support it, promote it, teach the youth here, but I believe it would need something above that, some kind of official cultural organization, like a proper ministry of culture that can recognize the talent of its citizens, and support from above. Favorite ice cream flavor? Mint and chocolate chip of course.  Or green tea.  Or peanut smoothies from Charmant.
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