The otherworldly sound of Polish-Chinese musician Ai fen

The otherworldly sound of Polish-Chinese musician Ai fen
Ai fen, as pictured in her premiered video This Analog Desire (Makes Me Go Slow)

11 February 2020

Most eco-activists worry about the extinction of the Earth. Polish-Chinese dream-pop musician Ai fen takes it one step further. She’s worried about the civilisations that modern humanity has missed, thanks to their own previous extinctions.

It’s this existentialist angst that Ai fen harnesses in her latest single, This Analog Desire (Makes Me Slow). Premiering on The Calvert Journal, the song gives fans a glimpse into Ai fen’s intellectual curiosity and open sensitivity.

Inspired by an article that painted climate change as an inescapable, ever reoccurring fate for planets across the universe — a tragedy preventing humans from ever crossing paths with other, self-annihilating civilisations — the track also feels like a timeless love song expressing longing. “We are not going to meet after all, we are one burn out too many, too late,” the lyrics lament.

“It sounds like a break up, a heartbreak, a topic sort of nauseatingly exploited in pop songs,” Ai fen says. But rather than relishing in her own melancholy, the singer instead suggests a solution for the world at large, “to cultivate an analog desire and slow down”.

Born Ewelina Chiu, Ai fen moved from Poland to Canada and the United States before currently settling down in the Czech Republic. The singer says she has long found it difficult to reconcile her father’s Chinese side of the family with her Polish identity. She decided on her stage name as a nod to her “othered self”, and “that which is repressed within ourselves”.

Yet her work as Ai fen isn’t Chiu’s debut in music. Since 2014, she has also been part of electroacoustic duo ba:zel alongside Daniel Vlcek: Chiu takes on vocals, soprano flute, keyboard, and midi-pedal, while Vlcek plays bass, beats, and synths. Their collaboration came after Chiu moved to Prague, struggling to battle her own disenchantment with science and academia after gaining a degree in neuroscience. Once she met Vlcek and began to create music, despite her lack of experience, she knew it was a turning point. “It was a long journey to being able to completely produce my own record,” she says. “I started two years ago and I had to break open a lot of wounds and put myself under a microscope.”

For now, Ai fen is preparing to launch her album postforever in Prague at the end of February. Filled with vocal samples that are constantly cut, rearranged, and digitally morphed, the album will be premiered on The Brvtualist and released with a limited edition run of 120 cassette tapes. “The album’s very fabric is about identity, its deconstruction, and rebuilding,” she says.

Until then, Ai fen’s previous video, As I Thought, explores the tension between reason and emotion. With the repeated chorus “Guess I’m not as cerebral as I thought,” the single involves transitions from childlike delicate singing to short screams, against a background of strong beats and scratches.

With her thoughtful lyrics, experimental vocals, and transportive beats, Ai fen is definitely an exciting new presence on the music scene. And remember, you heard her here first.

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