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On covid-19 and music (plus: my new radio show)

I’ve been in quarantine for 55 days now. The first 6 weeks I spent in Shanghai, and today is the the last day of a CDC-mandated, two-week home quarantine in the United States. After this period ends I’ll still effectively be in isolation as the number of people to be infected by the coronavirus is just now beginning its steep ascent in the United States.

This virus is fundamentally reshaping the basics of global capitalism, which means major changes ahead. We’re only beginning to feel the effects now. For a few weeks at least those who were in China during the initial outbreak have a time traveler’s perspective on things, having lived through a shock wave that’s just now slowly but inexorably pulsing its way everywhere else.

One thing I’ve been paying close attention to since early February is how musicians are responding to the outbreak. Many friends of mine throughout China and beyond have utilized livestreaming platforms like Bilibili, Facebook Live, YouTube, and other social media to beam out their intimate home jams to their smartphone and laptop-connected community; DIY organizations like Shanghai Community Radio have offered their equipment and technical experience to set up home streams; venues, record labels and festivals have set up dozens of “cloud parties” in an attempt to replicate the live music experience at home.

Though good for a morale boost, these live streams have avoided the question of how working musicians, many of whom rely on event income, will make a living as the pandemic progresses. Musicians all over the world are now faced with the same dilemma — it’s no longer geographically bound to China or Asia.

I don’t have a great solution to this problem by I’m encouraged by projects like, which launched last year but is finding its precise moment right now. Created in response to predatory music streaming monoliths like Spotify, which pay out a paltry few dollars for tens of thousands of streams, Currents works like this: artists upload their own music and curate playlists from around the internet (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube), offering supporters the chance to subscribe to their feed for a small monthly fee. “Patreon for music or Substack for playlists,” in Currents’ words. “You can think of it as a newsletter for music, featuring thoughts alongside selections for fans to listen to.”

Currents invited me to join their platform last week so I’m putting together a new project there: pangbianr radio, a weekly playlist of new (and old) music on my radar. Somewhere between a podcast and a mix, I’ll upload (lofi) voice recordings to give context to tracks, and plan to regularly invite guests from all over the map to hop on a Skype/WeChat call and discuss music, art, life amidst virus, and whatever else.

It’s a free subscription-based account — might add a paid layer later but for now it’s an experiment and something I’m doing during indefinite social isolation to maintain a connection to the world and the art and artists that make it more livable for me.

Find my Currents account here to subscribe, and today especially please consider clicking the BUY button next to any track you like in the playlist. Wherever possible I’ve included links to each track on Bandcamp, which is today waiving its 10% sales fee and passing all the money on the artists.

Published in Music