It is easier to understand artistic movements in hindsight, because it is difficult to identify what characterizes a period while you’re a part of it. This might also be because the majority of art is created by layering centuries of influences on top of each other, so the product is able to define the current age while also contextualizing it through the past.
This is something that U of T musician Da Ren Jiang, a fourth-year student studying philosophy and arts management, understands intimately. Jiang, who goes by the stage name Da Ren, aims to blend a multitude of styles together to find a balance of sounds that represent him and his interpretation of society. He released his first album, Ecstatic Love, in 2019 and recently released a new single, called “Beautiful Nightmares,” off his upcoming album of the same name.
The Varsity interviewed Da Ren to discuss his love for music, the artists who influenced him, and what he thinks are the goals of art.
Da Ren has always been interested in music, with his first introduction being the piano at his grandfather’s house as a child when he was living in China. Even back then, he described going downstairs to play the piano as therapeutic. He found that he didn’t like the balance between creative liberation and structure in later piano lessons, but he still kept at it for a long time.
He explained that his grandfather was a painter and that, as a result, Da Ren envisions a lot of his music as paintings. When he closes his eyes, he sees the colour that he wants to represent, and then tries to correspond the sounds he produces with those feelings.
Da Ren’s production style is strongly influenced by hip hop. He started listening to hip hop music in his early teens when he was living in Vancouver. He began producing hip hop music as a teenager, working with local musicians as well as Chinese rappers.
In general, Da Ren wishes to emulate the approach of Renaissance painters, whom he believes combined ancient works and modern works to produce incredibly innovative works. As a result, he pulls inspiration from many cultures and philosophies, taking inspiration from his time in China and Canada.
Da Ren explained that he views listening to music a little like time travelling. By listening to songs from a certain era, we’re able to understand the culture that they originally existed in. With the benefit of hindsight, music helps us inhabit a certain context while also looking at it from afar.
Da Ren explained that when he pulls influences from different eras, he sees a multitude of stories that have been created over the ages, which all define the ages they were created in. He’s trying to tell stories that reflect the current reality while also making those stories relevant to his own experiences.
Da Ren is interested in creating music as a means of better understanding himself. He believes that quality music comes out of self-awareness and also listening to external guidance.
Da Ren noted that, in the modern world, we need to find a balance between providing people with music that they want and staying true to ourselves. While it’s important to remember that all art is made for an audience, making art purely for an audience you can’t relate to can be a distraction.
Ultimately, Da Ren pointed out that much of our experience of music is intensely emotional. The goal of any musician should be to find the sounds that best represent the emotions they’re trying to convey, given the resources available to them.
Our basic resources, like the sounds we can produce, are limited. But figuring out how to take those rules into account while also making something new and creative is part of what makes the act of creation fun and challenging. Much of the time, art is about subtraction.
Da Ren’s upcoming project, Beautiful Nightmares, will be released in the upcoming months through singles.