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William Bolcom

From History to Hip Hop: No Luck Club

No Luck Club don't need anyone else's history. They have their own traditions to draw upon.

By Andrew Lee


No Luck Club
No Luck Club: Matt Chan, Trevor Chan and Paul Belan
Far away from hip-hop's roots in the shadow of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, No Luck Club is a trio of turntablist DJ's based in Vancouver. I recently spoke with brothers Matt and Trevor Chan, two thirds of the group, to discuss Canada's so-called multiculturalism and their music.

Although the hip-hop movement was birthed in the intersection of urban decay and cultural fusion, contemporary artists like NLC don't share the same background and discontent with the first emcees and DJs from the Bronx. In fact, NLC narrate their own story using elements of hip-hop and telling it from their own space of cultural hybridity as Chinese-Canadians.

Appropriately, "Our Story" was the first song that the guys created for their second album, Prosperity, which is the second of their Chinese Gods-inspired trilogy.

Opening with the words, "We don't want Chinamen in Canada. This is a white man's country and white men will keep it so," the song builds on top of simple laptop beats. The 808-like symbols crash in as the colonial lyrics go on to detail the "yellow peril" and the seething racial hatred in Vancouver.

Galvanized by an educational record the guys found in 2001 that describes Canada's head tax on Chinese immigration Trevor says, "We thought it was crazy and we had to make a song with it." And so NLC used the record as a starting point, adding sampled beats and reconstructing the hell out the two-bit recording. there�s nothing like a bit of anger to push out a great song It wasn't just the plight of faceless Chinese immigrants that spurred the boys of NLC into action � they also wanted to tell the story of the Chan brothers' own great grandfather who actually paid the head tax. This tax escalated to five hundred dollars by the beginning of the twentieth century because Parliament wanted to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada once the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. Although this amounted to a small fortune at the time, it wasn't enough to deter the 'Chinamen' from coming to the Great White North and so the Exclusion Act was passed in 1923, basically abolishing Chinese immigration into Canada for decades.

Trevor says he has no idea how his forebear ever raised the funds to immigrate here and is livid talking about this discriminatory policy. But as Trevor says, there's "nothing like a bit of anger to push out a great song." And a great song it is. Many in the Chinese-Canadian community have embraced "Our Story," probably because it highlights the diversity and history of its people. No Luck Club
An instrumental hip hop band
"I think the main idea behind it was to let people know what happened to the Chinese back then. I was talking with some friends whose parents came to Canada in a different era, back in the 70s or 80s, from Mainland China or Hong Kong. They have no idea what went down," says Trevor.

Not everyone has the same immigration story and "You can't just lump all the Chinese in Canada into one big pile � People come here for different reasons." But NLC are also bringing this issue to the attention of some of the wide-eyed white Canadians who have only lived in present day Canada, among our politicians' "multi-cultural rhetoric," as Trevor puts it. "The biggest reactions we get are not from Chinese people, but from white people. I play ['Our Story'] for them and they're like, 'WHAT!?! This happened in Canada?' They didn't know about the head tax."

Trevor goes on to comment that as Canadians, "One of the pillars of our identity is this whole multicultural thing. We're all happy, we get along in the melting pot!" And his response to this is "Yeah, fuck off, whatever. Before you say that, you gotta recognize the injustices of the past. You can't gloss over that."

I like to think we're more collage artists than anything else so I would say that great records from all genres of music makes up about 75% of our inspiration

Like hip-hop granddaddies of yesteryear, frustration and anger conflate to create NLC's brand of instrumental hip-hop. But sonically, their music is also informed by everything they listen to.

You can find everything from Burial to Zeppelin on Trevor's Itunes, reflecting the eclectic sounds of NLC's albums. This encyclopedic referencing of assorted music recalls turntablists like New Jersey's DJ Mark. But unlike The 45 King, the hybridity of NLC's music is seamless.

Trevor admits, "I like to think we're more collage artists than anything else so I would say that great records from all genres of music makes up about 75% of our inspiration. The other 25% is a gonzo mix of other creative disciplines such as film, literature, visual arts and design. Essentially we manipulate recorded sounds to make our music."

NLC are one group of samplers who show you that hip-hop has pervaded every corner of the globe. And as more people outside the epicenters of hip hop create great music, guys like No Luck Club remind us that everyone's story is worth telling

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