Track By Track: Night Swimmer – Xia Ye

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Night Swimmer’s new long player documents the moods, feelings and the subsequent means of escape he found during the early days of the Covid outbreak.

Hailing from Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, the project, titled Xi Ye, was written from a unique position.

Whilst the Covid outbreak was still a murmuring over here in the West, Night Swimmer – real name He Dengke – found himself in the throes of what would soon become a global pandemic.


During this period, Dengke found solace in a night time hike up a mountain near his hometown; a trip that would inspire the sounds captured on Xi Ye, and provide sonic comfort in an uncertain time.

Painted as a beautiful, intricate tapestry of meditative sounds and atmospheres, the 11 tracks are organic, spiritual and cerebral, crafted using both virtual and physical instrumentation. Taking cues from New Age, it matches Western sounds and Chinese melodies while, just like his previous material, the power of the natural world and how it can act as a remedy from the realities of life plays a prominent role in the music.

Following the album’s release on Shy People, we asked Night Swimmer to document the process, influences and inspirations behind each track, from his night time escape into nature to his first time travelling out of the city and subsequent search for an answer to all the subjects in the album; one he realised he didn’t need to reach in the end.

Moon Dirt

This track is the opening to the trip I present in the album, Xia Ye. It was created during the first covid lockdown in my hometown in early 2020, Huanggang, a small county very close to Wuhan. 

It was still winter and everything seemed much bleaker under the strike of the virus. My families and everyone else in the county were so anxious and concerned about the situation. Bad news and tragedies inundated us to the point that I turned exhausted and even insensitive to the severity of the pandemic. I felt wrong and managed to find a gateway. 

One night in February, I stepped out of my room and walked into the mountain right behind our cottage. Up the mountain named “Mosquito Mount” I was, for a moment, emancipated from the external worries and indulged in the nocturnal wilderness. Walking by the meandering path with walls of boulders and flora in darkness, I felt so refreshed. 

The next time I sat before my laptop and synthesizer, I imagined witnessing the scene of myself stepping into the nature in the night to escape troubles. With such a vision in mind, I slowly built up the track. Intentional or not, the track naturally developed a touch of 90s Chinese thrillers in the beginning. And then it meanders through crooked synths and eventually arrives at an ending where percussions and effects redolent of pure natural beauty reign. 

This opens the door to the trip I took on my hometown mountain, and also to the escaping journey I want the audience to immerse in.

Killing Time 

The night hike was at first pacifying, given the tranquility of the night itself and the contentment of having time being alone. However, real-life issues kept haunting me. I still could not forget the afflicts and tortures going on in the world. The whole journey was accompanied by such juxtaposition of worrying and unwinding in turns. 

For a moment, my mind drifted away at a simple glance of the deep darkness in the woods. The thought of mystic beings staring at me in the pitch black intrigued and thrilled me. For another moment, I felt so powerless about what was happening to the unknown friends in this world. These feelings of ambivalence and displacement reminded me of some lines by Robert Lee Frost – “the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep”. 

The hike, with all its ambivalent thoughts and sentiments, unfolds itself like twisted creeks and branches in the track, Killing Time. It transmits a state of freedom being pulled by the irresistible force of real life.


This track is also dedicated to delineate the scenery along the night hike. At some point, the upward journey began to reach a tiring stage. The higher I went, the more exhausted I got. But I turned around and looked at the road I had hit behind me: it was stretching all the way down till out of my sight. I started to dash down that road. For a moment, the air was lifting me up and I felt so light as if I could fly. 

I want to write a track which can instantly remind me of that light-hearted feeling I got  from rushing down the mountain. In the middle of the track, samples of upbeat disco strings are distorted, juxtaposed with distant flute sounds and bouncing synth keyboards. I love this part since it can recapture that instant feeling of emancipation from gravity. 

Undoubtedly, this track is also tinged with a touch of night. All the exotic instrumental sounds exhibited in the track tend to picture the night wilderness in a more mystical way, and this mystery is exactly how nocturnal nature has impressed me.

Silver Flying

This track was the last one finished off the album. It was actually created in 2021, one year after my night hiking adventure. 

The track was inspired by the euphoric experience I once had in Arnaya’s Zhaodai on Leave in 2021, a yearly electronic music festival in China. I performed live in the spacious clearing of the woods near the beach in the afternoon. It was for me strange to immerse in nature again yet in totally different settings: the one I had in 2020 was during night and reclusive, yet the one in Arnaya was day-time and inclusive. The mood was also different: this time it was all for enjoyment. Soon, all the raving and meditation in the woods with my friends coalesced into this improvised track brimming with tender Chinese melodies and wuthering synth effects animating winds and lights. 

It was then that I came to consider adding this completely bright-colored piece of music into the album. I thought the two years after the night hike were important components of my spirituality that constantly reshape my senses and identity, so I needed this track to be part of Xia Ye. 

The track also pays tribute to Pauline Anna Strom and many classic Chinese traditional music composers I love. 

My Love, Endless

In 2020’s summer, I stayed for a couple of days in Changsha, Hunan. I went there to meet my friends and also my date there. One night after dinner I walked with my friend around Meixi Lake. It was the first time for me to travel to other city after months of COVID lockdown. 

I saw the totally unknown pedestrians walking by and stared at the flow of cars slowly sliding down towards us from where the sun set. It was a hustling and vivid scene so rare to find during the hard times of COVID. At that moment, unreasonably, I felt an impulse that impelled me to befriend everyone in this world: I want to know their lives, their childhood, their deepest and softest memories, and all their sadness and joy. That instant surge of love deep inside made me believe I can love everything, everyone and every moment regardless of the consequences. It was just pure.

This emotion has accompanied me till present. One of those days, I decided to dedicate one song to this. There comes “My Love, Endless”. This track is a fusion of some of my favorite sounds – some cliche new age choir, muffled dubbing snares, tipsy electric guitar, animated synth effects, and my impromptu humming. To me, this track is like a stretching terrain of paradise where there is no barrier between people. 


I improvised this track right after completing the demo of the first track in 2020. I think the mood conveyed in Moon Dirt is more of a thrilling departure to an unveiled nature in its rarely seen dark times. But for this track, I want it to be a rest. 

If the color of Moon Dirt is pitch black sprinkled with gleams of moonshine on water and leaves, then Shush is pure darkness wrinkled by colorless winds. Winds howl and disturb everything in the dark field. It then recedes, and peace arrives. 

This track was meant to be a transition between the two sides of the album. A side means to encompass what I saw and imagined – a picturesque landscape – in a descriptive way. But B side attempts to look into the constantly morphing mentality under this landscape. The sudden loud shriek of synth and samples in the mid of the track, together with the serenity following after, serves as a predication to the following tracks full of whimsical changes in moods and sounds. 


I think a lot of people might have experienced mental breakdowns during the darkest times of COVID in 2020. I had my hard times witnessing how badly authorities treated people during lockdowns. Nonstop news about manmade tragedies on social media or around my county kept draining me. Clubs shut and festivals closed, it all seemed hopeless, and I had no place to rest this troubled mind. 

As a part of the narrative journey of Xia Ye, this track unleashed all my restrained impulse of dancing in its 4/4 beat labyrinth. I named it “depressionfruit” as a name-play of “passionfruit” because the scene I had in my mind when I made this track was bleak and isolate: wandering alone in a desolate city. 


In 2021, I happened to watch Suspiria directed by Luca Guadagnino. I got entranced by the dramatic twist in its plot. Though a horror movie, it mesmerized me to imagine myself in that movie witnessing Blanc’s crew dancing in weird Krautrock. 

The movie’s twisted plot and ritual-like dance inspired me to write my Suspiria. I understood the title as the act of sighing, or simply expiration. This is the starting point of the track, where you can hear synths simulating spacious sighing in the beginning. And the ritual begins, yet in my exotic ways, sometimes oriental and sometimes balearic. Like the movie marching in twists, I designed the track to ascend into a totally different landscape half length into the track. That is a place where flute, saxophone and distant choirs surge up and down, with sounds of water and caves lurking in the background. This is for me a short mirage of Xia Ye: you feel like going everywhere but you have been nowhere.

The track ends again in mystic ritual sounds. Part of these last ritual vibes was inspired by the memories of my hometown’s funeral rituals that I attended in my childhood. I could still recall that traditional scene where I bent down on the ground to pay tribute to the relative that passed away, and my mind was carried away by the mythological prayers accompanied by hypnotic tinkles of woodblocks. 

Nature in Mind

I have always loved Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s music. The sounds she tweaked on Buchla and so many other synthesizers are stunningly lively. Till present day I can still get high on the intro track of her 2017’s album, the Kid. It is pure blossom of sounds for me. 

The track, Nature in Mind, is a direct dedication to her art in music. I used my ASM hydra synth and Korg wavestate and some virtual synths to create a sonic trip deep into the messy spiritual world in my head.

Half way into the track, the rhythms and layers of arps duplicate, upon which I put my lingering mumbles and hums soaked in reverberation and delay. High-pitch synth flying around my head like birds, with downtempo drumming marching underneath, slowly pushing me forward into another dimension of reality. 

This song is best to listen in the holiday afternoon when you can lit up incense and just meditate. From time to time, you can also move your body to flow with its psychedelic groove. 

Doomsday Doze

During that hike up the Mosquito Mount., I ran into a small lake where only the sounds of water travelled to the ear. I took a rest to gaze into the mirror surface of the lake and let the moonshine be the only witness. Sitting on the bank, I unwittingly hummed to Dou Wei’s songs. In the meanwhile, the external world seemed a little more irrelevant to me. 

Every time I recall this experience, I could recapture that serenity of mind by simply reimagining my body being there that time. For me, the experience is somewhat the incarnation of Dou Wei’s songs. He is one of my favorite Chinese psychedelic rock precursors. The way he portrayed the interaction between his spirit and nature made me feel transcendental. Even though we didn’t share the same musical offshoot, I can still feel from his music a deep love for the lands and waters. Out of the same passion, I wrote and produced this track to portray the one in my eyes. The track is dedicated to him.

For me, this track is something you can play during the camping event, better if the camping site is near water. 

The Unravelling

The last track has been through a lot modifications and reworkings, since I wanted the story or the musical narrative I presented in Xia Ye to have a dramatic and meaningful ending. I attempted to create a track where some ultimate answer is found for all the subjects mentioned in earlier tracks. However, I did not feel I got the answer for any problems that I was confronted at the time. And more importantly, I realized it was not necessary to reach that answer. Every encountering, good or bad, became a part of me, and made me who I am. Inclusion is what the album should culminate with. 

It was at this point that I started to design the closing track of the album. I wanted the track to absorb the visions and sounds of former tracks into one whole, like an endless vortex. 

It is overwhelming but also familiar. I recollected my musical influences from my childhood to present: Neon Indian, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Pauline Anna Strom, some classic New Age precursors, Dou Wei and so on. I wanted to give them thanks by re-creation. 

The track carries you anywhere: in the beginning, you were in the middle of a drunk night walk under neon lights, and next minute you were transferred to a space capsule witnessing Enigma conjuring up trippy arcane images of unknown civilizations in the past, and soon you would be sent to the center of the vortex to get lost in lightning-like hits and soaring psychedelic synth leads filtered by the 90s rock effects. 

There is no answer to anyone’s troubles, so I accentuated inclusion as the final subject of the track, not only the inclusion of my past and my troubled thoughts but also the inclusion of all my muse. By doing so, I managed to feel complete both for this track and Xia Ye

This track is something to play in the midnight. Take a sip of tequila, get stoned, and lie on the couch to let all those imaginary images and visions to sink in. Let that sonic ride begin.

Xi Ye is out now on Shy People.