shanghai music scene: August 2013 Archives
Metal news. Two long running Shanghai metal bands:
... have some major news between them.
Fearless have an EP out that collects all their original material that you have heard at the shows of the past couple of years. It includes the excellent track Lord of Twilight. Go to the band page linked above and scroll down to the mp3 player.
Chaos Mind have recently been to Japan to play in the Summer Sonic festival there. You can now go to their Douban blog and read a full account of the trip with loads of pictures - here it is - it's all in Mandarin though, of course. Looking at the festival map and seeing the 'Seaside Village' campsite, is a harsh reminder of the state of festivals here still. Anyway check it out.
Saturday night and off to Yuyintang for the much anticipated Japandroids show, put on by promoters Splitworks. I got advance tickets, which always feels weird for YYT, as there was a big buzz about the show. And yup it was completely sold out by nine.
This show started a bit earlier than most, before I had finished work for that day in fact, so I arrived at the very end of HIMDONG's set. Sorry guys.
Well, YYT was sold out and packed with many people who would not normally come down for local bands, people who are often pretty shitty to the non 'name acts.' Good job then, that along came Death to Giants and slayed everyone. They confidently and expertly ripped through the now familiar set, starting on a war footing with Bigongbijing. The duo did their thing, using only drums and a bass guitar but delivering a masterclass on how to fill space and control dynamics. With a full house to play to, there was also a great raw edge to the proceedings. The set ended with a new, kinda novelty song based around the Family Mart jingle. It was funny, and come on ... it's been four years since 2009 brought along a sudden, shocking influx of ex-pats that took it from 'some' to 'omnipresent' in Shanghai - someone had to do a song about convenience store beers at one point.
The blog has had an upturn of readers lately so it's worth pointing out that I don't usually review the visiting international acts. It's outside of the blog's remit. I should start by saying that Japandroids did a professional job and all their fans really liked the show. They sold the place out and it was a success. But, I personally was a bit disappointed - my own fault. I had spent the week in a weird state that doesn't quite fit the exact definition of either cognitive dissonance or double think. Let me explain. I had checked out their stuff on the page, so I knew what the songs were like, but at the same time knowing they were a two piece drum/guitar combo with the name 'Japandroids' I was expecting to get something experimental or different. In fact their material is very standard North American folk or blues rock type stuff at heart with the lyrics taking us into near Springsteen territory at times.
The first two lo-fi modern duos that come to mind in the Shanghai scene are Death to Giants and Pairs. As discussed, DtG use time signatures and overlapping runs to control a wide range of dynamics, mixing in sudden bursts of pounding metal and also delicate vocal harmonies. Pairs blast the air around with a wave of fuzzy noise and punk energy, the guitar chops you into pieces while Xiao Zhong shouts at you with a mix of despair and unconcealed contempt. Torturing Nurse take you into the frontiers of extreme noise, The Other jam reverb soaked loops, Twos smooth layer on layer to create an electronic post-rock landscape. I guess, in the USA scene terms I'm more Lightning Bolt and less The Black Keys?
Image: click for large version
I've already written a piece on local advertisers and their role in the scene here, focusing on Vice/Virtue and it's an issue close to my heart. But then something coincidental happened. After reblogging a point made by Twin Horizon and using Jlangmead's cartoon (pictured), my band received an offer to participate in exactly the same kind of thing.
Recap: a disturbing new trend around the world is the use of design competitions to not pay artists. The cartoon sums it up perfectly. The world of advertising and PR is a rabbit hole of denial and insular thinking and the whole concept has started to be applied even without dressing it up. Local designer Kaine Lv, also singer in my band, recently started work on a project that was attained after presenting her professional portfolio and going through stringent background checks. She was then told mid-way into the work, that the boss wanted to check new designers so he had more than one person working on the same project - and would choose the best one (and only pay that one.)
On Saturday, my band Astrofuck played our first long set. I organised a night at Yuyintang and we had an hour of material to choose from, we played forty-five minutes (plus banter etc). It all went great, we had a fun time and I felt we successfully showed we could plan and perform a longer set. This was, it seemed, immediately borne out. As soon as we got off stage, we were approached to play the Xi An Festival (Shanghai). They have permanent grounds down by the new Xu Hui river park and Cui Jian will headline this year. This will be the second year and they have sponsors and everything. Now, actually, I'm not a big festival person and there are many issues ... but I admit to being a bit excited, and it felt like validation of the step up we were trying to make.
And then ...
We went out back to discuss the details and exchange contacts but another story unfolded. The guy explained that the festival had a sponsored Weibo account and that we should use our own Weibo account to make posts there and show our vids and blogs etc. Then, they would 'see who was most popular with the fans' out of the invited bands and choose winners who would then get to play on the bill with Cui Jian. He looked at me and Elsa with an expression that said, 'that's so exciting for you, right?' I asked him to tell me what the deal would then be if you played, but he avoided the question. Finally I said that we'd have to discuss it as a band so could he e-mail me the whole thing in writing, including the dates and pay for if we ended up playing etc. of course, the e-mail hasn't arrived. He left reassuring us that we should first get involved in the Weibo event and go from there.
Where to start? This festival is holding an online event to market itself and its sponsors and is asking bands to put all their stuff there for free, to attract interest to their site and event, to bring in the bands' fan base, and then maybe you will be selected to play and get paid for it. It's basically the same thing as the art comp issue. Also, the really sick thing was wrapping it up in the implication that we should be happy to do that because we get to play on the same bill as 'X big headliner'. Like we are good enough to be on their site and play the festival, but not enough to deserve professional respect.
Let's be clear: the free stuff posted at their Weibo is being used by them for a professional, big-money-making, fully sponsored event. It is being used to make money. Also, local bands spend one or two years on average to get good, all on their own dollar and part-time. Their original material is their work. At our show there were four acts and everyone killed. I would say that HIMDONG blew the stage up. But the festival rep only approached us so here's what I'm assuming: he saw our set and thought we were good enough to play the Xi An Festival - or at least cool enough to be in their online event ... so, if we are good enough to play your for-profit high profile event THEN BOOK US and pay us fairly.
I suppose what really makes this behavior sting is how it's always wrapped up in the language of respect. I mean the whole industry. They talk of cool bands, 'creatives' and supporting local talent etc. But they in fact treat bands and artists poorly. At best they pay a poor percentage of the project's overall profits or budget and expect to be praised for providing the opportunity to work for a big name, or for paying over
slave wages local rates. Not paying at all is the new low, how could you go lower? As long as people participate in all this BS, the longer it will go on. We should at least be vocal about it and not let these a-holes feel comfortable about what they are doing.
Warning: this is my band, lack of objectivity alert.
Some media is coming in from Saturday's show. Here are two and half tracks from Astrofuck's set, available in Tudou (China) or Youtube. I say half, because Love is Shit had a mid way break for computer hijinks, we kept the moment in because it's quite funny. Also, you can hear Chris Ginn at the start, pleading for a shorter song length. Did he use telekinesis to get his wish?
Warning: this is about a show that I organised and also played in. Total conflict of interest and you should be aware of this while reading my positive comments.
Thanks to everyone who came down to the Love is Colder than Death show on Saturday night. And thanks to the acts:
To be honest, I was worried that we were putting on an event at the exact quietest time of the scene calendar, in a heat wave and on the same night as several big music events - but also hoped that being different to all those other events would see us right. In the end we got a great turnout with some local fans even getting in before official doors open time so that Tzu Sing just kept playing on from the end of his check.
Everyone did a great job. Tzu Sing set the atmosphere well and threw in some different stuff, that delighted me but that I'm under loose agreement not to talk about. It's related to one of our favourite 80s movies. The Other built on their last YYT set and added a video projection to the proceedings. I can't really comment on our set, Astrofuck, I guess. We did some new and never played live before tracks, they all seemed to go down fine and I really enjoyed myself.
The real hit of the night came from Hua Jiao / HIMDONG. Everyone knows that Dong Heimu is a real talent on the scene, but since moving here from Xi'an he has struggled to get a stable line up and is always having to adapt his style. This time he came with a full band and ripped through some amazing post-punk tracks with stylistic hints of China scene post-punk and no wave acts in there such as The Fallacy, 8 Eye Spy and PK14.
There's some recordings and clips on the way ... and hopefully a follow up night not too far away.
Beijing based band PK14 have released their new album. Let's start with the links:
Stream or buy at Maybe Mars' Bandcamp page right here
Listen to the album at the Chinese language site Douban right here
1984 is their fifth official full album. Together with the side projects, production work and the general influence of frontman Yang Haisong, PK14 are perhaps the most important band in the China scene. This album represents a serious work by serious artists whose development can be tracked across a series of excellent releases. They transcend simple genre conventions and have produced a work of real depth, in a sound and style that is their own.
The album is on the Maybe Mars label, was recorded at Chicago's Electric Audio with Steve Albini and produced by long term collaborator Henrik Oja.
Warning ... warning ... full disclosure: this post is talking about a show featuring a band I'm in and a show I organized. Please keep that in mind.
Ok, so our band Astrofuck made its live debut early this year and played five shows that were all a lot of fun and often on weekends at YYT with good audiences. Playing the Woozy night as part of the Jue Festival was really cool and the Nerdcore documentary and performance at 390 was a good time too.
Then we put out some demos and this music video:
Then came the slow summer period in Shanghai and we decided to work on new material, focusing on our more gothy side, and to try to book a show tailored to us. And so on Saturday August 17th at Yuyintang we have ...
"Love is Colder than Death"
It will cost 40 rmb on the door and feature post-punk, experimental, gothy and dark bands. That's probably an inadequate way to describe it. DJ Tzu Sing will open from 9 playing darkwave and industrial styles. Then The Other will play, then us doing a 45 minute plus set including completely new songs we have never played before. We also have HIMDONG closing out with some loop madness. It will be awesome and the perfect antidote to the thrown together, generalized, overpriced SH Summer Sonic night on over at the Stadium. I can say that cos SMG is a multi-billion corporation and we are just some friends putting on a 300 ppl show underground.
Also, we are definitely playing "Dog Fucker's Manual." And for an insight into my upbringing, for the flyer I had to choose one image from pop culture that inspired me. If you recognize it then you found one of my significant formative experiences, when I was about 17.
Alrighty, enough navel gazing, come on down to the show and here's our probable set list:
Five Kuai Bullet
Love Is Shit
Dog Fucker's Manual
Crystal Heart/Black Heart
Sponsor-friendly Self Harm
I Can't Jump Into The Pool
Sugar Free Coke
And here's a video of The Other playing at YYT not that long ago:
Tudou: The Other
Last week I blogged the story that singer Wu Hongfei had been detained for tweeting on her Weibo account with a frustrated remark following the Beijing airport bombing incident.
The story has reached its conclusion now. After ten days she has been released with a warning - so she did better than Paul Chambers - but may leave the Beijing scene after she was asked to leave her house by her landlord because of the attention.
I guess the moral of the story is not to say you want to bomb a government building in public on a heavily monitored site when you are also an activist in an authoritarian country. Considering she was let off with no charges, it puts the UK example in a very poor light considering the Chambers one was pure jokery.