Review: Nova Heart at Little Bar in Chengdu 11/15 and 17/12

Nova Heart have graced Chengdu with their presence twice in the past two months, touring their hotly anticipated debut album,新星的心and drinking the whiskey cabinet dry.

Image from Nova Heart's website.

Image from Nova Heart’s website.

Word has spread about the spellbindingly evil electronica of this four-piece supergroup, masterminded by the inimitable ‘Queen of Beijing Rock’ Helen Feng 冯海宁, formerly of Ziyo/Free the BirdsPet Conspiracy, on lead vocals and lead chaos – as well as co-founder of the band’s label, Fake Music Media. Well known and adored Hedgehog drummer Shi Lu 石璐, known to most as Atom, steers the beat on drums with her former bandmate Zhu Bo Xuan 朱博譞 aka Box (The Gar) on bass and Wang Zong Can 王宗灿 (Ziyo/Free the Birds) on guitar.

Nova Heart runs like a well-oiled machine, executed by a group of experienced musicians who are respectably at the top of their game, so it was with great anticipation that I went down to Little Bar to check them out, having seen them play at Yugong Yishan’s 9th Anniversary last year w/ Carsick Cars, Whai and Long Shen Dao. 

Nova Heart tour

SAT 15 NOV 2014

Little Bar was packed for Nova Heart back in November. Local electro-rockers The Hormones 荷尔蒙小姐 played a blitzing set to warm up the crowd, adequately electrifying the atmosphere for the main act to take the stage on their album release tour.

The dark, hypnotising rhythms and electric warblings of the opening song ‘A Drive to Our End,’ had the crowd nodding along as if under a spell, before Helen took the stage to raucous applause and began casting her own concocted brew of dark magic and spirits.

Nova Heart’s live show is an exercise in both anarchic mayhem and effortless precision.

Helen leads the pack onboard a speeding train full of TNT with a battle occurring on the roof; the prospect of explosion and death present at all times. A shamanistic whiskey ritual sent the spell into play, Helen’s maniacal spoken word ramblings intertwining with electric kicks, hits and throttling bass lines. A cover of Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’ has made it into the live set and the new album, which ironically wasn’t available at the album release show.

This intimate viewing in self-destruction encapsulated in Helen bailing off the Little Bar stage and climbing back up, unscathed and microphone wielding. In lieu of the new album, fans snatched up copies of Nova Heart’s ‘Beautiful Boys EP‘ (2012), the seductive gold, black and white 7″ shaped sleeves being hotly contested items after the show.

THUR 17 DEC 2014

Chengdu’s Nova Hearted converged on Little Bar last month for a much less publicised show on a Thursday night, sponsored by Red Bull. After a cheesy pop act reminiscent of the college prom rock band in every American teen rom-com ever finished their set, the Red Bull go-go girls were pushed aside and the enthused crowd moved in for Nova Heart.

The band’s second show in Chengdu in the space of a month did not disappoint. This crazy electro disco party compels more people into dancing, which China could always do with more of. The songs from the EP sold at the previous show now garnering pre-woops and sing-a-long status in the set.

Helen’s whiskey is brought to the stage, with a quip in Chinese along the lines of “just whiskey, thanks, hold the Red Bull.

Helen’s crowd banter in Chinese swiftly transposes into haunting and enchanting lyrics in English, receiving more laughs from the crowd than a proportion of stand up comedy shows. Songs from the new album like ‘No Controversy’ show off Nova Heart’s wild unpredictability underpinned by the airtight rhythms and melodies of four seasoned musicians who are clearly enjoying themselves on stage.

Red balloons were deployed from above and Helen incited an all out balloon massacre, the crowd grasping at them and stomping them underfoot in a somewhat symbolic popping of corporate interests.

When the band came back for an encore, the microphone was let loose into the audience – Helen’s ‘anything goes’ mantra inspiring an already hyped up, pogo jumping crowd to yell swear words and bullshit down the mic at full volume, eventually recoiling back to its master who sang the last song of the night, accompanied by the crowd’s boisterous approximation of the melody and flying beer showers.

The new album《新星的心》was ready to go this time and the band happily signed copies, took photos and hung out with fans after the show.

Having toured over five continents on the back of their first EP including an extensive tour of Australia last year where Helen took the phrase ‘break a leg!’ to new realities, we can only hope Nova Heart make it to New Zealand in 2015!!

Atom, Helen, me, Bo Xuan and Zong Can

Atom, Helen, me, Bo Xuan and Zong Can after the second Little Bar show in December.

READ: She Bangs the Drums: Interview with Atom from Nova Heart and Hedgehog