Take some yogurt, cheap pantyhose, balloons and plum wine. Add to a room with three girls from Kunming and three girls from New Zealand. Shake and serve cold.
When the only seemingly logical escape from your anxiety is to take a train 1000km in the opposite direction, you know it’s dark. That’s what I did to escape the heart-breaking reality of commercial ethnic tourism in Guizhou and the (to quote a bleak sent email) “annoying as fuck Chinese tourists.” After a twenty-three hour train ride, I arrived in Kunming in a daze. By some serendipitous twist of fate, I stumbled into a South Acid MiMi Dance Team show.
A colourful crowd had gathered for this Friday night double bill. The air was thick with cigarettes and sickly sweet cheap mixers. Having been alienated to despair by domestic backpackers, I was finally at ease with the oddballs. The stage darkened and the band’s name flashed on screen, the word MIMI cupped within a geometric pair of boobs. Three mysteriously masked girls materialised with microphones and a near empty bottle of Jack Daniels, launching a cluster of MIDI keyboards into a set of strange and wonderful dance tunes.
Unapologetic and self-assured, they gave us guttural screams of defiance and emotive group harmonies, cute coordinated choreography and riotously drunk melodica solos – they were the antithesis of mainstream Chinese society and I loved them from the first minute I saw them.
South Acid Mimi（南方酸性咪咪） are Shiyang, Yixiao and Weilin, the indisputable It Girls of the Kunming underground. They’ve been getting wasted and making music together since Shiyang and Weilin met at an open mic as teenagers and started the punk band XI’ER (喜儿), writing songs in their decked out pink practice room and promptly scoring gigs at dive bars and festivals across Yunnan. After honing their chops in a dozen bands following their drop out of high school, they began making electronic music using Garage Band on Shiyang’s laptop, eventually recording and releasing demos online under the name South Acid Mimi Dance Team in 2014.
Their early songs are dark and uplifting sketches of frantic breakbeats and sudden mood swings backed by addictive grooves, spastic synth lines and guitar riffs in overdrive. Their talent for catchy melodies on tracks like lucy in the sky with dolphins and THE END emerge in bilingual lyrics about love, hate and drugs, the layered instrumentation a testament to Shishi’s maturation as a producer, employing experimental recording techniques with random bits of percussion and overdosed ukulele reverb.
With a gritty punk aggression and spacey electronic rhythms, you might think South Acid Mimi were from Beijing or Shanghai – but upon visiting them in their sunny southwestern habitat, it is evident they are a Kunming creation. Oversaturated colours. Dramatic tones. Fresh fruit and blue skies. The warm and mountainous region is the psytrance mecca of China, the band all dedicated ravers adept in poi, with love psychedelia and belief in divination.
Weilin is from Nujiang, home of the Lisu people on the border of north Myanmar. The region is home to dozens of ethnic groups wearing traditional patterns on their hats and clothes – colour is literally woven into the fabric of Yunnan society.
Armfuls of bold and bizarre tattoos, there is a physicality to the Mimi aesthetic – decapitation, DIY punk collage and playful disorder. A little grunge, a little glam, a sisterhood bound by ink.
“Nu ma du gu sa ji ba, za po ma ge za ma mi…” (x3)
Yixiao is cradling a honeydew in one arm and shovelling it into her mouth with a tablespoon, wearing a Free Tibet t-shirt with bright yellow pigtails hanging on either side of her head. It’s mid-afternoon at LockGroove studio and following last night’s Orchestra of Spheres gig, the hangover is real.
Erica is formulating a plan for the music video on a few hours sleep and a greasy fry-up of eggs and shredded potato. VJ Sid is on the phone to a friend in Kunminghua sourcing a tripod. Weilin is collecting props. Mani, the honorary Māori delegate, is swinging some poi around her wrists. I am wrecked from trying to keep drinking pace with the girls the night before, translating snippets of chat amongst the group. Shiyang, the mastermind behind the band, lights another slim and brings us a round of cold beers from the fridge. Not all heroes wear capes.
I think places with a lot of different ethnic groups are generally more open towards things.
NUNUDUGU is the first track they wrote. The lyrics are a Lisu (傈僳) nursery rhyme from Weilin’s childhood which means “to feed on milk,” with a few swears and insults added for good measure. It is a tipsy adoration of nature, humans, rock and roll and electronica.
Three girls from Kunming, three girls from New Zealand. Shopping List: yogurt, coloured pantyhose, party balloons, black eyeliner and booze. Check. Carrying an assortment of gear, hula hoops, paper umbrellas and giant balloons salvaged from the previous night’s stage installation, the NUNUDUGU circus was in full swing.
Inspired by a promo shot of the band, Sklen envisioned the band brightly lit from the front against a plain white background. An empty room with a white wall was scouted at a friend’s nearby apartment, where we set up my haggard old Canon Rebel XSi and gaffer taped her projector to a chair as set lighting. Shiyang opened her laptop and played the track. Action.
The excitement was high, the meizijiu on flow. Guided by a rough list of shots on Erica’s laptop, the shoot was five hours of one takes and dance sequences, prop improvisation and hilarity. Beautiful coincidences emerged everywhere – upon chucking balloons out the window, a perfect breath of wind caught them in a slow dance against the sky.
South Acid are naturals, taking everything we threw at them and upping it even further. It takes a special artist to hold a close up and make various food products look both sexy and repulsive. Too many moments. When Shiyang returned from the bathroom with black daggers painted from the corners of her eyes. When Yixiao poured an entire bottle of yogurt on her head. When Weilin stared down the lens and and blew a bubble in slow motion with complete nonchalance. Sklen capturing all this with full artistry and amazement. Throwing and kicking the balloons at each other, Mani and I doubled over in hysterics. An an all female cast and crew, that little room overlooking the city was overflowing with mutual respect and support.
“I’m interested in the way that women in music are represented, then taking ownership over that and fucking with it.”
— Erica Sklenars a.k.a. Lady Lazer Light
Directed and produced by New Zealand visual artist Erica Sklenars, the NUNUDUGU dream machine was realised on shoestring budget and little post production magic, featuring calligraphy from the band, Wa symbolism and psychedelic bursts of emoji.
Rooted in cross-cultural sisterhood, remixed indigenous identities and a love of dancing, this video is about taking ownership of your own image and intoxicating it into something both seductive and sickening.
We’ve been fermenting this one for a while now. And here it is.
Music "NUNUDUGU" by South Acid Mimi 南方酸性咪咪 Lyrics by South Acid Mimi 南方酸性咪咪 Directed by Erica Sklenars Produced by Erica Sklenars and Kristen Ng Filmed by Erica Sklenars, Kristen Ng and Mani Dunlop
South Acid Mimi are preparing to release their debut album in May 2018, recorded and produced by Li Ping at Gebi, Yiwu on Beijing-based indie label Ruby Eyes.
Check out the Chinese release on WeChat here.