Happy New Year everyone.
Chinese New Year feels like a grace period, a second shot at beginning again. All the shops are closed, the streets are empty. It’s as if the past hazy month since New Year’s was actually just a gaping hole in the space time continuum which gets miraculously gobbled up into the fabric of the universe. That was all just a glitch in the matrix. Onwards.
With that said, there’s reflection that needs to be had, a thanks to be given, a thread to be neatly knotted and trimmed. Inhale and exhale with even breaths.
Back in June, I suddenly returned to New Zealand to sort out my visa once and for all. There’s nothing that makes you feel more incompetent and un-shit-togethered as the impending expiry of official travel documents. I thought I would be back for three weeks, I ended up staying for more than eight, rediscovering the whenua and multiculture of modern day Wellington.
I perched in the rockpools of Scorching Bay, bought vegetables in Newtown, sank jugs on Cuba and sang “Not Many” by Scribe at Fringe Bar. I power walked down Lambton Quay, blazed through the Town Belt, dangled my feet from the Seatoun Wharf and cradled moments in the icy waters of Princess Bay. We jammed drum machines in Berhampore, sipped sun kissed brews in Aro Valley, marvelled at Matariki fireworks on the waterfront. We met gorgeous newborn whānau in Titahi Bay. I walked memory lane in Hataitai, took the train to Porirua, caught the bus to Petone. I attended a poetry reading in Thorndon and op-shopped through Miramar and Kilbirnie. I devoured Sodden Downstream in Civic Square, drank coffee in Strathmore, made love in Island Bay… I listened to Radio Active, The Breeze and birdsong. I rallied with nurses outside the hospital and anti-anti-abortion groups outside Parliament. I laughed a lot, cried a bit, felt grateful.
Things I love about Wellington:
- Nature – the bays, Town Belt, lookouts and peaks. Fresh air, deep blue sea, pink clouds smudged against the sky.
- Second hand shopping – Opportunity for Animals, Vinnies, Sallies, Rebound, David White… Picked up a bunch of buzzy cassettes, a Beyonce biography for $2, some jumpers, an ornamental spoon… there’s something so calming about slowly wandering around second hand shops and fossicking through used items.
- Walking up and down hills – Wellington terrain in a nutshell. Feeling the familiar burn in my thighs and heave of my lungs from mishing up hills in Mt Vic and Kelburn.
- Diversity of food and people – sup sup sup all my fave restaurants. Ironically the places I ate out most were Chinese – KCs, Rams, yum cha… sup sup sup all the multicultural whanau in the hood.
- Gigs – caught some great shows this time round – highlights include Womb at the Space Place and with i.e. crazy and Ursula Le Sin at Caroline, The All Seeing Hand with Orchestra of Spheres at Meow, Beastwars at San Fran, Earth Tongue at Valhalla, and E N T, Strange Stains and Big Fat Raro at Pyramid Club. Appreciate all the creative juices and far out wacky cats of the Wellington indie scene.
There’s something so steady and consistent about Wellington, a vessel containing a lifetime of slow burning memories.. A park we used to play in, a tree we used to swing from… that time we pushed a couch down this hill, jumped off that wharf, egged that window… It felt grounding to revisit them, though I pined for the hot summer days of Chengdu.
Many places of memory have long been demolished and built over.
Momentum pushes forward relentlessly.
Change strengthens resolve, adapt quickly or be left behind.
Yulin is falling.
Sharks never sleep, so they never stop swimming.
Nothing is forever, so just enjoy the ride.
Every year a blur of appearances and disappearances, rises and falls, births and deaths. The Year of the Dog was no different. The places we seek solace in music know best. Venues come and venues go, this year many evaporated as quickly as they appeared.
In what is becoming an almost annual tradition, we got kicked out of the Poly Centre again. Since the Crack Down in 2017, .TAG is the only club left in Poly. After a month long exile, they returned once more. Kitted out with a somewhat improved sound system and new lighting rig, they are still the number one club for house and techno ravers in Chengdu. In particular, this year I was blown away by Leafar Legov, Naduve and Orpheu the Wizard. Masterful stuff. Nothing beats that 21st floor sunrise and a lit .TAG dance floor. Praise be. On 2018.12.12, we hosted XII, a techno rave ritual that attracted 200 punters on a weeknight. Check out the review. Words can’t do justice.
In March, the highly ambitious Underpass opened in the underground level of 339 by the TV Tower, four different clubs NOX, Exit, Jam Room and Nomad, connected with designer concrete, mirror and steel hallways. With it’s slick blue and red neons and visual projections, the Instagram playground of Underpass looked to be a triumphant new era in the Chengdu club scene. In the beginning, it felt like a Post-Poly Renaissance was on the rise, but it wasn’t to be.
Baby Exit opened with a hype driven set by Shanghai-based producer Tzusing and was the first to fold, having never found it’s niche next to it’s enormous big brother NOX, a mammoth space with multiple bars and seating areas with a ribcage-shaking VOID sound system. Then there was the smoky, house driven Nomad, complete with a vibrating dance floor and Zebra head mounted to the DJ booth. Their attempts at a purely house music ethos came unstuck in the latter half of the year, booking techno heavyweight Boris, Discwoman hard hitter Umfang and The Bunker New York’s own Gunnar Haslam in quick succession. As of December, the whole thing came unstuck, Nomad succumbing to pressure to turn into a commercial bar, changing hands a little over six months after opening.
Despite hosting the multi-venue, free entry Underpass Festival a mind boggling three times, the whole area failed to gain real traction. Whether the security too foreboding, the drinks too expensive or the vibe just not right, they flailed between having either very little people, or far too many people, the police crashing the Ayi 鬼市 Ghost Market event in October, which was flooded by thousands of punters queuing to browse the stalls at midnight.
We know what happens next. Smash, refurbish, repeat.
Perhaps one of the most bizarre and exciting venues to surface this year was 富力天汇 or 6M for short, an eerie former KTV building north of Tianfu Square. Industrial elevators and cargo ramps took you up to a floor of dusty rooms and large lobby spaces where ghosts chased candy chomping Pacman from doorway to doorway, DJs booths appeared out internal windows, a descent down an escalator led to a stage with a glass window to nowhere. Hidden nooks and crannies a plenty, rooms remained adorned with the kitsch hallmarks of a KTV gone by – a faux leather sofa here, a lonely microphone stand there… It kitted itself out quickly with bars and a pool table, notorious fighting ring Monster Club even moved in from the Poly Centre, but sound systems always had to brought in by the promoter.
Locals say the building has some of the worst fengshui in all Chengdu. Some say it’s haunted. Party attendees have described a feeling of being possessed. The parties were loose. With Poly closed mid-year and regulations on ticketed shows in live music venues tightened, the dark and mysterious zone was adopted by everyone from LAB, Morning 早上好 and Funky Town, each organiser morphing the space into a different multifaceted beast. The “Earth and Moon” parties run by .TAG took things to the next level, transforming the space into an extraterrestrial party plateau, hosting stellar nights with DJ Masda, Honey Soundsystem, San Soda, DJ Dustin of Giegling and of course a top notch array of local DJs from labels such as PLUR and Blue Night.
Impermanence. The dozens of empty rooms were leased out as cheap studio spaces, making way for a co-habitation of various tenants. Photography studios were attracted to the darkness, DJs to the thick, soundproofed walls and wall-mounted KTV speakers. Then suddenly, sometime before skate punk label BFCD were set to hold their Christmas Show, the building got repossessed and the plugged was pulled on the whole thing, literally. The lights went out for 6M.
Everything is temporary, don’t get too attached.
LAB, formerly Warming Up, known for their epic sunrise raves on the Wangfujing Rooftop (RIP), took the party elsewhere with the “Basi Rave.” After getting turfed out of 6M, LAB relocated for the third time in a year, setting up in an old noodle restaurant on the lower floor of 339, where the DJ booth served beats from the kitchen bench. Not officially a club, LAB still managed to host international acts including Denis Kaznacheev and Ciel in their small space with a makeshift bar and house party vibes.
The urban subway construction project went turbo beast mode this year. Colossal machines occupy the inner city, hammering away all day and night. Footpaths are overflowing with Ofo / Mobike / Alipay / Didi share bikes. With gaping holes in the ground, the city is divided.
In the midst of it on the corner of Kehua Bei Lu and Jinxiu Lu, encircled by dug out roads and walls, the area by Funky Town and Pizza Corner has been walled off from the main street for almost eight months now, tucked away from the prying eyes of authorities who used to make regular calls to their open-air street level balcony.
Surrounded by walls of graffiti, Funky Town has evolved into a kind of sub-city of it’s own, the raucous little den blossoming in the heart of a construction site, hosting booming, uninterrupted parties from Tuesday to Sunday, the original funk, disco and hip hop vibes extending into nights of minimal house, Cantopop and even punk. 文明舞厅.
The subway is set to be complete by 2020, until then, Funky Town look to take full advantage of their temporary isolation.
Over in Soho, 33 Studio moved across the gap and built a beautiful glass room attached to the front of Hakka Kitchen, running several electronic production workshops alongside their DJ schooling program. With Hise moving back to the Netherlands, the monthly synth sessions at Berlin Haus have come to an end. Under new management, the former bar/cafe has become a casual co-working space with occasional art exhibitions and movie nights. Long standing Hakka Bar is still chugging along in a plume of smoke, often found with more people lingering on the fringes of it than actually inside.
Amidst the turbulent shuffling of club venues, stability was retained elsewhere.
NU SPACE is now well settled in it’s new location at the top of Kuixinglou Jie, continuing to host a diverse range of live shows throughout the week. One of the highlights of the year had to be The Cribs (read the review by Kevin Bowes), who played back in May, tearing through tunes from all their most loved albums. On the back of their lo-fi, self-recorded EP《她从广场回来》 She Came Back from the Square, local heroes Hiperson went all out by turning the stage into a living room. With Chen Sijiang and Ji Yinan relocating to London, the show brought more than a tear to many eyes that night.
Electro powerhouse Stolen previewed their new album at NU SPACE as well this year with a “seated” listening presentation, which soon turned into a chair flipping mosh pit. Christopher Chaplin and Luma.Launisch dazzled the crowd with otherworldly sound and vision. We were mesmerised by the atmospheric cello improvisations of Lukas Lauermann. Yunnan reggae stalwarts Kawa brought the vibe. Auckland’s own Ron Gallipoli played a set of oddball dance tunes with Umbrellas, the new project by Shanghai-based Nick Walsh (Deer Park). Parisian electronic explorers Grand8 and Pabloid were so good I booked them a repeat show at Steam. Leagus from Norway pushed the boundaries of keys and guitar. In the local scene, emerging bands 狼旅 Long Travel, Deep Water and Angry Navel are my picks to keep an eye on.
The experimental performance night Blah Blah has continued to boggle minds on a semi-regular basis, hosting four sessions this year and featuring juxtaposing, mismatched performances from around the city. We had another session of the mammoth synthesiser show SYNC earlier this year featuring non-stop hardware sets from local electronic musicians. In January we launched the new Faux Club series, a monthly DJ event with a focus on providing quality dance music in a healthy, smokefree environment.
We brought back NUART Festival this year as a ticketed event, hosting two indoor stages with some of the most cutting edge artists from across China over three days. Highlights for me included White+, Dream Can, Die!ChiwawaDie! and Duck Fight Goose. For those missing the street vibes of past years, we had DJ Marco Duits back with his Paradise Records vinyl zone as well as The Wall, back to back DJs from afternoon till night, a diverse cross-section extracted from local dance labels.
Down the river, beloved watering hole Steam Hostel has had a strong and steady year, hosting their share of raucous Foozball and synth flavoured events. In May we hosted the oddball French producer Jacques on his second trip to Chengdu, an unofficial residency in a Steam bedroom followed by a sold out concert in the bar downstairs.
In collaboration with in-house video producers Havoc Studio and visual arts crew Puzaosi, this year Steam co-produced the audiovisual music series 另一种语言 Another Language, shooting live acts in beautiful locations and live streaming them to thousands online. This year featured Stolen, Hiperson, HWA (the modular synth moniker of Elvis.T) and more. Expect big things in 2019.
Further down the river, Jah Bar keep the fire burning, rocking everything from beat box to jazz jams to speed punk throughout the week as per. Coffin from Australia sculled beers from their shoes. Equal parts spellbinding and revolting. Biggaton returned once again and shared his Jamaican reggae dancehall wisdom.
While Morning早上好 have cut ties from their Morning House oasis in Flower Town, this year they continued to run their one and only weekend festival 春游 Chunyou, an undeniable favourite hosted on 4.20 every year. No strangers to location changes, Morning are experts at adaptability, taking the festival to Fanmu Art Zone in the east and kitting it out with two stages, market zone, multiple bars and hot pot on the lawn facing the Main Stage. Yes, hot pot at the Main Stage. Chunyou is such a good time that even Higher Brothers turned up and crashed the line-up, swaggering in between reggae big band JahWahZoo and Hiperson. Serving rock and roll and punk all afternoon, with smatterings of roots reggae, ethnic folk, soul and live electronic sets on the indoor stage, Chunyou once again had something for everyone, even a special Chunyou craft beer in collaboration with Harvest Brewery. No one does it quite like Morning, the undisputed kings of Chengdu chill, ni shao de san! Can’t wait for the next.
Now unburdened by the challenges of running a venue, Morning have developed their touring and artist residencies both local and international, hosting British pop producer Femme in November this year.
The peaceful district of Yulin got hit by the bulldozers this year. But it wasn’t all bad for Yulin music. Machu Picchu, 潜水艇 Submarine and the newly opened bar 玉林西路87号 87club kept on ticking with their acoustic night, so far uninterrupted by the looming construction works. Government sponsored initiative 院子 The Yard opened this year, providing studio spaces for Chengdu indie label New Noise, digital art collective Puzaosi, video production team Havoc Studio, the photography crew PH7, Morning早上好, Little Bar and more…
With all these comings and goings, it is comforting to know as long as there is good food, good company and fun “耍” to be had, Chengdu will remain unrelenting in it’s pursuit of good times.
I continued developing my music as Kaishandao this year, though consciously deciding to playing less shows. This year I had the opportunity to play at Chunyou, Vital Festival and Welcome to Nowhere, as well as the new performance series Small Projects 小计划 run by Wu Zhuoling. I upgraded my set up to a Machinedrum and an Octatrack and I am experimenting with combinations of drum patterns and guitar loops, as well as old cassette tapes, influenced by what I hear out in the clubs and things I hear online. This year I plan to record and release some music to share with you all.
The Year of the Dog had it’s highs and lows for me personally as well, though I am glad to say mostly highs.
I quit smoking. I got punched in the face. I fell in love. I cherished moments and dwelled in others. I pursued all night raves. I delighted in peace and quiet. I read books. I sought to be kind to myself and to others and create spaces for people to express themselves and enjoy themselves. The lapping waves of Wellington and the towering high rises of Chengdu made me at home.
This year I am excited to tour ethereal Wellington whanau band Womb and the “Bogan Madonna” of New Zealand Strange Stains through China in June/July. And Ursula Le Sin in August. Stay tuned. The Year of the Pig is going to be juicy.
Some Albums I loved in the Year of the Dog:
Thanks for all the support in the Year of the Dog, Happy New Year and see you soon.