High Times with Shanren

Back in January, Kiwese hung out with the boys from Shanren 山人 (mountain men) in Beijing to chat about ethnic music fusions, tourism development in Yunnan and their upcoming trip to New Zealand for WOMAD.

Shanren are a band from the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in the south-west of China, where the mountains are tall and majestic, the people are warm and hospitable and the traditional cultures of various ethnic minorities thrive away from the scurry of the metropolitan centres. The band, consisting of lead singer and guitarist Qu Zihan [瞿子寒], bassist Ai Yong [艾勇], drummer Ou Jianyun aka Xiao Ou [欧建云], vocal instrumentalist Xiao Bu Dian [小不点] and Sam [夏天] on percussion, are all multi-instrumentalists who possess an artillery of instruments, such the qinqin [秦琴] (a three stringed lute with high frets), the Yi banjo [彝族月琴], the sanxian [三弦] (a type of three stringed banjo), bamboo flutes, tooth harps and a smorgasbord of percussion. It’s a wonder they can all fit it all on stage.

Shanren's logo. Easier to appreciate the epic simplicity if you can read hanzi.
Shanren’s logo. Easier to appreciate the epic simplicity if you can read hanzi.

When Sam said they could meet for an interview at the Sheraton Hotel, I was somewhat puzzled. Aren’t these guys based in Beijing now? Why are they at a five-star hotel? All was to be revealed upon my arrival, as I walked passed the gaggle of Yunnanese girls in full ethnic headwear, costume and make up, past the illuminated signage full of curated snippets on the beauty and splendor of Yunnan [lit. south of the clouds] and through to the back room where the band had stationed themselves away from the formalities.

I shook their hands as I went round the room and asked them all to sign my guitar, bestowing Qu Zihan with a plastic bag full of Tsingdao cans, which Xiao Ou soon descended on with boyish glee. They seemed knackered, potentially hungover, and keen to wrap up what had been a morning of performing for people who were not exactly like regulars from their usual habitat of reggae bars and festival stages. Nervously placing my iPhone on top of a beer can, we commenced the interview.

Ai Yong was sprawled out on the chairs, while Qu Zihan was in a more able state to answer questions. “The band formed at the end of 1999, then it was on and off for a while,” he explained “at first, it was just me and Xiao Ou, followed by a bassist who is not with the band anymore. Then Ai Yong came along. And Sam. Then in 2007, Xiao Bu Dian joined in too. That’s pretty much how it went.”

Aside from the geographic significance behind the name, Qu Zihan says the phrase ‘shānrén’ also gives a nod to ancient figures in Chinese history who would choose to live a hermit [隐士, yǐnshì] existence away from the public eye, in order to dedicate their lives to art and culture. Think of reclusive but brilliant Tang poets, tucked away high up in the mountains, writing in perfect solitude. Kind of Romanticist in a way.

Shanren with some of their folk instruments. Photo from Jue Festival site.
Shanren from left: Ai Yong, Qu Zihan, Ou Jianyun, Xiao Bu Dian. Photo from Jue Festival website.

Though the band have been around since the late nineties, it’s only in recent years that they have released some studio recordings, including a self-titled EP (2009), the highly praised ‘Listen to the Mountains’ [听山] (2012) and their latest offering ‘Left Foot Dance of the Yi and other Chinese folk rock anthems,’ (2013) released last year to excited appraisal from international and Chinese music critics alike.

Listening to the album is a rollercoaster ride, underpinned by voices that bounce back and forth through the call and answer group vocals – a style that is perfectly realised through the crispness and succinctness of Chinese syllables. Bluesy hammer-ons and bends on traditional lute strings swim through the song ‘Thirty Years.’ The pop choruses heard in ‘Bi Li Tong,’ are starkly contrasted with haunting, dystopian wails atop bustling city soundscapes in the duel tracks ‘Wandering’ and ‘Lost.’ Hip-hop even rears its head in ‘Song of the Wa,’ featuring a rap from Ai Yong in his native tongue and record-scratching effects produced with a mouth harp. ‘The Crab’ is a reggae-infused mojito getaway, followed by the upbeat vibes of ‘Yi Wa’ which layers Chinese flute, rumbling percussion and loud group calls not unlike a Samoan sasa.

Qu Zihan saying it like it is. Image from Shanren douban page.
Qu Zihan saying it like it is. Image from Shanren’s Douban page.

“At first we called ourselves ‘ethnic rock,’ but it didn’t feel accurate,” says Qu Zihan of their inimitable style, “so we came up with the name ‘agricultural metal’ [农业金属]  partly inspired by ‘industrial metal’ [工业金属] in the West.”

The album is a triumph – the techniques, instruments, dialects, rhythms and melodies a cohesion of both the mountainous highlands of China’s south-west, and the influences they have encountered from lands of other altitudes – The Beatles, Nirvana and Bob Dylan were names that floated round the room.

“We try to bring the atmosphere of the mountains to the stage,” says drummer Xiao Ou of performing in a stage environment, “of course there can be a distance, but the audience can still dance and feel the vibe even if they are behind the handrails.” Xiao Bu Dian, who fashions a long plait of black hair, counters the point, “our music is not traditional – it’s a fusion with modern aesthetics,” he says “to me there is no difference in the delivery between being on a big stage and being in the mountains.”

Xiao Bu Dian rocking it on stage last year
Xiao Bu Dian rocking it on stage last year. Image from Shanren’s Douban page.

‘Drinking Song’ [酒歌] is Shanren’s signature track; the Chinese answer to ‘Bliss.’ “Xiao Ou probably drinks the most,” Qu Zihan says, as he ashes his cigarette in a recently drained beer can. “In Yunnan we have paojiu,” Xiao Ou explains, while cracking open another Tsingdao, “which is like baijiu steeped with things like quince, jujube, snakes and stuff.” Hold up, wait, what?! I was as perplexed by the concept of preserved snake liquor as they were by fermented apple cider. Laughter ensued and more beers were shared round.

Since forming in Kunming, the band have now moved from the fresh air of Yunnan to ‘the big smoke,’ where the phrase takes on a more literal sense with regard to Beijing. “That video was shot near Beijing,” Qu Zihan says of the video for ‘第五期,’ set alongside lush, flowing rivers and green foliage, “though these kind of places are getting rarer and rarer due to the pollution. Sometimes the entire region from Sichuan to the north-east is completely covered in smog. But most places in Yunnan are still good.”

Taken in Shangri La, 香格里拉, Yunnan last summer. The town was renamed after the mystical land in James Hilton's novel in 2001 for tourism reasons. Originally known as Zhongdian [中甸], it continues to remain so on most public buses.
Taken in Shangri La, 香格里拉, Yunnan last summer. The town was renamed after the mystical land in James Hilton’s novel in 2001 for tourism reasons. Originally known as Zhongdian [中甸], it continues to retain this name on most public buses.
In addition to the landscape, Yunnan can boast a healthy music scene, with Dali long having been considered the ‘hippie capital’ of China for musicians, while the capital Kunming provides a hub for local artists in the region. “I think the music scene in Kunming is great at the moment – nowadays there are a lot of music venues and it’s a definitely being included by more touring independent artists,” says Qu Zihan of his hometown. “There are definitely more opportunities for us here though, in smaller places there is not always an audience,” he says, “in Beijing, you just have to get on stage and people will be there to listen. That is the nature of this city.”

Mountain men. Photo from World Music.
Mountain men. Photo from World Music.

Shan Ren’s application for funding to play at WOMADelaide and WOMAD New Zealand were rejected by the Chinese Ministry of Culture – but instead of canceling, WOMAD agreed to fund the band themselves. “We are really looking forward to seeing acts from all over the world play in one place,” beamed Xiao Bu Dian. Hanggai, who Shanren have performed with on the Beijing circuit for years, played at the three-day camping festival back in 2011, which was extremely well received by the festival’s eclectic mix of sunburnt jivers. “Hanggai said WOMAD was a big platform for sharing music,” says Qu Zihan, “and I heard that New Zealand is where they filmed Lord of the Rings,” he added, “I wanna see that – it’s beautiful.” The boys will also be doing a cooking workshop at the Kunming Garden area, as fate would have it their hometown and New Plymouth are sister cities!

Xiao Bu Dian surprised me by with his knowledge of hongi custom and the didgeridoo of Australia, though the band are no strangers to touring outside of China – working hard with crowdfunding campaigns to get to Europe, South East Asia and the States in recent years. “Unfortunately we won’t have time to travel in New Zealand after WOMAD,” says Sam, who has been involved with the band for several years as a percussionist and dancer, “we are going to Australia for about a week, then Ecuador before that!” It’s a shame we can’t show off a bit of New Zealand ‘shan’ while they are here, I thought.

Typical me being a fan and having a photo with the band.
Typical me being a fan and having a photo with the band.

“Great t-shirt,” Qu Zihan remarked, pointing at my tie-dyed ‘大理风景’ [Dali Scenery] t-shirt bought on my recent trip to Yunnan. We talked about the rapid increase of commercial tourism in Yunnan, which was why they had been brought in to play at the Sheraton.

Ai Yong, who had been silent for the duration of the interview, uttered his first words.

“A lot of things have disappeared. Old villages are being torn down [拆, chāi] and local people are being told to move out. It changes people’s traditional lifestyles, but they come and cut down the rambutan trees, then smile together and have a toast. Even when we were kids I remember it being like this. Though it is happening not only just here in China, but all over the world.” Its not difficult to see what he means, when campaigns like this are fast becoming a reality. Note: apocalyptic music.

The symbol for 'To be Demolished,' 拆 [chāi] is a more and more common appearance as China work towards modernising the country. Image China Daily.
The symbol for ‘To be Demolished,’ 拆 [chāi] is a more and more common appearance as China work towards modernising the country. Image from China Daily.
The band feel strongly about preserving and maintaining the native mother languages of their regions, in an age where standardized Mandarin [普通话, pǔtōnghuà] is the expectation in schools. “In Kunming, there have been times where if you are wearing ethnic clothes and get into a car, they say Wa people have to give more money,” he says, closely followed by the only English of the interview: “…fuck you!”

The mixture of personalities and often-contrary opinions within the group is something I loved about Shanren. The banter and jokes that went down at each other’s expense – often dished out in a Yunnanese dialect, reflected the way they interact as a band who are never content to conform with one standard.

“There are some policies that give special consideration for ethnic minorities to attend school,” commented Xiao Bu Dian, who is of the Buyi People, “I think its okay.”

“Dude, you look heaps like this New Zealand rapper called King Kapisi,” I mention to Ai Yong, who has grown up in places all round central-northern Yunnan like Dali, Lijiang and Kunming. Turns out, the Wa People are of the Austronesian ethnic group, who have connections to the migratory history to the Pacific Islands.

“Stay and eat with us!” they warmly entreated at the end of the ‘official’ interview, exuding that warm hospitality that is often bestowed by the Chinese, “really, you should come and eat a bit.” Having had such a great time with them and even jamming some guitars, how could I refuse?!

Woah. A large banquet hall was set up for the ‘Colourful Yunnan: Quality Travel’ [七彩云南: 品质旅游] event, a Sims build mode-esque theme song played on repeat over the speakers while delegates in suits and cocktail dresses chattered away exchanging business cards beneath the faux chandeliers. Once we had sufficiently ravaged the buffet of vegetables, meats, seafoods, snacks, eggs, salads, cakes and fresh fruits, a high heeled hostess addressed the table in extremely polite putonghua and presented each of us with beverages and glasses with robot like efficiency. “There’s no word for ‘cheesy’ in Chinese,” Sam laughed, “I’ve been trying to explain it to them for years, but they have no concept of it.”

Having a feed with Shanren at the Colourful Yunnan expo.
Having a feed with the boys at the Colourful Yunnan expo.

Having visited Yunnan as a tourist, it was insane to see the other side it – the industry behind those upcoming, half-completed luxury resorts in Xishuangbanna. “What do you think of these adverts?” I asked Qu Zihan, as I shoveled more vegetable rice into my mouth. “They’re so boring,” [非常无聊, fēicháng wúliáo] he said, flicking through the glossy picture advertisements of Yunnan tourist statistics and new developments.

While the left foot is dancing the Yi, the right foot is treading a distinctive path of its own – and the world is listening.

Shanren. They are the ones truly representing Yunnan.

Shanren Schedule for WOMAD this weekend:

  • FRI 14th March: 8.15pm @ Chimney Stage

  • SAT 1pm @ Dell Stage – doing a workshop!

  • SAT 4pm @ Taste the World – doing a cooking class!

  • SUN 4pm @ Chimney Stage

Special thanks to Lin Yin for her help with transcribing and translation, Sam for sussing the meeting, Colourful Yunnan for the free food and of course the Shanren boys for being champs! See you at WOMAD!

Chinese Rock Royalty: Tang Dynasty in New Zealand

Tang Dynasty, 唐朝乐队, are often hailed as China’s first heavy metal band and are a household name to many in a country of more than a billion people. Kiwese met up with these members of Chinese rock royalty while they were in Wellington.

Tang Dynasty came to New Zealand to play at a variety of Chinese cultural events and functions in our three biggest cities, with sponsorship from the Chinese Government’s Ministry of Culture, Asia New Zealand and Cathay Pacific. To be completely honest – I had some reservations. “Wouldn’t Medusa/Valve/Hole in the Wall/whatever the fuck its called now have been a far superior pick?!” I muttered to myself every time I heard the words ‘The Grand’ in the lead up to Tang Dynasty’s Wellington side show, slotted in between their performances at the Auckland and Christchurch Lantern Festivals. WHY were they booked at a steak house in between Burger King and a strip club?

Chen Lei, self proclaimed fan of Van Halen and Megadeth.
Chen Lei, self proclaimed fan of Van Halen and Megadeth.

But it worked. People were there. Throngs of excited, camera-wielding Chinese fans occupying the standing area in front of the low platform stage, big groups of chain smokers utilizing the multiple deck areas, I felt like I was in Beijing. From kiddies, to grandmas, to metal fans to Embassy officials – the eclectic crowd gathered for what would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Chinese rock royalty up close and personal. For perspective’s sake, here is a video of Tang Dynasty playing to thousands of people at MIDI Festival in 2010.

Pretty much definitive of the snap happy crowd at The Grand.
Pretty much definitive of the snap happy crowd at The Grand.

I found the band lingering in plumes of cigarette smoke on the sunny balcony of The Grand during their afternoon sound check. “Let’s go out the back,” Ding Wu 丁武, founding member, lead singer and guitarist says alongside Chen Lei 陈磊, the foot stomping lead guitarist, “we can smoke out there.”

The band have been flat out with the performances, but it hasn’t been all work no play. “This afternoon we went down to that beach over there,” says Chen Lei, as he points in the direction of Oriental Bay, “we’ve had time to walk around a bit, it is a beautiful place.” They also managed to visit a friend’s house and check out the Weta Cave in Miramar.  “The first things I noticed about New Zealand is the weather, the air and the seascapes,” adds Ding Wu, “you always overlook the ocean here – in Beijing, there is no ocean.”

Oriental Bay, Wellington. Appreciate.
Oriental Bay, Wellington. Appreciate.

Tang Dynasty was formed back in 1988 – a controversial year in the spectrum of Chinese history – through a passion for music, obsession with cheap imported glam rock cassettes and long locks of warrior like black hair.  “Up until the time of the Asian Games in 1990, people had been repressed for so long by the Cultural Revolution and they were keen to have a new voice,” Ding Wu remarks, carefully thinking over his words, while speaking in a confident and relaxed way. “When we emerged it was to foster a view of Chinese youth for foreigners – yeah, we are middle aged now, but I feel we’ve presented a Chinese understanding of life and music.”

td
Gu Zhong on bass, Ding Wu on guitar and lead vocals, Chen Lei on lead guitar. Photo by Laurel Carmichael.

The lead up to the Asian Games saw Tang Dynasty perform at the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing on 1 May 1990, where they captivated the audience of thousands of previously introverted and unexposed Chinese music fans. This benchmark performance triggered their induction as eternal members of Chinese rock royalty, releasing their first best-selling album, ‘A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty‘ [梦回唐朝]  in 1992, which has sold around two million genuine copies and inspired legions of Chinese teens to ditch the piano and shred some electric guitar instead. Illegal downloads and pirated CDs have long been an issue in China, but Ding Wu says bigger websites like xiami.com are giving artists more control over their content.

“When Tang Dynasty started out, we went down a more traditional metal path, but it has gradually evolved into a type of art or experimental rock,” Ding Wu explains, after graciously receiving my gift of Beastwars’ latest album ‘Blood Becomes Fire’ and Shihad’s ‘Churn,’ Wellington bands chosen to provide a sliver of NZ’s metal scene. “In Auckland, people could sing along with lots of songs, including our latest album ‘Thorn’ which was released just last year. We are really happy about that.”

Cover art for 'Thorn' - Tang Dynasty's fourth album. A subtle commentary on strength and power balance.
Cover art for ‘Thorn’ – Tang Dynasty’s fourth studio album. While China’s censorship rules may prevent any critique of the system, here lies a subtle commentary on strength and the balance of power.

‘Thorn’ [猛刺] is the band’s latest offering – the searing guitar solos, thumping tom-toms and sometimes Peking Opera-like vocal harmonies exuding the sound that has made them so popular, while other songs feature Chinese flutes and traditional strings in natural soundscapes. “This album describes an anti-war sentiment and advocates for environmental protection,” Ding Wu says, “China’s population is so large, environmental awareness still hasn’t reached the level of western countries. There have been efforts for many years but it’s not a problem that can be solved overnight. On the one hand, change needs to come from how we conduct ourselves, like not throwing cigarette butts or spitting everywhere – Chinese people have these bad habits.”

To me, being sponsored by the Chinese Government to play at events that promote Chinese culture doesn’t exactly fit with the rebelliousness of rock music, even though the band take their name from the Tang Dynasty – the Golden Age of China’s artistic history. “There’s a bit of pressure,” Ding Wu admits in a contemplative voice between drags on his cigarette, “but really we just wanna naturally convey who we are through our passion for music, our attitude towards life and our politeness, I feel this is us. I feel a lot of people overseas don’t really have an understanding of Chinese people. Opportunities to emerge from China are few and far between while the majority of them are quite official, with Government performances and so on.” Read the regulations of the Ministry of Culture here.

Tang Dynasty brought a deafening, old-school concoction of hard rock that is not often seen live in Wellington.
Tang Dynasty brought a deafening, old-school concoction of hard rock that is not often seen live in Wellington. Photo by Laurel Carmichael.

Ding Wu and Chen Lei are positive about the music scene in China, noting developments of music circles in cities outside of Beijing. “There are more than 500 music festivals in China now,” says Ding Wu, “MIDI and Strawberry Festivals, we’ve been to all of these bigger ones before – they act as a platform to showcase all different kinds of rock music,” he explains, “the equipment, hardware, stage crews and production are a lot better than how they used to be, and this has helped music in China a lot.” Commercial music festivals are getting more and more popular in China as young people look for ways to discover new music and lifestyles. “It’s a cultural phenomenon that allows people to chill out and relieve themselves of life’s pressures, which is a huge need for many Chinese people.”

Gu Zhong keeping it steady on bass
Gu Zhong 顾忠 on bass. The original bassist, Zhang Ju, died in a tragic motorcycle crash in 1995.

A wall of cameras, iPhones, even iPads burst into the air as the band took the stage, opening with the title track of their first album, the predominantly Chinese audience were gleeful at being able to get so close to a band of ultimate stadium status. “We will be giving out photographs and copies of our new album to friends that we like,” smiles Ding Wu from centre-stage, a place where he seems to be extremely comfortable and at ease, rousing the audience into an excited frenzy as he spoke in Mandarin. “You guys must really like it here eh,” he observes, “these blue skies and white clouds [蓝蓝的天, 白白的云 / lán lán de tiān, bái bái de yún.”]

Patrick, a big metal fan from Wellington, came to the show after a friend posted it on his Facebook. “I haven’t seen a Chinese band before – and I saw these guys in a documentary called Headbangers Journey, by a Canadian dude from Global Metal.” A familiar face around town, DJ Shan was also in attendance, repping his Singaporean Chinese roots while doing sound for the opening act JGeeks, a taiaha wielding, bass infused Maori dance crew, who contributed the ‘New Zealand culture’ for the evening.

Me fan-girling at the front. Photo by Elizabeth Coulton.
Me fan-girling at the front. Photo by Elizabeth Coulton.

The whole performance was delivered with enthusiasm and precision, Zhao Nian 赵年, skillfully driving the rhythm from behind the drums. Whether you could understand the lyrics and the banter or not, Ding Wu had the crowd hanging on his every word as he oozed friendliness, gratitude and even some zodiac animal noise impressions. The gig (or function, you could say) was carefully curated to provide a sense of cultural exchange between China and New Zealand. The band closing with a rousing version of Internationale, which had the crowd chanting along with nationalistic pride, karaoke style cameos from Embassy staff and collective on stage headbanging. Ding Wu summed up the general vibe with his last comment for the night – “你们是最牛逼!” which loosely translates to “you guys are freakin’ awesome.”

Ding Wu rocking out with an enthused dude on stage
Ding Wu rocking out with an enthused Wellington fan on stage. Photo by Laurel Carmichael.

So what kind of advice does the lead singer from one of China’s most famous bands have for aspiring Kiwi musicians?  “I welcome them to China,” he laughs, “if they get the opportunity to come to China they should come check it out, right?” Chur, Ding Wu.

Special thanks to Sudong for his amazing help with transcribing and translation and Laurel Carmichael for coming down and taking photos! Also thanks to Daniel from DMV Media, Yuan Yuan from the Chinese Embassy, Rebecca from Asia New Zealand, Patrick and Vaughan who I met at the show, Ding Wu, Chen Lei, Gu Zhong and Zhao Nian – the awesome dudes from Tang Dynasty.

Read the full interview below:

KN:      有一些问题,首先我的中文没有那么好
DW:  没问题
KN:   不好意思。你们觉得你们在新西兰怎么样,在奥克兰的表演怎么样?
DW:     那么第一次来新西兰,在奥克兰的表演其实还是真不错,我们没有想到在奥克兰在新西兰还有很多人喜欢听唐朝的音乐。那么这里的华人也确实比较多,整个演了四场都很成功,很多歌呢,大家都会跟着唱,包括我们这张<芒刺>的新专辑,去年才发的,这边也有人会唱,特别开心。
K:      啊!真的。在奥克兰你们的群众大部分是华裔,中国人还是…
DW:  中国人多
K:      中国人多?
DW:  对中国人多
K:      你们去新西兰的时候有去见,有没有去旅游,或者就是太忙表演….
CL:    表演还挺多的,也在附近逛了逛,很美很漂亮,
K:      啊,好。你觉得惠灵顿怎么样,我是惠灵顿人,所以
DW:     哦,惠灵顿也很漂亮啊,对了,今天咱们还去了哪里?
CL:    咱们上午去了那个周边的海边儿
DW:     海边呀,还去了那个港湾,那个
CL:       还去了一个朋友家里面儿
DW:  还去了个电影制作那个,指环王,阿凡达,制作电影那部分,特别好
K:      你们知道如何的新西兰乐队吗?
DW:  不好意思。。
CL:    咱们在那个奥克兰的时候还见着几支
DW:  奥克兰,见着几支,对
CL:    华人的那个乐队
K:      我要给你们这个小的礼物,我希望你们喜欢!
DW:     哟,谢谢,metal 乐队的
K:      这是Beastwars去年的专辑,他们是惠灵顿人
DW:  好的,谢谢,回去听一听
K:      这是Shihad,他们是新西兰最有名的乐队之一,这是1993年的转机。
DW:  噢,没那么久的,好的,明白,谢谢
K:      没事儿,你们觉着中国新西兰最大的差别是什么
DW:我觉着这边临海吧,北京没有海,因为我住在北京嘛,
K:      你是北京人对吧?
DW:  对,新西兰我感觉第一直觉好的是天气吧,这是非常好的,(K在插话),空气很好,(K继续插话)海景啦
CL:    生活没那么紧张
DW:  哎,对,好像看着生活没那么紧张
K:      对,人口比较少
DW:  对,人口比较少
K:      88年的时候,在中国的摇滚乐队多不多?
DW:  88年的时候,摇滚不算多,那么现在应该是比较多了,
K:      现在比较多了
DW:  对,现在比较多了,那么其实各个省各个地区都有乐队。那么后来来北京发展的比较多,大部分都应该集中在北京吧,应该是
K:      中国人88年时候习惯不习惯听摇滚?
DW:应该还是习惯吧,因为我们88年出来演出的时候,也是很多人喜欢吧,我觉着。一直到90年亚运会的时候,88年,89年,90年,这几年其实,因为是文革之后嘛,人们压抑了那么久,人们对新的声音还是很渴望的,我们看到那时候西方摇滚音乐已经开始在中国蔓延了。我们也是之前听了很多,我觉着还是有这个土壤的
K:      你们音乐有什么传统特色?
DW:  其实我们唐朝最初创立的时候还是比较遵循传统的***metal的路线,那么后期慢慢演变,慢慢过渡到一个实验型的或者艺术型的摇滚,并不拘泥与重金属啦已经,各种风格也比较多一点
K:      年轻人对古代文化感兴趣吗?
DW:  中国吗?古代的文化?传统文化这几年,文革十年其实是个断层吧,中国传统文化。那么这后几年吧,随着中国的开放,随着教训和经验,其实也在有所提升,我觉着。比如说一些历史故事啦,包括<三字经>呀,包括<弟子规>呀,包括中国道教啦,比如老子,像我们这一辈接触的可能不是太多,但是像我们的子女这一代接触的就相对多一些。传统文化其实也没有断吧,只是在那个文革十年之内有个断层
K:      我听说你们喜欢Rush乐队,什么别的乐队给你们大的有影响?
DW:     我觉得我们乐队四个人都不太一样,有一样都喜欢它,也有一样都不喜欢它,
CL:    这就是造成这个乐队多元化的一个原因,
DW:  但是总得说大部分不喜欢它流行摇滚,听的少一些,流行音乐听的少些,流行摇滚听的少一些,就是自己认为比较入耳的,还是像重金属,艺术摇滚,包括国外的一些经典的乐队,还是听的比较多,大部分都听过。像比较软一点的像backstreet这样的音乐,我们也有听过,还有像重一点的,metal也听,陈磊呢个人更喜欢Van Halen啦,Megadeth
K          你喜欢Metallica 吗?
DW:     还可以吧,也听,但近几年听的不多了
K:      他们最近的专辑没有以前那么好)
DW:  但是他们录音还是不错的,整个制作还是相当不错的
K:      芒刺歌词内容和以前有什么不同?
DW:芒刺这个专辑总的来说是一张有些概念性的专辑,主题呢其实是在描写反战,反战,往后这个环保,基本上是以动物和植物为虚拟的这么一张专辑,比如大象不抱怨,芒刺,麋鹿的眼泪,睡莲,然后等等都是以动物植物名字命名的吧,想倡导的其实是个环保意识,人们更珍惜自己身边的生活
K:      在中国保护环境怎么样?
DW:  近几年好了很多,但是中国人口众多,然后环保意识相对来说还没有西方国家那么好,我觉着有待于提高,从自身做起吧,倡导了很多年了,但是这个环境也不是一天两天能够办到的,我觉着。需要一方面从我们自己做起吧,从自身做起吧,比如说不乱扔烟头啦,是吧
,然后不到处吐痰啦,中国人有这些不好的习惯,还有就是说,用东西的时候尽量节约的用
K:   你们的一个转机《梦回唐朝》卖出了两百万,太厉害,但现在很多人喜欢用百度和别的网战下载音乐,并不买CD,你们自己遇到音乐盗版的问题呢?
DW:     目前还没有办法解决,全世界…
CL:    全世界都面临这个问题
DW:  可能西方好一些吧
K:      我也认为是比较严重
DW:  也是很严重?
K:      很多人不常买,就下载免费的
DW:  因为论坛,论坛你不太好控制,但是一些官网啦,大的网站你还是比较好控制的,是吧?
CL:    但是我们这张销量还是挺好的
DW:  还是可以的,我觉着就是把音乐质量做的好一些,并且啊把封面啦设计拉做的精到一些,有的人人还是比较喜欢收藏的吧,从这个角度去看,做的精干一些,有人还是喜欢去买的
K: 在中国有iTunes吗?
DW:  有,但是就是说,一般在家里听的都是老作品,老歌,新的听的没有那么多
K:  用什么网站买音乐?
DW: 苹果的也有,虾米网也有,中国那个虾米网,你可以花钱买那个它那个豆
K:  买还是听?
DW: 可以买,可以听,你花钱可以下载。它免费的是质量不好的,你喜欢的可以花钱下载
K  你们常常参加外国的音乐会代表中国文化,这样就给你们什么样的感觉?
DW: 压力还是有一些吧,但是我觉着吧,我们只要自自然然表现我们的状态就行,对音乐的热情,然后对生活的态度,然后干净的礼节礼貌,我觉得这是我们,因为我们出来养成让外国人看对中国年青人,也就是我们这一代中年人,怎么样的生活,对音乐有怎么样的理解,因为还是有很多外国人可能对中国人了解的并不是那么多。因为出来的机会少嘛,是吧?!大部分出来的可能是比较官方的,比较政府的这种演出啦什么的
K    在中国,喜欢摇滚乐的年轻人越来越多,音乐平台并不多,妳们的看法是什么?
DW:  近几年好多了,
CL: 我觉得比有些国家还要好一些
DW: 因为现在音乐节好多,中国有500多个节日,每个节日都会有演出,基本每个节日都会请到摇滚乐队,大部分的,大部分的。而且设备比原来好了,硬件比原来好了,那么后备的团队跟上了,制作跟上了,这样对音乐的帮助是非常大的,还盈利了,过度了,原来的演出都是赔钱,没人办,不规范。现在技术人员也跟上了,比如音响师,灯光师,整个这个唯一跟不上的是后续的附带的产品,跟不上,一个音乐节完了就走了,就是它产生的文化附带产品还是有待于提高吧,比如文化衫,它的画册,能够产生的一些附带产品,国外这个早就做的比较好,它是一个良性循环反正是
K    北京音乐气氛好,其他城市没有那么好?
CL: 别的城市也有,海边城市啦
DW: 青岛呀,啤酒节,每年都有,然后,深圳,也有音乐节,
K:  最近你们有去深圳的MIDI?
DW: MIDI和草莓,我们都去过,比较大的 , 我觉得是个平台吧,各类型的摇滚音乐,包括什么样的音乐都在那个平台上展示,人们还可以通过这个假期聚集在一起,有一个放松,排压的这么一种文化现象,这个很需要对很多中国人
K    我的新西兰朋友在成都开始一个音乐重酬网战,要支持本地的乐队,因为商业化的音乐节常常只要赚钱,登广告什么的。你们对商业化的音乐节有什么看法?
DW: 我觉得我不反对商业化的运作,只要音乐不变就行。我觉着是我们也不排斥其他的音乐,什么的音乐我都觉得不错,都有存在的必要,
K:  这个音乐没有什么问题,
DW: 对,商业运作应该慢慢的规范化,合法化,这个最重要,比如版权,既然它是商业运作,版权方面如果要是有一个标准的话就会更规范一些吧,因为只有你商业的运作你这样的音乐节音乐文化才能延续下去,才能良性循环,这个是很重要的
K    对新西兰中国的年轻乐队有什么建议?
DW: 我们应该是没什么特别的建议
K 哈哈应该有
DW: 我觉着欢迎他们来中国,有机会来中国看看呗。是吧?!因为我听的不多新西兰的乐队,应该不错,我听这边的好多华人朋友都听过,觉着不错,因为就是说他跟西方的整个衔接是比较巩固,我觉着音乐形式也巩固..他们可以来中国看看,
CL: 欢迎他们到中国演出
K    谢谢
DW & CL:   没关系!

Haere Mai Nevin Domer: Getting Genjing and Maybe Mars bands to NZ

From heading DIY record labels, playing in punk bands, averting lyrical censorship, booking dozens of tours and crowd surfing on them, to speaking on music panels, Nevin Domer is one of the most dedicated people in the Beijing underground today. Kiwese caught up with him to see if there’s anything in store for us over in New Zealand.

 
So Genjing Records initially started as a way for your band to get stuff out there, but what was the impetus for broadening out to the local/international scene? Just love? 
I originally started the label as a vehicle for releasing music from my own band ahead of our European tour. I realized that vinyl never really went away in underground scenes abroad and was emerging again as the preferred physical medium for fans and collectors so if Chinese acts were planning to travel abroad they should have records to sell. It also became apparent to me that it functions as a bar for media publications who will take bands with vinyl releases more seriously then those with CD only. I was working with a lot of great bands in China that were starting to have more and more opportunities to play abroad and I decided this was a way I could help them. It definitely isn’t for money but out of a desire to have fun and see the scene here reach it’s full potential.
Genjing Records. Est. 2011. From the Genjing Records website.
Genjing Records. Est. 2011. From the Genjing Records website.

God Bows and Pairs! The 7″ split is intriguing. You check out a release from the band you like and are immediately introduced to another one, is that the general idea or does it have other merits than that?The concept of a split release is an old staple of the punk scene and something I grew up on. When deciding what sort of objectives I wanted to achieve with Genjing I was really interested in creating a bridge between the scene(s) in China and those abroad. For me a split release is a great way to connect two bands who can help introduce each other to their own fans and therefor gain from each others mutual support. The same is true for two labels doing a co-release. In the end our underground culture will only thrive if we help each other!

God Bows / Nevin / Carb on Carb. Mao Livehouse, Nov 2012.
God Bows to Math / Nevin / Carb on Carb. Mao Livehouse, Nov 2013.

Can we expect any Genjing bands to come down to NZ this year or are we just too far away? What are the challenges for Chinese DIYs to tour Aus/NZ, it seems the only acts that come are state funded? 

I hope so! I’m putting more energy now in producing, distributing and promoting releases. I want to create a platform and opportunities for bands but leave a lot of the logistics for touring up to them. Pairs has toured NZ and several Chinese bands have been to Australia — Alpine Decline is going there the end of January for several shows. Hopefully after the split release with Pairs and God Bows To Math more fans in NZ are aware of the Chinese scene and a foundation will start to be built for more Chinese bands to tour there and conversely for more NZ bands to come to China! It is expensive but I wouldn’t count on the state to fund anything interesting. It’s our culture we need to work and build it for ourselves.

Alpine Decline at XP. Image from livebeijingmusic.com.
Alpine Decline at XP. Image from livebeijingmusic.com.

Are Genjing releases available anywhere in NZ?

I am talking to several stores and distributors there and plan to have most of the Genjing releases available there by the spring. Things are going forward with Flying Out hopefully they will be able to get my stuff in all the stores you mentioned (Death Ray in Newtown, Slow Boat Records on Cuba Street)!

…and your current favourites in Beijing?

At the moment my favorite act in Beijing is the Molds, but they’ve been my favorite for a long time! I am also really into Alpine Decline whose new album is so so good. Besides that, expect to hear some new music from young bands both in Beijing and across China coming out on Genjing over the next few months.

Liu Ge of the Molds. Picture from Time Out Beijing.
Liu Ge of the Molds. Picture from Time Out Beijing.

…For venues I split my time pretty equally between School (for punk rock), XP (for experimental) and Temple (for getting wasted, haha!)

The Bennies from Melbourne kicking it at School in Yonghegong, Beijing. Nov 2013.
The Bennies from Melbourne kicking it at School in Yonghegong, Beijing. Nov 2013.

People can check the Genjing websiteFacebook and Twitter pages for updates or , if you can’t wait – order directly from PayPal. Thanks for the support and don’t forget to also support your local scenes!

Xie xie Nevin!

Nevin is originally from Baltimore, USA, and has been helping Chinese bands with a variety of shit since 2009. He is the founder of Genjing Records [根茎唱片], Chief Operating Officer at Maybe Mars [兵马司] and the guitarist of Fanzui Xiangfa [犯罪想法]. Chur bol!

(Article photo graciously pinched from Wooozy.cn)

Time to reflect with Disasteradio

Kiwese caught up with Luke Rowell aka Disasteradio for some reflection time about his sizzlingly sweaty 13-date tour of China back in 2012.

With Camp A Low Hum now at a close, it feels only right to take some time to reflect with Disasteradio. I’ve seen Disasteradio play in a bunch of weird places – a hallway at Victoria University, the middle of a forest, the Botanic Gardens, even at Puppies where he tore the shit out of his ACL from one of those crazy dance moves. Since 2007, Luke has appeared at every CALH in some form or another and was set to dazzle us in the torrential rain on Night 3. A pesky bug got the better of him, but it is said that he played a Renegade set from the First Aid Tent featuring a bag of Doritos. This guy does not do defeat.

Ni Hao Luke! It’s been over a year since you toured China, have you got that 炒饭 [chǎofàn, fried rice] tattoo yet?

I wish, but I’d probably have to get a well-worded thesis on my thoughts on cultural appropriation and irony tattooed below it as a disclaimer, haha! 

Did you get a feel for China’s live music scene during your tour? Was it what you expected or na?

I had so much fun at the shows. The shows were the same as they were anywhere, in the respect that if you can get people up and into it, everyone can have a real cool time. I wouldn’t profess to be able to hit it every time, but I really love the challenge of playing my nuts off to someone who doesn’t know anything about what I do. I’ve encountered a fear of language and cultural gaps before, especially in places such as eastern Europe, but trying to bridge the gap in China was really really fun. It’s almost like there isn’t a gap at all, once people get into it.

Disasteradio on stage
Disasteradio on stage. Photo by Abram Deyo.

The best part was being forced to play a third encore to fifteen people in Xi’an who were going absolutely nuts. So it wasn’t what I’d expected, in the respect that I thought it was going to be stranger and harder and more confusing than it turned out to be. The shows were warmly received, and all the venues had AMAZING PA systems, and great sound techs. One thing that struck me was a lack of local bands. I usually played on my own or with Swedish band Kite, as well as a few bands of expatriate westerners. In Beijing there was a Chinese duo called Wanderlust doing some great Neue Deutsche Welle / synthpunk stuff which was just so awesome, especially in the sense that it sounded like they were appropriating a classic European synth sound that *I* was also working with – watching them I was thinking “who is the outsider here?” – with China being more geographically close to Europe, or the colour of my skin being more culturally close? Of course the answer to that is an irrelevant value judgement, but it points at the subjunctive nature of electronic music – that it’s so effective reaching across those cultural borders. 

Kicking it in Kunshan
Kicking it in Kunshan. Photo by Abram Deyo.

Were the Chinese crowds mad into your merch?

With how light I’m traveling, I can’t carry any merch. Including keyboard stand and all my other gear that’s about 30kg. During the tour of China things were so hot and carrying that much gear got me so RIPPED. Like weightlifting in a sauna. It was so hot I couldn’t have taken records with me anyway, because they would have melted!

Don't be such an egg oi
Don’t be such an egg oi. Photo by Abram Deyo.

Wow cool, I see you have a Youku account set up! With YouTube/Facebook/Twitter blocked in China, was it harder to create hype amongst Chinese people without them being directly exposed to your videos and status updates etc?

Yeah I managed to stumble through that with the translation stuff, I hope my descriptions make sense or at least the bad translation is kinda funny. When I found out YouTube was blocked in China it got me all excited and I just threw all my stuff up on there. View counts aren’t anything crazy on my Youku, but I definitely wanted people to have the option to check out my videos after the shows. On tour, two shopkeepers at a Zhengzhou hotel convenience store caught me vibing on their pop music, and laughed along with me, I tried to get them to check out my Youku channel but I wasn’t saying it right. I missed my only shot.

Digital Deity! The header from Disasteradio's Bandcamp page
A Digital Deity! The header from Disasteradio’s Bandcamp page

You and Ash from Secret Knives came over in 2012. So So Modern, god bows to math and Carb on Carb all toured China last year. What is bringing self-funded NZ bands over?

I think we just have a bit of an adventurous streak over here, or an eternal outward look, because of our size and isolation. So So Modern and Secret Knives have all done crazy tours of Europe and the US as well. But basically I went because it was there. I’ve been so lucky with the amount of touring I’ve found myself doing, I think China was the 22nd country I’ve been to.

What are some awesome things that spring to mind when you think of China?

Those awesome instant noodles in the green square pack with the brown sauce that I never got the name of. Cucumber Lay’s chips. Old dudes in Beijing doing the tee-shirt tuck. Tsingtao. Street food, that despite all the cautions, didn’t make me sick and was just completely kick ass. Seeing a city humming all the way to the horizon in the middle of the night on a rooftop, like some kind of sci-fi megalopolis

Cucumber Lay's. Just so damn good.
Cucumber Lay’s. Just so damn good.

What are some fucking shitty things that spring to mind when you think of China?

No coffee anywhere. Coming across a puppy dying in a plastic bag in Xi’an and not being able to do anything about it. Weird attitudes from some expat westerners (though this seems like a running cliche). Overnight trains being hell on wheels.

­

D-rad, a dog and a dancefloor. Hangzhou 2012.
D-rad, a dog and a dancefloor. Hangzhou 2012. Photo by Abram Deyo.

What would you say to other NZ bands that are wanting to come and party in the Middle Kingdom?

Go there. Do it. Don’t bring to much gear – you’ll be running through subways and stuff, and you’ll wish you didn’t bring all that drum hardware, or whatever. The venues are awesome, the hotels are comparatively cheap, and the eating is amazing. If you’re super addicted to caffeine I’d seriously recommend buying a load of good instant coffee, so you don’t feel like a dork having to go to Starbucks all the time.

Flexin' in Xi'an on the public exercise playgrounds
Flexin’ in Xi’an on the public exercise playgrounds. Photo by Abram Deyo.

I’ve heard there are some excellent Chinese restaurants in Lower Hutt, confirm or deny. 

Nature in VIC Corner is an amazing vegetarian place, but other than that things aren’t so legit around there. Downtown Wellington has Ram’s, Red Hill and Cha (which is Taiwanese) and they are all amazing. Having eaten tons of Chinese food in China, I can get pretty damn self-righteous when vegetables are done like they were in Beijing.

Final thoughts/Confucius wisdom. 

Working on a new record called SWEATSHOP.  No idea when it’ll come out! But I’ll be touring after that xoxoxoxo

Xie xie Luke! 

Disasteradio’s epic 2012 tour went something like this…

July 19th – Beijing 北京
July 20th – Shanghai 上海
July 21st – Wuhan 武汉
July 22nd – Changsha 长沙
July 23rd – Kunshan 昆山
July 24th – Wuxi 无锡
July 27th – Hangzhou 杭州
July 28th – Suzhou 苏州
July 29th – Nanjing 南京
Aug 1st – Zhengzhou 郑州
Aug 2nd – Xi’an 西安
Aug 4th – Chongqing 重庆
Aug 5th – Chengdu 成都

Check out Gravy Rainbow! Disasteradio’s most viewed song on YouTube.

Here is a video of D-Rad playing Awesome Feelings at Camp in 2009.

Holla at his blindingly bright neon Bandcamp page, as well as his alias Eyeliner over on Crystal Magic Records.

Listen to his hilarious and insightful audio diaries from China over on Radio New Zealand.

Special thanks to Abram Deyo, Luke’s China Tour Manager for all the photos!

Jade Gray: the King of Wudaokou

Kiwese caught up with Twizel-born entrepreneur Jade Gray in a particularly self-reflective and transitional period in his life (or day) and spoke about the trials and tribulations of the past fifteen years living China and those wild nights that began the infamous party hard culture at Wudaokou’s most well-know establishments.

The line “I went out in Wudaokou last night” is one that carries a stigma, a weight, a heavy hangover.  Wudaokou is Beijing’s notorious hub of student intoxication – the party zone for an international mix of laowai who have scored a ticket to Beijing on Government scholarships. While many will opt to party in the indie-fied hutongs of Gulou or the more upmarket designer bars of Sanlitun, a grimy night out in Wudaokou will always have a place in our hearts… somewhere.

The drinks menu at Wu Club, one of the grimiest bars in town. Cheap, fake alcohol.
The drinks menu at Wu Club, one of the grimiest bars in town. Cheap, fake alcohol.

The infamous Latin parties at the Pyro Pizza, which are dripping with enough sweat, tequila and Gasolina to have you making out with a random Mexican man on the dance floor. Sunday night Open Mic Night at Lush has been running for the best part of a decade. YEN throwing their wild parties and fetish raves out in the 798 [七九八, Qī Jǐu Bā] Art District, the formerly abandoned factory squats of Beijing’s contemporary art community. Fusion Fitness at Beijing Language and Culture University [BLCU] where we try to work off all those pitchers of beer. For a 20-something living in Wudaokou, the university student district of Beijing, it is difficult to avoid the influence of Jade Gray’s mini empire of enterprises.

Image from The Beijinger article on Jade being one of Beijing's 20 Most Interesting People. How do you rank someone on their interestingness?
Image from The Beijinger article on Jade being one of Beijing’s 20 Most Interesting People. How do you rank someone on their interestingness? Gutted to be the 21st most interesting.

Jade Gray’s success story reads like the dream of every entrepreneur coming to China – starting from ski instructing in Heilongjiang to founding several award-winning businesses. “Opportunity brought me here, like all of us I think,” he says, after pondering the question for a moment, “for me, opportunity originally meant business, that’s what got me into doing marketing in Chinese. Then when I got here I found a strong love with the culture and the history – so more and more I found myself staying here not because of the opportunity, but because of an understanding of how the East looks at things.”

Jade could be considered one of the earlier foreign arrivals to the Beijing scene, trading the rolling hills of South Canterbury for the growing urban sprawl of China in 1996.  “I’ve got friends who came in ’82, so it’s all kind of relative to define what ‘early’ is,” he says, “Back then w­e were always treated very hands off as foreigners. You could pretty much do what you wanted – there was one law for foreigners, one law for diplomats and one law for Chinese. That was kind of how it rolled – but now those gaps are being reduced and rightfully so. Back then, I did stuff I could never do now. We got away with a lot.”

Image from Gung Ho! Ventures
Image from Gung Ho! Ventures

Having only lived in Beijing for a year, it was pretty insightful to speak with someone who has been amidst the massive changes that took place over the past few decades. “Alan Young, who just retired as NZ Trade Commissioner was in the second group of foreigners to go to BLCU in 1976,” says Jade, “he was showing me pictures of Wudaokou at the time where it was just a straight up cabbage patch.”

Modern Wudaokou is now home to malls, Starbucks, food courts and apartment buildings, but it hasn’t been like that for long. “I remember when Hua Qing Jia Yuan sprung up, it was the first high rise in the area. It was surrounded by hutongs, dive bars, ciggie shops and chuanr [串, street BBQ on kebab sticks]. Kind of Gotham city style – just smack-bang in the middle of it and so out of place.”

Hua Qing Jia Yuan today. Lush is the blue sign near the bottom right.
Hua Qing Jia Yuan in Wudaokou today. Lush is the blue sign near the bottom left.

The first of Jade’s Beijing endeavors was Fusion Fitness, which was set up back in 1999. But in the true entrepreneurial spirit – it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “Originally we set up near Xijiao Hotel, then we moved it across to BLCU in 2002,” he says “then SARS came along and kicked us in the guts! So we closed down for a few months, as with every communal gathering space.  We had just invested all this money in a new gym and all the students left overnight, about 95% of my clientele.”

"It was pretty intense." Image from The Guardian.
“It was pretty intense.” Image from The Guardian

The SARS virus and subsequent scare that erupted in June 2003 saw a lot of people forced home, but Jade stayed on with a crew that would party on through the quarantines and characterize the vibe that Lush still retains today.  “Nobody knew what it was, was it gonna be just a bad flu or Ebola? There was a big unknown, and the way the Government went from denial to freak out just caused even more stir. My parents wanted me to come home, which is understandable as the news they were getting was pretty biased and sensationalistic. We realized that after about a month it wasn’t gonna be this ‘end of the world’ shit and it became a bit of a cat and mouse game, with people finding tunnels out and ways through the fence to escape quarantine. It was pretty intense at the start, if people saw you coughing they could dob you in and call and guys in white bio suits pick you up in class or at work to take you away. It was the classic heavy-handed Chinese approach. Not a good time to have a smoker’s cough,” he laughs. “Though upside of it was that Wudaokou cleared out and I managed to get the space at Lush, so there’s always a silver lining!

Upstairs on the corner of Chengfu Lu 城府路, Lush sits snugly above the organized chaos of bikes, green and yellow taxis and street food vendors below. “Hope Lush hasn’t thrown you off your studies too much,” laughs Jade, who co-founded the bar in 2003 and relocated his flat to the floor below to keep it pumping from morning till night. Lush is now a popular, student staple with a wide range of patrons, yet it is the essence of the early 2000s parties that still characterizes the name. “It was heady days,” recalls Jade, “it gave people a sense of security, a creative space. People could really find who they were at that time of their mid-twenties, a time where you’re in China and out in the big world but you still don’t really know where you’re at.”

The Lush Hall of Fame
The Lush Hall of Fame

The walls are adorned with polaroids and posters – the evidence of gatherings been and gone that continue to bring the misplaced and displaced student community together. “You got exposed to different scenes, those who were into hip hop and those who were into electronic were throwing the parties, hiring the clubs, being the DJs, trying to get onto the Great Wall, all coming together to make it happen. In a week I could easily go to a Latin Party, a hip hop throw-down and a rave and see all the same people. It was a really fun time because there was no attitude, we all just wanted to get amongst it and try it all.”

Rocking the Lush Open Mic Night with Daniel back in July
Rocking the Lush Open Mic Night with Daniel back in July

Those loose late nights and never ending parties of the early years are now nostalgic tales. “It is probably not as unique as it was back then, there are now more people around and more established scenes,” Jade reflects, “but I think those old vibes would be in places like Dalian and Kunming, places off the beaten track. I once read something by Chris Knox, one of my favourite musicians, that basically said anything great and epic doesn’t usually get past the first two years – movements have two-year life spans of when they are really at their peak.”

Last year, Lush won Best Student Hangout for the eighth year running at The Beijinger awards, the staple magazine of the ex-pat community. “I had the 10 Year Anniversary last month and I put out a guestbook where people wrote some really touching stuff. The biggest message that came through was that this place changed the course of their lives. Some people met their spouses there.”

Boys will be boys. Image from gunghoventures.com
Boys will be boys. Image from Gung Ho Ventures

Unlike those foreign Australian establishments that tend to shove their nationalism down your throat like Groundhog Straya Day, Lush and Pyro are notably neutral in their aesthetic and branding. Though along with fellow Kiwi bro John O’Loghlen, Gung Ho! Pizza was born in 2010, giving a nod to Cantabrian Communist and social reformer Rewi Alley. “We wanted a name which had a bit of attitude, you don’t wanna name your company after a product, you wanna name it after the attitude of the people behind the product,” says Jade, sharing in on some of that guerrilla marketing skill. Gung Ho! Pizza is mouth-wateringly delicious, the staff are passionate and fun and the company supports local artists, charities and hungover people. “I guess I had a reputation for being pretty Gung Ho,” continues Jade, “I kinda had a laugh at that because fuck – if you’re not Gung Ho you shouldn’t be here!” he laughs. “If you are looking for security and guaranteed short play then you’re in the wrong place. A big part of what we do is looking after people and that’s what Rewi Alley was all about, so the connections really evolved as we got more into the environment and CSR [corporate social responsibility].”

"If you're not Gung Ho, you shouldn't be here" Image from Gung Ho! Pizza
“If you’re not Gung Ho, you shouldn’t be here.” Image from Gung Ho! Pizza

Over the years, Jade has seen attitudes in China change and evolve, especially those towards foreigners and foreign business people. “The Olympics played a big part in that, China became part of the world and was on the world stage, it became a lot more accustomed to foreigners and also started to see the negative side of foreigners, which is a good thing,” he says “whereas before I think the  lǎo bǎixìng [老百姓, common people – lit. old hundred surnames] put foreigners in a bit of a bubble – now that bubble has been popped. Whether it was the GFC or issues of American democracy, you name it – things have made Chinese people a lot more realistic about how they see foreigners and how they see themselves.”

Commenting on the development of the country, Jade says, “China have developed a ‘self-respect,’ or ‘pride’ or ‘nationalism,’ all these kind of words have positive and negative connotations. I think China’s challenge now is how they become balanced in their new power and their new place in the world with a unilateral approach to the way they see things. There’s that kind of maturity that comes with their newfound status.”

In addition to his role as the King of Wudaokou, Jade has done taken some pretty intrepid motorcycle journeys through the backwaters of China. “I did a great trip in 2006 where we drove for three-months through Sichuan, Tibet, Xinjiang, back through Gansu and Inner Mongolia. There’s still a lot more places to go, it’s a big country, but I think by my 80th birthday I will have covered it all,” he quips. “You could say “work hard, play hard,” has been my motto to date,” considers Jade, “though now I’m starting to keep it more ‘zen’ and enjoy the moment a bit more – it’s a growth in life instead of trying to “burn the candle at both ends,” as my mother would fondly tell me when she was pissed off,” he laughs.

Tagong, where Jade was once holed up for three days with altitude sickness
Tagong, where Jade was once holed up for three days with altitude sickness

While Jade has ideas about how China is moving into the future, he is starting to see his own home base shift Down Under. “I’m looking to gradually return and I’m getting a place down in Sydney now,” he says, “China is always gonna be a part of my life, I will always be back in Beijing to keep things chugging along, but I feel like I’m ready for a new.”

Lush has one of the most eclectic playlists I’ve ever heard, moving between J-Lo, Aqua and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, but what are Jade’s favourite New Zealand acts? “Old-school would be Salmonella Dub, my faves from back in the day. With the new scene I’m not fully in the loop, but as cheesy as it sounds I love what Lorde is doing. Turning the whole music world on its arse!”

Faceless Lorde. Image from katherineisawesome.com
Faceless Lorde. Image from katherineisawesome.com

Jade suddenly cracks up laughing down the phone and describes the faux-deer velvet covered Land Rover that just drove past him “The thing about China is that it surprises you everyday. I’ve been here for 15 years and still feel that. That’s why I’m still here, this place just continues to blow your mind.” ♦

God Bows to Math make some noise in China

Awesome people, free red wine, glamorous poodles, unexpected blackened chicken feet fished out of wonton soups… Kiwese had a yarn with God Bows to Math guitarist/vocalist Martin Phillips about their latest tour, the underground post-punk scene in China and how to make soup dumplings.

The noise they emit is as raw as a dodgy steak. They play each show with a psychopathic intensity, whether its for two people or two hundred. They have played too many gigs to count, dozens and dozens a year for like five years. Who knows, I’m crap at math.

God Bows to Math is Martin Phillips, Sam Cussen and Tom Morrison – the trinity that was resurrected from the dust of previous bands back in 2008. Over the years, they have ceaselessly toured around New Zealand and Australia, making friends, meeting bands and leaving a trail of deafening amplifier feedback in their wake. It’s that “fuck it why not” attitude that led God Bows to Math [神弓至数学 Shén gōng zhì shùxué] to pummel Chinese audiences with their churning fist full of noise last November, and chat with them over a couple of Tsingtaos afterwards.

From left: Sam, Martin, Tom
The boys from left: Sam, Martin, Tom

I hung out with the lovely folks from God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb after the first show of their eleven date China tour in Beijing. Whether it was the hypnotic drone of noise, the fondness of their Kiwi accents or the effects of drinking baijiu straight out of the bottle, I decided to ditch school, call in sick for work, buy some train tickets and catch them again 1,379km south down the country in Suzhou. The fact that a pair of bands from Auckland had come all the way to China to play music was just too much for me!

“他是Tom, 他是Sam, 我是Martin, 我们是God Bows To Math, 谢谢” [He’s Tom, He’s Sam, I’m Martin, We are God Bows to Math] panted Martin into a microphone of feedback, as he introduced the band after blasting through several tracks at MAO Livehouse. Whether it was saying xie xie after each tweak during soundcheck, Tom approving of the sea-salt cream coffee in Suzhou, finding unidentifiable animal parts in our wonton soups; they were here in China and enjoying the differences that were thrown at them.

Tom with aforementioned beverages at Mao Livehouse
Tom with the aforementioned beverages at Mao Livehouse

What drew you guys to China? It doesn’t seem to be the typical next destination after you’ve toured NZ and Aus?

Not many NZ bands seem to look in that direction. But in Australia heaps of bands do, with the Sino-Australia exchange and Shaun at Tenzenmen there are more links between the two scenes. Plus, Australia is closer to Indonesia so a lot of Aussie bands we know tend to tour South-East Asia as well. There’s a growing feeling about China from NZ too – Disasteradio has toured there and so did Die! Die! Die! in recent years. Getting more than one person to do something like that is tough.

Happy times at Rat on Swamp Dog in Shanghai
Happy times at Rat on Swamp Dog in Shanghai

Tell us about how you guys got hanging with Pairs.

We were introduced to China through Pairs in Shanghai. When Rhys and F came to NZ, Benji [MUZAI Records] and I booked their tour for them – so that’s when the idea came about. Rhys basically used the New Zealand tour as an advertising campaign to get people to come over to China. It was a bit of whirlwind tour, we managed to fit in nine shows over two weeks: Tauranga, Wanganui, Hunterville, Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and a house party in Auckland. It was around Chinese New Year as well so I think they paid a ridiculous amount of costs. It’s pretty hard to convince bands to do that, but those two are always down to do a crazy amount of shows in a short amount of time.

Poster from the Pairs Summer Sweat Tour 2012
Poster from the Pairs Summer Sweat Tour 2012

So the 7” split idea came into fruition from those long road trips down the North Island?

Yeah, Rhys said he knew someone who was interested in releasing a split record so we jumped at that opportunity as well [Nevin Domer from Genjing Records]. We met James from Bomb Shop in the UK through Rhys, as they had released Pairs album over there, and then Shaun Tenzenmen in Australia who again we knew from touring and various people, so along with Muzai, it became this four label, cross-global release.

Split record with Genjing (CHN), Bomb Shop (UK), Muzai (NZ) and Tenzenmen (AUS)
Split record with Genjing (CHN), Bomb Shop (UK), Muzai (NZ) and Tenzenmen (AUS)

Has the split helped you guys get more exposure in China?

Yeah I definitely think so. A lot of it has been Rhys, Tom from This Town Touring, Nevin at Genjing and Dann Gaymer, who have done a lot to promote it over there as well. Same with our album too, it seems a few people had gotten to hear it. Internet wise, we got a Douban page before the tour. We don’t have a Weibo yet, but baby steps! I can’t handle social media, I let Cuss do all the Twitter and that.  

Da boyzzzzz getting ruckus at the show in Zaozhuang
Da boyzzzzz getting ruckus at the show in Zaozhuang

What were your perceptions of the Chinese music scene before coming on tour?

The book Inseparable by David O’Dell. He lived in Beijing in the 1990s, the punk era of bands like Underbaby. It culminates with the rise of D-22 and bands like P.K 14 and Hedgehog, more about the punk and hardcore scene. I know Nevin helped with distro so he would know where to get a copy. I bought mine from Shaun but I think he sold out. [editor’s note: everyone should read this interview with O’Dell]

As far as logistics go, how was touring China for five Aucklanders with no Mandarin?

The whole thing went really smoothly, though when you are on tour, ‘smooth’ takes on a different definition to what it does in normal life, because there’s bound to be things that go wrong. All in all it was definitely one of the easiest things we’ve ever done organization wise because Mattessi took care of most of it then our incredible tour manager Vivian took care of the details. The transport was great – I love China’s fast trains. It definitely beats nine hours of driving. We’ve done Australia where we’ve driven from Melbourne to Newcastle in one day, by the time you arrive at the venue you’re nearly dead and you’re not really in the mood to do a show. Whereas having a nap on the train, reading a book, then having dinner and showing up is definitely a different feeling. We had five people from two different bands on a tour of China, I’m proud that we managed to get there.

Making friends on the road
Making friends on the road

You had studied a bit of the language before coming to China?

“Wǒ xiǎng hē píjiǔ!” [我想喝啤酒, I want to drink beer]. That was a key phrase. I think people were good about me speaking without tones, though I’d like to learn more. It is very difficult to learn a language from books and Chinese pronunciation is pretty tough going. In China I found myself being really drawn into all of the signs and trying to work out the characters!

God Bows with the gigantic poster at Red Sugar Bar
God Bows with the gigantic poster at Red Sugar Bar

Any Chinese food recommendations?

I’m gonna try keep a journal of my efforts to make soup dumplings. It’s a local Shanghai thing. Shēng jiān bāo [生煎包] from Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai. It’s just incredible and so cheap. I ordered like a dozen of them and a wonton soup as well. Delicious. It’s basically just fat in gelatin, so unhealthy.

shengjianbao

What’s the music scene like in Auckland these days?

I think the scene in Auckland is really healthy at the moment. There seems to be a lot of good bands, more people coming to gigs and enjoying it, which means everything benefits – venues do better, bands do better, people make more of an effort. Though some of the best venues still have trouble keeping their doors open and even when things go well, their share of the night time entertainment audience is still a ridiculously small slice of the pie. I never subscribe to the old Ian MacKaye ‘DIY should be about the music’ vibe, I like going to bars and seeing bands. I like being able to have a beer and watch them. They’ve just changed the alcohol licensing laws and made changes to when bars can close. Whammy and Lucha feel the pinch because they are late bars and have late shows, yet they aren’t the ones that have problems with people spilling out onto the streets and having drunken fights, those are from the shitty clubs which make enough money to stay afloat anyway…

Tell me about your own plans with the China-NZ music relationship.

It’s one of those things that is hampered by a lack of money and a lack of time. I’d like to get some more Chinese bands over here. I tried to convince [Yang] Haisong to get either After Argument or P.K 14 to come to NZ. He appeased me by saying yes but I don’t know if they will [laughs]. That would be a bit of a dream. Hoping to get Nevin’s band Fanzui Xiangfa over at some stage as well. Actually one band is coming in 2015, Guiguisuisui. Most people we speak to are like “woah, whats China like? There’s music over there? That’s crazy!” But China have an amazing underground scene and it would be nice to share what’s happening there. It is fairly easy to find out about the underground scene in America and even Australia, but there’s not much awareness about what’s happening in China. I guess it also has something to do with different mediums, it’s hard to find Chinese bands on Facebook, you don’t have the same avenues for sharing it. We should get links to show people and create a bit more interest. 

Maaaates.
Maaaates.

In recent years there have been a a growing number of DIY bands from NZ touring China, but there doesn’t seem to be a reciprocal effort from local Chinese bands heading to NZ.

I think it has something to do with the size of NZ and the fact that there are more opportunities in China. It’s the same reason it’s harder to get Australian bands over to NZ than it is to get NZ bands to Australia. Carsick Cars have been to Australia heaps. If you had the option to play festivals with some of your favourite bands at home, that’s something you should pursue over going on holiday to NZ. Though if anything people are attracted to the idea of NZ scenery. We lost a lot of money going over to China because we did it like a holiday, but I guarantee you would lose more going the other way. Then there’s the language barrier as well. There isn’t the same network of tour managers in NZ as there is in China. There’s no one who has ever tour managed a band in NZ that can speak both Mandarin and English. Every band we met over in China spoke English a hell of a lot better than I spoke Chinese!

Tightly Wound at Mao Livehouse
Tightly Wound at Mao Livehouse

A few Chinese bands have been funded come to NZ in the past, but they don’t seem to reach the same sort of audience that they do in China. For example, Chinese heavy metal legends Tang Dynasty playing at the family-orientated Lantern Festival in February.

It really depends as a band. It is hard to go somewhere you have never been before and end up in places that you wanna be. I know this band from Germany who got really lucky and ended up booking themselves an amazing tour of NZ playing these underground venues, but it could have just as easily ended up with them playing at the local pub in East Auckland to the wrong people in the wrong environment, billed the wrong way. It is really difficult to know the intricacies of scenes. With metal bands, there would be a lot better places to play than the Lantern Festival, that’s like if we went over to China and played at some sort of NZ cultural event, or even at a televised rugby match, it wouldn’t really feel right.

I guess there needs to be something special to entice bands to come on their own, something they can’t get anywhere else.

The Hobbit. Start a sub-culture of Tolkien underground noise rock.

to be continued…

Deafen yourself and bow down here.

Watch them perform live at Mao Livehouse on Youku, though you might have to sit through a KFC ad first.

Now check out the interview with Nicole and James from Carb on Carb.

Cheers to Nevin at Genjing Records for the insight and Nicole for some of the pics!

Carb on Carb, Rice on Rice

Got munchies? Aucklanders (奥克兰人 Àokèlán rén) Carb on Carb completed an epic eleven date tour of the Middle Kingdom back in November with good buddies God Bows to Math. Kiwese followed them from Beijing to Suzhou and recently we reminisced about their first foray into Asia and how Chinese cabbage and eggplant dishes are exponentially more delicious than in New Zealand.

carb heart

I first met the duo behind Carb on Carb, epic diva (天后, tiānhòu, lit. ‘Heavenly Queen’) Nicole Gaffney and handsome guy (帅哥, shuài gē) James Stuteley in the grungy merch area at MAO Livehouse in Gulou, Beijing. I quickly scrawled the phonetic pronunciation of “da jar how” [大家好, Hello everyone!] on Nicole’s hand before they took the stage for the first show of the tour when it struck me: these guys, fresh outta the Auckland underground, are here playing their music around China. That’s gotta mean something. It is awesome.

Carb on Carb are the kind of people you wanna be mates with. Their outlook is fresh, fun and friendly, they are really nice, keen to chat and down for whatev. Their music is like Crunchy Peanut Butter machine-gun fire that makes you wanna thrash about like a voodoo doll, yet its stripped back in a way equally suited to lying on your bed with headphones, dreaming about your crush.

Self described as post-punk/noise pop/pop-gaze, Carb on Carb do most of their shit themselves, from the recording, mastering, poster design, album art and photos. They embody a genuine DIY spirit, not in a Mitre 10 Dream Home sense, but in a similarly inspiring way that shows what can be done if you put your mind to it, work hard and do it for the luv of it. From seeing them sell their CDs for a criminally low price, to the “All content is free for you to enjoy and distribute as you please” message on the Papaiti Records website, it is clear these guys are playing music just cos they wanna play music. Word.

After we drunk a bottle of báijiǔ chased with beers, I made the executive decision to follow the bands to Zibo, a small town out in the wops of Shandong. Waking up on a friend’s couch the following morning with no information about Zibo (ie. where da fk da venue??), I decided to push ahead and catch them down in the river town of Suzhou instead, known as the ‘Venice of China.’ Despite the small, sedentary nature of the audience at Wave (New Zea-land hip hop / stand the fuck up!), Carbs were well-received, scored some free booze and made some choice mates after the show, which is the point after all right? 

You can/should download and emo out to Carb on Carb’s EPs no body perfect (2012), Ladies Mile (2013) and their single Eden Terrors, which was released just before coming to China. All their songs are free to take but koha where you can aye! Also the new video for Eden Terrors features some exxxclusive China footage and is the best thing on YouTube right now.

James and Nicole aka Carb on Carb
James and Nicole aka Carb on Carb

Hey guys! You’ve just spent quite a lot of time in China and South-East Asia, any weird reverse culture shock back in Nu Zilland?

J: It was strange to not have such overloaded senses all the time, no bike bells and horns, people and noise. To come back and feel like your senses are deprived cos its not loud and it doesn’t smell [laughs]

N: After being in Asia for so long we’d gotten used to not understanding the language around us. I found myself getting really annoyed when I heard the way people were talking about others, like “hey don’t be so mean!”

How did you guys get involved in the China tour? GBTM says they had a connection with Pairs. 

N: During the Pairs tour of NZ, Rhys talked about China as a really achievable kind of goal after doing Australia. We thought that instead of doing America or Europe we may as well do China, because it’s closer, cheaper, we can get by with contacts and play to a hungrier audience.

J: I guess also once Die! Die! Die! and So So Modern had done it, the idea became more realistic.

So how was it? Did you have any expectations going into it?

N: Having the time to go sightseeing was incredible, but obviously I loved the shows too.

J: I had some sort of expectation but actually being in China made me realize how little we know about it. Coming from a Western culture and not knowing much about the history of the hugest country in the world, then seeing all these crazy castle complex things like the Forbidden City which have immense histories, but we just think of them as sights. I studied the Manchurian invasion in high school but that was it. I really didn’t know about the Nanjing Massacre.

N: Yeah, the Nanjing Massacre Museum was pretty intense.

Carb on Carb rocking a symmetrical pose at the Forbidden City
Carb on Carb rocking a wonderfully coordinated pose at the Forbidden City

Is there a community of local NZ bands that are looking towards China? 

J: I don’t really think there’s a ‘community,’ but there’s certainly bands interested in doing it.

N: It seems like mostly Wellington bands have done it in the past, as well as Die! Die! Die! from Dunedin. But for a small band like us to tour China, we can talk to other bands in Auckland about our experiences and help them to see China as a doable thing. We are telling people they should do it! Why not!

The ~*Internet*~ seems to be an important tool for getting your material out there. How’s your online presence in China?

J: We made a Weibo page which Nicole has recently updated. We also got Rhys and Tom [This Town Touring] to make us a Douban because working out the Chinese was just way too confusing. Thankfully Bandcamp isn’t blocked in China.

N: We have a Youku as well! We tried to research a bit about it just to put our stuff out there. Even if it was in terrible translated Chinese, at least people would get the general idea: that we were a band and we were coming.

Carb on Carb discovered that this is how Shenzhen perceives New Zealand
Carb on Carb discovered that this is how Shenzhen perceives New Zealand

I know I’ve said it before but I love the tour poster! Got a signed copy from all you guys from the Beijing show.

N: Thanks! I drew it when I was at work [laughs]. My boss was pretty excited though, she’s from China.

The tour poster. Art by Nicole.
The tour poster. Art by Nicole.

I saw some pretty impressive use of dramatic hand gesturing and sign language from you guys in China. How did you find the language barrier?

N: The language was really hard. But having our tour manager Vivian with us made it a lot easier. I wish we learned a bit more, it would have been really cool to communicate with the people who liked us at shows, even just to be able to thank them properly and understand what they have to say. I used the ‘Da Jar How’ at every show!

J: It was interesting to experience what its like to not be able to speak the dominant language, it helped us understand how other people might feel. In New Zealand we just expect everyone to speak English. Very educational to be on the outside.

How was it coming from the NZ scene where you are quite familiar with the crowds to China where no one knows you?

J: It was pretty bizarre being presented as ‘Kiwi Rock Night’ in Suzhou.

N: That’s what I love about touring, just getting to meet new people and not playing to the same crowds over and over again. So it was really exciting to see fresh faces and have people react freshly to our music when they haven’t even heard it before.

Mao Mao billz yo
Mao Mao billz yo

So you guys hit up some pretty niche places, tiny towns in Shandong that no ones ever heard of. What’s the scene like down there?

J: At the show in Zaozhuang there was a big group of about fifteen friends and they were real keen to talk to us – they’d try out their English with a few words, then we’d say a few words, and all of were just cracking up. These guys were crowdsurfing and moshing with no one else in the bar. The people were really cool, they just had less barriers. They would spend more time talking with us and taking photos with us, generally way more excited to see some bands.

N: Yeah, they kept buying us loads of beers, being almost forceful with it! Hanging with them was really fun and different from other crowds we’ve met. The bar owner in Zaozhuang also took us out for an amazingly delicious dinner before the show and shouted us the meal! He even drove us to the train station in the morning! People at all of the shows were so generous – it was pretty overwhelming.

Stage antics with the fans in Zaozhuang
Stage antics with the fans in Zaozhuang

Were they actually into your music?

N: We were selling our EPs for 20RMB and they literally bought all our merch! The people we met were having a good time and having the experience of meeting us and talking to us. The same was with Randy who gave us the wine in Suzhou! He was just as keen to meet us as we were to have free wine [laughs]

Red wine/watermelon/assorted mixed nut platter after party with Randy in Suzhou
Red wine/watermelon/assorted mixed nut platter after party with Randy [far left] in Suzhou
As far as touring and performing goes, did you guys have any issues?

N: At our first show in Beijing I found the indoor smoking quite intense from a singing perspective. Before coming to China, we pretty much knew there were gonna be loads of bikes on the roads, but with the smoking in bars I wasn’t quite prepared!

J: It was quite hard not playing with support bands at every show, though we did play with a few locals like Illness Sickness. Next time we would definitely try have a local band play at every show.

Sound checking at Wave Livehouse in Suzhou on a v. high stage
Sound checking at Wave Livehouse in Suzhou on a ridiculously high stage

Any little things in China you found yourselves appreciating?

J: It was really cool to be able to take food and drinks anywhere, I was surprised how much I enjoyed that, in NZ if you walk in to a place you cant take your food in. Hot water was available everywhere too… we just used it to make noodles and drink tea.

N: Ohh I miss it so much! Buying a beer at a bar here and your like “WHAT? $8?!” You feel like a king in China.

Cheesy question – what kind of advice would you provide to other NZ bands hoping to come to China.

J: Talking to you probably [all laugh].

N: Learning a bit of the language would be good. Mentally prepare yourself. Eat as much as you can. Drink as much as you can. Yep, those are my tips.

Next time? Is there a next time in China on the cards?

N: We definitely wanna come back. I know God Bows are planning another tour for 2015!

J: I’d like to visit Xinjiang, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Three Gorges Dam. It would be great if bands started coming to New Zealand as well, it’s only an extra hop more. If anyone asks to play in NZ just tell them to email me: carboncarbband@gmail.com

You’ve just gotten back from a mean beach holiday up north, but what’s the plan for Carb on Carb this year?

N: We’re hoping to put an album out in the next year or so and just wanna keep touring where ever we can.

J: We’re doing a tour around New Zealand with Bare Grillz from Australia in a few weeks, just around the time of Camp.

[Excited Camp discussion]

"Prolly won't make no money of dis - oh well." - Beyonce/Carb on Carb
Let’s tour China! “Prolly won’t make no money off dis – oh well.” – Beyonce/Carb on Carb

What do you think of Beyonce’s new album?

N: Ugh amazing. Love it.

Fave track?

N: Jealous. Love Jealous. Oh and ***Flawless.

I fucking LOVE, ***Flawless.

N: It’s so good, I cried when I listened to it.

END

Now check out the interview with Martin from God Bows to Math.

New Year’s what?

New Year’s Eve [除夕, chúxī]. The party highlight of the year for many young Kiwis , yet a notable non-event for most Chinese.

Ahh, the NZ summer holiday season. As I glazed over social media feeds full of #amping festival crowds La De Da-ing in the fields of Martinborough, ravers pinging on yáo tóu wán [摇头丸, lit. shake head pill] at Rhythm and Vines and its South Island cousin Rhythm and Alps, to the mouth-watering BBQ and salads of New Year’s lunch, well, it’s enough to make any New Zealander abroad grow nostalgic for the ubiquitous Kiwi New Year’s celebration.

Sigh, being away from it all… How Boxing Day neatly bridges the six day gap between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and allows blobbing out/being a waster for the week a more fluent, acceptable practice. Definitely had moments where I’ve just wanted to blast Hello Sailor really loud, pretend I’m at Tutaekuri Bay and get my Cheryl West on. Through a Twitter feed packed with New Year’s resolutions and bands posting their location for the countdown, viewing the spectacle that is New Year’s in New Zealand through the internet looking glass was a strange feeling.

It’s fair to say, that for most Kiwis, New Year’s is a big fucking deal. A time to get away, to reflect, to binge, to spend time and spend money, to observe the change in those digits we use to anchor life events throughout our years of humble existence.

#tbt to John Key OTP over a New Year's barbecue 2010. A friend of mine later gatecrashed with a bag of sausages.
#tbt to John Key OTP over a New Year’s barbecue. A friend of mine later gatecrashed with a bag of sausages.

In the Beijing winter, students were studying for exams right into the night, people were going about their day to day business, the big countdown parties were mostly foreigner affairs. My Chinese mates usually WeChat me on festival days with cute emoticons and animated cartoon stickers. For Zhōngqiū Jié [中秋节, Mid-Autumn Festival], for Christmas, hell, even for Thanksgiving! But for New Year’s, the most rènao [热闹, lively, #amping] celebration in New Zealand, my WeChat feed was eerily quiet.

I took to the application to wish some Chinese students a Happy New Year and ask how they celebrated, or if they even celebrated at all.

Just some of the festive stickers available on WeChat
Just some of the festive stickers available on WeChat

Xia Shi Huan, 21yo, Civil Engineering Student

Dalian, Liaoning

[English grammar edited]

Did you celebrate New Year’s last night? I did not celebrate it. For my family it is not a special day – we celebrate the Spring Festival [Chinese New Year].

Did you stay awake for the countdown to 2014? I always stay awake past 12am, not just because of the New Year.

What does New Year’s mean to you? The New Year means a new start, that’s all. For me, I don’t care for the festivities and don’t really have a special feeling towards it.

How do you feel about the Spring Festival? I do not care. It is just a festival. But sometimes it is good to make your family together, eat dinner and talk, it maintains family relationships.

Thanks Xia Shi Huan! Haha you are welcome

Emily Zhou, 23yo, Works at a Youth Hostel

Xi’an, Shaanxi

[English grammar edited]

Did you do anything to celebrate New Years last night? I prayed with many friends of our church last night. Some people in Xi’an go to celebrate between the Drum and Bell Towers – sometimes there are fireworks. I think Chinese people pay more attention to the Spring Festival. [Spring Festival] is the real New Year to celebrate.

I wish I could be in China for the Spring Festival! Do you know about 春运 [chūnyún, Spring Festival travel period]? Almost everybody will go back home to celebrate.

Yes, it sounds like chaos! Yes. So many people. Very hard to get a train ticket.

Well good thing your family live in Xi’an! Yes it is good for me [smiley]

Gabby Qin, 21yo, Accounting Student/Diehard Rihanna fan

Studies in Beijing, originally from Hebei

Did you do anything special last night to celebrate? We were in a night club counting down with the DJ hahahahahaha so I didn’t join any outdoor activities. But like, do you know ShiMaoTianJie [世贸天阶, The Place]? There’s a big countdown in the roof. It’s really good I did the countdown there two years ago. These past two years I did karaoke and clubbing for New Year’s Eve hahaha.

Cool, what songs did you sing? Hahahaha I was too tipsy to do any songs. I’m going back to my province on the 13th [for the Spring Festival] so let’s go to KTV before that ok???

Absolutely.

Qi Fu [Lillian], 18yo, Accounting Student

Lives in Beijing, originally from Baotou, Inner Mongolia

[translated from Chinese to English]

What kind of feeling do you have towards New Year’s? I think that the feeling surrounding New Year’s in China is nothing like the atmosphere of the Spring Festival. But in recent years, there have been a lot of New Year’s countdown shows hosted on television, so the general feeling towards it is growing.

What did you do last night to celebrate? I just watched a New Year’s countdown party on TV and gave my family, classmates and friends a phone call.

How do you feel about Spring Festival? I think feelings towards the Spring Festival are very strong. Every family gets together and it is really happy.

What will you do for Spring Festival this month? Of course, I will be returning home! I’ll have dinner with my family and watch the Spring Festival Gala. I can also see my former classmates and hang out with them.

Thanks for your help! No problem [smiley]

Here’s some related vocab thats been cropping up a lot recently, countdown to Chinese New Year on 31 January 2014.

So, what are you gonna do for Spring Festival *perfect textbook answer*
So, what are you gonna do for Spring Festival?  Oh just *perfect textbook answer*
  • chūnjiè 春节:Spring Festival aka. Chinese New Year. The hottest event on the Chinese holiday calendar.
  • Xīn nián kuài lè 新年快乐: Happy New Year!
  • Gōng xǐ fā cái [Gong Hei Fat Choy for all you Cantos] 恭喜发财: Happy and prosperous Chinese New Year! 
  • nóng lì 农历:Lunar Calendar. All Chinese holidays are based on the lunar calendar, cycles of the moon. When I was like 8yo and my mum told me Por Por’s birthday is different each year it was like “uhh… say what now?”
  • chūnyún 春运:Spring Festival Rush.” The largest human migration in the world. The words are usually accompanied by a deep shudder. Check out China Smack for some incredible photos of past chūnyún chaos. The 2010 documentary ‘Last Train Home’ looks at the havoc around trying to buy train tickets and is also very insightful.
  • kuà nián 跨年/kuà nián xīnnián跨越新年: To ring in the New Year lit. to stride across the new year
  • chūnwǎn 春晚 [Zhōngguó zhōngyāng diànshìtái chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì 中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会]:The CCTV Spring Gala Variety Show. An annual viewing audience of around 700 million people. Just to put that into perspective, Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance had about 104 million viewers. Just imagine the amount of Weibo activity that goes on with people live-blogging that shit!
Celine Dion headlined last year's Spring Festival Show
Celine Dion headlined last year’s Spring Festival Show.

See an even better performance from Celine here.

More on Chinese New Year as it happens…

Pinyin Problems with the Wellington Phoenix

Bye bye, Sony. Ni hao Huawei! The Wellington Phoenix A-League Football Club welcome their big new Chinese sponsor with a cheesy YouTube video.

Though I’m a Welly gal through and through, I don’t really have much to do with the capital’s beloved Phoenix.  I smile at stadium goers clad in black and yellow from the bus stop at New World Metro. One time we stood outside Terry Seripisos’ mansion in Roseneath and commented on the Greek-inspired pillar formations. That’s about it.

The Phoenix are now sponsored by Huawei, a giant telecommunications company that is mainly known for:

  • selling cheap Smartphones at Noel Leemings
  • being considered a security threat by the US Government for potentially making phones which allow the Chinese Government to access unauthorized information

A few months ago, the club uploaded this video to YouTube with some players and other men in suits trying to pronounce the name of the glossy new logo smack-bang in the middle of their shirts.

The video’s cute ukulele rhythms, devil-may-care whistling and happy hand claps may lead you to think this is an ad for a mega sale at Bunnings or extra-adhesive nappies, but no, it’s the blatantly scripted (but still kind of cute) welcome for the Chinese communications company, who will be joining the party for the next three years.

Watching this video makes me think of awkwardly smiling for a photo for too long with camera-wielding Dad saying “one more… hold on… just one more!” for the twenty-ninth time. There has been a lot of work to make this video as casual, jolly and natural as possible, the sweet sugar coating is shiny and reflective like a candy apple at the school gala, eventually hurting your teeth. Someone from the Huawei social media team has even made a lone comment at the bottom with an appropriate hashtag, it is a well-orchestrated exercise. Because they are a Chinese company. And because they are Huawei.

Gotta admit though, it is clever marketing, da boys all saying “Who R Wey?” with perplexed faces and confused laughs, which then makes way for the more palatable Wah-Way slogan that all the fans can say with some degree of fluency. Hip-hip, Huawei!

I could try to pull off an analysis of how when a Phoenix member quips that Huawei “is kind of like German,” it helps the club to subconsciously reaffirm cultural identities with their predominantly Pakeha sporting fan base etc, but that is probably going to far. And why go with ‘Wah-Way’ instead of the more accurate, Wades-Giles-esque spelling ‘Hwah-Way’? Maybe the latter looks too Chinesey. Eh, I only took Media Studies for one semester.

End of the day, pinyin can be a bitch to try and read phonetically. Besides, non-native English speakers trying to pronounce ‘Phoenix’ would probably come out sounding like some form of rare colon disease. 

Conclusion: I’m cool with this.

Check out these pronunciation tips and audio grabs on ChinesePod.

And here’s a timeless lǎowài [老外, foreigner] YouTube hit, but probably more enjoyable if you know some Mandarin: “Dui Bu Qi Wo De Zhongwen Bu Hao / Sorry, my Chinese is not so good!”

He Tangata, baby | 人们,宝贝

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