THE ALL SEEING HAND
China Tour 2017
With Kaishandao & E/N/T
“这个音乐不是为小清新或者容易伤感的人准备的。” “This is not music for the light-hearted or easily distressed.” – Soundly Sounds
Kiwese is proud to present The All Seeing Hand x Kaishandao x E/N/T China Tour 2017. For fans of the heavy, strange and transcendental. For adventurous sonic explorers…
The first time I saw The All Seeing Hand was on a darkened high ropes course. It was the last night of Camp A Low Hum 2012 and the remaining punters were floating around in that special state of mutual derangement so often reserved for the last night of music festivals.
Whether it was the three silhouetted figures thrashing beneath an enormous eye, the breakneck, body-pummeling drum rolls, bass-heavy synth screams, or the likelihood that the entire crowd was tripping on acid, there was immediately a sense of the occult about this band.
“Oh my god, what is this?!” yelled someone in the crowd.
“This is mind control!” shouted another.
Was this mind expansion or mind control? Inspired performance art, or visions of the possessed? Whatever it was, that night in the forest, we looked into the eye of The All Seeing Hand and everything changed.
What kind of music is this?
“This isn’t head-bang metalcore, but more an inventive electro-prog which values minimalism as much as collision,” writes Elsewhere, “it’s as likely to come from the writings of Philip K. Dick as it is the music of Bauhaus,” writes Off the Tracks.
From the depths of the Wellington underground, I am ecstatic to present The All Seeing Hand to Chinese audiences for the first time in the most ambitious Kiwese tour yet, spanning over three weeks and ten cities from Inner Mongolia to Fujian.
New Zealand artist Nathan Taare will join the journey as E/N/T, while I will also play support with my new techno noise project Kaishandao. This far out journey will also be documented by none other than filmmaker Illojgali a.k.a Dan Harris!
We’ll see you there… tell your friends!!
THE ALL SEEING HAND are a 3-piece from Wellington, New Zealand. Their musical world touches many soundscapes, while being complete in its own language. It is a gateway, opening ears to the sonic environment of machine and emotion, a “menacing clash of electronics, smashing drums and throat-singing, a sound akin to Tibetan monks on speed.”
Throat singing, frenzied drumming and thundering turntable tones… a pulverizing amalgam of electronic doom, “industrial khoomei,” clash metal and mind-bending sensory sorcery.
Alphabethead is known around New Zealand from many festival and club shows. An innovative turntablist and producer who cut his teeth in the hip-hop battle scene, delving into a diversity of sounds like orchestral gamelan, Inuit folk music, post-punk and electronica. His bass heavy approach in The All Seeing Hand makes for a full body response to the music.
Ben Knight is a pulverising drummer with rhythmic dexterity steeped in relentless energy. Having emerged from the Dunedin DIY punk and hardcore scene in the late 1990s, Ben pushes himself to the verge of vomiting in his commitment to the beat.
Jonny Marks uses his voice as a vehicle to explore timbre and the parts of our brains that language does not inhabit. Having trekked to Inner Mongolia to study khoomei for years, he incorporates techniques of throat-singing with voice box stretching explorations to create an animal human other.
“各种混乱的怪事。” “Seven levels of fucked up weirdness.” – Sonic Masala
The All Seeing Hand are worshipped across Australasia for their intense, immersive ritual performances that leave observers in an ecstatic state of wonder and confusion. They are constantly collaborating with artists to create unforgettable displays of costume and projection mapping.
The All Seeing Hand have toured extensively around NZ & Australia, and been described by Flying Nun as “a highly vaunted live act.” They have inspired, conquered and pulverized audiences at festivals including Camp A Low Hum (Wellington), Lines of Flight (Dunedin), Newtown Festival, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (Auckland) and Now Fest.
They have released the albums《The All Seeing Hand》(2011)，《Mechatronics》(2013)，《Fog and Debris》(2014) and《Sand to Glass》 (2016)。The All Seeing Hand are signed to UK-based label Muzai Records.
The All Seeing Hand recognises progress
The All Seeing Hand facilitates progress.
The All Seeing Hand is progress.
Extraction is progress.
Conversion is progress.
The All Seeing Hand converts.
You are already part of The All Seeing Hand.
Transplanted from New Zealand, Chengdu-based Kaishandao has been slashing the divide between the club and live music scenes in Chengdu, playing everywhere from darkened dancefloors to pool parties and dive bars. Coming from a background of garage rock and bedroom cassette recordings, Kaishandao uses an electric guitar, effects, synthesizers and radio noise to create a kind of “dystopian techno drone,” influenced by krautrock, experimental music, Beyoncé and the Poly Centre (R.I.P.)
Disorientating lo-hifi dance music for the lonely hearts and high-wired souls.
E/N/T (Otolaryngology) is the musical pseudonym of New Zealand born artist Nathan Taare. E/N/T is sonic art that takes ideas and motivations from noise-rock, post-punk and sound installation to create an intriguing and wonderful collage of moods and movements.
The other day, while sunbathing on the lawn of a Melrose flat, my friend and I began thinking about the diminishing human element involved in post-internet music consumption.
When I was at high school, I basically lived at Slow Boat Records and Real Groovy – music havens where I’d browse for hours, listen to CD posts, purchase records, get recommendations from staff, find out about new releases from posters in the window, pick up gig guides and buy tickets to upcoming shows.
I remember getting up at dawn to bus into town and be amongst the first to hear Stadium Arcadium the day it was released in New Zealand. I remember staying overnight outside the ticket booth, flanked by fans draped in sleeping bags, eagerly waiting for sales to open for their first Auckland show. This was about ten years ago now.
Nowadays, you can be a fan without ever leaving your front door. With the exception of buying The All Seeing Hand’s Sand to Glass on vinyl at the door of their album release show, I bought all this year’s featured albums online, without even talking to a single person.
The internet means accessibility has grown but human contact has reduced. But the creation, sharing and consumption of music is still an immensely personal thing. These albums create the soundtrack to so many aspects of our lives, they speak to our own experiences or the experiences of others and make us feel things more deeply. Let’s continue to feel, express ourselves and connect with others.
I’m so thankful to all these artists for producing these works and sharing them into the world, where they can be shared and distributed in an instant across the globe.
In no particular order, here are Kiwese’s favourite releases from New Zealand and China in the Year of the Monkey 2016.
The All Seeing Hand finally gave birth to Sand to Glass in December and oh yesyesyes, it has been worth the wait.
In their first album to feature predominantly English lyrics, Sand to Glass showcases Marks’ politically pertinent wordsmithing, encased in industrial metal clanking by drummer Ben Knight (Rogernomix, Unsanitary Napkin) and those trademark, turbo charged electronic power ups from scratch master Alphabethead.
It is perhaps their most ‘pop’ record to date, if The All Seeing Hand could ever be considered so, with tracks like Lizard Brain and Swarm standing out aspreviouslyreleased singles and indicating a shift away from the more abstract compositions of Mechatronics (2013) and Fog and Debris (2014) and towards a tighter sense of songwriting.
Listened to this on repeat while biking through the smog of Chengdu, the soundtrack to this environmental apocalypse.
Favourite track: Dog Eat Dog
Hu Yang // Xu Huai Ruo Gu
(Be Sure) Beijing, CN
My friend Liu Xing introduced me to Xu Huai Ruo Gu earlier this year and I was immediately hooked. Released digitally on the Berlin/Shanghai techno label Be Sure, which is home to brilliant offerings of mixtapes from artists such as Art’s Difficult (ELVIS.T) and Shanghai techno queen MIIIA.
Formerly known as NiChiFanLeMei, this Mt. Emei born Beijing-based producer creates a kind of brutalist, no nonsense techno – all muscle, no fat.
Possibly my most listened album of the year, suitable for furiously bike riding to a destination or scrubbing the kitchen and getting that shit clean as hell.
Favourite track: Restricted
Orchestra of Spheres // Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon
(Fire Records) Wellington, NZ
Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon is a psychedelic serving of tunes, many which have been part of the Spheres mind-melting live set for the past few years.
Their knack for combining the everyday with the otherworldly is evident throughout the album: Let Us Not Forget, an eerie prayer of reminders before leaving the house, the intensely danceable South East Asian inspired jam Anklung Song and their fast-paced Zombie Zombie cover Rocket #9.
Bubbling with sounds both organic and electronic, voices both chanted and spoken, influences both local and extraterrestrial, Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon is a tasty, special brew from my favourite band of Wellington weirdos.
Favourite track: Anklung Song
Duck Fight Goose // CLVB ZVKVNFT 押打饿《未来俱乐部》
(D-Force Records 大福唱) Shanghai, CN
Duck Fight Goose have teamed up with producer Lv for this smashing record on D-Force, their first release in four years, the soundtrack to interplanetary cyborg dancefloors.
CLVB ZVKVNFT is bursting with imagination and inspiration, combining elements of breakbeat, acid house, synth pop and techno into a cohesive string of 12-tracks. Busy yet uncluttered, frantic yet disciplined. A triumph.
Favourite track: 《马》
Unsanitary Napkin // Patriotic Grooves
(Zero Style, Always Never Fun, Limbless Records) Wellington, NZ
FASCIST VOLCANO SPEWING MOLTEN SHIT
Patriotic Grooves is a fast and furious fuck you from Wellington punk trio Unsanitary Napkin, formed in 2015 and fronted by guitarist/vocalist Hannah Salmon a.k.a. artist Daily Secretion, who is well known for her zines, gig posters and album art in collaboration with other Wellington-based bands.
The 12-tracks of the album are punctuated with broadcast radio beeps and sound grabs from white, male New Zealand politicians and media identities. Incredible, machine-gun-like drumming from Ben, who forms a blistering rhythm section with Rupert on bass.
As the album’s defining image of Donald Trump being annihilated by a rainbow beam from a winged vagina (the sticker version shaped like a sanitary pad) would suggest, Patriotic Grooves is comprised of vaginal blasts of anarcho feminist anger directed towards the chauvinistic and conservative peaks of society.
Brief and intense.
Favourite track: Feminine Odour
iimmune // Abnormal
(D-Force Records 大福唱片) Beijing, CN
Melodic, dramatic and emotional. Thoughtful compositions reminiscent of Four Tet and Aphex Twin, Abnormal is the beginning of Bobo’s metamorphosis from film scores to dancefloor ready techno.
Keep an eye on his electronic label Prajnasonic and stay tuned for next year, when the bass will drop.
Favourite track: 鲸鱼-
So Laid Back Country China // Sin Cristales
(Self-released) Wellington, NZ
“I’m too busy drinking / all of the time”
In September, I found myself sitting in the bath tub of a five star hotel in Auckland, up to my tits in hot water and drowning in anxiety. Like my mind was smashing itself into the ground, stuck in a violent wash cycle of negativity, trapped underwater in a swimming pool covered by an immovable tarpaulin. I felt like I was going to rip my own face off.
Sin Cristales brought me back to earth, having articulated such emotions to great effect. Grateful. xx
Favourite Track: Ballad of Calm Arms
Yue Xuan // Entrance & Exports 岳璇《Entrance & Exports》
(Mo Records) Beijing, CN
Entrance & Exports is a remix of Yue Xuan’s beautiful piano album In & Outfrom 2015. Bringing together producers from around China such as MHP, Broken Thoughts, Hong Qile, iimmune and Cvalda onto one impeccably well-crafted compilation (which was initially available as a free download on Douban), the remixes span Minimalist, Post-Rock, Drum & Bass, Techno, Glitch, Drone, Hiphop, Experimental, Ambient and IDM, bringing a whole new electronic take on the original.
Entrance & Exports and accompanying national Remix Tour is a fine example of how this young composer is utilising the resources and connections around her to produce something new and exciting.
Favourite Track: Nine of Swords (Cvalda Remix)
Mermaidens // Undergrowth
(Flying Out) Wellington, NZ
Mermaidens have come a long way since those first acoustic demos four or five years ago, with Undergrowth released in March establishing them as a staple of the Wellington indie scene.
Enchanting mermaids conjuring “dark witch rock” from the dense scrubland is as psychedelic as it sounds – lurking with hidden dangers, the title-track Undergrowth gradually flows from a slow and dreamy creek into a thrashing, rocky river, a structure many of the songs take on the album. There’s certainly something of the occult about these mermaids, whose reverb drenched vocals often take form in first or second person: “I’m a corpse on the beach / I’m a thing / send me out to sea,” pulling the listener deeper into their imagined natural world.
The undergrowth is a mysterious place barbed with the grit and sharpness of gorse, as well as the strength and unruliness of deep roots. Look forward to new material in 2017.
Favourite track: Under the Mountain II
DOC (Dalian Obscure Club) // Northern Electric Shadow DOC 《北方电影》
(D-Force Records 大福唱片) Dalian, CN
There’s something in the water up in Dalian…
I hadn’t even heard of the Dalian Obscure Club until copies of Northern Electric Shadow turned up on CD and vinyl at NU SPACE.
The power of crashing waves, the fluidity of rising tides, the delicacy of swirling rockpools – this is understated, beautiful ocean-inspired math-rock. A fresh breeze of sea air!
Favourite track: 加百利布吉 Gabey’s Boogie
Males // None the Wiser
(Fishrider Records) Dunedin, NZ
A burst of sunny South Island power-pop. The long-anticipated follow up to their debut MalesMalesMales in 2012, None the Wiser is full of so many bright, catchy riffs and uplifting falsetto parts that wearing sunglasses should be listed as a prerequisite for listening. A set of wonderfully crafted guitar songs.
Favourite track: Chartreuse
The Fuzz // The Root of Innocence 法兹乐队《童心之源》
(Maybe Mars 兵马司) Xi’an, CN
This upbeat, chorus-soaked indie rock record is possibly the most Maybe Mars-y Maybe Mars release to date – you just know Yang Haisong has been here.
The audience were quietly bopping along when The Fuzz came to Chengdu on their enormous album release tour in early 2016. Then when Sijiang from Hiperson came out to help them sing《控制》, the crowd exploded with cheers and turned into a sea of moshing bodies, it was beautiful.
Favourite Track: 《控制》
Peach Milk // Finally EP
(Self-released) Auckland, NZ
Peaches and cream are my favourite kind of lollies. So perhaps it is inevitable that I would be into this new young Auckland producer, who dropped her first EP earlier this year. Peach Milk’s music sounds like her name would suggest – sweet and smooth.
Look forward to her sound evolving in the new year.
Six-tracks of candy-coated indie-pop from our Cantonese speaking friends yourboyfriendsucks! Opening with a tribute to Just Like Honey by the Jesus and Mary Chain, how can I not love this? Surprisingly clean production for QiiiSnacks Records (formerly Full Label), known for their DIY lo-fi recordings.
Perhaps the biggest travesty of 2016 is the dissolution of ybfs!, as the lead singer Zoey has moved to Europe to study. Episode 1 is in fact the final episode. Boo!
Perhaps I’ve included Higher Brothers Mixtape here more for their impact rather than my own personal taste, but their skyrocket to fame and influence on the local scene this year is certainly noteworthy. If Fat Shady put Chengdu hip-hop on the map, Higher Brothers CDC rappers Masiwei (马思唯), Dz, Psy.P and Melo, have dabbed themselves to the top and become one of Chengdu’s, if not China’s most iconic hip-hop acts.
This 19-track offering is a searing blast of arrogance and attitude delivered in a mix of lightening fast Chengduhua and American slang. Whether or not elongated trap beats are your thing, or that each track repeats the chorus about five times, tracks like 《野猪儿》 and 《尴尬》 have attained anthem-like status and established hip-hop as the biggest sound in Chengdu.
Now managed by Asian hip-hop agency 88 Rising, Higher Brothers have taken Chengdu hip-hop to an international level of “worldwide shit.” As collaborations with international artists such as Harikiri, Charlie Heat, Bohan Phoenix and J.Mag roll in, I look forward to their sound maturing more in future.
Debut record from Chengdu indie babes The Hormones, the sophomore album from South Island songstress Nadia Reid, something trippy from Beijing no-wave masters Chui Wan, minimal techno stylings from atmen, the debut record from Kunming electro-punk wastrels South Acid MiMi Dance Team, potentially music from new Maybe Mars signees Lonely Leary and Dream Can perhaps even something from those mysterious Dunedin-based creatures Elan Vital and Kolya…
Construction and redevelopment has seen Chengdu’s cultural landscape (read: the places we go to drink alcohol and listen to music) change dramatically. But as old places close and new ones emerge, great shows from bands, performers, DJs and collectives continue to entertain and inspire.
Along with the loss of Bowie, Prince and George Michael, we lost many of our local stars this year. Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu was demolished and construction of the new Music Conservatory concert hall began, Machu Picchu I closed after over a decade of business in the backstreets of Yulin and Soul Kitchen shut up shop just as renovations were completed. But it’s not all doom and gloom, laobans have gone on to open 2.0 versions of their former bars.
Not ones to be phased by forced demolition, the Zaoshanghao crew came back in style with the incredibly epic Morning House in Flower Town, taking over the old Xiwo swimming pool bar and fitting it out with an outdoor-stage, hot pot and rehearsal spaces. The Dojo crew took over Soul Kitchen in the Soho Building and established Berlin Haus, bringing much needed day vibes, strong coffee and workspaces to the inner city. Yulin also saw the opening of Yabany 牙半厘, a smoky little bar fit out with retro neons, cult film screenings and despite lack of any backline, the occasional jam night.
Perhaps the venue making the biggest waves this year has got to be NU SPACE. Freshly renovated at the back of Mintown, NU SPACE is kitted out with a minimalist, concrete design, banging sound system and some of the most diverse billing in the city.
When I first came to Chengdu as a backpacking language student in 2013, I was greeted with jungle fireworks and Drum N Bass and Rammstein blasting from a shopping trolley in the magazine aisle of 7Eleven. Friends took me to Morning Bar, Lantown, Hemp House and Xiwo, vibrant venues tattooed with psychedelic murals and scented with herbal inspiration. Now, more than three years later, none of those venues exist anymore, but the shows certainly go on.
“…when the world outside is scary, boring, ugly, and hateful, what do you do? You either drown in it or you drown it out.”
Music is the gateway, it elevates us above the mundanity of everyday life. We choose to participate in it and represent who we are. Live music is the beating heart of a community, where the performer and audience meet like minded spirits, enter a space of their own creation, and be free.
Without further ado, here are my favourite shows of 2016 in chronological order.
Little Bar, Chengdu
8 January 2016
“NI HAI PAAAAAAA – WO HAI PAAAAA!!”
Man, how good are Chinese Football?! These Wuhan emo kids came through Chengdu on their album release tour way back in January, playing to a sea of woollen cardigans and thick framed glasses. No support act, didn’t need it. Super 爽 guitars, vocal melodies and FEELS. Chinese Football also probably have the strongest merch game in the country. Subsequently invited them to play NUART Festival in October which was also highly dope (see below).
It was a packed house for Berlin-based Canadian producer Mike Shannon and .TAG’s 2nd birthday. A six-hour long set of fresh, cutting house and techno, masterful hypnotism of the dance floor and the delivery of positive vibes. The excellent support slot was Beijing bro Yang Bing, who kept things popping till Sunday lunchtime. Much rave!
Morning House, Chengdu
22 April 2016
Chunyou is like Christmas for music fans. With the introduction of an electronic stage, rental tents courtesy of Steam Hostel and a new abundance of sofas, this year’s Chunyou at Morning House saw many punters stay on site for a memorable weekend of debauchery. Memorable moments include:
Hiperson on the main stage live with new bassist Ming Ming for the first time in Chengdu.
Someone setting off a fucking FLARE in the middle of the Stolen mosh pit.
CDC inviting all the white people up to dance on the stage and all the white people being really excited.
Playing guitar with atmen at the electronic stage on Day 1.
DIO was sick.
Pascal Pinon putting a spell over the main stage
HELEN TING IN THE DJ ROOM ON SUNDAY MORNING. Rolling out of my shitty tent after passing out for two hours and stumbling into the DJ hut with no pants on to find this insane Hong Kong lady with an afro, coloured shades and enormous Aladdin pants absolutely slaying the decks with a mix of afrobeat, soul and funk, a dedicated crowd of ravers grooving strong, mystically attaining sunglasses as the sun came up. Fuck how good was Helen Ting?!
Rain rain rain. More rain. Stage closures, mud, the gear getting soaked, the police shut down… As dysfunctional as Aus-atmen ended up being, it was a testament to DIY culture, a love of electronic music and thinking big. It was also completely unforgettable. Check out the review here.
Hiperson + Lonely Leary
NU SPACE, Chengdu
10 June 2016
This was the first show I put on at NU SPACE and is also my favourite poster of the year, a collage we made of clippings from an old flipbook featuring a flying decapitated head. We posted it around the city on cheap A4 print outs.
Lonely Leary have two speeds: fast or faster. Bass heavy rhythms drove the blitzing pace like a schizophrenic roller coaster. There was no looking back for Hiperson, who played a killer set of new material, confident and self-assured. May have shed a tear.
NU SPACE had just opened and we were working a lot of shit out… the lighting really wasn’t great, but these two bands together in concert for a home crowd was in my eyes a real triumph.
Yue Xuan: Entrance and Exports Remix Project
feat. Cvalda + VJ PLGRM
NU SPACE, Chengdu
24 June 2016
Beijing-based pianist Yue Xuan 岳璇 came to Chengdu as part of her Remix tour to perform with Cvalda, one of the producers who remixed a track from In & Out (2015) that formed the Entrance & Exports remix album. Comprised of three sections; contemporary piano, electronic collaboration and drum n bass, this was a unique and creatively curated live show from one of China’s biggest talents.
Also a composer for film, Yue Xuan’s concert was suitably accompanied by incredibly beautiful visual pieces by PLGRM on the big screen for us in this intimate performance. Oh, and we got to see Cvalda in “formal dress” as she laid down some serious bass.
Fairy Mountain, Wulong, Chongqing
8-9 July 2016
NUTS Livehouse and Morning 早上好 have done it again, Neverland 2016 was bigger, better and more well organised than ever – no deadly mud slide between stages, and a quarantining of the psy-trance stage to it’s own little hill commune in the forest. The addition of more food stalls was a welcome relief (shout out Baker Street for giving us the last pasta scrapings on Day 2), a big improvement from the food options available in 2015.
Wild animals, beautiful landscapes, hand built teepees and jamming instruments providing pleasing environments for those on acid and co., while the downside was an influx of loud, obnoxious tourists who killed the vibe from about 9pm – 2am both nights with yelling, beer showers and general fuckwittery at the Main Stage.
Metope and Yang Bing were highlights on Day 1, as Dusk Till Dawn proved their namesake. We were treated to the best of Shanghai, with MIIIA and MHP making appearances on the second night. Raving on a mountain in the early morning as the morning mist slowly glides in from the hills – YES. Go Neverland!
Punk Fest CDC
Morning House, Chengdu
6 August 2016
How many punk bands are there in Chengdu?
According to Punk Fest CDC, actually quite a few.
It was an absolute scorcher in Flower Town and hoards of people turned up for a good time, enticed by the free entry ticket price. A ferocious mosh pit fuelled by copious amounts of beer, Morning House was buzzing for a day and night of recurrent stage diving and comic pool throws. Stink Mouth threw a bunch of condoms into the crowd. Good times.
The Others Way Festival
2 September 2016
BOY am I happy about Cut Off Your Hands coming back this year. Their performance at The Others Way was a total throwback to 2008’s You & I and even Takes Slowly Over from their first EP, finishing up with Nick Johnson jumping on guitar for their new tune Hate Somebody. Brilliant band, incredibly energy and everyone was going ape shit like it was 2006.
The Others Way coordinated all the venues on K Road into a night packed full of back to back shows and it was impeccably well organized. I also caught great performances from Nadia Reid, Fazerdaze, Purple Pilgrims, Mermaidens, Shocking Pinks and the inimitably chaotic King Loser.
NU SPACE, Chengdu
17 September 2016
Powerful women rocking out, YEAH. Paula and Ali totally rock. French imports JC Satàn were an unexpected delight. Bathed in red light, the band jumped and lurched and grooved their way through an set of throttling, kerosine coated garage punk somewhere between The Ramones, Thee Oh Sees and Queens of the Stone Age. A two-metre tall keyboardist thrashed about like a barely caged giraffe while guitarist Arthur kicked and shook like an electrified rock and roll Bruce Lee.
The bassist and guitarist lost their guitars in transit (ouch), but took kindly to borrowed instruments which I was surprised to find intact after the show, not pummelled into a fine dust. A mighty gig that brought out all the head bangers, stoners and more than a few devils horns. Rock is not dead, thank god.
Three days of sunshine, four stages, hundreds of market stalls and thousands of punters – 2016 was the first year I’ve been on board at NUART Festival and man, what a trip. Chengdu community vibes and street culture combined with some of the most innovative alternative acts in the country. A cohesion of genres, with a smorgasbord on the Main Stage, experimental/electronic music in NU SPACE, a DJ stage and a vinyl record zone run by Marco Duits himself.
I feel this festival brings the community together, young and old, the livehouses and the clubs. Absolutely amazing and completely exhausting. Too many highlights to mention! Marco closing the festival with an Always on the Run 7″ by Lenny Kravitz was pretty amazing though.
This year’s line-up:
WHAI, Chinese Football, ChaCha + DJ Aivilox, Wednesday’s Trip, South Acid MiMi Dance Team, CDC, Sulumi, Biggaton + Blood Dunza (JA), Hu Yang, iimmune, Taiga, Charlie Tango (FR), Starcardigan (RU), Wanmei Daoli, Fake Swing, Jahwahzoo, Sound and Fury, Zhang Xiaobing and Friends, U M U / Microsoft Voices (NZ), Faded Ghost, 3000, Xiang, Su, Kaiser and May, Lao G, Just Charlie, Jovian and Marco Duits.
This year Kiwese was pleased to tour with mr sterile Assembly across Guangzhou, Guiyang, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Beijing. While each show was unique, Guangzhou was my favourite.
Hauling gear up four flights of stairs paid off as Loft345 came alive with dancing and general limb flailing. Despite a bass amp meltdown, Chrissie ripped through a set of chest pummeling tunes through a tiny guitar amp with no overdrive, while mr sterile, having upgraded from the drum-less venue in Shanghai, happily smashed away on his melange of cymbals while yelling out pagefuls of lyrics to those bafflingly brilliant time signatures.
The night was a success thanks to our hosts QiiiSnacks Records and Die! Chiwawa!Die! – an inimitable Guangzhou hardcore noise/screamo/chiptune band which frontwoman Jinbo bouncing up and down like a possessed Pokémon while guitarist Howie and the other screamo vocalist thrashing across the ground as if it were being tilted and shaken by an omnipotent overlord.
Sabu Toyozumi + Li Jianhong
NU SPACE, Chengdu
26 October 2016
In a tour named 耳舍 (lit: ear tongue), acclaimed experimental guitarist Li Jianhong 李剣鴻 and legendary Japanese free jazz drummer Sabu Toyozumi treated us to a two hour display of skill, stamina and imagination.
Toyozumi, now in his seventies, was like a playful kid in a sandpit, pushing the house kit through its paces – smacking, dismantling and scraping it together, even whipping the snare with his sock at one point. Li Jianhong deftly cast out a palette of colours with his effects board, the scrape of his guitar and slamming of wah pedals sounded as if he were fishing for frequencies in an ocean of sound – calm, patient and free. A journey through tone and timbre that constantly reached into new territory, furthered by local multi-instrumentalist and improv king Kun jumping on violin for the last segment of the show.
Afterwards, the promoter said Sabu only played for 30 minutes in Chongqing, which made us feel even luckier to be treated to such an epic long set. Sabu was also super happy to chat with fans afterwards and sign CDs. Super swell guy! Stay tuned for his NZ tour with the Sound and Light Exploration Society next year.
Michael RotherSupport: Chui Wan
Little Bar Space, Chengdu
31 October 2016
VICE have brought quite a few touring acts to Chengdu this year (Ratatat, Tonstartssbandht) but Krautrock king Michael Rother from Neu!, Harmonia and Kraftwerk with Beijing psych/no-wave band Chui Wan took the cake. Little Bar Space is a cavernous monstrosity when half empty and even Rother himself politely commented on the small crowd in between songs.
Chui Wan is like LSD for the ears. Michael Rother and band were uplifting, melodic and joyful. Lovely, though with that number of people (100-150 ish), I couldn’t help but think how great and intimate it could have been at NU SPACE…
NU SPACE, Chengdu
18 November 2016
When Eagulls took the stage my heart stopped.
Was it our newly minted fog machine that cloaked them in a turquoise haze of gothic mystery? Was it frontman George Mitchell’s post-punk nonchalance and lyrical wordsmithing? Was it the bass line from Skipping that echoes the refrain from How Soon is Now? Was it that I’d witnessed their metamorphosis into an immensely professional, polished and powerful live act directly after Tsingdao cans, rollies and toilet banter?
Berlin Haus, Chengdu
22 November 2016
This was a really special show for me because:
a) we threw it together last minute
b) it was Sisu’s first time ever playing an acoustic show
c) it was the first ever Berlin Haus show.
Shout out to the chick huffing a qiqiu (balloon) at the back lol. Classic Tuesday night Soho.
Octopoulpe, Le Crabe, Digou, Klaus Legal
NU SPACE, Chengdu
13 December 2016
Two aliens slithered on stage and blasted into a set of garbled bass/vocals hardcore before Donald Trump emerged bearing hot dogs and hamburgers then was skinned alive and left for dead. The show went on until Trump was revived by the sound of Chinese pop and destroyed by a glowing orb where he and the aliens were forced to evacuate by dragging themselves along the floor out the door, leaving Earth forever.
The All Seeing Hand, Womb, Unsanitary Napkin
23 December 2016
Wellington disciples of the A.S.H order convened upon Meow to praise their latest auditory offering Sand to Glass with support from Unsanitary Napkin, Womb and artist Georgette Brown. A feast for the eyes and ears! The All Seeing Hand are in a class of their own, the shamans of sound, the Triptych of Trippy – stay tuned for their China wanderings in 2017.
Caspian @ Little Bar Space, Chengdu
Noise Temple @ .TAG
Audible Area:SunWei + 16ways @ NU SPACE, Chengdu
Dizzy Love + Wednesday’s Trip @ NU SPACE, Chengdu
DJ Sodeyama @ Here We Go, Chengdu
Street Party Rain Out: Marco Duits @ Hakka Bar, Chengdu
U Brown + Blood Dunza @ Jah Bar, Chengdu
Tobias @ Here We Go, Chengdu
All the Yang Bing raves @ .TAG in the first half of 2016
What will 2017 bring?
I’d like to see shows make there way out into the public, in found locations or reconverted spaces. DJ Marco Duits is someone who constantly leads the way with this in his ‘Street Party’ concept, though even these shows are becoming few and far between. No one wants to get in trouble, or worse, have their gear confiscated, but how can we branch out into different spaces and create something new for ourselves? I look forward to the new year of new shows and new adventures.
Full disclosure: I work at NU SPACE so saw a lot of shows there and missed those at other venues.
This year, Kiwese was lucky to be invited to Going Global Music Conference and The Others Way Festival in Auckland – many thanks to Dylan, Kath at the Independent New Zealand Music Commission for the opportunity!
Header image by John Yingling @theworldunderground
Erica Sklenars a.k.a. Lady Lazer Light is in the capital this week for two talks about her art residency in Beijing and touring with Orchestra of Spheres around China.
Kiwese caught up with her ahead of tonight’s first talk!
The last Lady Lazer Light show I saw before moving back to China was in collaboration with long time pals Orchestra of Spheres.
It was a cheap $10 gig at Valhalla – a grungy, hole in the wall on Vivian Street downtown Wellington, which having survived several different eras of management had remained popular among the metal, bogan and experimental community for it’s diverse billing, excellent beer selection and outdoor area provisioned with old car tyres and miscellaneous lounge furniture.
It was mid-2014, a rough time for Wellington music punters with the closures of popular inner city venues Mighty Mighty and Puppies. San Francisco Bath House had been renovated into ‘San Fran’ – a yuppie, tapas-catering ghost of it’s former self that had halved it’s capacity due to safety concerns – the packed out balcony and wall-to-wall mosh pit had become a thing of the past. The city was thirsty for a good show.
The Valhalla line-up included some of Wellington’s favourite acts, who were not greatly affected by the venue closures as they were accustomed to playing in unconventional spaces around town. Throat-ripping turntable noise trio the All Seeing Hand had arrived home from their national tour and were supported by their good mates Orchestra of Spheres, experimental folk yodeller Seth Frightening, andvisually enhanced by the Queen of Psychedelic Projections Herself, Lady Lazer Light. The stage was a whirlpool of colour and sound and the bar was packed with familiar faces, with Valhalla regulars happily drinking alongside the refugees of less fortunate venues.
In the second set of the night, the Spheres took the stage in inimitable style – festooned with the finest eyewear The $2 Shop can buy, armed with one-of-a-kind wooden and tin instruments and oozing with the bizarre stage presence that has earned them a cult following throughout the country. The crowd surged forward, ready for the cosmic rhythms.
As Lady Lazer Light sprayed forth her kaleidoscopic beams and the Spheres chanted a mantra about iPhone chargers, the sensorily satiated crowd swayed shoulder to shoulder as one, united by a brilliant display of colour and sound. If the desired effect was group hypnosis – they certainly succeeded.
The show was a spiritual experience for the city – the buzz around Valhalla, the friendliness and happiness of all the people who had come to celebrate and support, it was a truly magical night. Orchestra of Spheres and Lady Lazer Light were the gems in Wellington’s creative crown, and we all bowed down in ecstasy.
Around the middle of last year, things really started to fall into place. I was emailing Dan from the Spheres on an almost daily basis and we were gradually putting together the pieces for a national China tour. The dream was coming to life, everyone was excited.
KIWESE: “Are you guys bringing Lady Lazer Light?”
DAN: “Erica Sklenars is going to be in Beijing for three months on an artist residency!! So we’ll bring her along for the trip.”
The morning after the second Orchestra of Spheres show in Beijing, I awoke with a heavy hangover to find Erica passed out on the couch at my friend’s tiny flat in Beixinqiao, wrapped in her screen as a blanket and surrounded by noodles of projector cables and chargers. A Lady Lazer Light bomb had exploded in the lounge and ground zero was beautifully chaotic. This chick is crack up.
Despite being a fan of her work for years, I’d actually never met Erica Sklenars before she arrived in Beijing last September.
During my time with her in China, through all the madness, set-ups, pack downs, instant noodles, Jingjiu, overnight train rides, WeChat frenzies, gaffer tape, raves, laughs, cries and hangovers, she became a very dear friend, one who I have enormous respect and admiration for as an artist, improvisor, communicator and genuinely wonderful human being.
I am so pleased to finally feature her here on this humble blog.
KIWESE: Sup Sklen, how’s it going?
As Lady Lazer Light, you’ve been a staple visual collaborator in Wellington for many years. Can you tell us a bit about your current set up in Dunedin?
I’ve been living between Dunedin and Wellington a bit this year with various projects, but I’m technically based in beautiful Port Chalmers, Dunedin, living and making work in Chick’s Hotel.
What’s the deal with Chick’s Hotel at the mo?
They closed a couple of weeks ago, went out with a bang with a number of awesome farewell gigs, including Shifting Sands and The Clean sending us off on the final night.
I’ve been away since then, but word on the street says there is a killer recording studio developing downstairs…
You were based in Wellington for many years, how have you found the transition to Dunedin life? My only experience with the music scene on my trip there was a seedy late night karaoke bar, where I realised Seven Days by Craig David is actually really hard to sing.
Haha! I have only encountered YouTube karaoke down there… but may have heard something about such bars.
I’m finding it quite different, a bit more chill, a good place to reflect on my practice and on my high-energy, chaotic last few months of travel.
There are some really cool things happening there in the music scene, some awesome new and old bands, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to collaborate and perform. There is actually some REALLY great music happening there at the moment.
You’ve mentioned Élan vital before. Could you name some other acts you’re digging in Dunedin?
I collaborated with Repulsive Woman recently, she played alone outside an old Free Mason Lodge and the audience watched/peeped on her from inside through a camera obscura I constructed. She plays One Direction covers.
You were in Beijing for three months and really thrived in it. Do you have any favourite spots for music and art in the city?
Liquid Light Show at Temple Bar Beijing, which Erica participated in. Sept 2015.
Shocking Pinks DJ Set at Dada with visuals by Lady Lazer Light. Sept 2015.
Mos Iocos of Orchestra of Spheres with Lady Lazer Light. School Bar, Beijing, Sept 2015. Image / Live Beijing Music
What do you miss about China now that you are back in NZ?
I miss the food of course! I loved it all. I miss being able to order a bunch of different dishes – I’m terrible at making decisions on menus.
I miss always having an exciting new place to go! There’s one particular dish I would get that was kind of an omelette thing with sprouts and noodles, it was soo good for late breakfasts. And the shredded potato!! So good.
I miss the friendly faces around where I was living, going on adventures through different villages to find art supplies, taking several forms of public transport to go somewhere, the amazing friendly people I would meet that would extend so much help and kindness despite us not speaking the same language.
The Spheres tour was so bloody fab. Do you have a particularly standout gig?
Too hard to choose! I loved the BBQ party in Feijiacun because that was in the community I was living in.
I loved the NUART Festival in Chengdu and the after party at Zaoshanghao, so much fun! I loved every city and show for different reasons, I can’t pick a single fav. I really want to come back and I’m working on some plans, watch this space!
When can we expect to see the South Acid MiMi x Lady Lazer Light music video?
What would you say to other artists wanting to visit China?
Do it, it’s an awesome place to tour as a band and to make art.
Chur girl, you Sklegend!
Erica will be speaking in Wellington tonight and tomorrow:
P-LAB: LADY LAZER LIGHT
Time: 7:00pm | Wed 13 April 2016
Location: Pyramid Club
272 Taranaki Street, Wellington, New Zealand
For her P-LAB session, Erica will be delving into her world of projected visuals and speaking about her recent 3 month residency in Beijing on the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange.
The Pyramid Club is run by the Sound and Exploration Society.
International Connections: An artist residency forum
Time: 5.30pm – 7.30pm | Thu 14 April 2016
Location: Adam Auditorium, City Gallery
101 Wakefield St, Wellington, New Zealand
Hear internationally acclaimed visual artists speak about their practice and residency experiences in a panel discussion chaired by Courtney Johnston, director of The Dowse Art Museum. The artists – Marc Brandenburg, Etienne de France, Erica Sklenars and Sian Torrington – will share their work and their thoughts about the world versus Wellington.
Berlin-based Brandenburg is the current Goethe-Institut Artist in Resident at the Bolton Street Cottage; Etienne de France, from Paris, is the Massey University Artist in Resident staying at Te Whare Hera; and Erica Sklenars and Sian Torrington are both Wellington-based artists recently back from Asia.
It is cold tonight — but not a touch on the sub-zero Siberian winters thatHuun-Huur-Tu have weathered in their homelands of Tuva, a remote region of Russia near the outer Mongolian border.
Proof that group huddles around a fire for warmth result in sing-a-longs, especially those that take place in a yurt.
Sayan Bapa founding member of the veteran throat singing ensemble shared his stories with Kiwese and friends around a slow-burning brazier in the leafy outskirts of Chengdu, after the group’s hypnotizing show on Saturday night.
“Close your eyes and listen.”
Sayan Bapa sits wide-legged and at ease with a cup of mulled wine. They have just performed to a tightly packed crowd from ages 3 to 83, of all cultural backgrounds and music tastes, where their synchronised voices rang out in harmonies across a sea of perked ears and raised cellphones, side-by-side before a backdrop of wispy blue horses, shattering and dissolving into the misty atmosphere.
The group of us sit around, warming our hands over the fire. Sayan’s deep hum of a voice and thickly punctuated accent resonates through the air, even in conversation.
In song, Huun-Huur-Tu’s voices make your body quiver, reaching a frequency that brings goats to a standstill in the grassy steppes where they hail from.
WATCH: Huun-Huur-Tu live at Zaoshanghao, Chengdu, on the ‘From Tuva to Beijing’ Tour, 13 December 2014,
Visuals by Cha Fei 叉飞:
This masterful ability to achieve long, multi-pitched notes through the diaphragm, lungs, muscles and throat are unaffected by the singer’s penchant for the somwhat less salubrious aspects of life – and we all burst out laughing as Sayan is handed an additional cup of mulled wine.
“If you are singing you can just get everything out,” he says, sipping his initial wine. “Kaigal and I are smokers. And we also drink.” Having just downed a beer with eager Chengdu fans in Zaoshanghao’s tree clad outdoor garden venue, he remarks upon the secluded and intimate venue as “a lovely place.”
Sayan and his long-time musical bro Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, whom he started playing traditional Tuvan music with when he was 17, were part of the original quartet of musicians from the region that formed Huun-Huur-Tu during a trip to New York, a journey which came into fruition through an incredible cross-country, cross-cultural tale involving a cassette tape, an ethnomusicologist and a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist in the early 1990s.
Huun-Huur-Tu are legends of the inimitable khoomei sound; an art “which requires a lot of control and power,” but can be learned by listening, observing and trying, according to Sayan. I first heard the word ‘Tuvan’ when fine dining at KC with Jonny Marks of the All Seeing Hand, who mentioned the Tuvan style is often hailed as the archetype of throat singing success in the ‘World’ music world.
The members of the group are build, perform and repair their own instruments. According to one source, the group first visited the United States with a rattle made from sheep knee bones enclosed in an inflated and hardened bull scrotum.
As the fire crackles away, Sayan lights a cigarette. The allegories between humans and nature are everywhere, he says. A stringed aficionado, he discusses the natural materials of their home-made instruments, including his doshpuluur, a three-stringed box shaped banjo made of mountain goat skin on both sides and wood from a native pine for the neck.
“In our culture it is very important to be a multi-instrumentalist,” he explains. “In Tuva, we have many different instruments and a kind of Chinese guqin 古琴, but I use also a classical guitar with lots of different tunings to imitate these ancient sounds.”
“We met with one of the best musicians in the United States, his name was Frank Zappa.”
From shepherd life, to life on the road, Sayan and Kaigal have travelled the world by sharing their unique voice and collaborating with other musicians in improvised and often unexpected ways, including an epic jam session with the legendary Frank Zappa, to electronic producers such as Carmen Rizzo and even a Bulgarian women’s choir, naturally.
WATCH: Original members of Huun-Huur-Tu collaborate in a jam with the Chieftans, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and friends at Frank Zappa’s house in 1993, shortly before he passed of cancer.
Despite the thirty years of touring and occasional rest periods at home in Kyzyl, Sayan is still overwhelmed by the mountainous urban terrain of skyscrapers and highways.
“Every time I see how huge this city is, how many people are here… wow,” he says of Chengdu’s vertical and horizontal sprawl. “We live in nature back home, surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes. You still have families who live in yurts, who are still herders; nomads.”
Sandwiched between the Siberian to the north and Mongolia to the south, the remote grasslands of Tuva have endured many “hard times” throughout their long and turbulent history, the ‘Tuvan Autonomous Oblast’ and ‘Tuva ASSR’ among some of the less catchy titles bestowed during the Soviet era. Today it is known as Tuva Republic, a semi-autonomous region of Russia.
“We have a harsh story in our country,” he reflects, “it was kind of like the Cultural Revolution in China,” he adds. “The Government killed its musicians, destroyed its instruments, destroyed religion, all these good things in music were lost.” Sayan laments of the lost music during the enforced reduction of Tibetan Buddhist and shaman culture in Tuvan society during these times: “there used to be a Tuvan harp, but we don’t have it now.”
Revitalisation and protection of traditional Tuvan music and instruments is a core part of Huun-Huur-Tu’s reason for touring. “We are among the last people who know the real traditional music,” he gestures widely, their unique homegrown drone zone culminating with Turkic, Siberian and Mongolian influences, “we want to try and reproduce the soul and emotion of our homeland in our music,” he says.
According to Sayan, despite cultural and linguistic differences, there are far more commonalities than people might think in the creation and appreciation of music. “Like in jazz, if you know scales or chords or songs, you start to improvise around them. It is the same in our culture.”
“In our tradition, we don’t have real teachers, the young generation just sit with me and improvise – just play with me, look at what I do, and how I make instruments.”
“We used to have a taboo that khoomei was not for women – it was believed to be bad for their health, for having babies…” he trails off, responding to Ming Ming’s question about the traditionally masculine activity of throat singing, “there is a lot of tension, you know,” he gestures towards his wide chest with a cigarette in hand.
There are now a growing number of women who are performing the art, and doing it well, he says.
Sayan touches on a “sad, deep song” the band did not perform tonight, called Orphan’s Lament. “Sometimes when we play this song, it makes us cry. It is about loss and life.”
Time is almost up. The band’s manager interjects in Chinese that the group need to rest ahead of tomorrow’s journey.
Lydia poses a question about the local music scene in Tuva, a topic which Sayan is positive about. “We have Tuvan Culture Centre in the capital city, we have a lot of concerts, a national orchestra, and lots of young groups playing different instruments. It is getting better and better.”
KC Cafe is fucking delicious. So I was stoked when experimental vocalist Jonny Marks of TheAll Seeing Hand was keen to meet over some mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐, and talk about how he honed his throat singing technique Inner Mongolia.
Hey Jonny! What have you been up to lately? (note: this interview took place last month)
Hey! We’re currently trying to sort some cassette tapes to take on tour to Australia – Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, then back to Melbourne. Pablo from Mesa Cosa, who does a bit of promotion with Bone Soup, took us over last year. We met at Camp and he’s just organized it all!
How did the All Seeing Hand emerge into this earthly realm?
Ben and David started off as a two piece, and a couple of people did vocals at various parties – then Noel Meek joined doing vocals with them. I got back from China while he was playing with them and he was going overseas. Perfect timing.
Can you tell us a bit about the production of Fog and Debris released earlier this year?
Fog and Debris is made up of stuff that was recorded at the same as Mechatronics (2013). As we were building up Mechatronics there was stuff that didn’t really fit with what it had become. David was able to put in some of the recordings with Noel on there and so its a bit of a Frankenstein of a record. Mechatronics has that heavy punchy sound, but then there are those more headphone listening kind of worlds to the band. It’s nice to have an album where people can enjoy those more detailed aspects that David creates.
I hear you studied composition with Jack Body at Victoria University. How did you come into that?
As a teenager I was in a band at Hutt High, but I also had my four-track and would be doing explorations of noise with mates. Then high school finished and I didn’t really want to go to university. When I turned up at Vic and there was a whole department dedicated to mucking around in a studio and doing sonic art – I thought ‘wow!!’
And that’s where you were first introduced to throat singing?
Part of what Jack does is to play folk and classical music from different countries for us to engage with, transcribe and try to make pieces out of it. One day he played us a recording and said, “right, firstly, tell me what instrumentation is in this piece.” It was throat singing. Once he told us it was just the voice within, I knew that I wanted to explore further.
How did you begin with starting to learn it yourself?
I just understood the theory of it. I spent a long time making god-awful noises. But I’d always done experimenting with my voice, since being in a grind-core band at high school, so I was happy to sit their in the shower and just going “blueeerhhhhggg,” then eventually work on refining it.
When did you move to China to pursue your development of the technique?
Mid-2006. I was in China for two years, Hohhot for one year, then spent the summer holidays in Xinjiang. Then I stayed in Urumqi for a year. My plan was to be totally open ended and see where it went.
“I turned up to Hohhot and just went door knocking, looking for a teacher.”
How did you go about finding a throat singing teacher? I can’t imagine it is a very common request.
Massive language barriers. All sorts of miscommunications. It took a long time to find the right teacher. One night, I went to a concert and this kooky Mongolian girl with the weirdest fashion, massive eyelashes and totally outrageous high heels put me in touch with her friends at a performing arts school, where I eventually found my teacher. His expertise was the horse-head fiddle, which accompanies all the songs and singers in Mongolian music. His throat singing was alright, but his knowledge was fantastic. He knew what sounded good. He knew how to direct me.
Are there special things you need to do to look after your voice?
Every teacher I met would be at the banquet table drinking baijiu and chain smoking. Saying to everyone – ‘don’t drink and smoke.’ It’s a bit rock and roll really [laughs]
Were there any customs around throat singing you needed to observe?
I had to understand the performance style, I couldn’t just get away with the technique. When I throat sing my face goes quite red, which is a big no-no. The presentation of throat singing is that it is very manly, you are supposed to sit their with your big belt buckle and look staunch and effortless. If my teacher saw me in All Seeing Hand, it is the total opposite of this aesthetic. I do want to present the All Seeing Hand to people over there, but I hope people see the respect and love that I am doing it with. People are doing throat singing all over the world. It is a YouTube phenomenon.
How did you see the role of throat singing develop in Inner Mongolia?
Its this weird thing where Western tastes and influences are having an impact on an entire world of music. But Mongolian people are making those aesthetic decisions themselves with their own standards – the unfortunate thing is a ‘drive to what is correct’ and the marker of that is which bands have made it to WOMAD – the Tuvan style, bands like Anda Union and Huun-Huur-Tu. It used to be more diverse within the individual practice.
Among young people there’s kind of this national pride in being Mongolian, which is driven by a dislike of the political system they are in and strong urge to retain their identity.
I went to a village and met two women – one was the last to know how to make a particular hat of the region, and the other was the last to know their songs. The young people I was with weren’t keen to engage with them at all, there was this feeling that Inner Mongolian culture was not ‘true’ Mongolian culture – they would look outwards to Outer Mongolia, outside the People’s Republic, as being ‘true.’
Tell us about your time in Xinjiang.
Dan from Orchestra of Spheres and I used to flat together at university. He was in the UK and came to China before going back to New Zealand. It was 2007, the year before the Olympics. Lots of rottweilers and AK47s. Massive Police presence in the Uyghur areas. It is active colonialism.
We went from Hohhot to Urumqi, then down to Kashgar and Yuli. It was awesome. In the south, the towns are all scattered throughout the desert. In Urumqi, there’s the Pakistani and Russian parts of town. It is an import export area with all these business people and sales people – the Silk Road is still current! Great food, beautiful, interesting people.
Show Me Your Teeth is the first All Seeing Hand song in English. What words are the other songs formed of?
Just sounds. Even when you are not doing the pure whistle-tone, the whole idea is to have total control over the shape of the sound. I like to imagine the vocal shapes coming out like a synth, and try to pull something out of what David is making – finding a sonic timbral relationship with the other two.
A big part of All Seeing Hand’s live performance is the lighting and visual impact. The ghosts at Camp, the Blob, the wolves at Puppies, the crazy lights at Garrett Street…
Erika Sklenars, Lady Lazer Light! I see her as part of the band. Sometimes its just projections, we always try to have something visual – she gets it completely. We will go to the venue beforehand and talk about what the show will look like, but then she just rocks it out live. So often people will be ‘wow, the visuals were great tonight!’ and we won’t even have known what was going on behind us! It’s a projection of all of our imaginations. It is the first time I have been in a band where visual artists, presentation, costume and jewellery joins together.
China would be awesome, and John could come along and document it. Shaun Tenzenmen could also sort us out a South East Asia tour – but it would be ambitious to do both. I need to talk to people and see which would be the most realistic.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I like listening to folk musics from around the world that have awesome singing in it. I love live music – local stuff. The Pyramid Club is my centre. Jeff Henderson and the stuff he is doing in Auckland with The Audio Foundation. A lot of the time I’d rather see live music go terribly wrong than sit at home listening to my favourite album. It’s about the now. For me that’s what music is all about, inhabiting time.
With the recent closures of Mighty Mighty and Puppies, there seems to be a polarising view around at the moment: Wellington is dead vs. Wellington is pumping. Where do you sit?
Wellington is pumping! [YES – *high-five*]
Wellington is awesome. It’s a great time right now. People are having to think about what they wanna do and see. I used to hang out a lot at Happy on Tory Street and the Space, upstairs from Newtown Shoes opposite Mr Bun. That came out from people wanting a place to do something. There is a whole plethora of different projects that came out of the Space in the late nineties. There were people who used to do stuff in the late eighties and early eighties coming in to experience the new energy. The house parties, Pyramid Club, 19 Tory Street – there is stuff happening!
Check out the latest All Seeing Hand video for Lying Dead, With a Bar of Soap! Keeping fingers on both hands crossed for a China tour in the very near future!!
And ahead of the election tomorrow, keep this song in mind…
What happens when a Wellingtonian photographer resides in Beijing for three months with a camera, no Mandarin and a passion for punk music?
Kiwese caught up with John Lake of Up the Punks down at his current BEIJING DAZE exhibition in Newtown.
Hey John! Favourite punk bands in Wellington at the moment?
The Johos, Johnny and the Felchers, Awkward Death.
Where did your interest in punk stem from?
I grew up listening to punk. Wellington had quite an active punk scene in the 90s that was all about participating – kids putting on gigs, starting their own bands, playing at a community halls instead of bars; people making their own magazines and releasing their own tapes. For me, that was always the main appeal of it, an act of community culture that you could participate in, not something you had to buy into.
How did Up the Punks first get started?
Up the Punks began during the end of the 90s, early 2000s. I was doing design at Wellington Polytech and was interested in how there was a whole different generation of kids coming through – which got me interested in how that generation interpreted different bands and ideas, so I started building an archive of my own photographs. There is a lot of documented material about overseas punk that we are familiar with, but there hadn’t been a published history of punk in Wellington, a scene that went back to the late 1970s. A lot of the music would be independently released on tapes, sit in people’s collections and eventually degrade and disappear. I just do it in my free time – I work full time in a dead end job.
Where did the idea come about to go to Beijing last year? Asia New Zealand and the Wellington City Council were putting out proposals for the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange and they were interested in projects that interacted with the local community. So I chucked together a proposal and said this is what I’ve been doing for ten years, I want to see what the cross cultural interpretation of punk is and create a NZ interpretation of Chinese people interpreting a ‘Western’ cultural paradigm. I handed the proposal in on the last day and was quite surprised when they accepted it.
Beijing was your first foray into scenes outside of Wellington, how did you manage to get involved with it?
I went over and basically hung out for three months and followed the same model as Up The Punks by just going to gigs, meeting as many people as I could in that time with my limited ability to communicate with them. The thing I was interested in the Wellington punk scene is not to present it as a wacky subculture of people doing things, it is more of something to participate in and document and build it. So going over to Beijing I was very conscious of a number of documentaries that had come out since the 2000s like Beijing Bubbles, Beijing Punk and Wasted Orient – there is this dialogue which goes alongside them, where a Western reporter comes in and is like “Wow! Isn’t it crazy that they have punk in China?” For me it was more about meeting people and trying to set up a collaborative thing, rather than being a fly on the wall.
As capital cities, are Wellington and Beijing hubs for punk music to converge?
I guess Beijing and Wellington both have more established reputations as being centers of culture and politics together. People don’t talk about Shanghai or Auckland in ‘go check out the culture’ kind of way. Wellington is all a nice little compact city, and it also markets itself as a cultural center, which Beijing does as well. As political centers, I guess it attracts a lot of people who are interested in the arts.
What kind of approach do you have towards exhibiting?
A lot of the process over in Beijing was documenting and gathering information on things. The exhibitions I have in the past have tried to move away from the traditional frame of portraits and gallery space – so they have been done in community spaces as opposed to gallery spaces. Black Coffee, which is run by Johnny from Johnny and the Felchers, has a retro punk aesthetic and following, so it is a good space for this exhibition about Beijing punk. I wanted to mirror what I did down at Dirty Monsters Club in Tongzhou – where I exhibited a range of photos of the Wellington punk scene. They are still up on the walls there, a good four months later.
What interested you in taking Up the Punks to China?
I’d been following a lot of documentary photo essays and things like this about the rise of punk in Asia in general, from Burma, Indonesia and Thailand, with all of these punk scenes that did not exist more than ten years ago. They are all distinct in their own way and there is a lot of music coming out of there. It is not just a case of Asian cultures taking a Western cultural genre and copying it, the music is always getting its own dialect and its own spin.
How did you see those influences being reworked in China?
Its not just that they are getting the material, it is arriving in China in a different way than when first generation punk music turned up in New Zealand during the 70s, where it would take three months for records to be shipped over, or just a newspaper, to get over here. In China, they got a compressed thirty years worth of punk music all at once, so they are interpreting things in a different way.
The aim was to do nothing more than confuse people with random information about New Zealand, an obscure side of New Zealand that a lot of people wouldn’t either know or care about. I got Sochu Legion 烧酒军团 to come down and play – they were one of the first bands I saw in Beijing and they played all the time. They had a real sense of humour and a style of punk that is similar to what I like in Wellington. I’m not sure if they understood what was going on – we were coordinating through this big phone chain because I had no Mandarin and they had very little English. They were really nervous when they turned up and the set up was in a mall with a bunch of aunties and random mall-goers gathering round to watch.
Check out the GREAT MALL OF CHINA video here, where punk rock meets unsuspecting locals.
How did you feel the anti-establishment attitude associated with punk played out in Beijing?
There is a kind of chilling effect with the political censorship situation in China. Whereas in Wellington, we have a very active engagement with political ideas in punk. Over there, some of the bands are singing songs about various issues, but I didn’t experience the kind of hard-left anarcho punk scene that has existed in the West since the 80s. I was told there is a three-tier warning or demerit system they have, where if you are on the third tier you are basically one step away from getting into some serious shit. But punk is not the only voice of dissent in China, and maybe it’s an ineffectual or futile one. Punk provides a means by which people can complain, but is not the only place where people will say they are pissed off at the Government or pissed off at work or pissed off at whatever. It’s just one language.
How do you feel the scene there responds to the political situation in China?
The Chinese Government seems to have bigger things to worry about than teenagers singing songs about stuff. There are issues going on. I was over there during the attack on Tiananmen Square in October. A dude I was meant to be interviewing was like an hour late because all the traffic had shut down in the area – all he could tell me was there was a plume of smoke rising over the Forbidden City. It was all going up on Weibo but the posts were getting deleted straight away. At some point Chinese society is going to have to address these ideas because people are becoming more informed. There is more invested wealth in the country and people are going to want to have a voice. When you’ve got the latest corruption case with that dude from the military who has embezzled like six billion dollars, people are gonna see this stuff and say ‘we are being taken for a ride.’ That’s how you would feel in the West if you saw this stuff going on.
What did you enjoy about China?
The energy and the buzz of the place. Wellington is great and everything but it can get a bit sleepy if you’ve been here for a long time. It’s the first time I’ve been to anywhere in Asia, so it was interesting to go somewhere where I didn’t really speak the lingo. Everyone there seemed very friendly. The food was really awesome – I got really into hot pot. It was all pretty luxurious staying on a three month paid for holiday, where the whole thing you’re doing is just to go hang out in bars for three months.
You were spending a lot of time with the local bands and people at gigs, did you pick up any Mandarin?
Uhh.. “Wo bu hui shuo zhongwen.” [‘我不会说中文’ ‘I can’t speak Chinese.’] I said that a lot. “Ni hui shuo yingyu ma?” [你会说英语吗？ ‘Can you speak English?’] The guys from Unregenerate Blood gave me the name Hu Yuehan 胡约翰, which means John not of the Han.
How did you go about conducting the interviews?
You can always find somebody who has a limited amount of English. The interviews – were really difficult. In a lot of cases I’d find one person with a limited amount of English and get them to ask the questions in Mandarin, then I’d try get them to provide a basic idea of what was said. There was opportunity to take a translator out with me through the residency, but it was financially too much of a burden, and some weeks I’d be going to six gigs a week and staying out in town till stupid hours of the morning. I had a translator for the first day at the anarchy mall kiosk who was obviously not getting why any of this was going on.
I waited till I came back to Wellington to send all the audio from the interviews over to the translator, who then translated it from to English and produced the written Chinese transcriptions. I have no idea what the Chinese says, hopefully it wasn’t all just run through Google Translate. I’d like to get some copies over to some people in China who have been asking for some. I’m interested in doing one every three or four months with issues about the Up the Punks projects. The zine is a good opportunity to pile them together online as a PDF and in a print version. I’d like to curate the material into something a bit more cohesive like the China issue.
Is there more China on the cards at all?
I’m hoping to go over there later this year, this time with local band the All Seeing Hand. They are gonna be working with Tenzenmen and going through Australia, South East Asia and China around October, or maybe even as early as July. I want to go through and document it with them, with the idea of producing a touring guide for overseas and New Zealand bands in China. It could cover the costs for experimental or punk bands from China to come over and play some festivals or something. Touring would be a good way to make some contacts and get a decent grasp on what’s going on outside of Beijing. Hotpot Music seem to be very busy with promo for bands coming through China at the moment.
The UP THE PUNKS archive of Wellington punk music which stretches back to the 1970s is online here.
Check out the BEIJING DAZE exhibition down at Black Coffee in Newtown!
Many thanks to John for sharing some of his photos from Beijing and Newtown.
Verrrry much looking forward to seeing the All Seeing Hand buzz people the fuck out in China this year. To be continued…