Tag Archives: Auckland

Far Out Distant Sounds in New Zealand: Interview with Ricky Maymi

Owing to the wondrous power of the innernette, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ricky Maymi for a few years now. Known to many as guitarist of the notoriously volatile Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Imajinary Friends, Maymi is also synonymous with the promotion of Chinese indie rock abroad, specifically the Beijing bands that emerged in the late-2000s and have since taken off in a cloud of cigarette smoke on Maybe Mars.

I first came across him when I was living as a student in Beijing, astray in the #wednesdayfreeshotsforladies, all you can drink KTV, shopping mall wasteland of Wudaokou, which post-D22 had become a cultural black hole. Beyond the Katy Perry club remixes, I was ecstatic to discover some of the city’s most cherished acts such as Hedgehog, P.K.14 and Carsick Cars on websites such as Josh Feola’s pangbianr, Tenzenmen, and of course Ricky’s blog Far Out Distant Sounds. Even better, all these bands were just hanging out downtown. Salvation.

Years on, in collaboration with Genjing Records all round GC Nevin Domer (who I met at Carb on Carb and God Bows to Math’s Beijing show in 2013), Far Out Distant Sounds has developed into a distribution, promotion and touring agency for some of Beijing’s finest acts.

We’re comrades as such, music nerds that geek out about Chinese indie rock on the internet all day. As such, it was only a matter of time he was featured here on Kiwese. There just had to be something… remotely… relevant… to New Zeal… oh, yes, here it is!!

Birdstriking from Beijing are in New Zealand this week playing two shows in Auckland on Friday 17 February and Wellington on Saturday 18 February.

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Birdstriking @ 凹 Club, Guangzhou, Sept 2015. Photo: Kiwese.

The jewel of the Maybe Mars crown, this triple guitar, noise-punk five-piece have gone from strength to strength over the past few years, releasing their banned in China album Birdstriking (2012) on Anton Newcombe’s label A Recordings and heading abroad to tour the U.S. and UK alongside the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

As remote as you can get, New Zealand seems to be the optimal next stop for Far Out Distant Sounds, meaning things finally seem to be heading south for Chinese indie rock – and I mean that in a purely geographic sense.

We caught up with Ricky to find out more about Birdstriking’s Australian / NZ tour, how he got involved with the Chinese music scene and whether he likes pies or not.

Spoiler: Ricky Maymi loves pies. Thank god.

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Ricky with his son, Otis. Image courtesy of Ricky Maymi.

KIWESE: Where are you right now?

RICKY MAYMI: I’m in South Fremantle, Western Australia. Visiting with my son, Otis and producing an album for a guy named Michael Savage. I’m pretty sure if he was from NZ, Flying Nun would be all over him! He’s got elements of Shayne Carter and Andrew Brough (Straitjacket Fits), David Pine and Matthew Bannister (Sneaky Feelings), James Milne (Lawrence Arabia) and a touch of maybe Alasdair Maclean (The Clientele)… This is our second time making an album of his together. The first one is called Used To Write. Look it up!

Maymi is an interesting surname, where is it from, can you talk a bit about your heritage?

It’s a Corsican name, though my Father was from Nicaragua. He was the kind of guy that shouldn’t be talked about too much, if you know what I mean…?

They made a movie about one of his old business partners, George Jung, entitled Blow. The one with Johnny Depp. Anyhow… I’ve heard there are also Maymi’s in Russia.

You are from San Fran. What was it like growing up there, how did you first “get into music”?

It was always a diverse environment, in every way, in the 20th century. I was raised to be an open minded, accepting person and in SF it would completely work against you to be any other way.

My uncle, Vince Welnick was in a legendary SF band called The Tubes (famous for “White Punks On Dope” and “Don’t Touch Me There.”) He would always be coming back from places like Japan or Europe after touring with someone like David Bowie or The Stranglers and him and my aunt Laurie would always have exotic toys and gifts and cassettes like Hunky Dory (Bowie) or Country Life (Roxy Music) for me and the family – and this obviously made a lasting impression. Vince later joined Todd Rundgren’s band, and The Grateful Dead after that.

My other uncle, Ed Dorn was also a working musician who had played in some fantastic bands like Zolar X and The Aurora Pushups (later The Pushups) and he went on to work on studio projects for bands like True West and many other Bay Area greats. Ed had me listening to things like Bill Nelson and The Human League back in the very early 80’s.

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Young Ricky (right) and friend. Circa 1981. Image courtesy of Ricky Maymi.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in SF through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s
I believe I caught the tail end of a great cultural renaissance of the 20th century.”

My mother was a huge Beatles fan so there was also no avoiding the British Invasion bands for me as a young child. Her partner after my father is a real folk music lover and exposed me to Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Paul Simon and all the rest. He also has a huge appreciation for classical music, so I had a fairly well rounded musical upbringing.

I also played Clarinet, Saxophone and Double Bass in school from an early age.

Prior to getting hooked on Chinese indie music, what kind of awareness and exposure to Chinese culture did you have? I know there is a deep-rooted Chinese community in San Fran and a huge Chinatown.

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San Francisco’s Chinatown, view to Oakland Bay Bridge. Image: Panoramio.

Looking back, I had very little knowledge before getting involved with the music scene in China and visiting there, which I have now done several times. All of my life in SF I’d always been drawn to Chinatown – for the food, the art, the people and the culture. Some of the most beautiful people on Earth. A glimpse in to another, older world.

In college in SF I was exposed to more of the history of Chinese American culture through either my theatre classes or my writing classes.

How did Far Out Distant Sounds come about and what was your inspiration for starting it? Does it basically operate as a booking agency/distro for Maybe Mars?

It started as a scrapbook style blog (www.faroutdistantsounds.com), with links to hear the music – just somewhere one could go online and get a sense of what was happening. Not a comprehensive list of Chinese indie bands but a good selection of the stuff that interested me enough to investigate further… Like a gateway drug.

I had hoped the blog would inspire people to do the same, and to some degree, it appears to have done that.

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Ricky with Birdstriking, 2016. Photo courtesy of Ricky Maymi.

What do you look for as a US-based promoter of Chinese talent and how do you go searching for it, with the firewall and all, and various language barriers?

I am not exactly US-based. I’m Earth-based. Also, there is no real scouting going on from my end. I work closely with Maybe Mars in Beijing and when they have a new release to promote and a band they want to tour outside of China, I become involved through a more organic process as this is all done out of love, admiration and respect.

“Everyone involved understands that this movement is distinctly, extraordinarily significant.”

My main focus has been Birdstriking, Chui Wan, Carsick Cars, White+ and Gate To Otherside. Just a handful of the acts on Maybe Mars.

How often do you come to China? Had you visited China prior to being exposed to bands like Skip Skip Ben Ben, Birdstriking and P.K.14 in 2012?

I had never been to China before 2015. I have been there four times now. Can’t wait to go back! I would absolutely live there if I could – I am in love with Beijing!

Beijing is political centre of China and the undisputed mecca for indie music. How do you view this relationship between politics and alternative music?

It definitely plays a hand in informing the artist’s way forward. Gives them something to rail against, but they don’t do that in obvious, trite ways. They are more clever than that…

What’s your personal connection with NZ? 

My first trip to NZ was in February, 2008. I was visiting Shayne Carter, who I had become good friends with after his band Dimmer toured with my band in the US. He arranged for us to go to Dunedin as he knew how much the music from there had meant to me. I got to see Martin Phillipps play a solo set in the park at midday by surprise. I got to know Robbie Yeats and stayed with Graeme Downes for a few days. Caught up with some folks I had already come to know in America, David Kilgour and Bob Scott. I got to see Bachelorette, Die! Die! Die! and Ned Collette all for the first time. Also heard Lawrence Arabia for the first time. It was an epic visit! I had an amazing time and every moment was like walking through a dream.

I’ve been back several times since, mostly to tour with BJM, but once with Steve Kilbey from The Church. Him and I went to Napier as well as Dunedin to perform in addition to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

I’ve had the odd relationship with women from NZ as well. Unfortunately, it’s always been just that… Odd! Small country… 😉

Do you like pies?

I, of course, love pies!

In an interview with Slinkrat in 2013, you said “Unlike the rest of the world, [Chinese indie rock] isn’t preoccupied with fitting in to something pre-existing in the entertainment world, which is why it reminds me of Flying Nun in the 80’s.” How do you respond when critics say Chinese indie bands are just imitating Western rock standards, something that could never be directed at Flying Nun bands?

Well, they clearly aren’t listening closely enough and they are judging through the context/filter of Western standards which simply do not apply here.

It’s a bit of passive-aggressive, xenophobic elitism playing in to that perspective as well. Alan McGee said himself that there is no such thing as Chinese rock. So did the NOFX dude. They clearly do not know what the hell they are talking about, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. They see it the way they want/need to see it to suit whatever agenda they have – that’s fine because enough people know otherwise.

“Even The Beatles had to start somewhere, the most innovative pop band on Earth were covering Chet Atkins and Motown hits of the day when they started.”

The bands from China I work with have obvious Western influences such as Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, modern composers and experimental music.

None of these kids had the luxury of “growing up” with the Beatles or Bowie the way I did, for example. Or the critics, for that matter and that’s what they need to understand when critiquing this stuff.

Context. It’s from another world. You could hand the same influences to a Western band and they will never come up with the melodies Chui Wan or Birdstriking come up with.

Or have the sonic, aesthetic sensibility of Zhang Shouwang (Carsick Cars, White+), because they are a product of a different world who’s culture is largely unknown to the Western masses.

They aren’t really thinking about it enough or taking these prime factors in to consideration, so I believe their criticisms are lazy and uninformed.

I guess an extension of the above question, and I may be projecting here, but in the past, Chinese acts that get chosen to play internationally are ones that possess some kind of quintessential Chinese characteristics recognizable by international audiences or purveyors of “world” music. Those who do not fill this oriental role are labelled imitators of Western music. Comment.

Again, lazy journalism. The safer stuff that is a truer representation of pure, traditional Chinese culture is always going to be prioritized and given the green light for grants funding or government approval. There is nothing subversive about it. Overtly, if at all. It will be more easily accepted in the West because it doesn’t compete with Western art in any way. Its it’s own thing.

Again, the views of these so-called critiques on Chinese rock stem from a Western Capitalist (capitalism=racism) perspective. The white man lives in fear of China, period. Think about it…. That is one reason I love doing this. Challenge what it is people believe they know about an entire culture that they actually are too afraid and pre-programmed to ever learn anything about. Everyone is mad at China for buying everything up but no one is getting mad at the people pushing the product.

God forbid those evil Chinese would take a Western folk-art (rock music) and serve it back in a fresh, not jaded, more intriguing way. It’s just impossible, right? Wrong! 😉

Tell us about your relationship with Birdstriking. Do you remember the first time you heard them, or saw them live?

I  first heard them in Melbourne in August 2012 with my friends Julian Wu and Shayne Carter. Julian is a Chinese Australian and he had just returned from China with a suitcase full of CDs of all these great Chinese bands. Shayne and I happened to be both staying at Julian’s at the time. It really struck us how much Birdstriking had this 3D’s/Die! Die! Die! thing going on!

I first started to communicate with Wang Xinjiu from Birdstriking around this time. He was on Facebook and was studying in Cardiff, so no firewall. After being in touch with Maybe Mars and helping them to sell a bit of stock in SF, they asked me to help set up shows for Carsick Cars, White+ and The Gar in SF and LA. We did this and it went over pretty well.

At the time, Birdstriking’s vocalist, He Fan was also playing bass for Carsick Cars. He was the first one I met in person. In 2014, Carsick Cars were booked to open for Brian Jonestown Massacre in the UK. Shouwang was ill at the time and couldn’t make it, so we had Birdstriking take their place. This was advantageous as Birdstriking’s album, which was banned from release in China for it’s lyrical content was licensed by BJM’s label and his since been properly released worldwide (excluding China) on A Recordings on CD and vinyl.

Since then, I’ve booked and tour managed an extensive North American tour for Birdstriking in 2015. I went back to Beijing in ’15 and ’16  and produced Birdstriking’s new, upcoming album to be released this year.

It is very exciting, a Chinese band playing in NZ without representing the Embassy or playing at a Chinese cultural festival covered in bank branding! How did this Australia/NZ tour come about? Can we consider it a recon mission for future tours?

Talk to Andrew from Die! Die! Die! – they’ve just recently toured in China with Birdstriking. When I was in Auckland in December having lunch with him and Mikey telling them about the AU dates, they offered to help with NZ. Now it’s all happening. Bless ’em! They are solid guys and kindred spirits. BJM were lucky enough to play some gigs with them in Europe in mid 2008.

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Die! Die! Die! play NU SPACE, Chengdu, Sep 2016. GIF: c2.

Favourite Chinese acts at the mo?

Chui Wan, Carsick Cars, White+, Gate To Otherside, Dear Eloise, Mr Graceless, Duck Fight Goose, Streets Kill Strange Animals, Hedgehog, New Pants, Da Bang, Zhan Pan, Future Orients, Skip Skip Ben Ben, P.K.14... the list goes on and on…

Favourite NZ acts at the mo?   

Lawrence Arabia, Salad Boys, Surf City, Street Chant, Avoid!avoid, Prophet Hens, Shifting Sands, Bachelorette, Tiny Ruins. Then there’s all the more obvious ones. The new ones by Shayne Carter, The Bats, The Chills, I’m a long time fan of kiwi indie bands!

Are there any projects you are working on at the moment that you’d like to talk about?

My band The Imajinary Friends has a new album coming out this year featuring guest appearances by Marleen Nilsson (Death & Vanilla) and Stephen Lawrie (The Telescopes).

Also the other band I play in, Brian Jonestown Massacre, are about to release a new album as well.

Hoping to send Chui Wan, Gate To Otherside, Bedstars, Hiperson, Future Orients and Dream Can to the Southern Hemisphere over the next 18 months or so.

What advice would you give to bands (Chinese or otherwise) wanting to look outward, and/or tour internationally in future?

Create a demand for, and culture around your music and make friends with people in the places you want to play in ahead of time. People who can actually help you set up worthwhile shows. Your hometown is bottom priority.

Thanks and happy new year!

Same to you!


BIRDSTRIKING were one of the most important bands to emerge from the Chinese DIY scene based around the legendary D22 venue. The Noise Punk band have been likened to a Chinese Surf City, highlighted by their unflinching obsession with Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Birdstriking will play only two shows in New Zealand before their Australian tour with label mates Carsick Cars.

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2.17 BIRDSTRIKING W/ CARB ON CARB, DAILY KENO
@ GOLDEN DAWN, AUCKLAND

2.18 BIRDSTRIKING W/ PRIZEGIVING, MR AMISH
@ CAROLINE, WELLINGTON

TICKETS AT UNDERTHERADAR.CO.NZ for the OUTRAGEOUSLY 便宜 PRICE OF $7 A POP. GET IT.

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Favourite Gigs 2016

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.

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The fall of Minzhu Lu. Video: Unknown WeChat source.

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.”

– Brian Chippendale for The Creative Independent

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.

Chinese Football

Little Bar, Chengdu

8 January 2016

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“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).

Check out their album on Bandcamp.

Mike Shannon

.TAG, Chengdu

19 March 2016

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!

Chunyou 春游

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?!
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atmen live. Image: 仙人张
Aus-atmen Festival

Dongli Juyuan, 三圣乡, Chengdu

21-22 May 2016

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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.

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16:30 – 18:00   Hao (Chengdu, CN)
18:00 – 19:30   May (Chengdu, CN)
19:30 – 21:00   Bchir (Rabat, MA)
21:00 – 22:30   Ewan (Chengdu, CN)
22:30 – 00:00   Xiaolong (Chengdu, CN)
00:00 – 02:00   Mike Ravelli (Amsterdam, NL)
02:00 – 04:00   Su (Chengdu, CN)
04:00 – 06:00   Xiang (Chengdu, CN)
06:00 – 07:30   Chamberlain (Beijing, CN)
07:30 – 09:00    Hiroshi (Hiroshima, JP)
09:00 – ??????    CA1XR (Chengdu, CN)
??????  – ??????    Su

Hiperson + Lonely Leary

NU SPACE, Chengdu

10 June 2016
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Chen Sijiang of Hiperson. Video: LittleNew

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.

Hiperson Lonely Leary poster

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

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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.

Neverland

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.

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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
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One of the many stage dives at Punk Fest. Image: YRL

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

Galatos, Auckland

2 September 2016
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Nick Johnson from Cut Off Your Hands. GIF: Kiwese

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.

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JC Satàn

NU SPACE, Chengdu

17 September 2016
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Image: Kiwese

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.

NUART Festival

Kuixinglou Jie, Chengdu

1-3 October 2016
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Image: John Yingling

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.

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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.

mr sterile Assembly

Support: Die! Chiwawa!Die!

Loft345, Guangzhou

15 October 2016

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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

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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 Rother

Support: Chui Wan

Little Bar Space, Chengdu

31 October 2016

michael-rother

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…

Eagulls

Support: Sinkers

NU SPACE, Chengdu

18 November 2016

eagulls3

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?

Sisu (Acoustic)

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

gigs_trump

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

Meow, Wellington

23 December 2016

gigs_ash

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.


Commended:

  • 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

Responding to Brian Rudman’s Push for More Nationalism and Less Dragons

Yesterday a friend of Kiwese sent through this opinion piece: ‘Why focus on other cultures and not our own?’ by NZ Herald columnist Brian Rudman. I eyeballed it somewhat carefully – any article that opens with possessive pronouns around culture and a cartoon dragon engulfing a white, flag-waving, Fred Dagg figure in a wife beater warrants several deep breaths through the nose and a hot cup of tea before commencing.

Bring on the insecure white man searching for national identity.

Brian, so sorry to hear you’re upset about the growth of the Lantern Festival. Does it make you feel under represented? Were there no people of your colour performing? Did the stories not resonate with your own personal upbringing? Welcome to being an ethnic group in New Zealand, it’s so lovely of you to join us.

There seems to be an awful lot of soul searching in the way of national identity recently. That’ll be the flag referendum doing its job, appealing us to identify and belong to the state, soon to be controlled by our Jonkey Wall Street overlords.

Members of the dominant group in society tend to have weaker ethnic identities than members of minority groups. Pakeha New Zealanders have a tendency to conflate ethnicity with nationality, “I’m just a Kiwi.” Not English, half-Finnish, Scottish, just Kiwi.

Upon reading Rudman’s article, it’s clear New Zealand’s “just a kiwi” cultural black hole is gaping wide open. You can fill it with as much pav and rugby as you want, but it just doesn’t taste quite as good as deep fried wontons with sweet and sour sauce.

Brian’s ‘heart sank’ upon hearing the Auckland City Council’s suggestion of extending Chinese New Year celebrations in Auckland. It’s not like Chinese culture was silenced, ridiculed and caricatured for like, the first 150 years of settlement in Aotearoa. How dare Auckland even think of further representing a large and diverse ethnic group by sharing and celebrating their collective traditions over a festival period! Outrageous!

Here’s a play by play of Brian’s argument.

“Quality celebration of all our cultures more sorely needed than a parade each.”

Right? It’s would be so much better to condense our cultural celebrations into one rather than taking the time to appreciate and understand them individually. More bang for that tax payer buck, too. Who needs Matariki, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Holi, Paniyiri, Pasifika, Songkran, Mid-Autumn Festival…

Someone call the Minister of Ethnic Communities, he’ll sort us out a trestle table and kitchen and we’ll do the whole lot on one day, to lessen the impact on your fledgling, national ego.

“Instead of attempting what will always be a poor man’s imitation of a foreign festival…”

Complains about Council spending on Chinese New Year – calls the festival ‘poor man.’ My family put up our time-honoured, plastic tree from the Warehouse each Christmas. Are we a poor man’s imitation of a foreign festival? From 16th century Germany perhaps?

Auckland is Auckland, not Beijing, Jakarta or Taipei, meaning the annual Lantern Festival draws on our Cantonese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mainland Chinese, Korean, Filipino and NA (non-Asian) roots to celebrate Chinese New Year together.

Where else can you get a nasi goreng chased with L&P, Peking duck pancakes, steamed pork buns and sticky rice followed by hokey pokey ice-cream? Worth celebrating, I reckon.

“Our teams haka their way around the world, strutting our unique brand wherever they compete.”

Brian, Tikanga Maori is not a brand. It does not exist to make you feel like a big man in your All Blacks jersey at the pub.

Who would believe it; 176 years old and we still can’t even organise a decent national birthday party for ourselves.

Or: 176 years since the British forged a treaty in Maori and English with different meanings in each then confiscated land for white settlers with the backing of the Crown. Woop, birthday party!

“Now, if we’re not careful, our major population centre is about to lose that date to foreign dragon puppets.”

Wow. Foreign dragon puppets, really? Never mind that over 20% of people living in this major population centre are of Asian descent, or that 80% of Aucklanders are up for a $5 pad thai, the Lantern Festival exists for foreign dragon puppets. Gotcha.

“Talk about dumb Kiwis. We haven’t rid ourselves of our previous colonial masters, and now we’re flirting with a new one.”

Hold on Brian, are you really comparing Chinese New Year celebrations in Auckland with the colonisation of New Zealand and subjugation of its native inhabitants?

Enter, 没人在:

For Chinese people to do what Pākehā did to Māori in Aotearoa, we would have to impose a Chinese legal system and government, make a treaty in Chinese and English which has different meanings and then not honour either of them anyway by stealing and confiscating land, ban English and assault children who speak it at school, make practicing western biomedicine illegal, wipe out most of the population with SARS or something, and make sure criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates Pākehā and that Pākehā have the lowest life expectancy and health outcomes. Just for kicks, any Pākehā seen as dissenting against Chinese rule will be chucked into prison under a law like Suppression of Rebellion or Terrorism Act.

That’s okay though because we would reserve four seats for you in parliament.

Looking forward to oppressing your people,

<Insert Chinese sounding name>

(On behalf of the Asian Invasion)

(via 没人在, everythingisnothingbyitself.tumblr.com)

“We should be saying sorry, early February is taken. If you want to party, bring your dragons and your fireworks to our show. The embarrassing thing is, we don’t really have one.”

Possessive pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘our’ are kinda scary, like, who is Brian talking to? I think he is appealing to ‘New Zealanders’ – but keeping in mind earlier usage of the phrase ‘foreign dragon puppets,’ those of dragon descent can consider themselves left out of Brian’s mighty, nationalist utopia.

As for the rest of you, you should be out there telling that loving Auckland aunty to put away her wok and dumpling steamer in February cos bitch that date is TAKEN. Oppressing and silencing Asian cultures – the true blue Kiwi way.

Let us reflect on the reasons Pakeha New Zealanders don’t have a special cultural festival of their own. They used to last century – Empire Day! Where everyone would parade the streets with Union Jack flags to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. What happened? I guess imperialism lost its shine, Britain became less of a mate after joining the European Economic Community in 1973 and the old parades were replaced by silver ferned assurances that ‘we are NOT Britain!’

Chinese New Year is great and everyone is invited. White people dominate the mainstream cultural narrative for the rest of the year. When I was a kid, I asked mum why there’s a Mothers Day and Father’s Day, but no Children’s Day.

‘Everyday is Children’s Day!’ she beamed, hoeing into her annual Mother’s Day box of Scorched Almonds. This applies here too, everyday is (Pakeha) New Zealand Day!

“…lift Waitangi Day celebrations out of dysfunctional Waitangi, and create a new-style national birthday.”

Yes, let’s just forget all the historical injustices which have led to the social inequality, economic hardship and disrespected mana of the tangatawhenua and forge a NEW national BIRTHDAY where we can all get drunk and not feel bad about it, like Australia!

“A parade that represents all the groups that make up present-day Auckland, swirling pipes bands, throbbing Island drums, bobbing dragons, the lot.”

Yeah!! Then we can all hold hands and be happy and stand in a semi-circle around a rainbow and…

Brian’s suggested alternative to Auckland’s ’embarrassing’ lack of a national holiday display that stacks up against a Lunar New Year celebration observed by a fifth of the world’s population is essentially a ‘Waitangi National Day multicultural parade.’

Let me put it this way. Imagine if the Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup, Fifa World Cup, Netball World Cup, Wimbledon, NBA, PGA, Super 15, AFL and the Olympics were all condensed into one period. We’d have an overpacked event where we acknowledge the existence of sport, each code would get a fraction of the limelight to be appreciated and understood, and the whole thing would fly by in a piecemeal recognition of the already bleedingly obvious fact that there are a lot of different sports. No depth. No play by play analysis. No repeats. Just onto the next.


Don’t worry Brian, being an ethnic group in New Zealand isn’t so bad. You could have a Morris Dancing stage and serve meat with two veg at your ethnic food stall. But if and when you get bored, we’ll be happy to share our HK-style barbecue roast duck, Taiwanese pancakes, steamed pork buns, beef rendang, hot and spicy tofu, barely legal fireworks and dragons. There’s plenty to go round.

Sincerely, The Rest of Us.

Header image an Australian anti-Chinese cartoon from 1886, which the illustration from the NZ Herald piece in question has a frightening resemblance to.

Losing My Shit Over Polyswagg

Earth has borne witness to unstoppable forces of nature – earthquakes, volcanos, hurricanes and The Royal Family.

TW: extreme fangirling

Crowns UP!


The Royal Family are so fucking badass. I’m hooked. Tautoko these bitches all day – literally. Maybe a little too literally…

For the past 48 hours I’ve been on a very real YouTube marathon – watching all their music videos, international competitions, rehearsals, live shows, interviews, et al. I’ve been sedentary for so long that my body has basically shut down and I’m not sure if my vital organs are still functioning . There’s a wooly blanket draped over me and I’ve pulled the heater so close it is almost burning my skin. #healthyliving2016.

“Polyswagg is combining sassy woman fire with aggressive inner strength.” – Parris Goebel

If you’re unfamiliar with the Polyswagg stylings of The Royal Family, I recommend you start with their performance at last year’s World of Dance Championships in L.A.  I’m warning you *passes figurative internet spliff*, this is your a gateway link~~~


Every nanosecond is crafted to compliment the next. They’re the human manifestation of 30 strobe lights going at all once. It’s all a little overstimulating. Excuse me while I put my crowns UP.


The Queen of the Royal Family (/the world) is the chameleon-like choreographer, videographer and visionary Parris Goebel. She’s 24 and already an eight time World Champion. We talking ELITE. She won Young New Zealander of the Year in 2014, which for someone with that much gold in the trophy cabinet, is not that big a deal.

 

Parris. Image / B. Alyse.
Parris. Image / B. Alysse.

 

Hailing from South Auckland with Polynesian pride, Goebel has been a force on the international stage since she was a teen. With a shaved head, self-confidence for days and holy-shit-how’d-you-even-think-of-that wardrobe, Goebel is at once incredibly inspiring and incredibly intimidating. She knows who she is, what she wants and where she’s going.

Alongside The Palace Dance Studio she started when she was 15, Parris is working with stars like J-Lo, Janet Jackson and Justin Bieber and casually posting photos of Kanye on Instagram. World domination doesn’t stop there – her cream of the crop crew ReQuest have just done a video with CL, one of the biggest names in that vast musical otherworld of K-Pop.

CL – ‘Hello Bitches’
Director, Producer, Choreographer: Parris Goebel

Dancers: ReQuest Dance Crew


The Royal Family is comprised of ReQuest, Sorority, Duchesses, Kings and the junior division Bubblegum.

Together they are a flaming fireball of intensity that flares between spastic twitches and slow-motion body rolls, contracting and expanding into space with breakneck speed. It’s unimaginable how choreography like this is put together – a well-oiled machine engineered by Parris Goebel and her right hand man Kiel Tutin.

Soundtracks are known for featuring cuts of hip-hop, Jamaican dancehall, Harlem house, dubstep and a healthy dose of remixed Rihanna and Missy. And all that is good in this world, Queen Bey.

It’s an incredible display of athleticism, agility and discipline, as well as a boatload of sass. While Parris is always unpredictable, there are a few trademark Polyswagg motifs such as the spine-defying Matrix bullet dodge (Keanu Reeves eat your heart out), caterpillar formation booty slap, the pigtail propeller twirl and that glitchy, full body twerking.

Individual personas burn bright within a unified whole, each dancer is at the top of their game – and if anything, the choreography showcases the absence of any weak links. And of course, the styling, hair, fashion… everything is so on point.

Dancers: Sorority
Choreographer: Kiel Tutin and Parris Goebel

There’s a traditional performance in Sichuan called bianlian 变脸, face changing. No offence to this celebrated and ancient tradition, but the Palace now own the face changing game. Sweet schoolgirl smiles to fearsome Exorcist gurning, sexy bedroom eyes to ‘bitch Imma rip your face off’ pukana.

Their self-branding is also excellent – The Palace Dance Studio, The Royal Family, Duchess, Kings, the famous ‘Crowns Up!’ salute – the use of gold, regal costuming and general extravagance, all binding into a self-assured status of imperial, Poly-saturated domination. It’s an empire you want to be part of. The Palace has become a mecca for elite young dancers in New Zealand, with several members having moved themselves and their families to Auckland just to train there. Much of the core crew in ReQuest are under 18. Bow down.

Parris also directs and edits videos from the Palace with inimitable swag – clever swipe transitions and forward-surging tracking shots have become the Royal trademark, which capture the incredible talent of the dancers into beautifully curated works of art. She’s always keeping the viewer on their toes, weaving through unusual spaces, bouncing off walls – each video is action packed without feeling overdone.

The Royal Family | Polyswagg Lesson 2
Concept and editing: Parris Goebel
Choreography: Parris Goebel, Laurence Kaiwai, Lance Savali

Despite becoming a global superstar, Goebel has chosen not to move to Los Angeles and instead oversees her kingdom from Auckland, where she continues to recruit predominantly female, Maori and Polynesian dancers into her ranks and shoot world-class music videos all on home soil. Respect. Case in point:

Last October, Parris and the ladies of ReQuest Dance Crew dropped this dancehall inspired video for Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry,’ as part of the video series she choreographed for his latest album ‘Purpose.’

They filmed the video at the last minute over a couple of days in Auckland, randomly chucking on clothes Parris brought to the shoot. ‘Sorry’ has become the most viewed music video of 2015, with almost 850 million views on YouTube. That eclipses ‘Royals’ by Lorde. As core Palace dancer Kaea Pearce said to Maori TV, “it’s just buzzy seeing it get so many views.” Hard.

Choreographer: Parris Goebel
Dancers: The Ladies of ReQuest Dance Crew (don’t have all their names – sorry!)

Oh man they are just the best!! I’m all brimming over with pride and excitement for their awesomeness and hard work. Shot guys.

To grace this Royal Family worship piece with tangential relevance to the themes of this blog, I want to give a massive shout out to Giverny Hing, a Year 10 dancer from Auckland who absolutely KILLS it in this video:


And this one (my all time favourite):


And this one!

It goes without saying that ReQuest dancers are selected on talent and commitment, not race. And I don’t want to turn this into an analysis of ethnic representation in the media yada yada, because the Palace doesn’t exist to create a sense of ‘ethnic diversity’ *shudders,* they exist to do and share what they love, and they are bloody good at it. In the same token, the fact most of them are Polynesian and Maori should not be overlooked – as it’s their power, expressiveness and confident sense of identity that is key to making everything they do so amazing.

Giverny Hing reps it hard for all us Asians in Aotearoa who wish we were cool enough to Polyswagg. She is so fierce. The bit where she flashes her grills in the 711 video and rips into that dance routine gives me strength. And as the lead in the Children video, she reps it for Asians worldwide. The bit where she power stances that forest field and everyone runs into formation behind her?? That opening panning shot of the dancers is like, the most accurate representation of Aotearoa multi-culture since… ever? Also, this.

Giverny must be like 14? I am so excited for her, she’s got a huge future ahead of her and I can’t wait to see more. Big ups, girl!

Big ups Parris, big ups Royal Fam, big ups to all the dancers, choreographers, stylists and camera crew that have put New Zealand on the map for something other than rugby and Lord of the Rings. Much aroha, I salute you. Crowns UP!


 

Do you have a favourite video? Comment below! I have a lot of time to discuss this crew. Seriously.

Read more about The Palace Dance Studio here!

Header image from Maori TV.

Favourite Releases 2015

From Wellington stoner country to Beijing glitch hop, 2015 was packed with awesome releases from both New Zealand and China. Here are fifteen Kiwese favourites!

Illustration by Ali Pang.


With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon by So Laid Back Country China

(Wellington, NZ)

So Laid Back Country China (or 很放松乡村中国) is a four-piece band fronted by Harriet Ferry and Michael Keane, former members of beloved Wellington folk/country hooligans Big River Chain and John the Baptist.

Originally meant to be an EP, With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon, is a slow-release trip into wide open country spaces, at once soothing and hair-raising in the sparse layering of instrumentation and vocals.

Favourite track: Open Eyed
https://solaidbackcountrychina.bandcamp.com


No Need For Another History by Hiperson
《我不要别的历史》 海朋森

(Chengdu, CN)

Rejoice!! Our long diet of Hiperson demos streamed off Youku was finally supplemented this year, with No Need For Another History released on Maybe Mars in April. Recorded by China’s post-punk overlord Yang Haisong, Hiperson have re-recorded well-loved tunes such as《他打定主意做一个游客》He Made Up His Mind to Be a Tourist and 《门》Entrance, alongside new material that reasserts their guitar-driven, sharp tongued sound.

Those distinctive stabbing staccato vocals from Chen Sijiang, alongside puns such as “这是通往剧院的大路!” yelled in tandem with guitarist Ji Yinan, in my opinion make Hiperson one of the most lyrically talented bands in China today. Check out the Kiwese interview with Hiperson earlier this year.

Favourite track: 《幕布》The Curtain https://hiperson.bandcamp.com


TANGO by She’s So Rad

(Auckland, NZ)

THIS ALBUM IS JUST SO GREAT!!!

TANGO is a joy from start to finish – really tight songwriting and jangly pop melodies led by the band’s Anji Sami and Jonathan Toy. Nominated for Best Alternative Album at this year’s NZ Music Awards, lost out to UMO’s Multi-Love (also excellent).

Favourite track: Better Off On Your Own https://shessorad.bandcamp.com/album/tango


Chinese Football by Chinese Football

(Wuhan, CN)

China’s national football team is unlikely to score points anywhere, but Wuhan’s delightful indie-pop band Chinese Football are winners!

This year Chinese Football released both a self-titled EP and a self-titled full length album, the latter of which I am rating here. Sparkling TTNG-esque math rock riffs, endearing vocal harmonies and brightness. Forever destined to be compared to American Football, Chinese Football’s music would indeed be suited to cruising around the sunny Midwest.

Chinese Football play Chengdu’s Little Bar on 8 January and Chongqing’s NUTS on the 9th. Yay!

Favourite track: 400米

https://chinesefootball.bandcamp.com/album/chinese-football


Carb on Carb by Carb on Carb

(Auckland, NZ)

Aucklandite indie-emo-pop power duo Carb on Carb released their much anticipated self-titled album back in February, what a pearler! James and Nicole have been busy touring the USA this year, making a lot of new friends and forging their own American dreams.

If you are in the market for odes to beloved pets, sweet riffs and breakneck drum rolls, this is where it’s at. Added 2015 bonus, James released the God Bows to Math + Carb on Carb China Tour Documentary in September, which premiered on Kiwese! Good times!

Favourite track: Phenomenal Ladies https://carboncarb.bandcamp.com/album/carb-on-carb


Mù Chè Shān Chū by Howie Lee
《木屮山出》

(Beijing, CN)

Fresh release from the inimitable Howie Lee, just out this month on Alpha Pup. Beijing blazzzze – Mù Chè Shān Chū is packed with those East Asian samples, clicks and tweaks Lee has become known for. Featuring fresh takes on tracks Sinka and Shang from last year’s also excellent Eastside Sampler Series. Future kungfu swag.

Space Epic by Terror of the Deep

(Wellington, NZ)

‘Cos it makes me feel – – – ~ – – –

– – – ~ – – – so unreal!!’

Oh man. I fucking love Terror of the Deep. Their music makes me imagine walking up Riddiford Street with sunglasses on, blue skies, and a hop in my step. Flax and toi toi. Newtown. Space Epic has a much lusher, texture than TOTD’s previous spare and crunchy bass-guitar-drums sound, with the addition of Tom Watson on keyboard and trumpet. Picks up where Permanent Weekend left off, with a re-recording of ‘When the Planets Align.’

Recorded by OOS’s Dan Beban at Pyramid Club and mixed into the galaxies in 2015. A journey through space, to Neptune and beyond… 

Favourite track: Saturn

https://terrorofthedeepnz.bandcamp.com/album/space-epic


Demos on Douban by South Acid MiMi Dance Team
南方酸咪咪领舞队的小样寄在豆瓣上

(Kunming, CN)

Image from South Acid MiMi's Douban.
Image from South Acid MiMi’s Douban.

South Acid MiMi (Shishi, Weilin + Yixiao) are such rad bitches. Straight outta Kunming, this freaky disco punk trio is leading crowds to the dance floor. I saw one of their early shows in January when I was randomly in Kunming and it was the most refreshing thing I’d been to in ages. They sound like… Grimes? Iggy Pop? Karen O?

These bizarre, addictive beats from three keyboards, vocals, a laptop, LED light poi and various bottles of spirits. South Acid MiMi are gearing up to release an album with Ruby Eyes Records in Beijing next year.

Stay tuned for a Lady Lazer Light x Kiwese x South Acid MiMi production very soon!!

Favourite tracks: NUNUDUGU, Lucy in the Sky With Dolphin, Love is Pain, Disco 女孩, The End, so many!!
http://site.douban.com/southacidmimi/


Seed (single) by Mermaidens

(Wellington, NZ)

Mermaidens are Scrumpylicious incantation creators. Seed is a mean tune. Sounds like discordant fuzzy kelp scum, the three-piece creating a bubble of noise that scares off even those freaky fish with lightbulbs on their head. Look forward to more next year.

https://mermaidens.bandcamp.com/track/seed-single


Loop by Stolen《循环》 秘密行动

(Chengdu, CN)

Stolen (pinyin: mìmì xíngdòng) tore shit up this year. I saw them play a countless number of times around the country, bursting with energy at every gig. After signing to Beijing’s new D-Force Records, they had the opportunity to professionally record in Taipei, producing a more refined collection of their excellent free demos.

Dark, chilling, insanely danceable – with Loop and a huge national tour under their belt this year, Stolen have raised the bar even higher. While one hears Joy Division or Kraftwerk when listening to Stolen, their newer material is more electronic beat based, scatty tech rhythms. The boys have been writing new material up in the mountains, so anticipate more from them next year!

Favourite track: A Glossy Flirt
https://mimixingdong.bandcamp.com/album/loop


Womb by Womb

(Wellington, NZ)

Wellington woodland dream folk. Womb is the solo project of Charlotte Forrester, womb companion of Haz Forrester, who she used to play with in Athuzela Brown. This is really gorgeous music. The echoey vocals remind me a lot of Grouper, while the sparse guitar phrasing in ‘Sounds of Our Voices’ definitely brings Electrelane to mind. Sonorous Circle label mate Sean Kelly mixed and mastered these five lovely tracks with some Seth Frightening magic.

Favourite track: Cosmic Dreaming
https://w–o–m–b.bandcamp.com/


People, Society, Money by Fatshady
《人.社会.钱》谢蒂

(Chengdu, CN)

fatshady
Image from Douban.

Fatshady is the biggest rapper in Chengdu. He entered the hip-hop lexicon several years ago with his track 《明天不上班》, empowering audiences to bunk off work in style. He raps completely in Chengduhua, garnering immediate appeal by opposing the bland, standardised Mandarin of TV, radio, school, officialdom…

While the beats are pretty simple (as if ‘shab shabba Ranks’ could come in at any moment), the rapping is second to none. While I can only understand half of his lyrics, his music speaks to my friends unlike any other artist I’ve seen – because he is using their language. There is no one else doing it quite like Fatshady. Out on C.D.C.

Favourite track: 坝坝球
https://site.douban.com/fatshady


 A. Cushion Plant and B. Gold in Quartz by Team Cat Food 

(Auckland via Wellington, NZ)

February saw a Team Cat Food double release. As with everything these guys have released, I love it. Mellow and vibey electronic textures and beats, with i.ryoko and Seth Frightening featuring on each side. Churrrr.

Favourite track: Cushion Plant, Ponderosa
https://teamcatfood.bandcamp.com/


A Million Farewells by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes

(Shanghai, CN)

Well, this is epic. Shanghai’s famously un-Googleable Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have released this noisy emotional outpouring on Genjing Records. Former So So Modern drummer Daniel Nagels joins ‘Tom’ – Xiao Zhong of Pairs, ‘Katie’ – Sharon Cee-Q with her dreamy vocals, and Samuel Walsh on bass.

‘My Life is Over’ will have your ears ringing, while other more dream pop/shoegaze tracks act as a welcome counterpoint. Beautiful stuff. Vinyl release through Genjing and Tenzenmen, or you can stream it on Bandcamp.

Favourite track: New Day
https://genjingrecords.bandcamp.com/album/a-million-farewells


Elixir by Totems
(Auckland, NZ)

Elixir is certainly the most mature and cohesive Totems release to date, with nine tracks that flow seamlessly from start to finish. Jungle/drum & bass/echoes of his old trap sound that are equally suited to both chilling and raving. Released in December with Cosmic Compositions, Elixir has already had several plays at Kiwese HQ, also known as my lounge. Chur chur!

Favourite track: Echolocate
https://cosmic-compositions.bandcamp.com/album/elixir


And one more…

Multi-Love by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

(Portland, OR via Auckland)

With only one kiwi member, UMO are arguably not even a NZ act. But they get nominated at the NZ Music Awards and also get funding from NZ On Air so whatever. Multi-Love is the follow up to 2013’s II and it is just really fcking awesome!! More groovy and melodic than their previous two albums, with the addition of a keyboardist/back up vocalist.

Favourite Song 2015: Can’t Keep Checking My Phone


…Where it at?

Mirror in Mirror by Skip Skip Ben Ben 

(Taipei / Beijing)

Ben Ben’s new album has been released in Taiwan on Re:Public Records, and I’m eagerly/impatiently waiting for it to come out in the Mainland on Maybe Mars… Check out the preview below. NEED.


 

Many of these artists have released their music on Bandcamp for the criminally low price of ZERO DOLLARS. Koha where you can! Support independent music!

Vinyl Destination: Interview with Cian O’Donnell from Conch Records

In this content-saturated Internet age of free digital downloads and infinite streaming, Cian O’Donnell is among those still repping the power of wax over at his well-loved shop Conch Records, which has been spinning records in the City of Sails for the best part of two decades. Kiwese caught up with the voice so familiar to George FM listeners ahead of his upcoming vinyl DJ sets at JUE | Music + Art Festival in Beijing and Shanghai next week.

KIWESE: Hey Cian! You are coming over to China next week, how did the connection with Lost Cargo and JUE Festival come about? CIAN: I met a lass called Olivia at Conch in Auckland last year. She never really told me what she did back home, but she’d come in, buy records and listen to a whole bunch of stuff in store, then came to one of the monthlies we organise called The Turnaround. Before she left, I invited her up onto my radio show [Earshot on George FM] to play a selection of young, fresh, Chinese beat makers. The stuff she brought up was so good! We got really good response on the text lines, so talked about doing some kind of collaborative promotion of artists in China and over here. Awesome! Who is she? Shanghai local? She is a promoter for The Shelter in Shanghai – which I’d heard about through people I know that have played there. It’s an old underground bomb shelter, definitely Shanghai’s underground (for use of a better word) alternative club, where different promoters come on and do different evenings, from hip hop to electronica to trap, footwork and whatever, with artists from James Pants to Kode9 and so on.

Listen up Beijing & Shanghai! Poster image from Wooozy.cn.
Listen up Beijing & Shanghai! Poster image from Wooozy.cn.

With JUE I’m gonna be speaking on a panel of four people, including Awesome Tapes from Africa, discussing the importance of communities that grow around important around music-related blogs, venues or events.

“A record shop is more than just a standard retail space – it ends up being a hangout, a communal meeting spot. Bands are formed, friends are made, gigs are staged.”

Can you tell us about the early beginnings of Conch Records? Living in Auckland in the mid ’90s, I was getting tired with finding the same records in every shop. So I started doing small orders with some of the distributors I used to work with overseas, mostly from Europe, then a friend who started the Aotea Square Markets approached me about doing a stall. I used to take down my turntables, two or three crates of records and a suitcase of CDs. It was a real success. After that, my now partner in Conch, Brent Holland, took a space in an old arcade on High Street, fitted it out with everything handmade timber and made it look amazing – it looked like a big packing crate. We stocked a really good alternative selection of Jamaican 7″s, independent hip-hop, quirky house, reggae, Brazilian, Latin… But although it was really loved and respected, it never really made any money. So we started looking for a bigger premises with more foot traffic. At our current premises on Ponsonby Road, it started with a small coffee shop and a few seats out front. Now we’ve managed to expand with a courtyard out back, its licensed and the whole bar and restaurant aspect has kind of overtaken the record store. This year the plan is to get back on track with the retail side. I’ve had the pleasure of going to Conch and thought the food and service was great. Do you think the gentrification of Ponsonby has resulted in a shift in focus from selling records to providing a dining experience? In some respects if we had opened up Conch right from the start eight years ago as a café/restaurant/bar, we would’ve smashed it. Because now, as you say, the whole area has been gentrified and there are just so many restaurants, cafes and bars competing along that whole area. The only reason we have recently changed focus is because we weren’t able to survive solely selling coffee and records.

“You hear all these stories about the resurgence of vinyl and the rest. Yes, maybe in a city of 20 million people where there is a history of vinyl; London, Tokyo, New York

But in little, old Auckland, where Serato was invented and where people like supporting homegrown products, more and more vinyl buyers are going digital.”

In saying that, all of Conch’s biggest sellers have been local releases. Our biggest selling 12” was Manuel Bundy’s Solephonic EP, we must’ve sold about 150 copies. We’ve also sold a lot of local 7”s. There is a label in Japan called Wonderful Noise which have signed up the crème de la crème of New Zealand beat makers. kitchen-slider-slide-3

Drool worthy meals from the Conch menu. Image from Conch.co.nz.
Drool worthy meals from the Conch menu. Image from Conch.co.nz.

You are originally from Hereford, England, how did you end up in New Zealand? I ended up here by mistake actually [laughs]. I was backpacking and travelling around when my visa in Australia was set to run out. That was 1988. I only had enough cash left to get to New Zealand and I had a contact in Wainuiomata. It was raining the whole time and I thought “what the hell am I doing here!” I managed to get a full time job at the old EMI store, where Rex Royale is now on Cuba Street, and got to meet Matt Poppelwell, one of the main DJs around town, who introduced me to what seemed like a third of the population of Wellington [laughs]. A lot of DJs will say they ‘play everything’ and that they are really eclectic, but this guy Matt really was. What were your initial impressions of the Wellington club scene in 1988? It was a bit scary [laughs]. If you went to a standard club, people were still listening to white boy electronic music like Depeche Mode, New Order and Fine Young Cannibals. I left just when the whole Acid House era kicked off in the UK. When I got over here, it still hadn’t really hit. So I would go with my Polynesian mates to some of the Poly clubs – they were playing modern RnB, Brit soul, American street soul… I loved those clubs. Much more black orientated than my white honky roots [laughs]. I grew up listening to Tamla Motown and that. What made you want to move to Auckland? The first time I came to Auckland I met a bunch of people who ran Planet Magazine and they really became my family over here. When I was over in London in the mid ’90s, they called me up and asked me to be the resident DJ in the space we used to live in for a new venue they were starting – the Khuja Lounge. This is back when Auckland was a much more interesting city and people used to live really interesting inner city spaces.

“We had the whole third floor on the corner of Queen Street and K Road for $50 a week.

There was nothing like it. We had old Indonesian furniture, a massive communal weaving table with scattered cushions around it. I’d start at 8pm and play till about 4am, Wednesday to Saturday. For any real DJ, that’s your dream gig, man. On the same floor, we’d opened up a talent agency called Saama Productions, which specialised in signing people from indigenous backgrounds. As a result, the Khuja was a real melting pot of all different styles and characters – everybody from models, actors, comedians and dancers were there. For about three or four years, we smashed it. It was the most enjoyable place I’ve ever played.

Image from George FM.
Selector and collector. Image from George FM.

Right now, Auckland could do with more…? Hmm… People that go on out and play more of a variety of music and take more risks. Venues that actually take time money and effort to put in proper sound systems and maintain them. Less of these kind of Pack Group bars and Mac Brewery Bars, with the same kind of soundtrack, the same kind of crowd. I don’t know if it’s the same in Wellington, but Auckland just feels like it’s been totally whitewashed. It feels like it’s the North Shore and Hamilton transplanted into the city on the weekend… Nowadays people become DJs overnight when their mate gives them a USB stick with 5000 records on it, with no experience or knowledge of any of the music… No time into digging, or money. Everyone’s a bloody DJ nowadays. What are you expecting from your time here in China? Never been to China before, I’ve always wanted to go. I fly out Tuesday night. I really hope this is the start of me being able to come out more regularly. I’m looking forward to everything! Shanghai sounds like such a crazy mix of the modern and old. I love big cities and what they have to offer and the whole energy. Any favourite Chinese beats at the moment? Favourite vocalist out of China is a lass called ChaCha. I’m not sure who is making her beats, but she rules! Favourite locals? Local stuff, whew! Coco Solid, Lord Echo, Julien Dyne, Electric Wire Hustle, Christoph El Truento, my mate Submariner, Stinky Jim (who doesn’t release stuff), Lawrence Arabia… so many, theres a lot of good music coming out of New Zealand! Chur Cian, hope you enjoy Shanghai and Beijing!

logo Read more about Conch Records, Cafe, Bar and Restaurant www.conch.co.nz Check out Cian’s weekly show Earshot Radio on George FM www.georgefm.co.nz | Every Sunday 10am – 12noon (NZ Time) The JUE Music + Art Festival program is here Next week Cian will play at DADA Beijing on Friday 13th March, followed by the Shelter in Shanghai on Saturday 14th!

When the Chinese Kid Drops Maths for Art: Interview with Allan Xia

Chengdu. An old lady in slippers fossicks about in the bright yellow leaves for fallen nuts from the local ginkgo tree. Bananas on pedicabs roll past mahjong players and open air eateries. Bundled up babies flail about like pudgy starfish on the laps of knitting grannies. The pace is chill, the sun shines, the sky is blue. 

This is the environment where Allan Xia 夏昊禹, the Auckland-based artist and founder of the indie arts festival Chromacon and the transmedia production consultancy company Kognika, spent his childhood years. 

Mintown 明堂
Forgot to take a photo of Allan, d’oh. So instead, this is where Allan sat. Mintown 明堂.

Hey Allan! What brings you back to China this time? 

Hey! I’d originally already planned the trip myself, then was invited to be part of the Screen Delegation with the NZ Film Commission for five and a half days in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

Cool, what’s that about?

New Zealand was the first country in the world to sign a film co-production treaty with China. That was close to five years ago, but we haven’t actually made a co-production yet. Australia are already on their third one… Xi Jinping came over to NZ recently and signed another treaty for television co-production with ChinaSo the delegation is basically a drive to get things happening.

Welcome back to Chengdu! Your own side trip?

Thanks! Yeah, I can see future initiatives going in this direction, seen as we have a Consulate-General here now. Chengdu for me has always been a very creative and artsy city. The overall mood, environment and pace of the city is what I’ve always liked about it. Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing are very business orientated – everything moves at a rapid pace. Whereas Chengdu is full of teahouses – substitute them for coffee houses and its like Auckland.

A regular Saturday at People's Park, Chengdu.
A regular Saturday in People’s Park, Chengdu.

At the China in the Pacific Symposium at Te Papa, you spoke about your experience of moving from China to New Zealand as a kid. 

I moved to New Zealand when I was eight. It was a massive culture shock, really. We moved a lot and I went to like eight different primary schools in West Auckland within three years. So there was the language barrier, plus not having time to really make friends.

I think the lack of social engagement pushed me to become more interested in reading. I read a lot of everything, fiction especially, in Chinese and English. I was reading stuff like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and all the martial art novels. It definitely helped me keep up my Chinese reading skills.

I read a lot of comics as well: Japanese manga, Tintin, Astrix. I drew for fun, as well. I always liked it. I thought I was decent at it, in hindsight I wasn’t really, but it is good to be ignorant [laughs].

Myths and legends and fantastical worlds with all these interesting charactersmy love for storytelling was developed before visual arts.

Image from Allan Xia.
Image from Allan Xia.

Your ‘Crossed Cultures’ remix of Renee Liang’s poem and Dylan Horrocks’ comic is amazing! I thought I was gonna cry by the end!

I feel like I was an observer in the whole thing – it came together so naturally. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever made. It was for a competition called Mix and Mash, which is all about Creative Commons and the idea of remixing work and generating new contexts for them. Renee’s poem and Dylan’s comic were put up under the Creative Commons License. Cultural identity isn’t something I always think about, but Renee’s poem encapsulated so much of my experience and perhaps even how I felt really deeply. It made me get over some stuff on a personal level, like I don’t think I ever need to make another piece of art about cultural identity [laughs].

READ: Crossed Cultures / Renee Liang x Dylan Horrocks / Allan Xia

Excerpt from Crossed Cultures.
Excerpt from Crossed Cultures. Image from Allan Xia.
Allan has designed the poster for Renee Liang's new play, Under the Same Moon.
Allan has designed the poster for Renee Liang’s new play, ‘Under the Same Moon.’

How did you first go about pursuing your passion for art?

When you are in high school, you are thinking about your career path and that. I was really into indie web comics and games at the time. Once I decided I wanted to be a designer for film and games, I joined a lot of online arts communities like conceptart.org, CGTalk and CGHub, and started learning more and more. In high school, you’ll just get told what you need to do in uni, then the job you need to get. Whereas online, people are industry professionals who skip straight to the relevant information. That was really good for me because I quickly saw this pathway – and to get there I needed fundamental skill sets and knowledge. We don’t really teach drawing fundamentals in New Zealand, so if anything, swapping Science for Design taught me that I needed to NOT do seventh form. I spent a year in Chengdu and Beijing doing boot camp style art tuition classes.

Haha woahhh, how did that go down with your parents?

I was a typical Chinese kid – I had good grades in Science and Math… until fifth form when I decided I wanted to do art, then basically dropped everything else [laughs]. I was just drawing in math class. I went from A+ to D. It was a shock for my dad. Asian parents aren’t used to seeing D’s on reports.

'Greed' Image from Allan Xia.
Image from Allan Xia.

How did the idea of bringing together local illustrators, comic artists, designers, animators and videogame developers in an event like Chromacon come about? 

I did a group show with some illustrator friends at the gallery above Kfm a few back. We had a really awesome opening. The whole “oh its low brow, but let’s try do a show, cos its K Rd!” vibe [laughs]. But after the opening, it was quite empty. I wanted the vibe of the opening expanded into its own event. Cos what’s the point of making art if people don’t see it?

For the first Chromacon in 2013, I thought it could be like twenty or thirty artists who I personally knew, but then word kinda spread and more people signed up. It just grew. It is a free event, but was still surprised with how many people came! Two thousand! Which is like nothing if you tell people about it in China [laughs].

Awesome! How are the plans coming along for Chromacon 2015?

It is gonna be from 18-19 April at Aotea Centre, with two floors this time. We went over capacity last year, which was positive but scary! The good thing was we had another room for talks and discussion panels and we didn’t have to turn anyone away.

Chromacon_website_logo22

How do you see creative outlets in China and New Zealand developing in the future?

I’m still trying to figure that out. It is also why the Kognika website is still quite empty. I want to co-develop a cross-cultural collaborative model with China, a strong and meaningful bridge between creative industries in New Zealand and China. One that is sustainable.

I think the most important thing at this point is to not make too many assumptions. Even I have. The more I engage with China, the more I realize I need to learn.

Thanks Allan! 

Check out more of Allan’s work here! As well as Chromacon and Kognika.

Allan_Xia_Chroma_poster_forweb

The 75th Anniversary of Chinese War Refugees in New Zealand

Seventy five years ago, 239 women and 244 children fled the brutal Japanese invasion of Canton and made their way to New Zealand; marking the beginning Chinese family settlement in Aotearoa. Kiwese spoke with Helen Wong from the New Zealand Chinese Association to find out more.

Searching for bodies after a a Japanese airstrike. Canton, 1938. Image from
Searching for bodies after a Japanese airstrike. Canton, 1938. Image from Getty Images.

Hi Helen! What’s your family’s story in New Zealand?

My family are from Jung Seng (now Zengcheng 增城). My grandfather came in 1880, when he was just eleven. He came to help his sister, who had a fruit shop with her husband in Stratford. He returned to China when he was 21 to buy land and houses and eventually took over the fruit shop when his sister and her husband wanted to return to China. He was in Manaia, Taranaki all that time.

How did this 75th anniversary of Cantonese war refugees arriving in New Zealand come about?

It is being run by the New Zealand Chinese Association Auckland branch. Earlier this year, we had a 75 year celebration of the Chan clan, my mother-in-law’s people. NZCA heard about it and decided we should do a big one to celebrate all the refugees who came at that time. My mother-in-law’s family walked from Guangzhou to Hong Kong [approx 120km] to escape the Japanese military, including little kids of 3 or 4. It took about 10 days to get from the villages, walking down the railway lines to Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong, they had to wait for the boats to Sydney, then onto New Zealand.

CANTON, CHINA - OCTOBER 21: Japanese soldiers celebrate their victory on October 21,1938 in Canton in front of the entrance of the seat of the Chinese Nationalist government after Japanese column of 3,000 men, led by tanks, stormed into Canton. Image from Getty Images.
Japanese soldiers celebrate their victory on October 21,1938 in Canton in front of the entrance of the seat of the Chinese Nationalist government. Image from Getty Images.

Did the arrival of these war refugees mark a new acceptance of Chinese in New Zealand?

Well, the New Zealand Government did allow the Chinese to come here – mostly men, but there was a Poll Tax. Women were not allowed because they didn’t want the Chinese population to grow.

What were the logistics of getting several hundred refugees out of Canton and over to New Zealand?

The men went back to escort the women and children out of the villages of the Pearl River Delta region. In my mother-in-law’s case, her father went back and escorted the whole group of about 30 out on the same boat. In Hong Kong, there was a place that did business with businesses like Wah Lees back in New Zealand – you’ve just interviewed Barry! There was a big organisation of Jung Seng people who organised the tickets and shipping fares and made arrangements for people to come to Sydney then to New Zealand.

Helen's mother-in-law arrived on the same boat as these refugees in 1939. Image from New Zealand Herald.
Helen’s mother-in-law arrived on the same boat as these refugees in 1939. Image from New Zealand Herald.

What is the significance of Chinese women and children being allowed to come in New Zealand?

Once the women and children came here, it was the start of Chinese families in New Zealand. Before that sojourners were just going back and forth – they didn’t really want to be living in New Zealand, they wanted to go back to China to die. That was okay until the Sino-Japanese War, then after that the Communists came – so a lot of people had no way to go back.

“It was more of a humanitarian thing to allow women and children to come to New Zealand, but they still had to pay £100 each in Poll Tax.

On top of that, they had to pay another £500 bond and ensure any children born here would to go back to China as well.”

Do you think this history will eventually be included in the national curriculum?

Richard Leung, Chair of the NZCA Auckland branch is really hot on trying to get this out there. A lot of the new migrants think we just got off the boat in 1970. They don’t know about the history of the ‘old Chinese.’ They don’t know about the gold miners, the Poll Tax, the hardships, and how we had to put up with a lot.

What was your experience growing up in Hawera?

When I was going through school, I got teased a lot. We were the only foreigners in town. Everybody else was either Maori or European. The relationships between Maori and Chinese were better than the relationship with the Europeans. We did Kiwi things and tried to fit in as best we could, by playing rugby and netball. The difference being we spoke Chinese at home, and for birthday parties my mum would do Chinese food – the kids would gasp because they’d never had it before!

Little Helen and her sister Barbara with some friends at home in Hawera, 1960. Image courtesy of Helen.
Helen and her older sister Barbara with friends in Hawera, 1960. Image courtesy of Helen.

“We got stuck in a time warp.”

The idea of what it even is to be Chinese. Before coming to China, my understanding of Chinese culture was limited to the few traditions we retained in my family, yum cha, films… the idea of Chinese culture and what being Chinese means is different for many people.

Yeah, but I think you will find us old Chinese are more Chinese than the Chinese. We’ve stuck to traditions. We got stuck in a time warp. My mother came from China in 1948 and I do what she did and my husband follows what his mother did. But when the Communists came over, a lot of that stuff was chucked out the window. Family histories, gone. A lot of the traditional celebration areas in the villages were just destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

“The Chinese are under a one child policy. Whereas we Chinese in New Zealand tend to have big families with lots of aunties and uncles.”

New migrants are changing the face of Auckland. Do you see this affecting perceptions of the original Cantonese community?

Yes. We’ve tended not to be taken notice of. One of the reasons we are holding this event is to say “hey, the Cantonese have been in New Zealand for a long time and we’re still here.” Our forbearers first came as gold miners, then became market gardeners and so on. Whereas the new migrants that come now are more educated and either come for university or a professional job.

How do you see the ‘old hand’ Cantonese legacy being handed on to the younger generation? Seen as there is a general lack of Cantonese-speaking young people who are interested.

I still see it being handed on. The old committee members are going on 80 now, but we have a lot of members in the Women’s Group in their 40s-60s. Then the Future Dragons are 18-30s. For the kids we have sports clubs and there is always Easter Tournament. We get a lot of support in organising the Chinese New Year at Greenlane every year, where a lot of new migrants come and interact with the more established community.

As a nation, if we are wanting to redefine ‘Kiwi’ as a concept for all, not just another word for Pakeha, do you think if the Chinese are always referred to as an ‘ethnic community’ it keeps us as a fringe group, as opposed to acknowledgement that we helped build this place? I’m referring to the attendance of the Minister of Ethnic Communities to the event.

They need to have it in a way, because otherwise we get disenfranchised. In the lead up to the election, I’m not sure how many politicians spoke to Indian groups or Korean groups. A lot of the people here now actually don’t speak English. So if you try to make everybody the same, everybody Kiwi, its not gonna work. Look at the community now, we have Chinese newspapers, radio, TV. I can’t read Chinese, so I have no idea if they have an underground thing going on. When you get the media split into different languages like that, you are never going to get a ‘Kiwi’ society.

Do you think there is adequate Chinese representation in our MMP system?

What I can say is, the Chinese who are in Parliament do not represent us. They don’t even pretend to, they just don’t. I’ve never seen them turn up at our Cantonese functions. They are looking after the newbies and we just have to put up with the run of the mill politicians. I guess we Kiwis just have to go with the flow and be Kiwis.

Thanks for sharing, Helen!

Helen is the Treasurer of the NZCA Auckland branch Women’s Group and is the author of ‘In the Mountain’s Shadow: A Century of Chinese in Taranaki 1870-1970.’ roots The ‘To Grow Roots Where They Land‘ Anniversary is this Sunday 12 October at Alexandra Park, Auckland. For tickets, email 75thnzca@gmail.com. Were your ancestors one of the refugees to flee to New Zealand? Check out the shipping list from 1940.

Don’t Wah Lee, Be Happy: Interview with Barry Wah Lee

Established in 1904, the iconic Asian goods emporium Wah Lees has been around longer than Pineapple Lumps or Marmite (NZ).

Kiwese caught up with Barry Wah Lee at the counter of his red and yellow shop to talk about the ongoing challenges facing independent food and Chinese medicine retailers.

IMG_6653

Hey Barry! The store front says Wah Lees was established in 1904, that must make it one of the oldest shops in Auckland?

The first mention of Wah Lee was in Greys Avenue in 1904 as a fruit shop. It used to be a bank for the Chinese, too. We moved up here to Hobson Street in 1966. There are still a few Chinese-owned fruit shops around, like Mr Lum over in Remuera, but a lot of them have faded with the coming of Pak N Save, Countdown etc…

How long have you been involved with the shop?

As a kid I used to love being in the shop – watching how dad would talk to people. Cups of tea and stuff.

Obligatory Chinese question.

My wife is Cantonese, I am from the Gin Clan of Toishan. But I think we originally ran away from up north in Hebei, where they were suppliers to the legendary Emperors of porcelain. So if you look at the name [writes  on a piece of paper], you can see the west, earth and porcelain.

Soong Yueen & Company on Greys Avenue in the 1940s. Greys Avenue was a hub for Chinese in Auckland and was often considered a dirty opium gambling street, the Haining Street of Auckland. Read more about Greys Avenue in this paper by Eva Wong Ng. Image from History Pin.
Soung Yueen & Co, Greys Avenue during the 1940s:  a hub for many Chinese in Auckland, often considered a dodgy area full of gambling and opium dens that needed to be cleaned up – the Haining Street of Auckland. Read more about Greys Avenue’s Chinatown era in this paper by Eva Wong Ng. Image from History Pin.

I can’t imagine it has always been easy importing Asian goods into New Zealand?

We haven’t been importing for ages. Everything here has the English labels on them -by law you are supposed to have a list of ingredients in English. Local Koreans go to Korean shops and they know what it is, but with us being open to all races – Kiwis – people expect to see English or two languages.

“At Greys Avenue, our customers were mostly Cantonese, not many Europeans came in – only the brave ones who weren’t worried about trap doors” [laughs]

IMG_6675

What’s the secret to Wah Lees longevity?

Some people bank money by giving pep talks about these things -body language, customer service… but that wouldn’t work if we’re dying.

But it doesn’t seem like the shop is dying!

We were quite busy for a while there… but the business has been losing money for a few years. It is quite difficult. Every little thing we do has gotten bigger – health foods, organics, Asian specialities… The importers and suppliers are huge. Indian things, Thai, Vietnamese and from the Philippines. Everything has been expanded and taken away from us.

“There is so much red tape which is aimed at supporting the big fullas – the supermarkets –maybe they have the Illuminati supporting them…”

Barry shows a customer one of their traditional Chinese tea sets
Barry shows a customer one of their traditional Chinese tea sets

[Barry takes a phone call, I chat to Wai behind the counter]

Hey Wai, how long have you been here at Wah Lees?

Few years. 18 years. Originally from Gisborne.

You like Auckland?

Na. It sucks. But me and my wife are here now.

Does anyone know where everything in this shop is?

I doubt it. Collectively? We may know, but I don’t think any one person would know exactly where everything is.

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How have you seen Hobson Street change over the past 18 years?

Hobson St is the main artery out, you can use it to get on the motorway. Apartments are popping up. Across the road, down the road, next door. Definitely changes the vibe. A lot of people that own these apartments rent them out to students – and unfortunately a lot of them don’t cook at home, which doesn’t give us a lot of custom.

What is the biggest selling item at Wah Lees?

Definitely fireworks. The change in regulations a few years ago changed things in a big way – it actually led to a lot more mavericks selling fireworks from their car boots on the side of the road, rather than working to contain it. The most incidents that have happened in the past few years since the change in regs have been in public displays. And they are supposed to be the expert technicians.

Check out the ‘Fireworks at Wah Lees‘ Facebook event

How have the changes in firework regulations affected Wah Lees?

I think the whole thing with fireworks was that when people started using them on animals, the fun went. There were a lot of people complaining about noise. So the products had their levels of gunpowder cut down. Since the R18 limit, underage people are sent in. One year they sent in this guy – 6”3, built like a brick shit house, and only seventeen years old.

[Back to Barry, who has brought me a cup of green tea]

Wah Lees has been used as the set for several music videos?

Millions. Che Fu – I charged him $1000 for that. He and his manager came in. They were a bit naughty – they lit some incense down the back where there’s fireworks. The first was Billy T James.

Any tips for brick and mortar retail businesses? 

Smile. Sell the sizzle not the sausage. We had Chinese sausages for years (“they were nice, too,” Wai chips in), but now with the red tape – na, can’t do it.

Tell us about the Chinese medicine here at Wah Lees?

When I was young I can remember my mum forcing me to have medicine from the doctor. I always liked the foul tasting Chinese stuff from the shop for some reason. To this day I don’t like to see the doctor. You’re up against a trillion dollar industry. They have very subtle PR, who give Chinese and alternative medicine a very hard time.

Thanks for your time guys!

Support your local businesses, pop in to Wah Lees for anything from sushi wakame, porcelain horses, ornamental radishes to South African apricots!

Follow Wah Lees on Facebook and Twitter or check out the official website.

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The Literary Blossom: Interview with Renee Liang

Last month, I managed to catch up with poet, playwright, paediatrician and mother of two Renee Liang while she was in Wellington on locum at Hutt Hospital.

Juggling a baby, a chocolate cake and a multi-faceted career, we commenced.

Performing poetry at WOMAD. Image from The Big Idea.
Performing poetry at WOMAD. Image from The Big Idea.

Hey Renee! The Chinese name your Yeh Yeh (paternal grandfather) gave you was ‘Literary Blossom,’ as opposed to the regular old blossom. How did this discovery affect you? 

My Yeh Yeh sourced a pretty rare character. Wei (blossom) is not an uncommon Chinese girls name, but there is an extra stroke on it to make it literary blossom. That with my generation Wen name made it wise/language literary blossom. I added it to my email signature in recent years, which I guess is part of my journey of being ‘more’ Chinese. A lot of my friends who are second or third generation Chinese have begun that journey in their late twenties, as many did not see the value of it when they were children while wanting to fit in.

Do you remember when you first started to write stories?

I wrote a lot when I was at secondary school, but then went on a journey to become a doctor. I remember being surprised the first time I was told I had a unique style – it was in primary school. I had a love of really long words which must have been a source of great amusement to my teachers. I had a phase where I needed to show off, so I’d open the dictionary and find the longest word I could, then deploy it into whatever I was writing about [laughs].

When I was about ten, we went to see The Neverending Story. I came out of the film complaining about the inaccuracies with the book and my dad saying ‘well fix it then, write the script.’ My aunty encouraged me to be a scriptwriter when I was a kid, which I thought was horrifying as I wanted to be the world’s greatest doctor! [laughs] Now, the irony is that I am writing scripts.

Writing doctors scripts and dramatic scripts!

I hadn’t actually thought about that, there is a good word play poem happening here!

When did you decide to pursue your writing alongside your career as a doctor?

Over time I realized I could have both. I wrote a poem called To A Husband on my last day of a full time job in clinical medicine before I started my Master of Creative Writing in Auckland, and it was based on a Chekhov quote – “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.”

Anton Chekhov. The grandmaster of medicine and writing.
Anton Chekhov. The grandmaster of medicine and writing.

The better I get at writing, the better I get at doctoring – its the same skill set. To use a metaphor, it’s to do with understanding what lies beneath.

When I place a drip in someone – I do it in very small children – I can feel my brain is in the tip of the needle when I insert it, and I can feel where I am in the skin. Its not spiritual, I can’t explain it, but its to do with experience. You know where to look and you know the signs. Poetry is the same.

How does your cultural background reach into your work as a writer?

Everybody writes informed by his or her cultural backgrounds. It’s a bit of a catch 22 as a writer or artist – you want to be a writer, you don’t want to just be the ‘Chinese writer’ or the writer who writes about cultural things.

I never asked to be a cultural ambassador. You can call it dumb luck or you can call it destiny. I started this writing career at exactly the right time. Publishers became quite interested, in the same way producers became interested in Roseanne’s work, because the publishers and producers who are knowledgeable in spotting trends before they emerge – the Maori Renaissance and strong Pacific writers – and that the next big thing, according to population statistics, was Asian writers.

The Bone Feeder looked at early Chinese settlement in New Zealand. Image from Theatre Scenes.
The Bone Feeder looked at the sinking of the S.S Ventnor off Hokianga in 1902, a ship bound for China containing the bones of Chinese miners. Image from Theatre Scenes.

Do you then find it natural or obligatory to include Chinese themes in your work?

I argue that my plays are not about Chinese culture, but about family. I’ve also recently written a play called Boat People, in which I exploited the fact that I am known for writing cultural stories –it’s not about being Chinese at all, but in the public reading I asked for an all Asian cast to throw the audience off the scent. It’s a political thriller. I started writing it because I was so angry at what the Australian Government was doing with the refugee boat people.

I have also young teen play which was shortlisted for the Adam Award, but it will be harder to get that one performed because its not an ‘Asian’ play. If you have got a niche in this funding environment, then you probably have an advantage. Of course you need to stay true to yourself. Michelle Ang, who I interviewed for The Big Idea, was really frank about it too – you can be really cynical about it or say “hey, that’s life.”

What kind of productions can we expect to see on stage soon?

There are two plays I’ve just pitched. One is a Chinese folk tale adapted for children’s theatre for a non-Chinese theatre troupe called the Story of the Farting Sister.

The other is called Under the Same Moon, after a Tang Dynasty poem I really love, in which the final couplet is “though we live a thousand lengths apart, we all look on the same moon.” It’s a comedy about connection through the generations, based around a bolshy Hong Kong grandmother who invites herself to her granddaughter’s wedding.

Tell us about the New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories project in Auckland. 

I was approached by Auckland Council two years ago too run some kind of cultural intervention in Albany. I suggested that we provide specific services for migrant women, who tend to be quite isolated but have a lot to think about and say. I didn’t want them to be migrant women writing about being migrants, I wanted them to write about anything from their hearts.

They are not classic migration stories. Their cultural viewpoint has been melded by both cultures.

The openness and attitude to telling a story has a very Kiwi style that has been overlaid over the top of the cultural memory.

A Chinese woman did the course twice, because she was so determined to crack the writing thing. She wrote a story called Fire Fire about her own memory of playing with matches as a kid and accidentally setting fire to the school, where the boys came along and hassled her trying to be like Red Guards.

An Iraqi woman wrote about being a university student and her classroom being bombed during the final exam. She wrote about leaving the classroom during the bomb alarm as usual, while continuing to think about what she would write in the exam.

Will Chinese stories in New Zealand ever just be stories without the cultural preface?

There has to be a cultural readiness to hear the stories. If you look at Asian American theatre, they have a parallel history to us in New Zealand. The plays FohSarn and Ka-Shue by Lynda Chanwai-Earle about ten years ago reflect a very classic Chinese story. She was limited in what people were able to digest at the time, in what audiences would sign up for. My own play Lantern is gonna date over time, it’s little vignettes about racism. I hope it will date.

Renee and Lynda. Image from Radio New Zealand.
Renee and Lynda. Image from Radio New Zealand.

Do you have any advice for creative writers and poets who are starting out?

There are lots of senior people in their fields out there who are just waiting to be approached and love to meet young, enthusiastic writers who are prepared to back themselves and want to have a good old fashioned nerd out about writing. All you need to do is approach them or look them up in the phonebook. In New Zealand, you can do that.

Thanks, Renee!

Check out Renee’s blog Chinglish. You can also follow her on Twitter for more updates on her various projects and plays!

Article image is ‘Palace Ladies,’ wall painting, tomb of Princess Yongtai, Quinxian, China, Tang dynasty.