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 bySo Laid Back Country China
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.
No Need For Another History byHiperson 《我不要别的历史》 海朋森
Rejoice!! Our long diet ofHiperson demos streamed off Youku was finally supplemented this year, with No Need For Another Historyreleased 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, alongsidenew 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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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…
Demos on Douban by South Acid MiMi Dance Team
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A Million Farewells by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes
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.
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!
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!
On a hot summer’s afternoon, the sound of birdsong and motorbike alarms chorus together in the warm air at Zaoshanghao on Democracy Road.
Excitedly chattered about for the past few years and praised by Douban Music as “the true spirit of rock and roll” “amidst this increasingly conformist, fast-food generation,” Chengdu’s poetic post-punk band Hiperson greets you with their debut album No Need For Another History, out today on Maybe Mars!
Surrounded by leafy green banana fronds and sunlit rooftops, Kiwese had the pleasure of catching up with vocalist Chen Sijiang, guitarists Liu Zetong and Li Yinan and drummer Wang Boqiang, four of the band’s five boys and girls, who exude the chill, friendly vibes of Chengdu.
Recorded last year in an underground car park with the legendary Yang Haisong of P.K 14, No Need For Another History includes new tracks and reworks of well-loved demos. Warm fuzzy riffs crash through curtains of amplifier feedback; young voices scream lyrics of a history, a past and a present, of leaving and returning; a state of memory and forgetting.
Hiperson are an exciting new band that will leave you feeling as Comfortably Numb as a Sichuan peppercorn.
The name 'Hiperson’ has a few meanings, how did it come about?
JI YINAN 季一楠：我们一直想不到乐队取什么名字，然后突然想到这个名字因为当时才进大学的时候容易想很多事情，包括人和人之间的关系，然后发生在人生上的关系的一些事情 。Hiperson这个名字是描述一个你思考一个问题的角度，这样是在给person打招呼，感觉好像是另外一个非人类的东西在看一些人之间发生的事情。
We couldn’t think of a name for ages, then it suddenly came to us. We’d just started university, a time when you’re thinking about things like human relationships and events that occur in your life. The name describes the perspective you use when you are pondering a question; by saying ‘hi’ to ‘person’ it’s like a non-human entity viewing things that occur in the human realm.
So our own philosophy behind it is that when examining particular issues, if you jump beyond a personal perspective you will be able to transform it into something else – you can find more answers, it will be more fulfilling.
LIU ZETONG 刘泽同：第三方，God Vision.
The third perspective. God Vision.
And the Chinese name, Haipengsen 海朋森? The hǎi of hǎibiàn 海边 (ocean) and sēn of sēnlín 森林 (forest) has a nature vibe, was this deliberate?
LIU 刘：直接英译过来。是在一个开玩笑的环境里 !
It’s just a direct take from the English pronunciation, made up in a joking environment!
CHEN SIJIANG 陈思江: 然后选了几个字在排练室里。
Yeah, we just picked some characters in the practice room.
WATCH: Hiperson interview and performance of ‘He Made Up His Mind To Be a Tourist’ on The Sound Stage last year.
How did the band form three years ago? You guys all knew each other at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music?
LIU 刘：最开始我跟吉他手季一楠是同学，我们两个人就一开始认识就很聊得来，然后我们想做一支乐队。我们找到一个鼓手跟贝斯，就是现在秘密行动的鼓手跟贝斯手。 然后老季他认识了陈思江，是经过朋友介绍的，然后我们就去她里玩儿，这样就慢慢的大家都在一块儿了。我们的贝斯手黄哥黄仁涛也是我们同学，我们就让她一起过来试一下。我们之前的鼓手是陈庆凯也是我们隔壁班的同学，后来因为一些其他的因素，他就没有跟我们一起做了。现在这个新鼓手王博强进来了，我们最早跟他认识是他跟另外一个朋友一起做了一个两个人的乐队。
It started out when Ji Yinan and I were classmates, we got talking and decided to start a band. We found a drummer bassist, who is now playing in Stolen (秘密行动). Then Ji Yinan found Chen Sijiang through a mutual friend, we went to her place and had a jam and it gradually came together from there. Our bassist ‘Tao Ge,’ Huang Rentao, was also our classmate, so we got her over to try out. Our previous drummer Chen Qingkai was too, but after a while some other stuff came up so he left. Now we have a new drummer Wang Boqiang, we knew him from another two-piece band.
CHEN 陈：我们是在同一个school, 然后我是另外一个油画学院，但我们在一个campus.
We were all on the same campus and I majored in oil painting.
Do you think having formal music education has influenced you as a band?
I wouldn’t say we’ve actually had a formal musical education…
Because you all ditched class!
I think the reason we ditched class was that the teachers and classes were all Chinese, Maths, English and stuff. But in saying that, it gave us an environment where we could meet a lot of like-minded friends, and I think that has affected us more as a band than the actual classes. From there, it was more a case of relying on your own interests and working to understand them on your own terms.
What kind of experience did you have with music before going to Music/Art School?
I wouldn’t really consider it experience. I studied guitar for a month and thought it was fun, then wrote some songs and put them on Douban. That’s how I came to know these guys. Back then I was just randomly singing, just going with it, I never had training or anything.
JI 季：我是从初一的时候就开始，很神奇，因为我妈妈之前在电台在radio station 工作，然后她是管理那个碟库的, 专门放碟的仓库和磁带的tape 和CD的一个房子里面 。我初中的时候说我想学吉他嘛，然后她给了我一张CD的合辑，4AD的，是中文版的，上面配有很多CD乐队的介绍，歌词，照片，很好看那本书 。那个时候什么都不知道，就听了那张CD以后就想听更多的东西 。
I was in Junior High when I started playing guitar, it came about pretty miraculously. My mum was working for a radio station, taking care of all the tapes and CDs in the disk storage room. One day I mentioned I wanted to start playing guitar, so she gave me a 4AD compilation CD that came in a really beautiful Chinese edition book, with introductions to all the bands, lyrics and photos. At that time I knew nothing, then afterwards, I just wanted to listen more and more.
WANG BOQIANG 王博强：我是初中，因为我有朋友在身边学吉他，然后他说：“要不要我们就玩一个乐队吧？”然后我就随便去找了一个琴行, 不是乱选，那个时候感觉是自己对节奏也比较敏感，然后也挺有兴趣。那个时候什么都不懂，我们就在一起瞎闹。大学期间一直有一个做乐队的梦想，一直想把它完成。然后我也很高兴认识我现在的伙伴。
Back in Junior High, a guitarist friend said: “wanna play in a band?” So I went out and found a Tom Lee Store. It wasn’t just picking at random – I think I had a good feel for rhythm at the time, plus I was really keen on it. My friend and I didn’t know what we were doing and just made a racket. I’ve always wanted to fulfil my dream of being in a band, so I am really happy to be with these guys now!
LIU 刘：Hiperson 是我做的第一个乐队。我自己学琴还挺早的，也是初中开始，但我是读的那种封闭式学校，军校式的管理, 你不能随便进出，你只能待在学校里面，哪儿都不能去，后来我觉得很无聊，然后我就让我妈妈给我买了一把木吉他。当时有一本书叫做《吉他自学三月痛》就自己来学。
Hiperson is my first band. I started playing music quite early too, Junior High, but I went to a closed school with military style management, you couldn’t come in or go out, you had to stay within the school. I got really bored after a while and asked my mum if I could have an acoustic guitar. At the time I had this book called ‘Study Guitar Yourself in Three Months’ and worked at it by myself.
Are you all from Chengdu?
Our bassist is the only one! I’m from Deyang.
I’m from Mianyang.
I’m from Xi’an.
I’m from Quanzhou, Hunan.
JI 季：贝斯是成都的uptown.青白江。Almost another city.
Our bassist is from uptown Chengdu, Qingbaijiang.
It seems like you have a deep affection for this place, what do you like so much about Chengdu?
JI 季：有很多各式各样的原因。有吃。。。[笑话], 人也很好玩儿 。主要还是因为整个环境都比较适应 。成都那种环境特别容易让人沉下来，没有那么浮躁，你可以自己专心地做一件事情，周围外面的其他因素都不会打扰你。
So many different reasons. The food… [laughs], the people are really fun. The main thing is that the environment suits us, it’s really easy to feel at home here. It’s not complicated; you can just do your own thing without external factors bothering you.
We were never interested in going to another city like Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou – those cities don’t really suit our us. Chengdu has a more grassroots feel to it.
You guys have all been here for several years now, and in the past three four years or so the city has transformed remarkably. Do you think these changes have affected you creatively?
I think for us, the cultural changes have been more pronounced. In the past few years, there have been more and more events; projects and parties, small-scale and large-scale, it’s all growing because the way young people have fun and live their lives is changing. The internet has had a huge impact on that.
The changes in the city have given us more things to express. Whether it’s music or painting, I feel in past two years there’s been more to describe, more to depict, because all these different things are occurring. People are changing and their tastes are changing too. From a person’s appearance, to the things they like doing – all of it is in a state of flux, which sometimes results in really interesting combinations. Everything is converging.
Sijiang, how did you start out writing songs?
I feel like my creative process has changed a lot. When I started, I would just write about a feeling, like how I felt on a particular day. After a while, it’s sort of moved beyond these isolated feelings and turned into more multi-faceted descriptions that are more like stories or scenes.
All of your songs are in Chinese, I think they're great. Some bands that have been abroad like Hedgehog and Carsick Cars also sing in English, and the number of bands that fully sing in Chinese seems quite small. How do you guys view this?
JI 季：我觉得也不是说bad or good的问题，可能就是每个乐队的重心都不一样。
I don’t think it’s a question of ‘good or bad,’ each band just has a different focus.
I think it’s actually quite normal; rock music originated in the west and has been sung this way since the beginning, so the fact a lot of bands are singing in English now is just a progression from the original prototype.
The reason I write in Chinese has two sides: the natural and the unnatural. The natural being Chinese is our mother tongue – so it carries a different weight than English. That feeling of being exposed, naked, might disappear because it’s not our mother tongue, which is the unnatural aspect. It could put a wall between you and the things you’re singing about.
“Singing in your mother tongue is so direct for the performer and the audience，there’s nowhere to hide.“
If a singer is also a painter, they are able to write songs in Chinese more fluently. Like Muma, he’s a painter, and Ou Po [singer of Sound Toy 声音玩具], too. There’s some kind of phenomenon where artists are really good at expressing things in Chinese rather than English.
在你们的歌词里，有一些主题是关于历史，过去的事情和还没有发生的事情，记忆和忘记，就是这两个方面，还有leaving和returning。There seem to be a few common themes in your lyrics, such as history, the past and present, remembering and forgetting, leaving and returning…
CHEN 陈：我觉得我创作歌词的时候，可能我会把这些东西全部放到一起来看，就是有很多层面，就是说politics and personal feeling,和你的生活经验, 它有可能是结合到一块儿的。
When I write lyrics, I tend to put all of theses layers together, encompassing politics and personal feelings, life experience, society, emotions – they all roll into one.
One needs to be cautious when commenting on politics in China. The puns in your lyrics, for example in ‘The Curtain’ you say “zhè shì tōng wǎng jùyuàn de dàlù” (“this road is turning into a theatre”), this dàlù 大路 (road) could also be be dàlù 大陆 (Mainland China)?
Ah, you’re clever. I guess maybe I didn’t make a deliberate effort to avoid this political pun you’ve mentioned, but when you are engaged in the arts, you may not want to express your views to the public so directly; though they can be included within descriptions of scenes or experiences. Perhaps there are a lot of puns in the lyrics; perhaps sometimes I don’t articulate myself clearly.
“I don’t feel the need to lay out my views in such a direct way. I think it’s more important to evoke a feeling than convey a perspective.”
WATCH: Hiperson perform ‘The Curtain.’ Video by Maybe Mars:
Your new album is coming out soon, can't wait! How was recording at Psychic Kong?
CHEN 陈：Super cool, super tired. 我们去年8月待了10天，录音的话就是7天。后来我又录了几天人声。
We went to Beijing for ten days in August last year and recorded the album over a week. Then I did some extra vocals afterwards.
JI 季：它是我见过最underground的studio，在一个地下停车场里面，然后会走很久很久，里面很潮湿，很冷，没有任何光线，没有 fresh air，是在很热的夏天，进去以后就是另外一个感觉，就是很酷的设备和楼梯，那个地方你从眼睛看上去并不那么的专业，但是杨海松的态度和心是很专业的。很棒的一个经验，对我们的启发也很大。
It’s the most underground studio I’ve ever seen. It’s in an underground parking lot and you have to walk for ages to get to it, then inside it’s really damp and cold; there’s no natural light or fresh air. It was a really hot summer, but once we entered the studio it was a completely different feeling. It has really cool recording equipment, a staircase. At a glance, it looks really unprofessional, but Yang Haisong is an incredible producer. It was a really great experience and gave us a lot of inspiration.
What was like recording with Yang Haisong as your producer?
I think the biggest piece of advice we took from him was that everyone needs to be in charge of choosing their own sound. He doesn’t tweak the original sound a lot – what you hear on record is the way it really is. During that week of recording, seeing him in his element gave us a kind of spiritual energy. We weren’t used to being in that studio environment and it was hard to breathe at first, our brains went slow, but Haisong could just effortlessly switch into working mode. He’d get there at 7am, we’d start at 10.
WATCH: The Maybe Mars preview of Hiperson’s debut album:
How did you get involved with Maybe Mars?
Before that we opened for The Gar. We’ve opened for a bunch of other Maybe Mars bands and got spotted that way.
LIU 刘：我们在读大学的时候，兵马司就有许多优秀的乐队，包括我们以前很喜欢的Guai Li。我们一直觉得兵马司不像其他的厂牌，他更有自己的精神在里面。
When we were at uni, there were a lot of excellent bands on their label, including Guai Li, who we’re big fans of. We’ve always thought Maybe Mars is different from other labels, they have their own soul.
CHEN 陈：有一天我们去兵马司签合同，就和兵马司的老板Michael开了一个会，他说的话对我的映象很深，他说“We don’t want to make money, we want to make history,”就很打动我们。
When we went to sign the contract, the label boss Michael said: “we don’t want to make money, we want to make history.” That really resonated with us.
Your new album is titled ‘No Need for Another History,’ what does this phrase mean to you?
There are many different layers; everyone will have their own interpretations.
It’s from an old song we wrote.The history could be that of an individual, of a group, of a nation.
Or the world!
The album is gonna be available on CD and vinyl, though it seems like there are no actual record stores here in Chengdu?
Yeah, Liu Yitong and I are actually planning to set one up, with the goal of selling them really cheaply, so everybody can have record players and vinyl won’t seem like such a distant a concept.
In China, music fans are not necessarily going out and purchasing the music they like. What are your views on this ahead of your album release?
JI 季: 我之前看过一个我非常喜欢的乐队的采访，叫Fugazi，Ian MacKaye他做了一个讲座，说到了这件事情，他和他老婆做了一个新的乐队叫The Evens，他们去圣地亚哥演出的时候，他们还没有发过唱片，但所有人都知道他们的歌，所有的人都会唱，他一开始很震惊。不能避免我们就可以换个思考，就像我们的乐队的名字的理念一样，我们可以换一个角度去看这个事情，它也是很好的一件事情。
Recently I watched an interview with Ian MacKaye from one of my favourite bands Fugazi. He and his wife are in band called The Evens. They did a show in San Diego and despite not having released any records, everyone could sing along to all their songs. It was a total shock! So while we can’t avoid the issue, I think we can take the concept of our band’s name and change our perspective in order to turn it into a good thing.
LIU 刘: 我觉得还是有在转变，就是这个东西大家是去在网上下载还是去支持你的实体，包括现在国内有很多网站都还是有付费下载，就是一个慢慢的过程。之前我也玩游戏，我要去网上下载那种盗版或者是破解的，最近我玩游戏我都去买的正版，因为我会被那些游戏的工作人员感动，因为他们真的会花很多心血去做这个游戏，你为什么要浪费人家的心血你要去下盗版的。到时候也许10年之后，你会说我真的被这首歌感动了，我应该用实际行动去支持它。
I think it’s in a transition from downloads to support, including how there are Chinese websites now where you have to pay to download, it’s a gradual process. I used to download a lot of pirated games, but now I buy the real thing because I want to support the game makers. Why should they put their blood, sweat and tears into creating this thing if people just go and download it for free? Maybe in ten years or so, if people feel a song has really moved them, they will take real action to support it.
Actually, I think it’s been an inspiration, this internet piracy phenomenon. In many ways, it’s making up for deficiencies in Chinese pop culture, where these free things that we might never have been able to encounter otherwise are slowly being absorbed.
Have you finished planning the tour?
It’s pretty close to being finalised – we’ve just added two more dates, so about 29 shows all up. We are hoping to drive the whole tour with a Douban van. Maybe Mars have been a big help, we wanted to do something different for our first national tour, as most bands touring in China take trains and planes. Maybe we’ll start in the north, head east, south, then south-west.
JI 季: 因为开车可以节约开支的话，尽量就是两个城市隔得不是特别远，才能够更有效率，更节约成本，所以巡演就有很多小的城市，很激动。小到刘泽同的老家，很多很小的四线五线城市。
Driving could save a bit of money. We’re trying to plan it so we can drive between cities that are close together as efficiently as possible, so we’ll be playing a lot of small cities, which is really exciting. Liu Yitong’s hometown. A lot of small fourth and fifth-tier cities.
And Huizhou, Dongguan.
I guess these places would have very few gigs.
JI 季: 就算是一个小的城市，一个小的演出场合，只有五、六个人来看你的演出，也很不错，很朋克。
For a small city, having five or six people turn up is still not bad. Very punk.
The reason we’re in this band is closely related to our environment. Modern China is an exemplar of a developing country, which people don’t get a sense of unless they come here and experience it firsthand, like you have. The disappearance and revival of traditional culture, as well as the intensity of modernisation and urbanisation has confronted people with endless bizarre phenomena. It’s flesh and blood of ordinary people pressing up against commodities.
So we’re really looking forward to playing smaller cities, people there aren’t completely urbanised and they might think our music is weird, it’s exciting!
What do you think are some of the challenges for independent music in China?
Audience and understanding. Some people don’t get why anyone would choose to do music, including friends and family who’ll ask: What are you doing and why are you even doing it? There’s no money in it, what are you gonna do after that? You’re never gonna get famous, so what’s the point? Loads of questions like that.
Do your families support your music?
JI 季: 他们虽然不知道你在做什么，他不了解你做的音乐和事情，但是他们会支持你，家人的爱就是这样。
Even if they don’t know what you’re doing and they don’t understand the music or the other things in your life, they will still support you. Family love is like that.
Actually I think this generation of parents are just hoping their kids grow up comfortably, it’s not like the older generation who were worried about their kids having enough to eat and being clothed properly. Those basic questions aren’t so common anymore, as long as you can feed yourself and grow up healthy that’s the main thing.
On your 29 date tour of China, there will be places who have never heard music like yours. As a young band, are you hoping to leave an impression on other young people?
I guess we’ve put a bit of pressure on ourselves in that regard, but it makes us happy and compels us to keep doing what we’re doing.
There are so many in China who think in a completely different way to us, in that we like rock music and things that excite us, real things. They avoid these things and in favour of the pursuits of the older generation, traditional goals like stability, money, that kind of stuff…
Buying a house, ‘plain sailing’…
After the China tour, would you like to tour overseas?
Ever find yourself wasting time by mindlessly scrolling through an endless stream of images ?
Disillusioned by the modern obsession with digital documentation, Chengdu post-punk/cold-wave band Stolen秘密行动are touring their new EP Stealing Our Lenses《我们遗失的视角》, which might make you think twice about updating your Instagram in the middle of a gig.
Kiwese caught up with frontman Liang Yi 梁艺 earlier this week for a mash-up English/Chinese interview.
While the world’s attention were focussed on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, the first incarnation of Stolen was forming at Sichuan Conservatory of Music High School 四川音乐学院附中 in Chengdu.
The current line up of Liang Yi 梁艺 (lead vocals), Duan Xuan 段轩 (guitar, keyboard, samples, vocals), Fang De 方德 (guitar, vocals) Xiao Wu 小伍 (bass), Yuan Yufeng (drums) are now on their second national tour, promoting their new EP in eight cities around the country. The intensity of Liang Yi’s cathartic performance style combined with visuals by Herve, a French film maker, makes Stolen’s live show a powerful force not to be missed.
KIWESE: Hey Liang Yi. Ming Ming (The Hormones) says you guys used to go to school together in Leshan. What was it like growing up in Leshan?
Actually, three of us are from Leshan. Duan Xuan is from Xinjiang.
Leshan is a beautiful city – a travel city – many people around the world know the Big Buddha. It has beautiful mountains and rivers. Yeah, it’s a cool city!
Is there much of music scene in Leshan?
Small cities in China don’t really have good music scenes. People don’t really encounter rock music, electronic music, or whatever. They just know pop music.
People in Chengdu are generally open to a wide range of music. The music community is very peaceful – everybody is friends and there is good communication. I feel like Chengdu is onto something good right now, it has become another centre for music.
“There is a lot of pressure from the Government in Beijing – while things in Chengdu have a lot more freedom.”
I hear you used to share a practice space with Hiperson！
We were classmates with Hiperson at university. They are an awesome post-punk band.
“It used to be that bands would all flock to Beijing to try make a name for themselves, regardless of where they were from… but now it’s different – it is the Internet era.”
What does ‘Stealing Our Lenses’ mean to you?
Everyday, we are confronted with so much news. Good and bad. I think sometimes we lose our sense of perspective, we can only see our iPhones, iPads, screens. We forget to see the real world. When some people go to shows, they are just watching through their screens… I feel like recording audio or video should just be left to the professionals. The audience should just try to feel the show – the music and the atmosphere.
“More people should focus on the music, not just the stuff they can post on WeChat…”
Can you talk a bit about your connection with the support bands on this tour? A great line-up!
The Fuzz are really good friends of ours from Xi’an. They have been around longer than us. The first time we played in Xi’an, they were really welcoming and took us round. We have the same kind of brains, the same musical views and the same desire to create good indie music.
The Fuzz 是我们非常好的朋友。他们是西安人。他们是比我们早的乐队。 但是我们第次来到西安，他们对我们非常热情，过来跟我们说带我们一起玩儿，我们有一样的脑子，我们对音乐的想法，我们都要做好的indie music。
Snapline are a band who I absolutely love. When we first started, we didn’t know them. But on the last tour, we were at School seeing Soviet Pop, which is Li Qing and Li Weisi’s experimental-noise band. We met them at the door of School, had a really good chat and stayed in touch afterwards.
Snapline 是我自己非常喜欢的乐队，太喜欢。刚刚开始我们不认识他们，但上一次的巡演的时候我们就在北京的 School Bar with Soviet Pop,李青和李維斯做的这个实验的噪音的一个乐队。然后我们就在School 的门口跟他们遇到，聊得特别高兴，聊的特别多。然后回来之后，我们就一直保持联系.
We met Residence A at the Yu Gong Yi Shan show in Beijing that John Yingling (The World Underground) was doing for his movie. John followed P.K 14 on tour last year and Hiperson opened for them in Chengdu. The night before we did a show with EF (Sweden) and John came to the show to see us. This year he was back and called us and asked if we wanted to come to Beijing to do a show with Residence A, SUBS, the Diders and Chui Wan. Of course we said yes!
The Maples are a young band from Chongqing. They are influenced a lot by Sonic Youth and noise rock. I think they are a really good band. They also played at the World Underground show with us and Hiperson this year.
So… have you ever stolen anything before?
[laughs] No! Stolen has many meanings. One meaning is to steal something, while another is to quietly do something. (Stolen 有很多不同的意思。有偷的意思，还有一个意思是悄悄的去做一个事情：秘密行动.)
When I was young, I saw a Japanese painting with the word ‘Stolen’ painted into it. It was beautiful. In middle school, when my English was even worse [laughs], I searched the word ‘stolen,’ and found these two meanings. That’s when I had a dream to make a band called Stolen.
Cheers, Liang Yi! Good luck for the tour!
STOLEN ‘Stealing Our Lenses’ National Tour 2014:
Fri 7 Nov Lanzhou 兰州 葵 with A公馆
Sat 8 Nov Beijing 北京 XP with Snapline
Fri 14 Nov Xi’an 西安 光圈 w/ The Fuzz
Sat 15 Nov Zhengzhou 郑州 7LIVEHOUSE
Fri 21 Nov Chongqing 重庆 坚果Livehouse with The Maples
While the Chinese Government plaster the streets with images of the ‘Chinese Dream’ 中国梦, there are quite different dreams being conjured in the belly of the Chengdu underground.
Zaomengshe.com 造梦社 is crowd funding website that provides a platform for the local creative community. Co-founder and Marmite enthusiast Lydia McAulay came over for a cuppa to talk about the website’s one year anniversary.
The music scene in Chengdu is probably the main reason I wanted to move here (uh, I mean, the opportunity for increased trade ties with New Zealand…) Last summer, after being shown a street party blaring from a kitted out supermarket trolley on a foot bridge, followed by a drum and bass rave at a swimming pool with fireworks, I knew Chengdu was something different.
Around the same time last year, co-founders Lydia and Mat were working through the long-winded bào àn 保案 registration process for Zaomengshe, which has since helped fund over 100 local campaigns and raised over ¥117,000.
As the small, dedicated team, including two developers referred to as ‘the app guys,’ suss out PayPal payment gateways and release the ZMS Ticket Scanner App, allowing for pre-sale tickets QR codes to be scanned by several devices at once, the opportunities for the website abound and the dream factory at Zaomengshe are showing no sight of slowing down.
Diligently hunched over a Macbook while wrangling several iPhones and multi-lingual phone calls is the usual state in which one will find Lydia. Zaomengshe is the labour of love (from which she earns a whopping total of 0.00 RMB) that she hopes will bolster the independent music and arts scene in the face of meaningless vast corporate sponsorship, which has been jumping on the growing music festival bandwagon in China and steering it down a bleak road of profit and commercialisation.
KIWESE: Hey Lydia, how did you first end up coming to Chengdu?
LYDIA: I’ve been here for about five years – but it must be coming up on six years now. I left New Zealand in 2005 and was living in Normandy and Ardeche in France for a bit over a year. I ended up moving to Guangzhou for a year, where I learnt a bit of Chinese from my flatmate. I lived in Scotland for a year and bit, then London – where I got a job in the IT department of a derivatives trading company, which sent me to Chengdu. They were really open minded and put a lot of trust in me. I learnt a lot working with them.
Did you have any prior IT experience?
No, I studied Politics and Art History at Vic [laughs].
So you are originally from Tauranga and lived in Wellington for a while. What generation Kiwi are you?
My mum is from outside Opotiki. She’s like fourth generation Kiwi. My grandfather’s grandfather was born in New Zealand. They came from Midlands England, and they were the typical settlers trying to find a better life: ‘farmland coming out your ears!’
My dad is from Scotland and lived at sea for like twenty years on cargo ships. He was in the Merchant Navy as the first engineer, second below the captain. He told me stories about going through the Suez Canal back in the day. They went up the river into Guangzhou quite a few times. There were walls along the river, he said their boat was slightly higher than the walls, so they could see farmlands and heard speakers blaring out Mao’s thoughts.
Coming to Chengdu, how did you see there was a need for a platform like Zaomengshe?
It was a long story. I left China for a year in 2012 – that’s when I met you in New Zealand – and one of my friends was living with Anna, who started PledgeMe. So I ended up having a good chat with her about crowd funding, and was thought “holy shit, this would actually be a brilliant idea in China,” because there are some real problems with artists getting funding here. The bottom line for artists is different to that of young people making music in New Zealand.
You mean creative arts funding sources like NZ On Air and that?
A lot of what happens here is traded in guānxi, 关系, relationships, so if you don’t have the right background, you are really hard pressed to get your ideas heard. Crowd funding is a way to break down those traditional barriers. I guess it’s the anonymity of the internet – on the site, people have a username to post their campaigns, you are just a person with an idea, so people will look at your idea – not who your rich daddy is.
What were your first impressions of the music scene back in ’09?
One of my first friends here was Li Lan, the owner of Lan Town 蓝堂, which was – and still is – the hub for folk music here.
First gig I remember going to was Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼 . He is really interesting guy, who used to be a liúlàng 流浪, how do you even translate that? Like a roaming musician. His lyrics are really poetic and he incorporates his local dialect, instruments and way of singing into his songs. He is also a shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族, it’s quite cool how he manages to bring these ethnic minority aspects into his music.
When you say shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族, ethnic minority, do you sometimes feel like a minority in China?
Yeah in someways. I guess it can be a little bit difficult here – being white. Because you feel like you will never be totally accepted, ya know what I mean? Peoples first reaction to you is that you are foreign. Whereas when I lived in France, you could almost mix in, especially in the small town I lived in. People wouldn’t realize right away that I was foreign, which was kinda cool. You feel like if you did actually stay there for a really long time, you wouldn’t feel like a foreigner your entire life.
“The thing is – people treat you like an outsider until they know you. It’s the same in any country. Once you get to know them, you stop thinking of them as ‘that person who is different.’”
What are the main platforms that people can use to share their campaigns on Zaomengshe?
People are much more used to doing things on their phones here. Weibo 微博, WeChat 微信, and we have QR codes. I talked to Xiao Xue 小雪 (The Hormones) about crowd funding an oven – she’s thinking of having an event where people come along and scan their QR codes to get a cake!
From an IT working perspective, what was internet censorship like in China when you first got here?
That was before Facebook got blocked. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all got blocked on the same day.
Is that day like a ‘where were you when Michael Jackson died’ kind of memory?
I think it was about May or the start of June 2009. I remember that day because my workmate who sat behind me was receiving distressing calls from Xinjiang, where he comes from, there were massive riots. They didn’t just block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they put the internet for the entire province on lockdown. My poor workmate – it was a really emotional time. We were all worried about what was going on out there.
Though I wouldn’t say that censorship has ever impacted our website. It doesn’t really affect people on a daily basis here. Well arguably the bào àn 备案 is censorship, but it’s just red tape. There’s a lot of red tape in anything you do here. But censorship is certainly not something that contributes to the story of Zaomengshe.
What are your hopes for Zaomengshe, coming up to your 1st birthday?
At the moment, a lot of what we do is working with bars who want to use our ticketing platform – and it’s great that we can support them in that way. But it would be really cool to have more crowd funding based events going up.
It’s difficult, there is a different mentality towards crowd funding here. A lot of people think it is like tuán gòu 团购 －this concept where, for example, if you want to buy a cheaper hot pot meal, everyone goes in on it and you can all get it for a better price. It’s not entirely false that that is not crowd funding – it’s almost an offshoot, but what we are trying to do is get people to change their ideas about what it means to be supporting music and the arts here. It’s about supporting, not buying.
I guess in NZ if you wanna support a local act, you could go to their gigs, buy their album on Bandcamp, buy their merch or whatever. Perhaps here in China, people are not so accustomed to paying for music online, so that cuts off a big part of supporting independent bands.
I think it’s the same in a lot of countries, the music industry struggles with free downloads being a pretty common thing. It’s not just China. It’s really common to use streaming services like Xiami for free.
Check out Lydia’s recent Pecha Kucha presentation in Mandarin about Zaomengshe, as part of a Creative Minds session in Min Town 明堂:
“The scene exists here without our website. We are just trying to do something that contributes to it, rather than to push it in any direction.”
What has been your favourite campaign Zaomengshe so far?
Probably Beat Chengdu, the New Year’s party last year that crashed our server. The guys at Zao Shang Hao 早上好 who put it on thought it wouldn’t sell over 150 tickets. It ended up selling over 600 pre-sales on the website, with about 2,000 people attending on the night. It was an awesome – it showed them there was a demand for that kind of festival, while also showing Mat and I what Zaomengshe was capable of.
Any local favourites in Chengdu at the moment?
I don’t really have a favourite. I just like the fact that people are being creative, it’s the key to things changing here. I feel like I’m just observing.
…But in saying that, I do really like Qi Qi’s music, Cvalda!
Oh, how’s your Marmite supply at the moment?
Onto the second jar. Bit worrying.
Eek. What are your other main hankerings?
So you are planning to suss out a boat and sail the seas, how’s that shaping up?
It’ll take a bit of planning. Technically, I looked this up, you don’t have to have an international boating license to skipper a vessel that’s under a certain size – and the size is enormous. You’d be surprised!
Count me in! Cheers, Lydia!
Zaomengshe will celebrate their first birthday at Zao Shang Hao 早上好 in Flower Town 三圣乡 this Friday 1st November! FREE ENTRY with a downloaded Zaomengshe app! Featuring Stolen 秘密心动, Proximity Butterfly变色蝴蝶, Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼, Zuo Yue卓越 and more.
Hiperson from Chengdu are one of my favourite bands right now. Cut Off Your Hands were one of the first live bands I ever saw in Wellington. They are both awesome.
>>>>>Hiperson 海朋森 Hǎi péng sēnare a rock band from Chengdu, the capital city of the mountainous greenery that is Sichuan. Their super tight rhythms, haunting male-female vocals and balls to the wall guitar riffs create a perfect oasis of melancholic, mosh pit inducing psychedelia. You can listen to them on their Douban page, anticipating some more releases from them soon!
>>>>>Cut Off Your Hands, formerly known as Shaky Hands, are an indie rock back that formed back in 2006 in the sprawling metropolis of Auckland, Aotearoa. Though the band have been on a bit of recording hiatus in recent years, the Shaky Hands EP (2006), Blue on Blue EP (2007), You and I (2008) and Hollow (2011) will tear the roof off of any venue with hyped up intensity. Currently signed to French Kiss and Speak N Spell. You can read more about them on Audio Culture.
Kiwese caught up with Luke Rowell aka Disasteradio for some reflection time about his sizzlingly sweaty 13-date tour of China back in 2012.
With Camp A Low Hum now at a close, it feels only right to take some time to reflect with Disasteradio. I’ve seen Disasteradio play in a bunch of weird places – a hallway at Victoria University, the middle of a forest, the Botanic Gardens, even at Puppies where he tore the shit out of his ACL from one of those crazy dance moves. Since 2007, Luke has appeared at every CALH in some form or another and was set to dazzle us in the torrential rain on Night 3. A pesky bug got the better of him, but it is said that he played a Renegade set from the First Aid Tent featuring a bag of Doritos. This guy does not do defeat.
Ni Hao Luke! It’s been over a year since you toured China, have you got that 炒饭 [chǎofàn, fried rice] tattoo yet?
I wish, but I’d probably have to get a well-worded thesis on my thoughts on cultural appropriation and irony tattooed below it as a disclaimer, haha!
Did you get a feel for China’s live music scene during your tour? Was it what you expected or na?
I had so much fun at the shows. The shows were the same as they were anywhere, in the respect that if you can get people up and into it, everyone can have a real cool time. I wouldn’t profess to be able to hit it every time, but I really love the challenge of playing my nuts off to someone who doesn’t know anything about what I do. I’ve encountered a fear of language and cultural gaps before, especially in places such as eastern Europe, but trying to bridge the gap in China was really really fun. It’s almost like there isn’t a gap at all, once people get into it.
The best part was being forced to play a third encore to fifteen people in Xi’an who were going absolutely nuts. So it wasn’t what I’d expected, in the respect that I thought it was going to be stranger and harder and more confusing than it turned out to be. The shows were warmly received, and all the venues had AMAZING PA systems, and great sound techs. One thing that struck me was a lack of local bands. I usually played on my own or with Swedish band Kite, as well as a few bands of expatriate westerners. In Beijing there was a Chinese duo called Wanderlust doing some great Neue Deutsche Welle / synthpunk stuff which was just so awesome, especially in the sense that it sounded like they were appropriating a classic European synth sound that *I* was also working with – watching them I was thinking “who is the outsider here?” – with China being more geographically close to Europe, or the colour of my skin being more culturally close? Of course the answer to that is an irrelevant value judgement, but it points at the subjunctive nature of electronic music – that it’s so effective reaching across those cultural borders.
Were the Chinese crowds mad into your merch?
With how light I’m traveling, I can’t carry any merch. Including keyboard stand and all my other gear that’s about 30kg. During the tour of China things were so hot and carrying that much gear got me so RIPPED. Like weightlifting in a sauna. It was so hot I couldn’t have taken records with me anyway, because they would have melted!
Wow cool, I see you have a Youku account set up! With YouTube/Facebook/Twitter blocked in China, was it harder to create hype amongst Chinese people without them being directly exposed to your videos and status updates etc?
Yeah I managed to stumble through that with the translation stuff, I hope my descriptions make sense or at least the bad translation is kinda funny. When I found out YouTube was blocked in China it got me all excited and I just threw all my stuff up on there. View counts aren’t anything crazy on my Youku, but I definitely wanted people to have the option to check out my videos after the shows. On tour, two shopkeepers at a Zhengzhou hotel convenience store caught me vibing on their pop music, and laughed along with me, I tried to get them to check out my Youku channel but I wasn’t saying it right. I missed my only shot.
I think we just have a bit of an adventurous streak over here, or an eternal outward look, because of our size and isolation. So So Modern and Secret Knives have all done crazy tours of Europe and the US as well. But basically I went because it was there. I’ve been so lucky with the amount of touring I’ve found myself doing, I think China was the 22nd country I’ve been to.
What are some awesome things that spring to mind when you think of China?
Those awesome instant noodles in the green square pack with the brown sauce that I never got the name of. Cucumber Lay’s chips. Old dudes in Beijing doing the tee-shirt tuck. Tsingtao. Street food, that despite all the cautions, didn’t make me sick and was just completely kick ass. Seeing a city humming all the way to the horizon in the middle of the night on a rooftop, like some kind of sci-fi megalopolis
What are some fucking shitty things that spring to mind when you think of China?
No coffee anywhere. Coming across a puppy dying in a plastic bag in Xi’an and not being able to do anything about it. Weird attitudes from some expat westerners (though this seems like a running cliche). Overnight trains being hell on wheels.
What would you say to other NZ bands that are wanting to come and party in the Middle Kingdom?
Go there. Do it. Don’t bring to much gear – you’ll be running through subways and stuff, and you’ll wish you didn’t bring all that drum hardware, or whatever. The venues are awesome, the hotels are comparatively cheap, and the eating is amazing. If you’re super addicted to caffeine I’d seriously recommend buying a load of good instant coffee, so you don’t feel like a dork having to go to Starbucks all the time.
I’ve heard there are some excellent Chinese restaurants in Lower Hutt, confirm or deny.
Nature in VIC Corner is an amazing vegetarian place, but other than that things aren’t so legit around there. Downtown Wellington has Ram’s, Red Hill and Cha (which is Taiwanese) and they are all amazing. Having eaten tons of Chinese food in China, I can get pretty damn self-righteous when vegetables are done like they were in Beijing.
Final thoughts/Confucius wisdom.
Working on a new record called SWEATSHOP. No idea when it’ll come out! But I’ll be touring after that xoxoxoxo
Xie xie Luke!
Disasteradio’s epic 2012 tour went something like this…
July 19th – Beijing 北京
July 20th – Shanghai 上海
July 21st – Wuhan 武汉
July 22nd – Changsha 长沙
July 23rd – Kunshan 昆山
July 24th – Wuxi 无锡
July 27th – Hangzhou 杭州
July 28th – Suzhou 苏州
July 29th – Nanjing 南京
Aug 1st – Zhengzhou 郑州
Aug 2nd – Xi’an 西安
Aug 4th – Chongqing 重庆
Aug 5th – Chengdu 成都
Check out Gravy Rainbow! Disasteradio’s most viewed song on YouTube.
Awesome people, free red wine, glamorous poodles, unexpected blackened chicken feet fished out of wonton soups… Kiwese had a yarn with God Bows to Math guitarist/vocalist Martin Phillips about their latest tour, the underground post-punk scene in China and how to make soup dumplings.
The noise they emit is as raw as a dodgy steak. They play each show with a psychopathic intensity, whether its for two people or two hundred. They have played too many gigs to count, dozens and dozens a year for like five years. Who knows, I’m crap at math.
God Bows to Math is Martin Phillips, Sam Cussen and Tom Morrison – the trinity that was resurrected from the dust of previous bands back in 2008. Over the years, they have ceaselessly toured around New Zealand and Australia, making friends, meeting bands and leaving a trail of deafening amplifier feedback in their wake. It’s that “fuck it why not” attitude that led God Bows to Math [神弓至数学 Shén gōng zhì shùxué] to pummel Chinese audiences with their churning fist full of noise last November, and chat with them over a couple of Tsingtaos afterwards.
I hung out with the lovely folks from God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb after the first show of their eleven date China tour in Beijing. Whether it was the hypnotic drone of noise, the fondness of their Kiwi accents or the effects of drinking baijiu straight out of the bottle, I decided to ditch school, call in sick for work, buy some train tickets and catch them again 1,379km south down the country in Suzhou. The fact that a pair of bands from Auckland had come all the way to China to play music was just too much for me!
“他是Tom, 他是Sam, 我是Martin, 我们是God Bows To Math, 谢谢” [He’s Tom, He’s Sam, I’m Martin, We are God Bows to Math] panted Martin into a microphone of feedback, as he introduced the band after blasting through several tracks at MAO Livehouse. Whether it was saying xie xie after each tweak during soundcheck, Tom approving of the sea-salt cream coffee in Suzhou, finding unidentifiable animal parts in our wonton soups; they were here in China and enjoying the differences that were thrown at them.
What drew you guys to China? It doesn’t seem to be the typical next destination after you’ve toured NZ and Aus?
Not many NZ bands seem to look in that direction. But in Australia heaps of bands do, with the Sino-Australia exchange and Shaun at Tenzenmen there are more links between the two scenes. Plus, Australia is closer to Indonesia so a lot of Aussie bands we know tend to tour South-East Asia as well. There’s a growing feeling about China from NZ too – Disasteradio has toured there and so did Die! Die! Die! in recent years. Getting more than one person to do something like that is tough.
Tell us about how you guys got hanging with Pairs.
We were introduced to China through Pairs in Shanghai. When Rhys and F came to NZ, Benji [MUZAI Records] and I booked their tour for them – so that’s when the idea came about. Rhys basically used the New Zealand tour as an advertising campaign to get people to come over to China. It was a bit of whirlwind tour, we managed to fit in nine shows over two weeks: Tauranga, Wanganui, Hunterville, Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and a house party in Auckland. It was around Chinese New Year as well so I think they paid a ridiculous amount of costs. It’s pretty hard to convince bands to do that, but those two are always down to do a crazy amount of shows in a short amount of time.
So the 7” split idea came into fruition from those long road trips down the North Island?
Yeah, Rhys said he knew someone who was interested in releasing a split record so we jumped at that opportunity as well [Nevin Domer from Genjing Records]. We met James from Bomb Shop in the UK through Rhys, as they had released Pairs album over there, and then Shaun Tenzenmen in Australia who again we knew from touring and various people, so along with Muzai, it became this four label, cross-global release.
Has the split helped you guys get more exposure in China?
Yeah I definitely think so. A lot of it has been Rhys, Tom from This Town Touring, Nevin at Genjing and Dann Gaymer, who have done a lot to promote it over there as well. Same with our album too, it seems a few people had gotten to hear it. Internet wise, we got a Douban page before the tour. We don’t have a Weibo yet, but baby steps! I can’t handle social media, I let Cuss do all the Twitter and that.
What were your perceptions of the Chinese music scene before coming on tour?
The book Inseparable by David O’Dell. He lived in Beijing in the 1990s, the punk era of bands like Underbaby. It culminates with the rise of D-22 and bands like P.K 14 and Hedgehog, more about the punk and hardcore scene. I know Nevin helped with distro so he would know where to get a copy. I bought mine from Shaun but I think he sold out. [editor’s note: everyone should read this interview with O’Dell]
As far as logistics go, how was touring China for five Aucklanders with no Mandarin?
The whole thing went really smoothly, though when you are on tour, ‘smooth’ takes on a different definition to what it does in normal life, because there’s bound to be things that go wrong. All in all it was definitely one of the easiest things we’ve ever done organization wise because Mattessi took care of most of it then our incredible tour manager Vivian took care of the details. The transport was great – I love China’s fast trains. It definitely beats nine hours of driving. We’ve done Australia where we’ve driven from Melbourne to Newcastle in one day, by the time you arrive at the venue you’re nearly dead and you’re not really in the mood to do a show. Whereas having a nap on the train, reading a book, then having dinner and showing up is definitely a different feeling. We had five people from two different bands on a tour of China, I’m proud that we managed to get there.
You had studied a bit of the language before coming to China?
“Wǒ xiǎng hē píjiǔ!” [我想喝啤酒, I want to drink beer]. That was a key phrase. I think people were good about me speaking without tones, though I’d like to learn more. It is very difficult to learn a language from books and Chinese pronunciation is pretty tough going. In China I found myself being really drawn into all of the signs and trying to work out the characters!
Any Chinese food recommendations?
I’m gonna try keep a journal of my efforts to make soup dumplings. It’s a local Shanghai thing. Shēng jiān bāo [生煎包] from Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai. It’s just incredible and so cheap. I ordered like a dozen of them and a wonton soup as well. Delicious. It’s basically just fat in gelatin, so unhealthy.
What’s the music scene like in Auckland these days?
I think the scene in Auckland is really healthy at the moment. There seems to be a lot of good bands, more people coming to gigs and enjoying it, which means everything benefits – venues do better, bands do better, people make more of an effort. Though some of the best venues still have trouble keeping their doors open and even when things go well, their share of the night time entertainment audience is still a ridiculously small slice of the pie. I never subscribe to the old Ian MacKaye ‘DIY should be about the music’ vibe, I like going to bars and seeing bands. I like being able to have a beer and watch them. They’ve just changed the alcohol licensing laws and made changes to when bars can close. Whammy and Lucha feel the pinch because they are late bars and have late shows, yet they aren’t the ones that have problems with people spilling out onto the streets and having drunken fights, those are from the shitty clubs which make enough money to stay afloat anyway…
Tell me about your own plans with the China-NZ music relationship.
It’s one of those things that is hampered by a lack of money and a lack of time. I’d like to get some more Chinese bands over here. I tried to convince [Yang] Haisong to get either After Argument or P.K 14 to come to NZ. He appeased me by saying yes but I don’t know if they will [laughs]. That would be a bit of a dream. Hoping to get Nevin’s band Fanzui Xiangfa over at some stage as well. Actually one band is coming in 2015, Guiguisuisui. Most people we speak to are like “woah, whats China like? There’s music over there? That’s crazy!” But China have an amazing underground scene and it would be nice to share what’s happening there. It is fairly easy to find out about the underground scene in America and even Australia, but there’s not much awareness about what’s happening in China. I guess it also has something to do with different mediums, it’s hard to find Chinese bands on Facebook, you don’t have the same avenues for sharing it. We should get links to show people and create a bit more interest.
In recent years there have been a a growing number of DIY bands from NZ touring China, but there doesn’t seem to be a reciprocal effort from local Chinese bands heading to NZ.
I think it has something to do with the size of NZ and the fact that there are more opportunities in China. It’s the same reason it’s harder to get Australian bands over to NZ than it is to get NZ bands to Australia. Carsick Cars have been to Australia heaps. If you had the option to play festivals with some of your favourite bands at home, that’s something you should pursue over going on holiday to NZ. Though if anything people are attracted to the idea of NZ scenery. We lost a lot of money going over to China because we did it like a holiday, but I guarantee you would lose more going the other way. Then there’s the language barrier as well. There isn’t the same network of tour managers in NZ as there is in China. There’s no one who has ever tour managed a band in NZ that can speak both Mandarin and English. Every band we met over in China spoke English a hell of a lot better than I spoke Chinese!
It really depends as a band. It is hard to go somewhere you have never been before and end up in places that you wanna be. I know this band from Germany who got really lucky and ended up booking themselves an amazing tour of NZ playing these underground venues, but it could have just as easily ended up with them playing at the local pub in East Auckland to the wrong people in the wrong environment, billed the wrong way. It is really difficult to know the intricacies of scenes. With metal bands, there would be a lot better places to play than the Lantern Festival, that’s like if we went over to China and played at some sort of NZ cultural event, or even at a televised rugby match, it wouldn’t really feel right.
I guess there needs to be something special to entice bands to come on their own, something they can’t get anywhere else.
The Hobbit. Start a sub-culture of Tolkien underground noise rock.
Got munchies? Aucklanders (奥克兰人 Àokèlán rén) Carb on Carb completed an epic eleven date tour of the Middle Kingdom back in November with good buddies God Bows to Math. Kiwese followed them from Beijing to Suzhou and recently we reminisced about their first foray into Asia and how Chinese cabbage and eggplant dishes are exponentially more delicious than in New Zealand.
I first met the duo behind Carb on Carb, epic diva (天后, tiānhòu, lit. ‘Heavenly Queen’) Nicole Gaffney and handsome guy (帅哥, shuài gē) James Stuteley in the grungy merch area at MAO Livehouse in Gulou, Beijing. I quickly scrawled the phonetic pronunciation of “da jar how” [大家好, Hello everyone!] on Nicole’s hand before they took the stage for the first show of the tour when it struck me: these guys, fresh outta the Auckland underground, are here playing their music around China. That’s gotta mean something. It is awesome.
Carb on Carb are the kind of people you wanna be mates with. Their outlook is fresh, fun and friendly, they are really nice, keen to chat and down for whatev. Their music is like Crunchy Peanut Butter machine-gun fire that makes you wanna thrash about like a voodoo doll, yet its stripped back in a way equally suited to lying on your bed with headphones, dreaming about your crush.
Self described as post-punk/noise pop/pop-gaze, Carb on Carb do most of their shit themselves, from the recording, mastering, poster design, album art and photos. They embody a genuine DIY spirit, not in a Mitre 10 Dream Home sense, but in a similarly inspiring way that shows what can be done if you put your mind to it, work hard and do it for the luv of it. From seeing them sell their CDs for a criminally low price, to the “All content is free for you to enjoy and distribute as you please” message on the Papaiti Records website, it is clear these guys are playing music just cos they wanna play music. Word.
After we drunk a bottle of báijiǔ chased with beers, I made the executive decision to follow the bands to Zibo, a small town out in the wops of Shandong. Waking up on a friend’s couch the following morning with no information about Zibo (ie. where da fk da venue??), I decided to push ahead and catch them down in the river town of Suzhou instead, known as the ‘Venice of China.’ Despite the small, sedentary nature of the audience at Wave (New Zea-land hip hop / stand the fuck up!), Carbs were well-received, scored some free booze and made some choice mates after the show, which is the point after all right?
You can/should download and emo out to Carb on Carb’s EPs no body perfect (2012), Ladies Mile (2013) and their single Eden Terrors, which was released just before coming to China. All their songs are free to take but koha where you can aye! Also the new video for Eden Terrors features some exxxclusive China footage and is the best thing on YouTube right now.
Hey guys! You’ve just spent quite a lot of time in China and South-East Asia, any weird reverse culture shock back in Nu Zilland?
J: It was strange to not have such overloaded senses all the time, no bike bells and horns, people and noise. To come back and feel like your senses are deprived cos its not loud and it doesn’t smell [laughs]
N: After being in Asia for so long we’d gotten used to not understanding the language around us. I found myself getting really annoyed when I heard the way people were talking about others, like “hey don’t be so mean!”
How did you guys get involved in the China tour? GBTM says they had a connection with Pairs.
N: During the Pairs tour of NZ, Rhys talked about China as a really achievable kind of goal after doing Australia. We thought that instead of doing America or Europe we may as well do China, because it’s closer, cheaper, we can get by with contacts and play to a hungrier audience.
So how was it? Did you have any expectations going into it?
N: Having the time to go sightseeing was incredible, but obviously I loved the shows too.
J: I had some sort of expectation but actually being in China made me realize how little we know about it. Coming from a Western culture and not knowing much about the history of the hugest country in the world, then seeing all these crazy castle complex things like the Forbidden City which have immense histories, but we just think of them as sights. I studied the Manchurian invasion in high school but that was it. I really didn’t know about the Nanjing Massacre.
N: Yeah, the Nanjing Massacre Museum was pretty intense.
Is there a community of local NZ bands that are looking towards China?
J: I don’t really think there’s a ‘community,’ but there’s certainly bands interested in doing it.
N: It seems like mostly Wellington bands have done it in the past, as well as Die! Die! Die! from Dunedin. But for a small band like us to tour China, we can talk to other bands in Auckland about our experiences and help them to see China as a doable thing. We are telling people they should do it! Why not!
The ~*Internet*~ seems to be an important tool for getting your material out there. How’s your online presence in China?
J: We made a Weibo page which Nicole has recently updated. We also got Rhys and Tom [This Town Touring] to make us a Douban because working out the Chinese was just way too confusing. Thankfully Bandcamp isn’t blocked in China.
N: We have a Youku as well! We tried to research a bit about it just to put our stuff out there. Even if it was in terrible translated Chinese, at least people would get the general idea: that we were a band and we were coming.
I know I’ve said it before but I love the tour poster! Got a signed copy from all you guys from the Beijing show.
N: Thanks! I drew it when I was at work [laughs]. My boss was pretty excited though, she’s from China.
I saw some pretty impressive use of dramatic hand gesturing and sign language from you guys in China. How did you find the language barrier?
N: The language was really hard. But having our tour manager Vivian with us made it a lot easier. I wish we learned a bit more, it would have been really cool to communicate with the people who liked us at shows, even just to be able to thank them properly and understand what they have to say. I used the ‘Da Jar How’ at every show!
J: It was interesting to experience what its like to not be able to speak the dominant language, it helped us understand how other people might feel. In New Zealand we just expect everyone to speak English. Very educational to be on the outside.
How was it coming from the NZ scene where you are quite familiar with the crowds to China where no one knows you?
J: It was pretty bizarre being presented as ‘Kiwi Rock Night’ in Suzhou.
N: That’s what I love about touring, just getting to meet new people and not playing to the same crowds over and over again. So it was really exciting to see fresh faces and have people react freshly to our music when they haven’t even heard it before.
So you guys hit up some pretty niche places, tiny towns in Shandong that no ones ever heard of. What’s the scene like down there?
J: At the show in Zaozhuang there was a big group of about fifteen friends and they were real keen to talk to us – they’d try out their English with a few words, then we’d say a few words, and all of were just cracking up. These guys were crowdsurfing and moshing with no one else in the bar. The people were really cool, they just had less barriers. They would spend more time talking with us and taking photos with us, generally way more excited to see some bands.
N: Yeah, they kept buying us loads of beers, being almost forceful with it! Hanging with them was really fun and different from other crowds we’ve met. The bar owner in Zaozhuang also took us out for an amazingly delicious dinner before the show and shouted us the meal! He even drove us to the train station in the morning! People at all of the shows were so generous – it was pretty overwhelming.
Were they actually into your music?
N: We were selling our EPs for 20RMB and they literally bought all our merch! The people we met were having a good time and having the experience of meeting us and talking to us. The same was with Randy who gave us the wine in Suzhou! He was just as keen to meet us as we were to have free wine [laughs]
As far as touring and performing goes, did you guys have any issues?
N: At our first show in Beijing I found the indoor smoking quite intense from a singing perspective. Before coming to China, we pretty much knew there were gonna be loads of bikes on the roads, but with the smoking in bars I wasn’t quite prepared!
J: It was quite hard not playing with support bands at every show, though we did play with a few locals like Illness Sickness. Next time we would definitely try have a local band play at every show.
Any little things in China you found yourselves appreciating?
J: It was really cool to be able to take food and drinks anywhere, I was surprised how much I enjoyed that, in NZ if you walk in to a place you cant take your food in. Hot water was available everywhere too… we just used it to make noodles and drink tea.
N: Ohh I miss it so much! Buying a beer at a bar here and your like “WHAT? $8?!” You feel like a king in China.
Cheesy question – what kind of advice would you provide to other NZ bands hoping to come to China.
J: Talking to you probably [all laugh].
N: Learning a bit of the language would be good. Mentally prepare yourself. Eat as much as you can. Drink as much as you can. Yep, those are my tips.
Next time? Is there a next time in China on the cards?
N: We definitely wanna come back. I know God Bows are planning another tour for 2015!
J: I’d like to visit Xinjiang, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Three Gorges Dam. It would be great if bands started coming to New Zealand as well, it’s only an extra hop more. If anyone asks to play in NZ just tell them to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve just gotten back from a mean beach holiday up north, but what’s the plan for Carb on Carb this year?
N: We’re hoping to put an album out in the next year or so and just wanna keep touring where ever we can.
J: We’re doing a tour around New Zealand with Bare Grillz from Australia in a few weeks, just around the time of Camp.
Tài hǎo le! [太好了! Awesome!] Split Works are bringing Unknown Mortal Orchestra to China next month as they kick off the Asian leg of their colossal ‘II’ tour.
Seems like just yesterday they were playing at good ol’ Bodega, but January has long since past for this hardworking, hard touring three-piece psychedelic-pop powerhouse, who have played packed out shows back in NZ and Australia, as well as in the UK, Europe and the US this year. Feeling lazy yet?
New Zealand frontman Ruban Nielson, who now calls Portland home, started the band in 2010 by anonymously uploading a track on Bandcamp, later claiming responsibility and promptly touring the shit out of it, a story which has been told and retold around the digital campfire ever since, destined to be part of DIY rock folklore for generations of bloggers, bands and music fans to come. Three years on, UMO have released a self-titled EP (2010) and album (2011), the crunchy psychedelic pop record ‘II‘ (2013), the nifty little acoustic EP ‘Blue Record’ (2013), cranked out a bunch of bootlegs and ceaselessly toured around the globe, forging an adoring fan base from Lisbon to LA; and of course, back in Aotearoa.
The first time I saw Ruban play was with his former band the Mint Chicks back in 2006, using my sister’s +18 card to sneak into San Fran and mosh with the big kids. It was an absolutely unforgettable gig, a violent assault on the senses; a spastic, demonic, schizophrenic display of chaos. The band opened by tear gassing the audience, lead singer Kody Nielson kicked a dude in the teeth and hung upside-down screaming with the microphone shoved in his mouth. It was like they smacked us in the face, put us in a jar which they’d shat in and shook it till our brains had turned to porridge. It was amazing.
However in 2013, it is safe to say Ruban has established a new identity, breaking away from being ‘that dude from the Mint Chicks,’ honing his songwriting and vocal talent alongside bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare. UMO have made waves with critics and fans throughout their short existence, with the band winning Independent Music New Zealand’s Taite Music Prize last year and ‘II‘ taking home the Best Alternative Album award at the New Zealand Music Awards in November.
The boys played alongside Portland-natives the Dandy Warhols for their final show of the year last week and will recharge the batteries and tinker with the pedalboards before jetting over to play Yuyintang in Shanghai on Wednesday 15th January and MAO Livehouse in Beijing on Thursday 16th January. UMO will then grace the stage at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Auckland on Monday 27th January, before heading across the ditch and back to the US.
“Isolation can put a gun your hand,”sings Nielson on the track ‘From the Sun,’ and when some of our favourite international acts don’t quite make it the extra few hours down to NZ on their world tours, this is when our geographical isolation down in the Pacific truly sucks. Next month, it seems touring China’s east coast cities before flying down to NZ is a neat circuit for others too, with British electronic headliner James Blake also set to play in Shanghai before heading to Auckland for Laneway. We like it!
So get your Ffunny Ffriends together and feel the warm fuzzy Fender vibes, spidery guitar riffs and lonely vocal filters in Shanghai, Beijing and/or Auckland.
Wednesday 15th January @ Yuyintang | Shanghai 851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu, Chang Ning District, Shanghai Starts at 9pm Tickets: 100RMB / 60RMB (students)
Thursday 16th January @ MAO Livehouse | Beijing 111 Gulou Dong Dajie, Gulou, Dongcheng District, Beijing 东城区鼓楼东大街111号 Doors: 20:30 The Big Wave: 20:40-21:05 UMO: 21:35 Tickets: 100RMB / 60RMB (students)
Both China shows are tagged with #UMOCN.
Monday 27th January @ Laneway Festival | Auckland Silo Park, Auckland Tickets: NZ$139.50 including booking fee