Ayi Wan Lin phoned on the weekend. Forgot to reply to that text, flicked it away for later consideration while the eternal online shopping hole of Taobao was draining my essence.
Chunjie seems to creep in just as you’ve been blobbing into the festive glow of Christmas, New Year’s and a self-administered hangover period. It’s chill. Then you realise that laowai holidays didn’t mean shit to anyone and that early February is where the lunar end of the year is at – so you’d better stock your fridge before all the restaurants close. Except for the fam at Lanzhou Lamian. They do not give a fuck.
Red lanterns adorn doorways and trees. WeChat release several new sets of cartoon greeting stickers, the 21st century China version of a Hallmark card. When are you gonna fangjia, how long are you gonna fangjia and are you gonna huijia have ripened into standard seasonal chat. A nice change from air pollution.
In line with traditional Chinese customs, my flat is observing the New Year by completely ignoring the red sticker stuck above the front door by our previous tenant ancestors and buying a discount bottle of Bailey’s.
“Xiao Mei!” she exclaimed, with what must have been a smile.
No one has called me that name since the Pearl River Delta whanau about this time last year. I respond with an approximation of “hello, what’s up (oh shit what title do I call you again)… aunty!”
The conversation shifts to weather, as chat with relatives so easily does. She told me it had snowed in Guangzhou, which for their usual climate is totally insane. Around the same time, sleet was falling in Chengdu for the first time in years, though everyone wished they were snowflakes.
Sounds of the shoe market clattered down the phone. I remember Wan Lin didn’t make it for the big(gest) feed at Kan Bong’s last year, due to work. Shoe sales are busy, as parents and children grab new their knock-offs for the New Year.
“Are you coming for New Year’s?” “你今年会过来过年吗？”
GUANGZHOU TRAIN STATION, 2 FEB 2016
Sorry, think I’ll pass.
新年快乐! Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy New Year!
Year of the Mm-Mm-Monkey!*
Chinese New Year: Monday 8 February 2016
*(have been singing phonetics with a toddler for the past two weeks, will never look at the words apple, igloo, or monkey the same ever again.)
Premature New Year’s greetings from Kiwese, as I won’t be near the internet next week. Tibetan New Year (Losar) is on the same day. Packing my bags, stay tuned…
Time flies! Back at the end of 2013, Auckland DIY bands God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb arrived in Beijing to kick off their tour of China at one of the city’s most well-known venues, MAO Livehouse. I met them, I liked them, and I followed them to Suzhou.
And so, it is with much sentimentality that almost two years later, the God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb China Tour Documentary is online now. Check it out.
Filmed by the bands. Edited by James.
Over two weeks, the bands carved through China’s eastern provinces to the south coast, accompanied by their aqua haired Chinese tour manager Vivian.
Rather than just playing the main centres, God Bows and Carbs got the train to the outlying cities of Zibo 淄博 and Zaozhuang 枣庄 in central Shangdong, where the hyped up locals proved that live music has life in the small centres, and that is no crowd too small for crowdsurfing.
I wagged class, bought a train ticket, and met up with the bands again at Wave Livehouse in Suzhou 苏州, a quaint little town full of canals to the east of Shanghai. After the show billed as ‘Kiwi Rock Night,’ we were invited into a neighbouring bar by a local guy called Randy, who we hung out with over free red wine, snacks and fruit! Local hospitality was a constant theme that presented itself throughout the tour. That, and cheap beers. Xie Xie!
Handmade merch sold out, the tour cut inland to Nanjing 南京 and Shaoxing 绍兴, before a show with friends and tour instigators Pairs in Shanghai 上海. No tour of China would be complete without a stop at the legendary VOX Livehouse in Wuhan 武汉, and even Changsha 长沙 got a show in, too. The tour wrapped up the Cantonese-speaking south of Shenzhen 深圳 and Guangzhou 广州, the latter organised by the famously hardworking, lovely folk at Full Label, a collective of friends who love DIY music.
The God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb China Tour 2013 was organised by Tom Mattessi at This Town Touring, check out the interview here.
Big ups to James from Carb on Carb/Papaiti for inviting Kiwese to premiere this documentary!
Orchestra of Spheres are one of the most exciting and unpredictable live acts in New Zealand. With DIY homemade instruments and wide-ranging worldwide influences, the group have spellbound and tripped out audiences from Wainuiomata to Reykjavík, and developed an international cult-like following.
Like celestial sponges, they draw on influences far and wide: the hypnotic beats of Angolan kuduro, the chimes of gamelan music, free jazz and dance music. Their sound has been described as psychedelic disco and ancient future funk and the band have been compared to artists as diverse as Fela Kuti, Sun Ra, Can and Drexiciya.
Orchestra of Spheres are coming to tour China for the first time, with very special guest Lady Lazer Light. They only come out this way once every 2,000,000 years, so don’t miss out your chance to see them live!
Kiwese proudly presents...
ORCHESTRA OF SPHERES w/ LADY LAZER LIGHT
29 Sept – Beijing, School, w/ Baxian Fandian
30 Sept – Beijing, Temple 坛酒吧
3 Oct – Chengdu, Shao Cheng Fest 少城有明堂艺术节
4 Oct – Chongqing, Nuts 坚果 Livehouse
5 Oct – Kunming, MAO Livehouse, w/ South Acid MiMi Dance Team
7 Oct – Dali, Jielu Music Space 结庐音乐空间
9 Oct – Shenzhen, OCT-LOFT Jazz Fest 国际爵士音乐节
10 Oct – Guangzhou, 191 Space, w/ Full Label
11 Oct – Wuhan, VOX Hankou 汉口
More support acts TBA.
“Part Sun Ra otherworldliness, part Sublime Frequencies and part ESG… Orchestra of Spheres blew us away…” – Dan Snaith, Caribou
“Orchestra of Spheres must be the most out-of-this-world band in music today… sounds like they came from another planet, where nonstop dance and remarkable melodies are the norm” – Brian Shimkovitz, Awesome Tapes from Africa
Ten years after their maiden tour, Christchurch’s multi-instrumentalist, DJ and lo-fi king Nick Harte aka Shocking Pinks is once again pairing with New Zealand house(party)hold name Ian Jorgensen aka Blink to celebrate the re-release of his 2004 debut Dance, the Dance Electric with a three month A Low Hum world tour, including shows in both China and New Zealand!
将近十年前，来自基督城的多乐器演奏者，DJ和低保真大师Nick Harte也称为震惊粉红色跟新西兰家喻派对的名字Ian Jorgensen 人称Blink一起去做他们的处女巡演。今年，震惊粉红色将由在A Low Hum重新发行他2004年的首张专辑《Dance, the Dance Electric跳舞，跳舞电子》，而且要去大规模国际巡演，包括中国和新西兰站！
Shocking Pinks is a one-man band formed by Nick Harte in 2002. Following a long hiatus from releasing music, Harte returned stronger than ever in March last year with his triple album Guilt Mirrors on Stars and Letters, a Brooklyn-based label that may ring bells for fans of Wellington’s (sorely missed) Black City Lights (R.I.P). Guilt Mirrors echoes the solitude that accompanied the traumatic 2011 earthquakes in Harte’s hometown.
早在2002年，Nick Harte成立他一个人的乐队：震惊粉红色 。随着几年的中断，震惊粉红色回来了比以前更强烈的，去年3月在布鲁克林独立唱片公司Stars and Letters，惠灵顿 已解散的Black City Lights的粉丝应该知道这个唱片公司，发行了三重专辑《Guilt Mirrors罪镜子》。 这个专辑录音了他2011年基督城地震发生的创伤事件和孤独。
Back in 2004, just a year after Myspace was born, Harte released his debut album Dance, Dance the Electric on Pinacolada Records in Christchurch, a small indie label that housed other well-loved acts such as Pig Out and Tiger Tones. Upon positive reception from NZ and international listeners, the Shocking Pinks signed to Flying Nun and released Mathematical Warfare and Infinity Land in 2005, before ditching the ‘The’ and releasing the self-titled Shocking Pinks in 2007 with New York-based DFA Records, run by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
During the long empty space in between and his explosive return to the scene in 2014, Harte’s debuthas become a rare and highly sought after record that is longed for with the same collectable reverence as an ancient museum artifact among his international following of lo-fi bedroom dwelling discopunks.
Murmurs of a re-release a few years back on Flying Nun remained unfulfilled, but now in 2015, Dance, Dance the Electric will be re-released on A Low Hum, with an epic international tour and an awesome live band from Wellington to boot!
从他长期的潜伏到他2014年爆炸的归来，他首张专辑《Dance, the Dance Electric跳舞，跳舞电子》已经成为一张十分稀罕的被国际迪斯科朋克粉丝渴望着的唱片，收藏价值就像一个古代的藏品。
几年前有传闻Flying Nun会重新发行这首张专辑，结果没有。可是，今年《Dance, the Dance Electric跳舞，跳舞电子》将由在A Low Hum 重新发行，而且震惊粉红色跟他了不起的乐队要去做全球巡演！
Shocking Pinks live shows have been few and far between in recent years. Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Guilt Mirrors album release gig at Puppies in Wellington (R.I.P). It was an incredible show, with the new Shocking Pinks live band lovingly tossed together with locally sourced ingredients from Secret Knives and a Wellington drumming powerhouse, coming together to form the crunchiest, most perfectly seasoned dish imaginable.
Harte’s crying wails of amplifier feedback swum beneath echoes of bare lyrics decoded from his piles of A4 paper. The Shocking Pinks sound came to life with warm, pulsating bass lines, syncopated cow bell rhythms and razor sharp jazz-precision of the drums.
Both intimate and mesmerising, powerful and confronting, it seemed Harte had completely reinvented his sound and performance style since I first saw him at Camp A Low Hum in 2010. After the show, I immediately set about hunting down the pink vinyl release, eventually tracked down at good ol’ Slow Boat Records.
For Chunjie 春节, Chinese New Year, Kiwesefelt it was time to ship on down to Guangzhou and get on a bus to see her Great Uncle Kan Bong; who has remained in the village where my Por Por was born and raised.
These thoughts from January preclude the following impressions of family, immigration and the pursuit of happiness.
‘Immigrant Song’ – Led Zeppelin (1970)
“Taishan is a little Hong Kong!” “台山是一个小香港！” a local man declared to me on the bus; a sweeping statement met with incredulous head turning and raised eyebrows of disbelief from other passengers. Our use of Mandarin in the Cantonese heartlands rang out sharply like an American accent aboard the Strathmore 44.
I was returning to a place I’d never been before — some think it’s Hong Kong, some think it’s a hole.
The parking attendant sat wide legged on a plastic stool, smoking a tall bamboo bong with a tin can clamped onto the side.
“Xiao Mei! Xiao Mei!” a voice called.
Holy shit. I was being addressed with my given Chinese name for the first time.
Out of instinct, I go in for the hug. Argh — I always forget that hugs are not the done thing here. Already committed, I proceed to give the three awkwardest hugs of all time. Smile, smile, keep smiling. So many different titles for addressing family members. Heard once and promptly forgotten. Thankfully, I had the main ones down – Kan Bong was my Kiew Gong 舅公 and his wife was my Jiu Por 舅婆.
Kan Bong, a stoic, stony-faced former-water buffalo herder of 77-years-old. Characterised by navy blue worker jacket and daily packet of 12mg cigarettes. Jiu Por, a lovely little lady, recorded in my journal as “fuggin’ cute.” Suffers from chronic foot pain, particularly at night time. She went into details with me one evening, pointing at her heel while we were boiling water for bathing, quietly stoking the flames of the wood burner, “aiya, ayo…” I prodded her heel and frowned. Neither speak Mandarin (Pùtónghuà 普通话).
Wan Lin is the eldest daughter, the one who takes on the greatest sense of duty in family matters. We’d spoken to a few times on the phone, following my first fail call to the village (Jiu Por picked up, couldn’t understand, hung up). She has the best Putonghua out of all the adults. Her husband, referred to here as Mr. WL, is a smiley, balding chap. Good banter, despite his mish-mash Mandarin rambles that his daughters’ would giggle at under their breath. They work seven days a week selling sports and kids shoes at the downtown market, selecting them through a dealer on QQ and making the 5am bus journey to Guangzhou. It’s tough work against online shopping, Mr. WL says. They couldn’t get away for the family feast on chuxi 除夕 (New Year’s Eve).
Kan Bong’s only son, referred to here as Uncle, a tanned, quiet man, who works part-time in a local factory. Enjoys cigarettes and cellphone games. His wife, Aunty, has an absolute cracker of a laugh. Primary family cook, forever embattled with her son’s difficult behaviour, chief chicken slayer. There is another daughter, but she has immigrated to Boston and rarely makes the journey back.
The Mei Meis, or 妹妹们, who I will call Lil Mei (12yo) and Elder Mei (15yo). Enjoy cellphone games and Cantonese soap dramas. So young, so screened. I pressed hard for their other hobbies, saying ‘cellphone’ was not a hobby. Both are under an immense load of school work. Lil Mei showed me a primer of 75 ancient Chinese poems which need to be committed to memory by the end of the holidays. Of course, there is an enormous fine for having a second child. Wan Lin says Elder Mei takes on a lot of responsibility because of their tough working hours. The sisters keep each other in great company, whacking each other and laughing.
Last and least, Biao Di (16yo), a total zháinán 宅男, stays inside on the computer all day, talks back to elders. Gets away with murder as a boy. Dragged him out on an excursion to buy new clothes and shoes for the New Year. It was a tough day. Aunty howled.
The two families live about one minute walk away from each other in typical apartment blocks with stone stairs and no elevators, while Kiew Gong and Jiu Por had caught the bus in from the village.
(Click images to enlarge)
The old TV set hummed away, screening soap operas in a dialect everyone understood but me. “Sorry, I can’t speak Cantonese,” I blushed in Putonghua, the language of the classroom, my few basic phrases from childhood steamrolled flat by the New Zealand accent. “We speak Taishanhua 台山话 (hoi san wah), it’s different from Cantonese,” Wan Lin said, “but it’s good we are able to communicate!”
WHAT. Massive revelation, I thought my family spoke Cantonese this whole time… In some ways, it felt like my years of language study had come down to this. Other cousins and aunties that have visited in the past have done so through tour groups or translators, they said. I was the second to come alone. The first was my Mum, thirty five years ago, when it took a whole day and three boat trips to get from Taishan to Guangzhou.
I brought out some photos as an icebreaker and validator of our relationship. Kan Bong could identify all my aunties and uncles by their Chinese names, remarking somewhat wistfully at the number of children and grandchildren. Translations from Taishanhua to Putonghua ping-ponged around the room, to the English names in my head. Aunties I’ve known my whole life as ‘Gee’ and ‘Beatle,’ suddenly had these alter egos as ‘珠莲’ and ‘月莲,’ existing in another language, another form. Everything felt closer.
Kan Bong via Mei: "You look a lot like Qiu Lian."
Me: "Oh, who is Qiu Lian?"
Taishan. Meat being hacked up in the back of a truck. Paper money burns in a brazier. Steaming dim sum. A family ripping out goose feathers in a pool of blood on the street. Mahjong blocks clatter away from an apartment block. “You should’ve seen this place eight years ago!” Mr. WL exclaims, waving a cigarette about, embarking on a barely intelligible Mandarin-Taishanhua monologue about the town’s development. Elder Mei sits glued to her cellphone, QQing her friends about her infinite boredom.
Within an hour of arriving in Pang Jeel, I saw a chicken have its throat slit open and its head yanked backwards. Blood blurted into the stone gutter by the back door, accompanied by one final squawk. Moments like these remind me how much of a city kid I am. Selecting pre-plucked, pre-cut, pre-packaged poultry from the supermarket and tossing them into my trolley, detached from the life and death of the animal. Upon later discussion, the aunties said chicken needs to be purchased either live or whole, otherwise people will think there’s something wrong with it.
I ate at least one chicken leg and one goose leg at each meal while in the village, they rained down upon me from all corners of the table. I was the guest, and they are the most coveted pieces. My second-cousin scowls with an acidic hiss of Taishanhua, to which no one translates or pays attention to. I have been stealing his chicken legs. Jiu Por chuckles, chopsticking another drum of poultry into my rice bowl, her white teeth gleaming upon her round, wrinkled face.
We set out early to Wan Lin’s house for tāngyuán 汤圆, glutinous rice balls in a sugary sweet soup. She smiles, extending a bowl towards me, we eat them in order to bring “tāng tāng yuán yuán,” she says.Chá 茶 (tea)islovingly prepared by Mr. WL in a tea set atop the living room table; dousing each implement with boiling hot water before commencing. Wan Lin presented bowls of hot water to the traditional Chinese deities around the home, of which there are many. The apartment is sparsely decorated, the statues are the primary form of ornamentation. Mr. WL loves tea and speaks about it at length. And in the evening, he loves báijǐu 白酒. I, however, am not offered any báijǐu. Blessing or a curse?
“Ah, those three old guys are familiar,” I thought, recognising the long beards and pastel-coloured porcelain robes. Wan Lin says they are Fú Lù Shòu 福禄寿; figures of prosperity, status and longevity. She later mentioned Por Por came to get a set of her own during her visit to Taishan in the early ’90s. These conversations with Wan Lin were wonderful. These memories of family, our ability to share and communicate in Mandarin – each anecdote, no matter how big or small, building a richer, warmer picture of this heritage in my mind.
The bus ride to Pang Jeel was in two parts. The first of which had an extremely ill, emaciated person with thighs about the width of my forearm and a face so sunken you could see the bones protruding from his skull. He was wearing some scraggily old rags and his skin was caked in permanent dirt. After sitting down, he lost a sandal amidst what appeared to be an epileptic fit. Of course, no one blinked an eye. It was truly horrible, frightful scene to witness.
A villager lit up a cigarette aboard the old, grunty vehicle with torn up seats and plastic stools in the aisle. Deftly stumbling along the dusty roads out of Taishan, a ticket lady with a baby strapped to her front asked where we were going and took our fare money. A 20-something-year-old punk kid in a leather jacket with chains pierced into his ear dragged himself off the bus with a sigh, standing motionless at the archway to his village. Chunjie, the biggest chore for the unmarried youth of China.
Lil Mei says she threw up on the last bus trip to the village. Wonderful. Sitting side by side listening to her Canto-pop with an earphone each, my thoughts whisked back to the dreaded ‘windy bit’ from Wairoa to Gisborne, where the three of us would turn green in the back of the Previa while Mum flipped her Jimmy Cliff cassette tape for the umpteenth time. There was a non-genealogical connection between our two lives, engrained in the vomit-inducing routes to our grandparents’ houses.
Pang Jeel village is about 30 minutes out of Taishan. Stone brick houses, separated by narrow alleyways and chicken hutches, where people have their doors open at all times. Stone gutters run down the sides of the alleys, emanating the stagnant smell of washing up, chicken blood and refuse.
Kan Bong’s quaint, two-story abode is located in the thicket of these alleyways. A wooden flap door opens into the front room, where eating, sitting and other living is done. The next room has two sinks; one for food preparation and washing, the other for brushing teeth. Two bamboo ladders stretch up to an internal balcony with two small doors veiled by curtain fabric. Food offerings are presented on a wooden table beneath the mounted cabinet of lamplit statuettes. A plastic door houses the showering area. The wood burner crackles away in the back room which opens out onto the back alley, where Kan Bong’s geese (already slaughtered, eaten) bob around in a stone walled garden. Public squat toilets sit near the archway. The kids and I sleep upstairs in two bedrooms.
There is one xiǎomàibù 小卖部 (dairy) in the village. Kan Bong took us for a walk; hands clasped behind his back, cigarettes in his breast pocket. It charmed me to see the Mei Meis talking with their grandfather, something I wasn’t able to do with mine. The village opera stage sits unused with stone seating set into the ground. I could picture what the venue would be like during an event. Lil Mei showed me the fields with veggie patches that the locals look after collectively.
Jiu Por brings round hot hóngshǔ 红薯, sweet potatoes, in a plastic bag. We roasted them in the earth in the cabbage patch at the back of the village, along with eggs coated in mud from the stream that assaulted the nostrils with the distinct smell of shit. The somewhat unpalatable truth is that the mud from the stream was in fact, shit.
The feast was similar every meal. Tofu skin soup, cabbage, sweet potatoes, stir fried vegetables, Kan Bong’s favourite: Toishan sweet and sour pork, with a freshly slaughtered chicken and sometimes an é 鹅 (goose) added for each sitting. “Southerners eat é, Northerners eat yā 鸭 (duck),” they say, “é is much tastier than yā!” they say. I nod. “Màn man chī 慢慢吃!” (“eat slowly,”) Jiu Por would repeat, one of her only Putonghua phrases. Eating till you are full is so important to the older generation, who have lived through famine, food rations, crop failures and hardships that I will never know. The elongated aaa’s and laa’s, aunties’ infectious laughter cracking the air sharp as a whip.
In May 1940, my Ye Ye, paternal grandfather, Ng Carr Yam immigrated to New Zealand aboard the ship “Awatea” to Wellington, reuniting with my great-grandfather, who had been Poll Taxed upon arrival almost two decades prior.
Boluotang village is my Ye Ye’s ancestral home – a mere five minute walk from Pang Jeel. The name got endless lols from the Mei Meis for it sounds remarkably similar to bōluótāng 菠萝汤 (pineapple soup). Kan Bong led the pack on this treasure hunt for my lǎojiā 老家, family home, the only clues lay within the scrawled names of my zúpǔ 族谱, family tree, our map for navigating the remaining, elderly residents of Boluotang. Kan Bong’s deep voice, tall stature and free flowing cigarettes commanded a sense of purpose.
Dialect game was strong. Toothless grannies yaaaing and waaaing at me in some form of Cantonese. Elder Mei would translate when I asked, but some of it was incomprehensible as the dialect is different in every village. A dude in Guangzhou later claimed the reason there are so many variations in Taishan is because each village changed their tones during the Japanese occupation, afraid that the soldiers would be able to understand them.
Led by a tiny, alfalfa-haired old man, we were led to the home of the oldest person in the village and found a chubby smiley woman inside. Success, the lǎojiā of Ye Ye’s brother was just next door — abandoned and crumbling. The roof had fallen in, ferns were growing out of the floor. No one had lived there for years. The convoy had grown remarkably since our quest began, everyone clattered over broken roof tiles and piled into the back room – waalaayaa! Very surreal feelings, being in that space.
Across the alley was another house of some significance, the skeleton of a home full of rubble. From what I could gage, it was my Ye Ye’s old home. A man and his sister who knew Ye Ye’s brother guided me into the rubble of the front room and told me about how they all used to play together when they were kids, that they were such happy times. Their Putonghua was rough, but I was glad we had something to grasp onto. I nodded and smiled. The Mei Meis had floated off to play with a puppy, their translation hours over.
Aunty took me for a spin on the motorbike to see some “gǔlǎo fángzi古老房子,” “ancient houses,” at Méi Jiā Dà Yuàn 梅家大院, the set of blockbuster film Let the Bullets Fly 让子弹飞. Whizzed past abandoned factories and towns with dwindling populations. With workers moving to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, areas like these are have become almost ghostlike.
A table of mahjong ladies unsuccessfully shooed away a lion dancer, reluctantly pausing their game while it made a enormous racket in front of their home. At night, we clambered on the roof to watch fireworks from nearby villages light up the black sky. Jiu Por cracked up at my red dragon nightie.
The fireworks started going off really early. It must’ve been 4 or 5am. And they are bloody loud when you live in a draughty stone house with wooden doors. Lil Mei sprung out of bed with Christmas Morning enthusiasm, begging me to “kuài qílǎi, kuài qílǎi!快起来, 快起来!” “get up, get up!!” Bleary-eyed and firecrackered into consciousness, I scuffed my way downstairs to find all the adults waiting in the front room with red packets (hóngbāo 红包). Remembering the rules from childhood: take it with two hands, say Goong Hey Fat Choy, smile and thank. Haven’t got one since I was a kid, it was awesome.
Drums and gongs could be heard all over the village, as the lion dance (wǔshī 舞狮) criss-crossed through the alleys to bàinián 拜年 at every door; flailing about and bowing three times. Jiu Por prepared the offerings atop a red plastic stool: a hóngbāo, a hóngbāoshaped firecracker, a bowl of raw rice,a little cake and a mandarin. The lion was performed by two men; one with the head and one holding the tail. Another would collect the rice in a basket hooked on the end of a bamboo pole slung over his shoulder. The toughest job appeared to be that of the fetcher, who had to run ahead and grab the hóngbāo, light the firecrackers, throw them in the path of the lion and scram. Deafening. A drummer, a drum dragger, a cymbal clanger and some substitutes who followed along with plenty of durries. The whole affair takes well over two hours. I followed the troupe for a long time and ended up with a splitting headache. Perhaps that’s why everyone in the village talks so loud, tinnitus after decades of Chinese New Year.
The TV was always switched on and is easily the most widely digested media here. And it is utter crap. In one show, two white guys were trying to imitate exemplary aspects of Chinese culture, then failing in a slapstick way. So cringe. Presented CCTV agenda: 1) Haha! White people are stoopid! 2) We Chinese are inimitable! 3) THIS IS CHINESE CULTURE. Ridiculously cheesy ads on repeat, targeting the millions of old people sitting at home. A faint but piercing, high-pitched noise hummed out beneath the soap operas. Firecrackers were sporadically exploding at the door. My offers to help in the kitchen were rebutted with a “no, no, just sit and watch television!” Short of Mr. Wormwood forcing Matilda to watch TV with the family, after several days it became a rather insufferable activity.
People flitted between each other’s homes to bestow New Year’s greetings. Plastic bags of fruit and sweets were shipped around in a Pass the Parcel type ritual; the persistent ‘take it, take it!’ followed by long, obligatory refusals. The same bag of oranges moving from home to home around the village. This social dance, all executed in urgent yelps of Taishanhua.A jolly old man from the next village hops into our unmarked taxi, yarning about how he had prepared all the ancestral offerings at the shrine, but had to go back because he forgot the chopsticks!
Some migrants return to Taishan and bear stories of their new lives abroad, spreading the gospel of the Promised Land.
And everyone is a believer.
The topic of living abroad came up frequently.Wan Lin laughed that a friend who started a restaurant in the U.S. said she could do egg fried rice or “suíbiàn chāo 随便抄” “random frying” and the laowai would lap it up for outrageous prices. It was enriching to hear these perspectives. Moving abroad would mean better wages and fúlì 福利 (welfare), better housing, a clean environment, less pressure. As I listened, I kept wanting to emphasise that it’s not that easy to just slip into a new life abroad, but found the words curdling in my mouth; the words of a third-generation beneficiary of immigration that has been able to reap the rewards of hardship.
My Por Por’s father was shot dead for being a land owner. She and my great-grandmother had to collect his body from the scene, take it home and bury him. For decades, my grandparents worked themselves to the bone in pursuit of a better life. Isolation, culture shock, language barriers; all in an effort to plant roots in a New Zealand that doesn’t want your kind. I think about the things I’ve been able to enjoy in life and feel conflicted with a headful of appreciation and guilt. They work for low wages in markets and factories and want their kids to have a better life. Who am I to say “it’s not easy”?
I see them, my Taishan family, the one’s who never left, sitting on plastic stools in a humble lounge around an old TV set; three generations of their family are all together; chatting, healthy, alive. My grandparents have all passed away. Kan Bong is 77-years-old and looking after rabbits in his back garden. What’s the basis of a better life? Longevity? Quality? What even are those things? I take a self-timer of all of us together, they pack me some snacks for the bus and we say goodbye. Lovely, generous people.
From the roaming chickens of Pang Jeel village to the enormous skyscrapers of Guangzhou, the bright lights and sounds of the big city confront me. Accompanying me back to the bus station, Wan Lin said they would like to buy a small car of their own one day, but it will take a lot of saving; a lot of shoe sales. In Guangzhou, a glossy luxury car billboard with a sleek new vehicle model parked in front encourages consumers to Make the Change. ♦
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
It’s that time of the month! Local Chengdu indie-rock band the Hormones 荷尔蒙小姐乐队 will kick off their first ever national tour tonight at Little Bar 小酒馆.
Bassist and lyricist Ming Ming 明明 invited me over for dinner to talk about vengeful elephants in Yunnan, menstrual cycles on tour and the new EP.
The Hormones 荷尔蒙小姐乐队, are a five-piece indie-rock band from the land of abundant greenery Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.
Keyboardist Xiao Lijing 小李静 and guitarist (plus amazing cheesecake-baker) Xiao Xue 小雪 first had dreams to start a band as kids at primary school. The conglomeration of Juan Juan 娟娟 on drums, Ming Ming 明明 on bass and finally Zhu Meng Die 朱梦蝶 as lead vocalist, the Hormones entered the bloodstream of the local Chengdu music scene in 2011.
The band are about to embark on a fifteen date tour of China to promote the release of their debut EP ‘Elephant’ 《象》 starting tonight at Little Bar, Chengdu and concluding down at VOX, Wuhan on 11 November. You can check them out on Douban.
KIWESE: Hey Ming Ming! How did the Hormones start out?
MING MING: We formed back in 2011. People in China hear a lot of Chinese pop music growing up, ya know? So when we first started the band, we did Chinese pop music, but it had absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
2011年开始成立了。向中国人，他就是听很多中国pop music 长大的，你知道吗？所以你就会去搞，然后我们刚开始我们就去做Chinese pop music 但是一点意思都没有。
The singer we had before worked at a serious bank job and had no way of continuing in the band. So we searched for a new lead singer and found Zhu Meng Die! When we heard her sing and play acoustic guitar, she did Rolling in the Deep by Adele and changed it from 4/4 to 3/3. We could tell she had a unique feeling, and all completely agreed on her. She just gets it – she understands the music and has a feeling for it.
然后主唱因为她work for bank, 很正常很严谨很serious, 所以她没有办法搞乐队。然后我们就再找主唱，search search。。。朱梦蝶, 可以！虽然当时我们听她弹木吉唱歌的时候，她唱的是Adele, 《Rolling in the Deep》, 是四拍, 但是她自己把它改变了三拍。我们听她有一种不一样的感觉, 所以真的觉得她可以。她会懂这种音乐，她会了解，她会感受到。她想干什么就干什么，他觉得没有关系.
How do you compose songs as a band?
I write all of our lyrics. So often it’s the lyrics first, then we will create the music around them. The keyboard could run a loop, then the bass and drums, guitar, and vocals will join in.
The ideas just come from everyday life. For example, you are having to stand on the bus and there are no seats, you can imagine the bus is like a skateboard! Chinese society can be kind of depressing sometimes, you know? People eating smelly food on the bus or whatever, it’s kind of dirty and gross – but if you keep thinking about how uncomfortable it is then it will be worse. So you may as well make it interesting for yourself!
When did you first start getting into music and playing guitar?
Junior high school. I played guitar, then moved to Chengdu [from Leshan] to play guitar at Sichuan School of Music during high school. But I thought the exams were meaningless and I didn’t really like to play the stuff they gave me. I wanted to do my own thing. Like Tan Dun. He uses a violin to make erhu sounds. He uses water and paper. It’s very cool.
初中。我弹木吉他。然后我到了高中我住在成都，四川音乐学院的一个 high school, play guitar. 但是我考的时候不考怎么样。。。我觉得没意思。因为你去copy 没有用。我想做自己的东西。比如说谭盾. He uses a violin to make erhu sounds. He uses water and paper. It’s very cool.
Some of your songs are written in English, tell me about that.
I think that within a song, English pronunciation is easier than Chinese. There can be strange melodies when you sing Chinese in a song. But eventually I want all our songs to be in Chinese. It’s not a pride thing, it’s that Chinese is our mother tongue – I feel I am in complete control of the language. So I don’t think our songs in English are written that well. Using your mother tongue gets you closer the the meaning you want to convey. I think Chinese is a lot more direct.
我觉得英文的要字儿比较easy，不象Chinese很难。放到歌曲里面有可能这个melody 不好，还是很奇怪。我决定以后所有的歌都用中文。我不是为此感到proud of this，很骄傲。中文是我们的母语。我觉得I can control this language. 完全知道。所以我们的英文歌词写得不好。用你的母语更能接近你想表达的意思。我觉得中文更直接一点。
Why is the new EP called ‘Elephant’?
An elephant can remember everything, if you hurt him, he can remember your smell. 在中国，在云南只有一次，一个村庄 [in Yunnan, China, out in the countryside] people killed a little elephant.
Yes, bingo! Xishuangbanna. This baby elephant got lost in the countryside and walked into a village and trampled the maize and wheat crops, so the villagers beat it to death. After some time, a big group of elephants returned and destroyed the countryside.
对！Bingo, 真的在西双版纳。他们傻了一头baby elephant, 因为那个baby elephant 迷路了，它走到了一篇村庄里面去。野生的. 它踩到那些村庄那些麦子，粮食，然后那些村民就把它打死了。打死了过后，过了一段时间，然后那片野生的elephant destroyed the countryside.
The person who killed the baby elephant went to jail, but his wife still had his scent. So one day when his wife was out in the fields, a group of elephants came and trampled her to death. They could smell the man’s scent on her. She was with her sister at the time, but they only attacked the wife, not the sister.
REALLY. I’m still not finished. After that, 在墓地 [at the cemetery], the elephants came and trampled over where she was buried.
Wow. Why does ‘Elephant’ only have three songs, seems a bit short?
I want to do a surprise when our tour ends, I will put all the songs on the internet. It’s actually six, like on the CD.
What expectations do you have of the tour?
When I write lyrics, I hope they will resonate with people. Like when I watch Foals live videos, I am so moved – they make me want to pursue my dreams and never give up. I want [our music] to touch people in the same way, and to have them remember this feeling. I think this is more important than people knowing who you are. I don’t care if people like us or not, if I cared, we’d just play pop music.
我期盼能够。。。因为我写很多歌词，我期盼很多人能够有共鸣。 For example when I see Foals live, 我就会觉得我被感染了，我想我应该有一个梦想，我应该去这样做，我不应该放弃。我要让别人被打动。I think this is more important than people knowing who you are. 他可能记住了这种感觉。我不在乎别人喜不喜欢。如果我在乎别人喜欢的话我就做pop music。
Tell me about the Hormones’ new songs.
One of our new songs is called ‘Red Teardrops.’ You are a red tear drop, turning young hearts red. I think this song is interesting, every person is a red tear drop.
At the School of Music, there was a teacher who accused a cleaner of stealing 1000RMB. The cleaner denied it, but obviously the college sided with the teacher. The cleaner was in a helpless position, cleaning toilets for a living, and had no way of paying the money back. So she jumped from a building. When someone accuses you of doing something you did not do and you have no way out. All you want to do is cry. This is red tear drops.
好，我先给你讲。 四川音乐学院有一个工人, a cleaner, 然后有一个teacher 说这个清洁工偷了我一千块，那个清洁工说我没有，然后这个学院肯定需要更爱这个teacher一点，所以这个cleaner 就到了一个不好的一个去打扫卫生，她就很生气，其实这个前的数目不多，然后他就跳楼了。她就为了证明她。 This is unfair. It is not human. For 1000RMB. People pushed her to her death. So I wrote some lyrics about this. 冤枉了你，就说你做你没有做的事情有吗？从小到现在，有吗？ 那个时候就是你红色的眼泪。你没有办法说出来，你很生气只要哭。就是这个意思。
Any cities you are particularly looking forward to?
I’ve heard VOX Livehouse in Wuhan is very good. I’ve been friends with Liangyi, the singer from Stolen 秘密心动, since we were classmates in high school. He told me the sound techs at VOX are very quick and professional.
Jeff from New Noise has helped us a lot with contacting livehouses, he sent me the information and let me contact them.
“Yes, we are girls – but it’s not a style!”
How do you feel you are received as an all-girl band?
A lot of stuff comes up. Like a lot of venues have booked girl bands as the warm up act just because they are girls. It’s really strange. Why have they got a heavy metal band opening for us? It’s like when Lydia (Zaomengshe) was working at that company. She’s a foreign woman. Then they sat her with another department because they are all foreigners. WHY??
Some people are stupid but you don’t have to talk to them. Someone on Weibo said “show us your underwear!” It is very stupid.
But an all guys band could go on tour and not have to worry about five girls having their period [laughs].
Who are some of your favourite bands at the moment?
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.