5100 SPIRITS draws near. In the dark night of Tuesday 4 April, this beastly display of souls will be unleashed!! For one night only, the ancient tomb of Jah Bar will mutate into a crazed crypt crawling with ghosts, as the stage alter is graced by five of Chengdu’s most forward-thinking and innovative live acts.
Behold, the princely masters of SPLORTCH SELECTOR will kick the night into gear with a psychedelic mash-up of robot synthcore and chunky prog basslines, enslaving you into either your greatest dream or worst nightmare.
I dare you to Google the word ‘splortch.’ I double dare you to see what that word means when it is turned into a electro-prog-rock-synth-fused musical project.
I first met Michael, the band’s mastermind at Aus-atmen last year. He was one of the last people to leave and partied right through till the soggy rain drenched mud fest of Sunday afternoon, just before the cops came. From then on, I knew he was one of the good ones. He also played guitar and was making beats on his laptop. Since those humble beginnings and a killer set at Blah Blah #003, this bedroom music project has evolved into the three-piece live monstrosity SPLORTCH SELECTOR, which will explode on Jah Bar this Tuesday. What can we expect from this band? Word on the street is their singer is going to throw up on the audience. Get in.
After a long hiatus from performance, the celestial sisters of cellular synthesis THE HORMONES are back for their highly anticipated return to the mortal world! Blasting their infectious brand of electro dance rock, prepare to have these synthesized hormones secreted directly into your blood.
It must’ve been September of 2015. This super badass chick walked into the old Morning Bar 早上好 with a bunch of fliers. “这是我的乐队，” she said, handing me a flier and sitting down to light a cigarette. THE HORMONES – CHINA TOUR 2015. This is how I met Ming Ming – and I immediately liked her.
The Hormones are a collective of likewise badass chicks who rock seriously uplifting dance music and quite simply do not give a fuck what you think. Wisps of Karen O, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Foals, delivered with pure power and precision. They are such an important band and I am so excited to see them play on Tuesday night, their first Chengdu show in over a year!
KAISHANDAO will take us deeper into the night with bass heavy drum machine smashing and techno-flavoured frequency modulations, wielding an electric guitar and a mystic mixture of brain-warping effects pedals.
Kaishandao got it’s name from a 成语 that Xiaoxin a.k.a LittleNew, the illustrator behind the 百鬼夜行 100 Spirits poster, messaged to me several months ago. She’s fond of a good 成语，but I often have to look them up in Pleco. A not-so-long story short, I came across the word 开山刀 and it just clicked. I love it’s simplicity paired with brutality, the symmetry within the characters and the unified first tone throughout.
“Do you think Kaishandao would be a good name for my music?” I asked.
“Yeah it’s cool! But you’re music will have to be really cutting edge to use it,” she replied.
I’ve been organising shows in China for two years now, but I’ve played guitar since I was 10. I’m not sure Kaishandao is anywhere near as cutting edge as the friends I will perform with on Tuesday night, but for the first time in many years, I am now proud to perform my own original music for an audience, and in what better place than right here in this crazy city that has brought us together from all corners of the world – Chengdu. Bringing together my dual loves of rock and techno, this is Kaishandao.
As the clock nears midnight, the patron saints of post-punk HIPERSON will materialize for a rare and glorious performance. Known for their fierce vocals, ear-thrashing guitar assaults and thundering rhythmic prowess, Hiperson’s presence will ensure the spirits are well and truly awakened!
When I was a student living in Beijing, I came across a band from Chengdu who had put some demos on Douban. Just several seconds into 《他打定主意做一个游客》and I was completely hooked, put the demos on my iPod and biked around the city listening to them on repeat at full volume for what seemed like days.
That band? HIPERSON. And they are basically the reason I moved to Chengdu.
It was outside the little Little Bar after The Hormones EP release show when I first met Chen Sijiang.
“Uhh ni hao, ni shi Hiperson de Chen Sijiang ma?!”
OH MY GOD.
Since then, they have signed to a big indie label, released their first record, toured the country in a van and even toured Europe. Sijiang shaved off all her hair along the way. Through it all, they have remained 100% humble and dedicated to their music, with a DIY attitude that their heroes Fugazi would admire.
I am honoured to call them my friends, and I am in disbelief that I will play on the same bill as them at Jah Bar this Tuesday. They are the greatest and I can’t believe this is even happening.
Finally, elevating us to the spiritual homeland of techno, SU will provide a digital nerve massage of hard-hitting, Berlin-inspired beats, taking the DJ decks for a rhythmic full body cleanse right through till the early hours.
I can’t remember the first time I met Gogo, but I am almost certain it was over a doob at the old Morning Bar 早上好 several years ago. She asked what star sign I was.
“Sagitarrius,” I said.
“Cool, what date”
We are bound in an inexplicable bond by the astrological power of the number 12. Techno is what she lives and breathes, and each time she returns from Germany, she brings with her a wave of new energy that washes over those who hear her play.
The first time I collaborated with her was for the NUART Festival after party at 早上好 in 2015, where I brought Orchestra of Spheres and Lady Lazer Light for a renegade show and trippy visual installation. She’d just formed atmen with Xiang and had returned from a long trip to Germany. The night culminated with Riki Gooch (Cave Circles) jamming the drum kit to Su’s DJ set with a bunch of greasy shaokao sticks. It was beautiful. Since then, along with Xiang, we’ve played together at clubs and festivals in an improvised manner.
In a way, this Tuesday night is a coming of things full circle with the return of Lady Lazer Light to Chengdu and Su taking the decks for the closing set of the night. She is the spirit that floats the dance floor, let the frequencies set you free.
Overseeing this ghostly procession is the high priestess of visual overstimulation Lady Lazer Light, who has been summoned all the way from New Zealand. Known for hypnotising her audiences in China with Orchestra of Spheres in 2015, she will be floating through Jah Bar and spraying her kaleidoscopic rays throughout the night!
The first time I experienced a Lady Lazer Light show, I can say with utmost certainty that everyone was tripping on acid. It was the closing set of Camp A Low Hum 2012 and Thought Creature were playing on a stage that had materialized out of nowhere. Hypnotic mirroring of hot pink gorillas and dancing Indian women scattered across the screen, amplifying the psychedelic drone of guitars and synths, and sending the remaining punters into that special state of mutual derangement which is so often reserved for the last night of music festivals.
“Woahhh, this is buzzy,” I uttered to no one in particular.
The first time I actually met her was on the Orchestra of Spheres China tour, while she was on an art residency in Beijing. This month she returns to Chengdu, on the back of her second residency at Red Gate in Feijiacun, Beijing, and we are so excited!! Sklenars is our distinguished guest, a total party animal, the queen of buzzy visuals, and we are beyond privileged to have her grace Jah Bar on Tuesday for an all out audio-visual assault of the senses.
Kindred spirits, the time is nigh to sweep the tomb of your wardrobe and unearth your most GHOULISH garb for an unforgettable night of genre-bending audio-visual madness not seen before in these lands. Abide by the ghosty dress-code and be part of the movement! We beseech you, this is a night not to be missed.
This show is possible due to a culmination of great friends, an incredible local music scene and the desire to create an unforgettable moment in Chengdu music history – a night of barely contained mayhem in one of the most legendary and long-standing venues in town. It exists beyond the confines of genre, background, label, or any of the noise that can get in the way of what is truly important – the music.
Construction and redevelopment has seen Chengdu’s cultural landscape (read: the places we go to drink alcohol and listen to music) change dramatically. But as old places close and new ones emerge, great shows from bands, performers, DJs and collectives continue to entertain and inspire.
Along with the loss of Bowie, Prince and George Michael, we lost many of our local stars this year. Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu was demolished and construction of the new Music Conservatory concert hall began, Machu Picchu I closed after over a decade of business in the backstreets of Yulin and Soul Kitchen shut up shop just as renovations were completed. But it’s not all doom and gloom, laobans have gone on to open 2.0 versions of their former bars.
Not ones to be phased by forced demolition, the Zaoshanghao crew came back in style with the incredibly epic Morning House in Flower Town, taking over the old Xiwo swimming pool bar and fitting it out with an outdoor-stage, hot pot and rehearsal spaces. The Dojo crew took over Soul Kitchen in the Soho Building and established Berlin Haus, bringing much needed day vibes, strong coffee and workspaces to the inner city. Yulin also saw the opening of Yabany 牙半厘, a smoky little bar fit out with retro neons, cult film screenings and despite lack of any backline, the occasional jam night.
Perhaps the venue making the biggest waves this year has got to be NU SPACE. Freshly renovated at the back of Mintown, NU SPACE is kitted out with a minimalist, concrete design, banging sound system and some of the most diverse billing in the city.
When I first came to Chengdu as a backpacking language student in 2013, I was greeted with jungle fireworks and Drum N Bass and Rammstein blasting from a shopping trolley in the magazine aisle of 7Eleven. Friends took me to Morning Bar, Lantown, Hemp House and Xiwo, vibrant venues tattooed with psychedelic murals and scented with herbal inspiration. Now, more than three years later, none of those venues exist anymore, but the shows certainly go on.
“…when the world outside is scary, boring, ugly, and hateful, what do you do? You either drown in it or you drown it out.”
Music is the gateway, it elevates us above the mundanity of everyday life. We choose to participate in it and represent who we are. Live music is the beating heart of a community, where the performer and audience meet like minded spirits, enter a space of their own creation, and be free.
Without further ado, here are my favourite shows of 2016 in chronological order.
Little Bar, Chengdu
8 January 2016
“NI HAI PAAAAAAA – WO HAI PAAAAA!!”
Man, how good are Chinese Football?! These Wuhan emo kids came through Chengdu on their album release tour way back in January, playing to a sea of woollen cardigans and thick framed glasses. No support act, didn’t need it. Super 爽 guitars, vocal melodies and FEELS. Chinese Football also probably have the strongest merch game in the country. Subsequently invited them to play NUART Festival in October which was also highly dope (see below).
It was a packed house for Berlin-based Canadian producer Mike Shannon and .TAG’s 2nd birthday. A six-hour long set of fresh, cutting house and techno, masterful hypnotism of the dance floor and the delivery of positive vibes. The excellent support slot was Beijing bro Yang Bing, who kept things popping till Sunday lunchtime. Much rave!
Morning House, Chengdu
22 April 2016
Chunyou is like Christmas for music fans. With the introduction of an electronic stage, rental tents courtesy of Steam Hostel and a new abundance of sofas, this year’s Chunyou at Morning House saw many punters stay on site for a memorable weekend of debauchery. Memorable moments include:
Hiperson on the main stage live with new bassist Ming Ming for the first time in Chengdu.
Someone setting off a fucking FLARE in the middle of the Stolen mosh pit.
CDC inviting all the white people up to dance on the stage and all the white people being really excited.
Playing guitar with atmen at the electronic stage on Day 1.
DIO was sick.
Pascal Pinon putting a spell over the main stage
HELEN TING IN THE DJ ROOM ON SUNDAY MORNING. Rolling out of my shitty tent after passing out for two hours and stumbling into the DJ hut with no pants on to find this insane Hong Kong lady with an afro, coloured shades and enormous Aladdin pants absolutely slaying the decks with a mix of afrobeat, soul and funk, a dedicated crowd of ravers grooving strong, mystically attaining sunglasses as the sun came up. Fuck how good was Helen Ting?!
Rain rain rain. More rain. Stage closures, mud, the gear getting soaked, the police shut down… As dysfunctional as Aus-atmen ended up being, it was a testament to DIY culture, a love of electronic music and thinking big. It was also completely unforgettable. Check out the review here.
Hiperson + Lonely Leary
NU SPACE, Chengdu
10 June 2016
This was the first show I put on at NU SPACE and is also my favourite poster of the year, a collage we made of clippings from an old flipbook featuring a flying decapitated head. We posted it around the city on cheap A4 print outs.
Lonely Leary have two speeds: fast or faster. Bass heavy rhythms drove the blitzing pace like a schizophrenic roller coaster. There was no looking back for Hiperson, who played a killer set of new material, confident and self-assured. May have shed a tear.
NU SPACE had just opened and we were working a lot of shit out… the lighting really wasn’t great, but these two bands together in concert for a home crowd was in my eyes a real triumph.
Yue Xuan: Entrance and Exports Remix Project
feat. Cvalda + VJ PLGRM
NU SPACE, Chengdu
24 June 2016
Beijing-based pianist Yue Xuan 岳璇 came to Chengdu as part of her Remix tour to perform with Cvalda, one of the producers who remixed a track from In & Out (2015) that formed the Entrance & Exports remix album. Comprised of three sections; contemporary piano, electronic collaboration and drum n bass, this was a unique and creatively curated live show from one of China’s biggest talents.
Also a composer for film, Yue Xuan’s concert was suitably accompanied by incredibly beautiful visual pieces by PLGRM on the big screen for us in this intimate performance. Oh, and we got to see Cvalda in “formal dress” as she laid down some serious bass.
Fairy Mountain, Wulong, Chongqing
8-9 July 2016
NUTS Livehouse and Morning 早上好 have done it again, Neverland 2016 was bigger, better and more well organised than ever – no deadly mud slide between stages, and a quarantining of the psy-trance stage to it’s own little hill commune in the forest. The addition of more food stalls was a welcome relief (shout out Baker Street for giving us the last pasta scrapings on Day 2), a big improvement from the food options available in 2015.
Wild animals, beautiful landscapes, hand built teepees and jamming instruments providing pleasing environments for those on acid and co., while the downside was an influx of loud, obnoxious tourists who killed the vibe from about 9pm – 2am both nights with yelling, beer showers and general fuckwittery at the Main Stage.
Metope and Yang Bing were highlights on Day 1, as Dusk Till Dawn proved their namesake. We were treated to the best of Shanghai, with MIIIA and MHP making appearances on the second night. Raving on a mountain in the early morning as the morning mist slowly glides in from the hills – YES. Go Neverland!
Punk Fest CDC
Morning House, Chengdu
6 August 2016
How many punk bands are there in Chengdu?
According to Punk Fest CDC, actually quite a few.
It was an absolute scorcher in Flower Town and hoards of people turned up for a good time, enticed by the free entry ticket price. A ferocious mosh pit fuelled by copious amounts of beer, Morning House was buzzing for a day and night of recurrent stage diving and comic pool throws. Stink Mouth threw a bunch of condoms into the crowd. Good times.
The Others Way Festival
2 September 2016
BOY am I happy about Cut Off Your Hands coming back this year. Their performance at The Others Way was a total throwback to 2008’s You & I and even Takes Slowly Over from their first EP, finishing up with Nick Johnson jumping on guitar for their new tune Hate Somebody. Brilliant band, incredibly energy and everyone was going ape shit like it was 2006.
The Others Way coordinated all the venues on K Road into a night packed full of back to back shows and it was impeccably well organized. I also caught great performances from Nadia Reid, Fazerdaze, Purple Pilgrims, Mermaidens, Shocking Pinks and the inimitably chaotic King Loser.
NU SPACE, Chengdu
17 September 2016
Powerful women rocking out, YEAH. Paula and Ali totally rock. French imports JC Satàn were an unexpected delight. Bathed in red light, the band jumped and lurched and grooved their way through an set of throttling, kerosine coated garage punk somewhere between The Ramones, Thee Oh Sees and Queens of the Stone Age. A two-metre tall keyboardist thrashed about like a barely caged giraffe while guitarist Arthur kicked and shook like an electrified rock and roll Bruce Lee.
The bassist and guitarist lost their guitars in transit (ouch), but took kindly to borrowed instruments which I was surprised to find intact after the show, not pummelled into a fine dust. A mighty gig that brought out all the head bangers, stoners and more than a few devils horns. Rock is not dead, thank god.
Three days of sunshine, four stages, hundreds of market stalls and thousands of punters – 2016 was the first year I’ve been on board at NUART Festival and man, what a trip. Chengdu community vibes and street culture combined with some of the most innovative alternative acts in the country. A cohesion of genres, with a smorgasbord on the Main Stage, experimental/electronic music in NU SPACE, a DJ stage and a vinyl record zone run by Marco Duits himself.
I feel this festival brings the community together, young and old, the livehouses and the clubs. Absolutely amazing and completely exhausting. Too many highlights to mention! Marco closing the festival with an Always on the Run 7″ by Lenny Kravitz was pretty amazing though.
This year’s line-up:
WHAI, Chinese Football, ChaCha + DJ Aivilox, Wednesday’s Trip, South Acid MiMi Dance Team, CDC, Sulumi, Biggaton + Blood Dunza (JA), Hu Yang, iimmune, Taiga, Charlie Tango (FR), Starcardigan (RU), Wanmei Daoli, Fake Swing, Jahwahzoo, Sound and Fury, Zhang Xiaobing and Friends, U M U / Microsoft Voices (NZ), Faded Ghost, 3000, Xiang, Su, Kaiser and May, Lao G, Just Charlie, Jovian and Marco Duits.
This year Kiwese was pleased to tour with mr sterile Assembly across Guangzhou, Guiyang, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Beijing. While each show was unique, Guangzhou was my favourite.
Hauling gear up four flights of stairs paid off as Loft345 came alive with dancing and general limb flailing. Despite a bass amp meltdown, Chrissie ripped through a set of chest pummeling tunes through a tiny guitar amp with no overdrive, while mr sterile, having upgraded from the drum-less venue in Shanghai, happily smashed away on his melange of cymbals while yelling out pagefuls of lyrics to those bafflingly brilliant time signatures.
The night was a success thanks to our hosts QiiiSnacks Records and Die! Chiwawa!Die! – an inimitable Guangzhou hardcore noise/screamo/chiptune band which frontwoman Jinbo bouncing up and down like a possessed Pokémon while guitarist Howie and the other screamo vocalist thrashing across the ground as if it were being tilted and shaken by an omnipotent overlord.
Sabu Toyozumi + Li Jianhong
NU SPACE, Chengdu
26 October 2016
In a tour named 耳舍 (lit: ear tongue), acclaimed experimental guitarist Li Jianhong 李剣鴻 and legendary Japanese free jazz drummer Sabu Toyozumi treated us to a two hour display of skill, stamina and imagination.
Toyozumi, now in his seventies, was like a playful kid in a sandpit, pushing the house kit through its paces – smacking, dismantling and scraping it together, even whipping the snare with his sock at one point. Li Jianhong deftly cast out a palette of colours with his effects board, the scrape of his guitar and slamming of wah pedals sounded as if he were fishing for frequencies in an ocean of sound – calm, patient and free. A journey through tone and timbre that constantly reached into new territory, furthered by local multi-instrumentalist and improv king Kun jumping on violin for the last segment of the show.
Afterwards, the promoter said Sabu only played for 30 minutes in Chongqing, which made us feel even luckier to be treated to such an epic long set. Sabu was also super happy to chat with fans afterwards and sign CDs. Super swell guy! Stay tuned for his NZ tour with the Sound and Light Exploration Society next year.
Michael RotherSupport: Chui Wan
Little Bar Space, Chengdu
31 October 2016
VICE have brought quite a few touring acts to Chengdu this year (Ratatat, Tonstartssbandht) but Krautrock king Michael Rother from Neu!, Harmonia and Kraftwerk with Beijing psych/no-wave band Chui Wan took the cake. Little Bar Space is a cavernous monstrosity when half empty and even Rother himself politely commented on the small crowd in between songs.
Chui Wan is like LSD for the ears. Michael Rother and band were uplifting, melodic and joyful. Lovely, though with that number of people (100-150 ish), I couldn’t help but think how great and intimate it could have been at NU SPACE…
NU SPACE, Chengdu
18 November 2016
When Eagulls took the stage my heart stopped.
Was it our newly minted fog machine that cloaked them in a turquoise haze of gothic mystery? Was it frontman George Mitchell’s post-punk nonchalance and lyrical wordsmithing? Was it the bass line from Skipping that echoes the refrain from How Soon is Now? Was it that I’d witnessed their metamorphosis into an immensely professional, polished and powerful live act directly after Tsingdao cans, rollies and toilet banter?
Berlin Haus, Chengdu
22 November 2016
This was a really special show for me because:
a) we threw it together last minute
b) it was Sisu’s first time ever playing an acoustic show
c) it was the first ever Berlin Haus show.
Shout out to the chick huffing a qiqiu (balloon) at the back lol. Classic Tuesday night Soho.
Octopoulpe, Le Crabe, Digou, Klaus Legal
NU SPACE, Chengdu
13 December 2016
Two aliens slithered on stage and blasted into a set of garbled bass/vocals hardcore before Donald Trump emerged bearing hot dogs and hamburgers then was skinned alive and left for dead. The show went on until Trump was revived by the sound of Chinese pop and destroyed by a glowing orb where he and the aliens were forced to evacuate by dragging themselves along the floor out the door, leaving Earth forever.
The All Seeing Hand, Womb, Unsanitary Napkin
23 December 2016
Wellington disciples of the A.S.H order convened upon Meow to praise their latest auditory offering Sand to Glass with support from Unsanitary Napkin, Womb and artist Georgette Brown. A feast for the eyes and ears! The All Seeing Hand are in a class of their own, the shamans of sound, the Triptych of Trippy – stay tuned for their China wanderings in 2017.
Caspian @ Little Bar Space, Chengdu
Noise Temple @ .TAG
Audible Area:SunWei + 16ways @ NU SPACE, Chengdu
Dizzy Love + Wednesday’s Trip @ NU SPACE, Chengdu
DJ Sodeyama @ Here We Go, Chengdu
Street Party Rain Out: Marco Duits @ Hakka Bar, Chengdu
U Brown + Blood Dunza @ Jah Bar, Chengdu
Tobias @ Here We Go, Chengdu
All the Yang Bing raves @ .TAG in the first half of 2016
What will 2017 bring?
I’d like to see shows make there way out into the public, in found locations or reconverted spaces. DJ Marco Duits is someone who constantly leads the way with this in his ‘Street Party’ concept, though even these shows are becoming few and far between. No one wants to get in trouble, or worse, have their gear confiscated, but how can we branch out into different spaces and create something new for ourselves? I look forward to the new year of new shows and new adventures.
Full disclosure: I work at NU SPACE so saw a lot of shows there and missed those at other venues.
This year, Kiwese was lucky to be invited to Going Global Music Conference and The Others Way Festival in Auckland – many thanks to Dylan, Kath at the Independent New Zealand Music Commission for the opportunity!
Header image by John Yingling @theworldunderground
It’s the second day of the national October holiday break, and we’ve just taken a 19hr overnight train from Beijing to Chengdu.
After arriving at the Chengdu Music Hotel, we chucked back some egg pancakes 煎饼 and a hot sour noodle 酸辣粉 round the corner on Minzhu Lu (R.I.P.). Back in my neighbourhood, I ran back to my house for a quick shower and change of clothes – having been in Beijing for the past three weeks, it was so good to be home and see all my friends, along with this amazing band from Wellington that I had been raving about for the past year!!
The Spheres were playing the headline slot on Day 3 of the second NUART Festival, a three day music, art and tech extravaganza that takes places over two streets and stages, featuring both local and international acts and artists. They played on a street stage built of bamboo to an enormous and adoring crowd of people young and old. Quite simply, Chengdu has never seen anything like it.
The quiet old street of Minzhu Lu, next to where the gang were staying, will be demolished to make way for a music hall complex.
That includes Morning Bar 早上好, our local watering hole and the venue for the Chengdu after party. Following the festival, Lady Lazer Light set up her projector and eyeballs and Riki presented his techno/juke project Cave Circles for the second time on tour, ultimately pushing his soundcard to the state of kaput. My beautiful friend Su from the electronic label atmen had just come back from Germany and brought her minimal techno vibes to the party.
As usual, Morning Bar was bustling with all sorts of friends. I found Riki eating spicy chicken wings with a reggae band from Guizhou at 3am in the morning.
Morning Bar has since been walled off and left to decay, the glass windows and wooden fixtures have been extracted and recycled by local workers, the eateries and stores have ended their decades long business to move elsewhere. When I walk past the old place on Minzhu Lu my heart sinks, now an empty shell of what was such a joyful hub of drunkenness, music and good times.
But when I glimpse over the blue retaining wall and see the Orchestra of Spheres poster still stuck to the alcove outside, I know that is a memory that can never be demolished.
Rumours have been circulating for months now, but the demolition of Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu has finally become a reality.
Kiwese looks back on the old venue and forward to the new, ahead of Chunyou春游 2016 this weekend.
When people ask where I learned to speak Chinese, there are two truths – I studied at Victoria University of Wellington, Beijing Language and Culture University and Sichuan University for five years in three programs. But it was at Zaoshanghao where I really found my voice.
Located on Minzhu Lu 民主路 (Democracy Road), a quiet old street off the First Ring Road in the city centre, Zaoshanghao was a little local bar run by owner Zhang Xin and his crew of can-do local bros. Driven by a DIY attitude, love of chilling and independent music, over the past seven years Zaoshanghao has become a staple venue in the Chengdu music scene as well as the hosts and collaborators of some of the city’s most memorable music festivals.
Zaoshanghao on Minzhu Lu is a five minute walk from my flat or a two minute bike ride. Many friends live even closer; some moved to Jiuyanqiao just to be near it. Stylistically speaking, the crowd is a real mixed bag – hip hop rap stars, rasta potheads, punk guitarists, computer engineers, wandering folk singers, poets, hairdressers, techno producers, experimental cellists, oil painters, and more. Zaoshanghao is the beating heart of our little community.
I’ve celebrated the past two birthdays and New Year’s Eves at Zaoshanghao. I’ve met almost all my friends there. Zaoshanghao and the community of friends that make it great are a huge reason I am living here.
Though not an official ‘livehouse,’ the low stage and banging PA system has spawned random jam sessions, afternoon reggae gigs, experimental shows and impromptu DJ sets. While the majority of shows are hosted at the garden venue in Flower Town, the Minzhu Lu stage has been graced by bands as diverse as Soviet Pop, Noise Temple, Kawa and Jurat T.T.
With a fairly loose chuck-on-your-own music policy, people would be constantly plugging their phones into the main system, filling the weekday airwaves with music to share.
Zaoshanghao catered through the seasons, providing a place of warmth and good company all year round. The courtyard out back is cold beer in the summer and roasting round the fire in the winter. Kittens and spiders scuttled about, the foozball table perpetually in motion. Patti Smith gazed over the space in her white shirt and blazer, while the giant wooden giraffe towered above the stage.
Climb the stairs to the rooftop and you’ll find yourself sitting on a platform among the haggard rooftops of the houses next door. Amidst everyone’s grief about the closure, many have cited the greatest loss as the two banana trees out back, which have grown into ginormous beasts over the past four years due to being smothered in a full bag of fertiliser.
The charm of Zaoshanghao also stems from the neighbourhood. Surrounded by trees, cheap eateries and dilapidated wooden houses, the kind where walls are insulated with compressed ferns and newspapers. Morning traffic consists of elderly folk biking home from the vegetable market, while in the afternoon the street is lined with three-wheeled snack vendors parking up to feed the outpour of students from the music academy.
The sound of musical instruments and school children can be heard floating through the air, punctuated by the distinctive clink-clink-clank of iron hammers from local sweet sellers – the Chengdu version of the Mr. Whippy tune. The buildings are built in the old style, with traditionally tiled rooftops, open balconies and patterned brick window fittings.
Minzhu Lu held the vestiges of the city people once knew, and while towering skyscrapers and identical apartment buildings sprung up like wild grass, Zaoshanghao was a little haven of sanity amidst the madness. People felt comfortable there. It was like home.
In a city that has experienced such rapid, unimaginable change over the past 20 years, it was in this familiar environment that the second Zaoshanghao found it’s roots. Although the buildings were rundown, they were full of character and history, traits which become scarcer and scarcer with every newly built shopping complex.
Minzhu Lu is a quiet residential street off the First Ring Road, properties from 1 through 13 were given their demolition eviction notices late last year. Zaoshanghao is number 13.
Word that Zaoshanghao was going to be 拆掉 demolished began circulating in conversation about a year ago – everything but the date was certain. The government wanted to build a music hall next to the music school, everything had to go.
On several occasions throughout the year, it was said the bar only had two weeks left. Weeks later, we’d still be sitting out back drinking beers.
In November, it sounded as if the news was certain – two weeks left, for 真的 real this time. Residents from the surrounding apartments were shifting out, the moving trucks were being piled up, restaurants pulled their shutters down and pasted notices of thanks to the community for their years of patronage.
Along with two architect friends, I began to film interviews with friends of Zaoshanghao and local restaurants along Minzhu Lu, with the idea of producing a documentary about the demolition of the street called ‘Goodbye, Democracy Road‘ 《民主路，再见》.
“How long have you lived here?” Yang Yang yelled across to a resident washing the dishes in their sink on the balcony.
“Since 1973,” they replied, “we’ve got to leave by this weekend.”
Everyone was shocked to hear that there were only two weeks left, and as with most Chinese bureaucracy, the issue was shelved for another few months.
All throughout the winter, we converged around the brazier out back, burning the remnants of the old community around us.
Winter was spent sifting through the vacated brick flats for wood, old furniture and pot plants. Some of the stuff the guys found looked like it belonged in a museum. Rescuing the old things before the bulldozers come in and nothing is spared.
With the neighbours gone, the sound system was pumped up to its full potential. New Year’s saw Hiroshi play hard techno until 6am.
Zaoshanghao didn’t officially open again after Chinese New Year.
Demolition of Minzhu Lu started mid-last month at the mouth of the street. A blue wall was put up around the perimeter before being replaced with a brick one, which will likely remain that way for another year or so.
The blue wall now sits around Zaoshanghao and it’s neighbours, marking the inevitable. While many of us are upset, the Zaoshanghao crew are already onto the next. This is the second venue owner Zhang Xin has been evicted from in four years and he is not letting it stop him from continuing.
I’ve been super emotional about the demolition of the old street and community. The evicted residents will be scattered into soulless high rises on the outskirts of the third ring road, forever separated from the neighbours they’ve played mahjong with for the past three decades. The abandoned buildings will be left to decay, then replaced by buildings of the homogenised, modern city blueprint.
For my local friends, the news is sad but commonplace. I listen to their stories about what Chengdu was like when they were young – full of teahouses with big wooden slide doors, street side barbershops, swimming in the river, roads full of bicycles and carts. Now it is enormous high rises, freeways packed with cars and billboard screens. I think about what Wellington was like when I was younger. It more or less the same now. Revisiting spots from one’s childhood is not a possibility that exists for the locals of Chengdu. People have a different perspective on change here, it has been a constant for as long as they can remember.
Sometimes I think that’s why people here like taking photos, as a way of preserving memories when everything has been destroyed.
However, in an endless cycle of destruction and construction, there is life, rebirth and creativity.
Zaoshanghao have started a new venue out in Flower Town: Morning House. Sunshine, fresh air, bird song in the flower-growing village in the south of the city. Moving into the old Xiwo, the crew have established two more stages on either side of the swimming pool. New beginnings, bigger and better. Shit just got real.
In true DIY style, Zaoshanghao have smashed down the fence at the back and expanded into some of the old houses out back, converting them into an electronic music room, rehearsal space and studios for local band Stolen 秘密行动 and folk singer Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼. At the front, they have built a beautiful wooden stage beneath a plot of tall, willowing trees. While the banana trees at Minzhu Lu will be missed, there are plenty more tree friends at the new venue.
The new Zaoshanghao is beautiful and inspired. This weekend it is gonna kick off, as the fourth annual Chunyou rolls around!!
Get your pre-sales on Zaomengshe.
4月23日 DAY 1: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 疆与他的朋友们 Jiang with Friends
15：20-16：10 亮子与乐队 Liang Zi
16：10-17：00 Pascal Pinon（Iceland）
17：00-17：50 Kingkong&The Chum（Thailand）
17：50-18：40 Apollo 20
19：30-20：20 海朋森 Hiperson
20：20-21：10 未之域 Terra Incognita
21：10-22：00 罗友生 Luo You Sheng
22：00-22：50 秘密行动 Stolen
22：50-23：40 声音玩具 Soundtoy
4月24日 DAY 2: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 汪文伟 Wang Wen Wei（SH）
15：20-16：10 张尧 Zhang Yao（CQ）
16：10-17：00 黄晶与乐队 Huang Jing（CQ）
17：00-17：50 搞乐队 Gao Band
19：30-20：20 树子 Shuzi
20：20-21：10 Don Camilo（France）
21：10-22：00 说唱会馆 CDC
4月23日 DAY 1: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
14：00-15：00 Eric Huang
4月24日 DAY 2: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
03：00-05：30 Yang Bing（BJ）
07：30-09：30 Voko X
11：30-14：00 chill set
14：00-16：00 Cvalda & Ni Bing（BJ）
16：30-18：00 Summer & Nature Bao
19：30-21：30 Harry Ho
21：30-23：30 Mickey Zhang（BJ）
I am going to be playing with techno kweens Su and Xiang from atmen in creating some dark grooves on the Electronic stage!
Kiwese is very glad to join the Zaoshanghao crew this year in making videos and doing interviews! Stay tuned for more soon..
What makes a ‘good show’? The artist? The venue? The crowd? Here is a list of ten shows in chronological order that left an impression on Kiwese this year.
“Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something.” – Frank Zappa
To me, live music is a symbiotic relationship between performer and audience, they need each other to exist. There is an unfiltered bond between the artist and the crowd at every show, an unrepeatable experience in time and space. The shows I tend to enjoy most are the ones where the crowd is engaging somehow with the performers, whether through dancing or cheering or stage invading – letting the performers know they are not alone.
With the increase of computers in music production today, old expectations of live music have shifted to accommodate these new digital elements. While some critics believe computers detract from a live show, artists are creating and embracing interesting new ways to perform with digital technology. In China, going out to a gig in 2015 no longer means bass-drums-guitar, but rather something that echoes the digital world we live in.
South Acid MiMi Dance Team @MAO Livehouse Kunming 南方酸性咪咪领舞队在昆明MAO Livehouse
I stumbled into a South Acid MiMi show in Kunming in January and never looked back. Officially indoctrinated into the girl cult of face masks, weird music, freaky dancing and lots of whiskey. Very stoked to have been able to collaborate with them and Lady Lazer Light in October. This early MiMi show was filled with lots of experimental instruments and props, which have since been refined into three keyboards, a laptop and percussion.
Weilin + Shishi
2015.04.17 Noise Temple @ Little Bar Chengdu 黄金＋绵羊在小酒馆
Noise Temple is hypnotic, digital, dark – the syncing together of VJ Mian’s visual projections and Huang Jin’s razor sharp drumming abilities makes for a unique pulsating of the senses. This show featured contemporary dancers (thought I’d see pigs fly at Little Bar first) and vocal/instrumental cameos from various musicians. Unfortunately, Huang Jin has since moved to Beijing to join Re-TROS so Noise Temple no longer play with the blessed regularity we had gotten used to in Chengdu.
Video below is from another show at Morning Bar in April.
2015.04.25 Aus-atmen @ Xiwo, Chengdu Luna, Cvalda, Hiroshi, Xiang, Su
New techno/minimal/ambient music label Atmen had their debut party in an empty swimming pool in the leafy outskirts of Flower Town. Featuring Cvalda, Hiroshi, Xiang and Su, playing to the early morning. Enough said.
2015.06.26 – 2015.06.28 Neverland Electro Music Festival @ Wulong Fairy Mountain, Chongqing
山谷露营电子音乐节 仙女山 武隆 重庆
Two days, two nights, two stages – Neverland 2015 returned to the misty mountains outside of Chongqing, following their first festival in 2013. Neverland is a collaboration between NUTS and Morning Bar, attracting fans and friends from Chengdu, Chongqing and surrounding regions such as Guizhou. Camping festivals are few and far between in China, and Neverland beautifully fills the need.
The location is sublime – rolling green hills, white flowing mist and cloudless skies. The main stage saw DJs from around the region bring everything from swing to techno, while the psytrance community stayed entranced with their own 24/7 party at the stage on the flat. A very low key and awesome festival, with only a couple of hundred punters and no security. Amped for next year!
2015.07.03 Hiperson @ Little Bar Space Chengdu
When Hiperson set out to tour ‘No Need For Another History’ 《我不要别的历史》, they returned as a different band. Several hundred friends and fans turned up to the new big Little Bar (the new/old/big Little Bar thing is gonna get confusing) to welcome them home, and they sure as hell delivered. Kiwese became the first person to ever stage dive at a Hiperson show – life achievement unlocked.
Chen Sijiang, who’d shaved all her hair off in Shenzhen, completely commanded the stage with guitarists Ji Yinan and Liu Zetong thrashing about in the wings and Tao Ge bopping with conviction on bass. When the band went silent for Sijiang’s monologue and the spotlight lit her shaved head and wide-open eyes, you could hear a pin drop as the entire crowd sat in the palm of her hand. A mighty performance from one of Chengdu’s favourite bands.
2015.08.01 Stolen ‘Loop’ Album Release Show @ U37 w/ Dead J and Noise Temple 秘密行动《循环》专辑首发演出
Chengdu turned out in droves for Stolen’s album release show at an empty warehouse in U37. Perhaps some of us were a little TOO excited – I almost broke my ankle in the mosh pit and had to be carried husband-bride style to a taxi by my flatmate. Nevertheless, an epic show from a band that has become one of the most talked about acts in China this year. That synth-bass break in A Glossy Flirt has become my official pogo beer shower anthem.
Managed to catch Stolen on tour in Guangzhou and Beijing as well, but the energy at this album release home show was unparalleled.
2015.09.18 Shocking Pinks @ School Bar Beijing
Kiwese caught an overnight train from Chengdu to catch Shocking Pinks first show in China at the notorious School Bar in Beijing. The formula of Ash Smith (bass) and Cory Champion (drums) that was concocted last year at Puppies is still solid, as Nick Harte led them through a selection of songs from his previous albums to a responsive and dance-ready crowd. Check out the interview at live performance of ‘Smoke Screen’ in the video below.
2015.09.29 – 2015.10.11 Orchestra of Spheres + Lady Lazer Light China Tour
Dreams do come true! This year Orchestra of Spheres (Xīngjī Yuètuán) came to China, YEAH HARD! In a twist of seriously awesome timing, their hometown partner-in-crime Lady Lazer Light was in Beijing on an art residency and brought her cosmic visions on tour! Crowds in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming, Dali, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Wuhan were given their first taste of OOS magic.
In addition to OOS, special side-shows included Cave Circles + Globular Synthesis at Brothers BBQ in Feijiacun, The Niubis in Chongqing and a Cave Circles + Su live techno set at Morning Bar Chengdu.
Big love to Baba Rossa, Mos Ioccos, EtonalE, Woild Boin and Lady Lazer Light putting their faith in Kiwese and being incredibly rad people.
Photo by Will Griffith.
Poster by Hannah Salmon.
Photo by Will Griffith.
Photo from Full Label Guangzhou.
Photo by American Apparel.
2015.12.17 múm @ Little Bar Space Chengdu
A band that uses cello and melodica – I was prepared to hate this. Pronounced miooyyuujm, Icelandic atmospheric-music-to-have-sex-to band múm gave us a spiritual show of delicate vocal harmonies and careful layering of instruments, alongside slow panning lights and dramatic hisses of fog – the singer’s pixie sigh of ‘xie xie‘ the only thing that would break the audience out of their sonic incantations. At times I felt like I was sinking into the ground, no one was moving. My favourite part was when the singer started to theatrically rip her own head off – see video below.
2015.12.18 – 2015.12.19 Ein-atmen @ Chengdu Air Raid Shelter 在成都金里西路放空
And finally, to round off the year, the crew from Atmen and Morning Bar hosted a two-night techno party in an air raid bunker in downtown Chengdu. Music wise – the first night featured Tanzman, Su, Ewan and Haozi and the second night continued with Xiaolong, Xiang and Hiroshi. Visual artists projected their works throughout the shelter all weekend. The air raid shelter is like nothing I’ve seen before – long corridors of old concrete rooms and rusty steel fittings.
With Chengdu undergoing so much construction and change, it was beautiful to be part of something so fresh and innovative in the underground chasms of the city. This is what it is all about – people coming together to build events in new spaces.
Read the Zaomengshe interview with Su and Xiang here.
Want to find out about events before they happen? Many of these events sold pre-sale tickets on Zaomengshe, download the app to keep in the loop! www.zaomengshe.com
It is cold tonight — but not a touch on the sub-zero Siberian winters thatHuun-Huur-Tu have weathered in their homelands of Tuva, a remote region of Russia near the outer Mongolian border.
Proof that group huddles around a fire for warmth result in sing-a-longs, especially those that take place in a yurt.
Sayan Bapa founding member of the veteran throat singing ensemble shared his stories with Kiwese and friends around a slow-burning brazier in the leafy outskirts of Chengdu, after the group’s hypnotizing show on Saturday night.
“Close your eyes and listen.”
Sayan Bapa sits wide-legged and at ease with a cup of mulled wine. They have just performed to a tightly packed crowd from ages 3 to 83, of all cultural backgrounds and music tastes, where their synchronised voices rang out in harmonies across a sea of perked ears and raised cellphones, side-by-side before a backdrop of wispy blue horses, shattering and dissolving into the misty atmosphere.
The group of us sit around, warming our hands over the fire. Sayan’s deep hum of a voice and thickly punctuated accent resonates through the air, even in conversation.
In song, Huun-Huur-Tu’s voices make your body quiver, reaching a frequency that brings goats to a standstill in the grassy steppes where they hail from.
WATCH: Huun-Huur-Tu live at Zaoshanghao, Chengdu, on the ‘From Tuva to Beijing’ Tour, 13 December 2014,
Visuals by Cha Fei 叉飞:
This masterful ability to achieve long, multi-pitched notes through the diaphragm, lungs, muscles and throat are unaffected by the singer’s penchant for the somwhat less salubrious aspects of life – and we all burst out laughing as Sayan is handed an additional cup of mulled wine.
“If you are singing you can just get everything out,” he says, sipping his initial wine. “Kaigal and I are smokers. And we also drink.” Having just downed a beer with eager Chengdu fans in Zaoshanghao’s tree clad outdoor garden venue, he remarks upon the secluded and intimate venue as “a lovely place.”
Sayan and his long-time musical bro Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, whom he started playing traditional Tuvan music with when he was 17, were part of the original quartet of musicians from the region that formed Huun-Huur-Tu during a trip to New York, a journey which came into fruition through an incredible cross-country, cross-cultural tale involving a cassette tape, an ethnomusicologist and a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist in the early 1990s.
Huun-Huur-Tu are legends of the inimitable khoomei sound; an art “which requires a lot of control and power,” but can be learned by listening, observing and trying, according to Sayan. I first heard the word ‘Tuvan’ when fine dining at KC with Jonny Marks of the All Seeing Hand, who mentioned the Tuvan style is often hailed as the archetype of throat singing success in the ‘World’ music world.
The members of the group are build, perform and repair their own instruments. According to one source, the group first visited the United States with a rattle made from sheep knee bones enclosed in an inflated and hardened bull scrotum.
As the fire crackles away, Sayan lights a cigarette. The allegories between humans and nature are everywhere, he says. A stringed aficionado, he discusses the natural materials of their home-made instruments, including his doshpuluur, a three-stringed box shaped banjo made of mountain goat skin on both sides and wood from a native pine for the neck.
“In our culture it is very important to be a multi-instrumentalist,” he explains. “In Tuva, we have many different instruments and a kind of Chinese guqin 古琴, but I use also a classical guitar with lots of different tunings to imitate these ancient sounds.”
“We met with one of the best musicians in the United States, his name was Frank Zappa.”
From shepherd life, to life on the road, Sayan and Kaigal have travelled the world by sharing their unique voice and collaborating with other musicians in improvised and often unexpected ways, including an epic jam session with the legendary Frank Zappa, to electronic producers such as Carmen Rizzo and even a Bulgarian women’s choir, naturally.
WATCH: Original members of Huun-Huur-Tu collaborate in a jam with the Chieftans, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and friends at Frank Zappa’s house in 1993, shortly before he passed of cancer.
Despite the thirty years of touring and occasional rest periods at home in Kyzyl, Sayan is still overwhelmed by the mountainous urban terrain of skyscrapers and highways.
“Every time I see how huge this city is, how many people are here… wow,” he says of Chengdu’s vertical and horizontal sprawl. “We live in nature back home, surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes. You still have families who live in yurts, who are still herders; nomads.”
Sandwiched between the Siberian to the north and Mongolia to the south, the remote grasslands of Tuva have endured many “hard times” throughout their long and turbulent history, the ‘Tuvan Autonomous Oblast’ and ‘Tuva ASSR’ among some of the less catchy titles bestowed during the Soviet era. Today it is known as Tuva Republic, a semi-autonomous region of Russia.
“We have a harsh story in our country,” he reflects, “it was kind of like the Cultural Revolution in China,” he adds. “The Government killed its musicians, destroyed its instruments, destroyed religion, all these good things in music were lost.” Sayan laments of the lost music during the enforced reduction of Tibetan Buddhist and shaman culture in Tuvan society during these times: “there used to be a Tuvan harp, but we don’t have it now.”
Revitalisation and protection of traditional Tuvan music and instruments is a core part of Huun-Huur-Tu’s reason for touring. “We are among the last people who know the real traditional music,” he gestures widely, their unique homegrown drone zone culminating with Turkic, Siberian and Mongolian influences, “we want to try and reproduce the soul and emotion of our homeland in our music,” he says.
According to Sayan, despite cultural and linguistic differences, there are far more commonalities than people might think in the creation and appreciation of music. “Like in jazz, if you know scales or chords or songs, you start to improvise around them. It is the same in our culture.”
“In our tradition, we don’t have real teachers, the young generation just sit with me and improvise – just play with me, look at what I do, and how I make instruments.”
“We used to have a taboo that khoomei was not for women – it was believed to be bad for their health, for having babies…” he trails off, responding to Ming Ming’s question about the traditionally masculine activity of throat singing, “there is a lot of tension, you know,” he gestures towards his wide chest with a cigarette in hand.
There are now a growing number of women who are performing the art, and doing it well, he says.
Sayan touches on a “sad, deep song” the band did not perform tonight, called Orphan’s Lament. “Sometimes when we play this song, it makes us cry. It is about loss and life.”
Time is almost up. The band’s manager interjects in Chinese that the group need to rest ahead of tomorrow’s journey.
Lydia poses a question about the local music scene in Tuva, a topic which Sayan is positive about. “We have Tuvan Culture Centre in the capital city, we have a lot of concerts, a national orchestra, and lots of young groups playing different instruments. It is getting better and better.”