Back in May, I got a message from my friend Yixiao about coming to play in Chengdu and Chongqing with XI’ER, the predecessor punk band to electronic witch-synth trio South Acid MiMi.
When I first met Yixiao, Shishi and Weilin in 2015, I’d already been indoctrinated into the cult of South Acid Mimi, having experienced their intoxicated psychedelic dance masquerade at Kunming dive bar earlier that year. As one of the weirdest shows I’d seen so far in China, I was ecstatic when they agreed to play support for the mothership of acid freakery, Orchestra of Spheres during their China Tour.
我在2015年认识一笑、施施和魏琳，那年1月在昆明如痴如醉地体验了一次她们的迷幻化妆舞会，可以说已经成为了南方酸性咪咪的狂热追捧分子。那是我在中国看过最怪异的演出之一，当她们表示乐意为星迹乐团(Orchestra of Spheres)的中国巡演昆明站做嘉宾的时候，我简直欣喜若狂。
Upon meeting them in Kunming, it was immediately clear they were super badass. Arms covered with tattoos, they led us to their hangout in downtown Kunming – a bright yellow studio full of retro furniture, glitter, toy figurines and kooky decorations. Bowie and Sonic Youth adorned the walls. Paper umbrellas hung upside down from the ceiling. A MicroBrute synth sat next to a vintage telephone.
Meizijiu, cigarettes and conversation flowed freely. Incredibly lovely, generous and talented, everything about them was so different to the world outside – a bizarre amalgam of kitsch and kawaii, hard-edge and soft core, addiction and adolescence, juxtaposition and excess…
XI’ER is where it all started. Flashback ten years ago to an open mic night in Kunming: 16-year-old guitarist Shishi met Weilin, a girl who could sink liquor and scream like Karen O and Yang Yang, a long haired hottie who played the drums in high heels. They rented a practice space and kitted it out with pink lights, plastic beads, plush toys and homemade microphone racks, soon scoring gigs at local bars and music festivals. Shishi and Yixiao eventually dropped out of high school, Yang Yang moved to Dali, Weilin went back to Nujiang, and Xi’er was disbanded.
Later, they went on to form South Acid Mimi, a psychedelic electronic dance trio who have since been covered by VICE and i-D. Using a reverb soaked vocal harmonies, a laptop and keyboards, the band uploaded a bunch of tracks to Douban and have since performed in most major cities across the country, including large music festivals and underground parties. South Acid Mimi are in the mixing stage of releasing their highly anticipated debut record with Beijing based label Ruby Eyes.
Back in 2015, with nothing else better to do, they reformed the band XI’ER. With the original bassist in Shanghai, Xiaohei has joined as the only male band member, despite not knowing how to play bass. Since Weilin moved to Beijing, Yixiao took up lead vocals.
XI’ER aren’t interested in punk clichés or traditional understandings of the genre. Their music sounds as likely to take queues from The Stooges as it is from rockabilly or synth pop. Much like South Acid Mimi, XI’ER experiment by fusing influences from punk and electronica – synth noise emerges alongside oddball guitar riffs and pounding drum lines, while the vocals are full of grit and attitude, equal parts aggression and sensuality.
Always moving to their own beat, XI’ER tear down conventions and mix them into a highly potent cocktail – the kind your friend makes for you that has waaaay too much rum in it. Always down to party, XI’ER have been busy touring the southern provinces and are set to bring the ruckus to Chengdu and Chongqing this weekend.
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
Brace yourselves – in the second ever Kiwese tour, Wellington outsider punk duo mr sterile Assembly are making their way to China to freak some people out and devour various vegetarian fry-ups.
Last month I found myself waiting for some friends outside Baobab Cafe. Despite a two year absence from Wellington, everything was overwhelmingly familiar – the tangy scent of South Indian curries in the breeze, rows of faceless mannikins posing in op-shop windows and bright yellow public buses trundling past with a mechanical groan. Lofty signs for QUICK AND EASY PERSONAL LOANS remained latched to the sides of cheap bakeries. Not much had changed in Newtown, an inner-city suburb dotted with ethnic restaurants and a growing number of hipster hangouts.
After work traffic kept me waiting by the side of the road. Conversation floated by among those clasping fish n’ chips or Keep Cup lattes to their puffer-jacketed chests. A cold wind blew as gutters were scoured for cigarette butts and spare change by the chapped hands of the less fortunate.
The income gap in New Zealand has continued gape wide open in the two years since I’ve been gone. A suit scrolls through his iPhone while a homeless man rolls a used durry. This is the reality of urban Aotearoa – no glossy tourism pamphlets, no rare and endangered birds, no hobbits or wizards.
There is, however, a pair of performance punk musicians whose music speaks to the experiences of the poor, marginalised and ignored members of our society, who believe in telling stories that belong to the current cultural conversation, who believe “indifference is the death of the heart.” They are mr sterile Assembly, dubbed as one of the most unusual live acts in New Zealand, a band who have reached out to Kiwese seeking a way through China.
At a little past half five, my ride arrives.
Three years since the last break, not a single day off since Paradise is busy by the bay In orbit of the corner store, seven days a week Seven through to seven every day
Upper flat, inner city, such a long, long way from home Double cleaner’s wages pay the rent In a tiny condensed world, make do in a single room Quiet touch only, beside the daughter’s bed
Living third world in a first world city
Employer brands the loyalty, keeps the manners nice The old bloke at the front desk, bites down the bitterness Stress value first impression, try to smile with missing teeth Fight for slight promotion and pass the urine test
Living third world in a first world
A state house by the motorway, a tiny condensed space How many can camp down, into a single double bed Fever likes the company, attracted by rheumatic heart Win the prize of penicillin, or a surgeon on your chest
Loud hear them Lucky them Who were there And who got out Don’t hear them Other them Who are there Who can’t get out
– ‘Othering Heights’ from It’s All Over by mr sterile Assembly
A car pulls up in the middle of the road and a man with the most fantastic moustache in the South Pacific gestures for me to hop in. It’s the ringmaster Kieran, the drumming and singing mr sterile himself, with the other half of the Assembly, bassist and vocalist Chrissie, behind the wheel. Car troubles aside, we are soon cruising around the South Coast as the sun sets behind the hills, tinted orange and pink.
We soon arrive at their Happy Valley home – mr sterile gets to work on reheating a veggie curry for tea and Chrissie fires up the brazier. Their kids have all grown up and moved out, leaving the cat to prowl around the cozy living room stacked with a staggering array of books, CDs, records, cassettes and paintings. A drum kit and bass amp sit next to the sofa. It is a home full of music and information.
I’d received an email from mr sterile Assembly several months prior, who had seen the Orchestra of Spheres Rockumentary on YouTube and were themselves long intrigued by the possibility of touring China. A few more emails, a Skype and a serendipitous trip back to New Zealand for Going Global, I was now sitting in their living room hearing tales of Levin bogan basement gigs, the touring circuit in Indonesia and the travels of DIY punk duo Sabot.
It is with much pleasure that I announce the mr sterile Assembly China Tour 2016, kicking off this Friday in Shanghai.
MR STERILE BIO:
The mr sterile Assembly is a bass and drum duo of explosive proportions from Aotearoa New Zealand. With one foot in the world of punk, and the other dancing between noise, math rock, free-form squall, they are not easy to box, and are quite happy about that. Known as much for their wordsmithing as for their impressive live performance, sterile’s fierce delivery has been described as “oppressive and delightful both at the same time.” Organ Magazine, UK.
After 15 years, five albums, and several excursions to Central Europe and South East Asia, Sterile are looking forward to this 20 date tour across 2 continents.
The band will be traveling with their latest album, It’s All Over released through the band’s label skirted Records. International distribution is through Portland based Metal Postcards. Take a listen on Bandcamp to “A jolt of pure creative spirit married to social commentary, and damn good fun!” NZ Musician.
KIWESE PROUDLY PRESENTS:
MR STERILE ASSEMBLY CHINA TOUR 2016
Shanghai @ Space-631
NOIShanghai LXXIV X Space-631 Vol.8
Support: Torturing Nurse, 反方向的钟(上海) 白梦薇(上海))
Guangzhou @ Loft 345
In Collab With: QiiiSnacks Records
Die! Die! Die! 来！来！来！Hold the press, New Zealand noise-rock / post-punk trio Die! Die! Die! are returning to China for the first time in five years for a ten date tour!
It’s a sweltering Thursday afternoon here in Chengdu and I am still nursing a strained neck induced by overly aggressive head banging at the first annual Punkfest CDC 成都朋克音乐节 at Morning House 早上好 last weekend. Speaking of overly aggressive head banging and sweatiness…
Die! Die! Die! are such a great band. Their live show is an almost cathartic experience, the relentless thrashing and collision of flying bodies, the unpredictability of vocalist/guitarist Andrew Wilson as to when he will careen off stage. Just thinking about Michael Prain’s drum intro to A.T.T.I.T.U.D. makes me feel like sporadically pogoing into people.
The band first toured China back in 2011 with Tom from This Town Touring, paving the way into the unknown for other NZ acts to follow. This time, with London-import Rory Attwell (Test Icicles) on bass duties, the band will be brought over by Beijing-based punk tour overlord Nevin Domer from Genjing Records and Maybe Mars for ten dates across Taipei, Hong Kong and the Mainland.
With the new high speed rail from Guiyang to Chengdu making things possible, the Die! Die! Die! train is storming west to play Guiyang, Chengdu and Chongqing, plus the main southern and eastern centres! YEAH!!
DIE! DIE! DIE! CHINA TOUR 2016
Revolver, Taipei Support: Slack Tide, Wayne’s So Sad NT500 (presale and student price) / NT600 (at door)
Focal Fair, Hong Kong
Support: SECTS, The Bollands
In the bleary eyed haze of 4am in the morning, I stumbled home from the after party at Morning Bar 早上好 and began mashing about on my phone trying to decipher a Chinese van booking app. Several hours later, a comedically large house moving van appeared, and we were ready to go. Chongqing, here we come!
With a lot of laughs and a bit of KFC, the OOS x Lady Lazer Light x Kiwese China tour bullet trained it’s way to the sprawling, hilly municipality of Chongqing, home to 30 million people, the most populated centre in China.
NUTS Livehouse Chongqing is one of the most professional venues I’ve been to in China. These guys have their shit down pat, from the lights to the sound to the promotion to the vibe. The venue itself is located in Deyi Fashion Mall, a bizarre building in Jiaochangkou full of different levels, sections, awnings and shops.
The crowd was electric, with more than 100 people turning up on a weeknight. Although there was no warm-up band arranged, the Spheres magically mutated into a mysterious New Zealand hip hop act called The Niubis™. Never before has Chongqing been so educated about multinational milk corporations, the uterus or breakfast condiments.
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
With countless flights of endless stairs to tone those thighs and hot pot so spicy it will empty your bowels; those looking to lose weight might find a trip to Chongqing 重庆 is just the ticket.
Kiwese spent a few days in the south west mega city of Chongqing to see what’s up in a municipality population of almost 30 million people.
My first impressions of Chongqing were that it was eerie as hell. There is a spookiness about abandoned, decaying buildings in the night. The sheer amount of concrete debris and general trash that lay throughout the city was astonishing.
I guess it is worth noting that there are probably oceans of debris lying around every big city in China, concealed by walls of photoshopped blue skies and glamorous high rises, but the hilly topography of Chongqing means that you can view it from above.
Commentators from travel guides to political analysts to bloggers and international students will often say China is a land of great juxtaposition. Perhaps nowhere else can this contrast between new and old, decay and sparkle, be seen more acutely than Chongqing.
Meanwhile… up the road:
Chongqing is a short two hour high speed train journey from Chengdu. From Chongqing, you can get buses and trains to loads of different places in Guizhou, Sichuan and further afield.
The subway system in the city is well-planned, easy to use and just downright impressive. Chongqing subway ticket machines willingly accept wrinkled notes, unlike the unforgiving machines in Beijing, who will spit out any cash short of a crisp, clean bank note like a rude child sticking its tongue out. Humph!
1) TINA’S HOSTEL: If navigating your way through trash and human excrement is your kind of thing, look no further than Tina’s!
Tina’s is nestled away in an old, decaying building off Zhong Xing Road, about five minutes from the nearest subway station.
The dorm rooms are among some of the cheapest in town, albeit cold and musty. On the other hand, the staff are nice, they sell cheap beer and Tina’s unpopularity means the Wifi speed is second to none. Good on ya, Tina.
2) YANGTZE RIVER INTERNATIONAL YOUTH HOSTEL: Like finding a needle in a haystack, or a poo among rubble, Yangtze River was difficult to find amidst Chongqing’s winding streets and hidden staircases covered in debris.
While not the most ideal location, you can climb one of the narrow staircase streets, eat a bowl of noodles at a 45 degree angle and watch freight workers carrying gigantic loads across their shoulders up and down stairs three times the length of the Dixon Street steps.
Yangtze River Hostel provides a comfortable common area, a rickety fooz ball table and Chongqing Beer. The bunks are a bit tough and the nearby train line is a bit noisy, but the staff are super helpful and non-condescending when you speak Chinese.
3) GREEN FOREST HOSTEL: This is your best bet. Nice rooms, nice staff, nice location. Also known as Wa She 瓦舍. Offers a range of Chinese and Western food, taste factor somewhat lacking and subject to availability.
Walk Around and See Stuff
CIQIKOU 磁器口: Using Chongqing’s excellent subway system, one can visit this old porcelain trading hub on the Jialing River. We spent several hours wandering through the lanes and stairs of this old part of town, which while being a popular spot for tourists, has largely managed to avoid the cheesy ‘ancient town’ treatment of so many historic areas in China, see: Lijiang, Yangshuo etc. Cute coffee shops and tea houses are tucked into the laneways, while the main street caters to all sorts of street food hankerings.
There are many different areas to explore and get lost in. Across the river was a small village, where half the buildings were set for the 拆 and the other half were still inhabited by locals.
Women burning paper for their ancestors at the foot of colourful idols in the rock. Down at the river, women scrub their clothes and ducks waddle off a fishing boat over a wooden plank. Freshly killed pork skewered on a metal rod and slung over the shoulder, sold door to door. Sausages overhang the road, bai cai straddles the window. Abandoned wrecks of old homes dissolve into ferns and leaves.
Like many parts of Chongqing, the port area was undergoing large scale construction. Bulldozers and cranes clear land for development metres from where an elderly woman was tending to some crops. Buildings which looked as if they would collapse with a breath of wind have been marked off and left to rot.
1) I can’t remember what this fish is called, but you should eat it.
2) 小面 xiǎo miàn / little noodles. Nice, cheap breakfast or snack. And everyone else seems to be eating them, so why not.
3) 火锅 huǒ guō / hot pot. Hold onto your butts, Chongqing hotpot is renowned for being the spiciest in China! We got one with a broth in the middle to douse the flames. Feat. lotus, potato, various tofu, stomach and brain.
Drink and Dance Excessively
坚果 NUTS LIVEHOUSE: Established in 2007, NUTS is one of the oldest livehouses in the city. While NUTS is located in the lower part of a big fashion mall surrounded by the classic tacky bar zone of every big Chinese city, the music and atmosphere is notably different taste from its neighbouring counterparts.
Offers a range of decent beers on tap as well as lethally priced 10RMB tequila shots. Pool table and good vibes dance floor.
1) Don’t go swimming in the river. Graphic.
2) Be a civilised traveller.
1) New life mantra: Well, THE QUEEN AINT.
2) Padded pyjama two piece. This is a hot fashion statement in Chongqing across a range of ages, men and women. No image, but yeah, padded pyjama two piece. Day or nightwear.
Favourite quotes from Chongqing
Chongqing local: “I heard that the air in New Zealand is so clean that when you blow your nose it comes out clear!!”
Chongqing local: “We call Beyonce “菜场B” on the internet, cos her clothes are like the grandmas at the vegetable market.”
Woo, Chongqing! Special thanks to Mat for being a pal and coming along.