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Favourite Releases 2016

The other day, while sunbathing on the lawn of a Melrose flat, my friend and I began thinking about the diminishing human element involved in post-internet music consumption.

When I was at high school, I basically lived at Slow Boat Records and Real Groovy – music havens where I’d browse for hours, listen to CD posts, purchase records, get recommendations from staff, find out about new releases from posters in the window, pick up gig guides and buy tickets to upcoming shows.

I remember getting up at dawn to bus into town and be amongst the first to hear Stadium Arcadium the day it was released in New Zealand. I remember staying overnight outside the ticket booth, flanked by fans draped in sleeping bags, eagerly waiting for sales to open for their first Auckland show. This was about ten years ago now.

Nowadays, you can be a fan without ever leaving your front door. With the exception of buying The All Seeing Hand’s Sand to Glass on vinyl at the door of their album release show, I bought all this year’s featured albums online, without even talking to a single person.

The internet means accessibility has grown but human contact has reduced. But the creation, sharing and consumption of music is still an immensely personal thing. These albums create the soundtrack to so many aspects of our lives, they speak to our own experiences or the experiences of others and make us feel things more deeply. Let’s continue to feel, express ourselves and connect with others.

I’m so thankful to all these artists for producing these works and sharing them into the world, where they can be shared and distributed in an instant across the globe.

In no particular order, here are Kiwese’s favourite releases from New Zealand and China in the Year of the Monkey 2016.

Header Illustration: Ali Pang


The All Seeing Hand // Sand to Glass

(MUZAI)
Wellington, NZ

The All Seeing Hand finally gave birth to Sand to Glass in December and oh yesyesyes, it has been worth the wait.

In their first album to feature predominantly English lyrics, Sand to Glass showcases Marks’ politically pertinent wordsmithing, encased in industrial metal clanking by drummer Ben Knight (Rogernomix, Unsanitary Napkin) and those trademark, turbo charged electronic power ups from scratch master Alphabethead.

It is perhaps their most ‘pop’ record to date, if The All Seeing Hand could ever be considered so, with tracks like Lizard Brain and Swarm standing out as previously released singles and indicating a shift away from the more abstract compositions of Mechatronics (2013) and Fog and Debris (2014) and towards a tighter sense of songwriting.

Listened to this on repeat while biking through the smog of Chengdu, the soundtrack to this environmental apocalypse.

Favourite track: Dog Eat Dog


Hu Yang //  Xu Huai Ruo Gu

(Be Sure)
Beijing, CN

My friend Liu Xing introduced me to Xu Huai Ruo Gu earlier this year and I was immediately hooked. Released digitally on the Berlin/Shanghai techno label Be Sure, which is home to brilliant offerings of mixtapes from artists such as Art’s Difficult (ELVIS.T) and Shanghai techno queen MIIIA.

Formerly known as NiChiFanLeMei, this Mt. Emei born Beijing-based producer creates a kind of brutalist, no nonsense techno – all muscle, no fat.

Possibly my most listened album of the year, suitable for furiously bike riding to a destination or scrubbing the kitchen and getting that shit clean as hell.

Favourite track: Restricted


Orchestra of Spheres // Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon

(Fire Records)
Wellington, NZ

FIRELP430 Death And Vanilla - EP LP SLEEVE

Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon is a psychedelic serving of tunes, many which have been part of the Spheres mind-melting live set for the past few years.

Their knack for combining the everyday with the otherworldly is evident throughout the album: Let Us Not Forget, an eerie prayer of reminders before leaving the house, the intensely danceable South East Asian inspired jam Anklung Song and their fast-paced Zombie Zombie cover Rocket #9.

Bubbling with sounds both organic and electronic, voices both chanted and spoken, influences both local and extraterrestrial, Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon is a tasty, special brew from my favourite band of Wellington weirdos.

Favourite track: Anklung Song


Duck Fight Goose // CLVB ZVKVNFT
押打饿《未来俱乐部》

(D-Force Records 大福唱)
Shanghai, CN

Duck Fight Goose have teamed up with producer Lv for this smashing record on D-Force, their first release in four years, the soundtrack to interplanetary cyborg dancefloors.

CLVB ZVKVNFT is bursting with imagination and inspiration, combining elements of breakbeat, acid house, synth pop and techno into a cohesive string of 12-tracks. Busy yet uncluttered, frantic yet disciplined. A triumph.

Favourite track: 《马》


Unsanitary Napkin // Patriotic Grooves

(Zero Style, Always Never Fun, Limbless Records)
Wellington, NZ

FASCIST VOLCANO
SPEWING
MOLTEN SHIT

Patriotic Grooves is a fast and furious fuck you from Wellington punk trio Unsanitary Napkin, formed in 2015 and fronted by guitarist/vocalist Hannah Salmon a.k.a. artist Daily Secretion, who is well known for her zines, gig posters and album art in collaboration with other Wellington-based bands.

The 12-tracks of the album are punctuated with broadcast radio beeps and sound grabs from white, male New Zealand politicians and media identities. Incredible, machine-gun-like drumming from Ben, who forms a blistering rhythm section with Rupert on bass.

As the album’s defining image of Donald Trump being annihilated by a rainbow beam from a winged vagina (the sticker version shaped like a sanitary pad) would suggest, Patriotic Grooves is comprised of vaginal blasts of anarcho feminist anger directed towards the chauvinistic and conservative peaks of society.

Brief and intense.

Favourite track: Feminine Odour


iimmune // Abnormal

(D-Force Records 大福唱片)
Beijing, CN

Melodic, dramatic and emotional. Thoughtful compositions reminiscent of Four Tet and Aphex Twin, Abnormal is the beginning of Bobo’s metamorphosis from film scores to dancefloor ready techno.

Keep an eye on his electronic label Prajnasonic and stay tuned for next year, when the bass will drop.

Favourite track: 鲸鱼-


So Laid Back Country China // Sin Cristales

(Self-released)
Wellington, NZ

“I’m too busy drinking / all of the time”

In September, I found myself sitting in the bath tub of a five star hotel in Auckland, up to my tits in hot water and drowning in anxiety. Like my mind was smashing itself into the ground, stuck in a violent wash cycle of negativity, trapped underwater in a swimming pool covered by an immovable tarpaulin. I felt like I was going to rip my own face off.

Sin Cristales brought me back to earth, having articulated such emotions to great effect. Grateful. xx

Favourite Track: Ballad of Calm Arms


Yue Xuan // Entrance & Exports
岳璇《Entrance & Exports》

(Mo Records)
Beijing, CN

Entrance & Exports is a remix of Yue Xuan’s beautiful piano album In & Out from 2015. Bringing together producers from around China such as MHP, Broken Thoughts, Hong Qile, iimmune and Cvalda onto one impeccably well-crafted compilation (which was initially available as a free download on Douban), the remixes span Minimalist, Post-Rock, Drum & Bass, Techno, Glitch, Drone, Hiphop, Experimental, Ambient and IDM, bringing a whole new electronic take on the original.

Entrance & Exports and accompanying national Remix Tour is a fine example of how this young composer is utilising the resources and connections around her to produce something new and exciting.

Favourite Track: Nine of Swords (Cvalda Remix)


Mermaidens // Undergrowth

(Flying Out)
Wellington, NZ

Mermaidens have come a long way since those first acoustic demos four or five years ago, with Undergrowth released in March establishing them as a staple of the Wellington indie scene.

Enchanting mermaids conjuring “dark witch rock” from the dense scrubland is as psychedelic as it sounds – lurking with hidden dangers, the title-track Undergrowth gradually flows from a slow and dreamy creek into a thrashing, rocky river, a structure many of the songs take on the album. There’s certainly something of the occult about these mermaids, whose reverb drenched vocals often take form in first or second person: “I’m a corpse on the beach / I’m a thing / send me out to sea,” pulling the listener deeper into their imagined natural world.

The undergrowth is a mysterious place barbed with the grit and sharpness of gorse, as well as the strength and unruliness of deep roots. Look forward to new material in 2017.

Favourite track: Under the Mountain II


DOC (Dalian Obscure Club) // Northern Electric Shadow
DOC 《北方电影》

(D-Force Records 大福唱片)
Dalian, CN

There’s something in the water up in Dalian…

I hadn’t even heard of the Dalian Obscure Club until copies of Northern Electric Shadow turned up on CD and vinyl at NU SPACE.

The power of crashing waves, the fluidity of rising tides, the delicacy of swirling rockpools – this is understated, beautiful ocean-inspired math-rock. A fresh breeze of sea air!

Favourite track: 加百利布吉 Gabey’s Boogie


Males // None the Wiser

(Fishrider Records)
Dunedin, NZ

A burst of sunny South Island power-pop. The long-anticipated follow up to their debut MalesMalesMales in 2012, None the Wiser is full of so many bright, catchy riffs and uplifting falsetto parts that wearing sunglasses should be listed as a prerequisite for listening. A set of wonderfully crafted guitar songs.

Favourite track: Chartreuse


The Fuzz // The Root of Innocence
法兹乐队《童心之源》

(Maybe Mars 兵马司)
Xi’an, CN

This upbeat, chorus-soaked indie rock record is possibly the most Maybe Mars-y Maybe Mars release to date – you just know Yang Haisong has been here.

The audience were quietly bopping along when The Fuzz came to Chengdu on their enormous album release tour in early 2016. Then when Sijiang from Hiperson came out to help them sing《控制》, the crowd exploded with cheers and turned into a sea of moshing bodies, it was beautiful.

Favourite Track: 《控制》


Peach Milk // Finally EP

(Self-released)
Auckland, NZ

Peaches and cream are my favourite kind of lollies. So perhaps it is inevitable that I would be into this new young Auckland producer, who dropped her first EP earlier this year. Peach Milk’s music sounds like her name would suggest – sweet and smooth.

Look forward to her sound evolving in the new year.

Favourite track: Heretic


yourboyfriendsucks! // Episode 1
yourboyfriendsucks!《第一季》

(QiiiSnacks Records)
Guangzhou, CN

Six-tracks of candy-coated indie-pop from our Cantonese speaking friends yourboyfriendsucks! Opening with a tribute to Just Like Honey by the Jesus and Mary Chain, how can I not love this? Surprisingly clean production for QiiiSnacks Records (formerly Full Label), known for their DIY lo-fi recordings.

Perhaps the biggest travesty of 2016 is the dissolution of ybfs!, as the lead singer Zoey has moved to Europe to study. Episode 1 is in fact the final episode. Boo!

Favourite track: Stay or Stay Away


Higher Brothers // Higher Brothers Mixtape
海尔兄弟 // 《海尔兄弟》

(Self-released)
Chengdu, CN

higher-brothers-mixtape-cover-art

“来嘛来嘛来嘛差一位 ~ ”

Perhaps I’ve included Higher Brothers Mixtape here more for their impact rather than my own personal taste, but their skyrocket to fame and influence on the local scene this year is certainly noteworthy. If Fat Shady put Chengdu hip-hop on the map, Higher Brothers CDC rappers Masiwei (马思唯), Dz, Psy.P and Melo, have dabbed themselves to the top and become one of Chengdu’s, if not China’s most iconic hip-hop acts.

This 19-track offering is a searing blast of arrogance and attitude delivered in a mix of lightening fast Chengduhua and American slang. Whether or not elongated trap beats are your thing, or that each track repeats the chorus about five times, tracks like 《野猪儿》 and 《尴尬》 have attained anthem-like status and established hip-hop as the biggest sound in Chengdu.

Now managed by Asian hip-hop agency 88 Rising, Higher Brothers have taken Chengdu hip-hop to an international level of “worldwide shit.” As collaborations with international artists such as Harikiri, Charlie Heat, Bohan Phoenix and J.Mag roll in, I look forward to their sound maturing more in future.

HIGHER.

Listen on Xiami.

Favourite track: 《尴尬》


Commended:


Singles:

  • CA1XR //  爱在一方(Future Disco V.I.P)
    Chengdu, CN

  • Cut Off Your Hands // Hate Somebody
    Auckland, NZ

  • Womb // Feeling Like Helium (demo)
    Wellington, NZ

  • Hiperson // 追和等
    Chengdu, CN


Next year we can look forward to…

Debut record from Chengdu indie babes The Hormones, the sophomore album from South Island songstress Nadia Reid, something trippy from Beijing no-wave masters Chui Wan, minimal techno stylings from atmen, the debut record from Kunming electro-punk wastrels South Acid MiMi Dance Team, potentially music from new Maybe Mars signees Lonely Leary and Dream Can  perhaps even something from those mysterious Dunedin-based creatures Elan Vital and Kolya

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Lady Lazer Light Casts A Spell Over China: Interview with Erica Sklenars

Wellington! 惠灵顿!

Erica Sklenars a.k.a. Lady Lazer Light is in the capital this week for two talks about her art residency in Beijing and touring with Orchestra of Spheres around China.

Kiwese caught up with her ahead of tonight’s first talk!


The last Lady Lazer Light show I saw before moving back to China was in collaboration with long time pals Orchestra of Spheres.

It was a cheap $10 gig at Valhalla – a grungy, hole in the wall on Vivian Street downtown Wellington, which having survived several different eras of management had remained popular among the metal, bogan and experimental community for it’s diverse billing, excellent beer selection and outdoor area provisioned with old car tyres and miscellaneous lounge furniture.

It was mid-2014, a rough time for Wellington music punters with the closures of popular inner city venues Mighty Mighty and Puppies. San Francisco Bath House had been renovated into ‘San Fran’ – a yuppie, tapas-catering ghost of it’s former self that had halved it’s capacity due to safety concerns – the packed out balcony and wall-to-wall mosh pit had become a thing of the past. The city was thirsty for a good show.

The Valhalla line-up included some of Wellington’s favourite acts, who were not greatly affected by the venue closures as they were accustomed to playing in unconventional spaces around town. Throat-ripping turntable noise trio the All Seeing Hand had arrived home from their national tour and were supported by their good mates Orchestra of Spheres, experimental folk yodeller Seth Frightening, and visually enhanced by the Queen of Psychedelic Projections Herself, Lady Lazer Light. The stage was a whirlpool of colour and sound and the bar was packed with familiar faces, with Valhalla regulars happily drinking alongside the refugees of less fortunate venues.

In the second set of the night, the Spheres took the stage in inimitable style – festooned with the finest eyewear The $2 Shop can buy, armed with one-of-a-kind wooden and tin instruments and oozing with the bizarre stage presence that has earned them a cult following throughout the country. The crowd surged forward, ready for the cosmic rhythms.

Orchestra of Spheres and Lady Lazer Light. Valhalla, June 2014.
Orchestra of Spheres and Lady Lazer Light. Valhalla, June 2014.

As Lady Lazer Light sprayed forth her kaleidoscopic beams and the Spheres chanted a mantra about iPhone chargers, the sensorily satiated crowd swayed shoulder to shoulder as one, united by a brilliant display of colour and sound. If the desired effect was group hypnosis – they certainly succeeded.

The show was a spiritual experience for the city – the buzz around Valhalla, the friendliness and happiness of all the people who had come to celebrate and support, it was a truly magical night. Orchestra of Spheres and Lady Lazer Light were the gems in Wellington’s creative crown, and we all bowed down in ecstasy.


Around the middle of last year, things really started to fall into place. I was emailing Dan from the Spheres on an almost daily basis and we were gradually putting together the pieces for a national China tour. The dream was coming to life, everyone was excited.

KIWESE: “Are you guys bringing Lady Lazer Light?”

DAN: “Erica Sklenars is going to be in Beijing for three months on an artist residency!! So we’ll bring her along for the trip.”

KIWESE: *faints*

Last year, Erica was selected as the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange (WARE) artist-in-residence at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, a programme jointly run by Asia New Zealand and the Wellington City Council. Visual artist/zine overlord Kerry Ann Lee and punk photographer John Lake are previous recipients of the grant and have both previously featured on Kiwese.

Kiwese had the privilege of working with Erica on several projects around China, including the epic Orchestra of Spheres x Lady Lazer Light China Tour, a techno party in a Feijiacun BBQ shack, an impromptu music video shoot with Kunming disco-punks South Acid MiMi Dance Team and a VJ show for Lost in Space at .TAG, an electronic music club on the top floor of one Chengdu’s tallest buildings.


The morning after the second Orchestra of Spheres show in Beijing, I awoke with a heavy hangover to find Erica passed out on the couch at my friend’s tiny flat in Beixinqiao, wrapped in her screen as a blanket and surrounded by noodles of projector cables and chargers. A Lady Lazer Light bomb had exploded in the lounge and ground zero was beautifully chaotic. This chick is crack up.

Despite being a fan of her work for years, I’d actually never met Erica Sklenars before she arrived in Beijing last September.

During my time with her in China, through all the madness, set-ups, pack downs, instant noodles, Jingjiu, overnight train rides, WeChat frenzies, gaffer tape, raves, laughs, cries and hangovers, she became a very dear friend, one who I have enormous respect and admiration for as an artist, improvisor, communicator and genuinely wonderful human being.

I am so pleased to finally feature her here on this humble blog.

Lady Lazer Light and Kiwese. Dali, Yunnan, China, October 2014.
Lady Lazer Light and Kiwese. Dali, China, October 2015.

KIWESE: Sup Sklen, how’s it going?

SKLENARS: Fab!

As Lady Lazer Light, you’ve been a staple visual collaborator in Wellington for many years. Can you tell us a bit about your current set up in Dunedin?

I’ve been living between Dunedin and Wellington a bit this year with various projects, but I’m technically based in beautiful Port Chalmers, Dunedin, living and making work in Chick’s Hotel.

What’s the deal with Chick’s Hotel at the mo?

They closed a couple of weeks ago, went out with a bang with a number of awesome farewell gigs, including Shifting Sands and The Clean sending us off on the final night.

I’ve been away since then, but word on the street says there is a killer recording studio developing downstairs…

You were based in Wellington for many years, how have you found the transition to Dunedin life? My only experience with the music scene on my trip there was a seedy late night karaoke bar, where I realised Seven Days by Craig David is actually really hard to sing.

Haha! I have only encountered YouTube karaoke down there… but may have heard something about such bars.

I’m finding it quite different, a bit more chill, a good place to reflect on my practice and on my high-energy, chaotic last few months of travel.

There are some really cool things happening there in the music scene, some awesome new and old bands, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to collaborate and perform. There is actually some REALLY great music happening there at the moment.

You’ve mentioned Élan vital before. Could you name some other acts you’re digging in Dunedin?

Yes, Élan vital are super awesome. A member from that band is also in Death and The Maiden, who I have worked with in the past and they rule. Another member has started an awesome band called Terrified. There are so many I love… Astro ChildrenOpposite SexEmbedded Figures, I’m missing some out I know.

I collaborated with Repulsive Woman recently, she played alone outside an old Free Mason Lodge and the audience watched/peeped on her from inside through a camera obscura I constructed. She plays One Direction covers.

You were in Beijing for three months and really thrived in it. Do you have any favourite spots for music and art in the city?

I:project Space is a super awesome artist run space. I went to a few cool events at Aotu Studio 凹凸 for art/book launch/music.

For music – School, Dada and Temple!

What do you miss about China now that you are back in NZ?

I miss the food of course! I loved it all. I miss being able to order a bunch of different dishes – I’m terrible at making decisions on menus.

I miss always having an exciting new place to go! There’s one particular dish I would get that was kind of an omelette thing with sprouts and noodles, it was soo good for late breakfasts. And the shredded potato!! So good.

I miss the friendly faces around where I was living, going on adventures through different villages to find art supplies, taking several forms of public transport to go somewhere, the amazing friendly people I would meet that would extend so much help and kindness despite us not speaking the same language.

Lady Lazer Light at the Poop Clothing Mall. Beijing, September 2015.
Lady Lazer Light at the Poop Clothing Mall. Beijing, September 2015.

The Spheres tour was so bloody fab. Do you have a particularly standout gig?

Too hard to choose! I loved the BBQ party in Feijiacun because that was in the community I was living in.

I loved the NUART Festival in Chengdu and the after party at Zaoshanghao, so much fun! I loved every city and show for different reasons, I can’t pick a single fav. I really want to come back and I’m working on some plans, watch this space!

When can we expect to see the South Acid MiMi x Lady Lazer Light music video?

Soooooon!

What would you say to other artists wanting to visit China?

Do it, it’s an awesome place to tour as a band and to make art.

Chur girl, you Sklegend!

Still of Erica and a fan in Chengdu from the upcoming Orchestra of Spheres: Te China Rockumentary series presented by Kiwese in early May.
Erica and a fan in Chengdu – a still from the upcoming Orchestra of Spheres: Te China Rockumentary series set for release in early May.


 

Erica will be speaking in Wellington tonight and tomorrow:

P-LAB: LADY LAZER LIGHT
/////////////////////////
Time: 7:00pm | Wed 13 April 2016 
Location: Pyramid Club
 272 Taranaki Street, Wellington, New Zealand 
Koha entry

For her P-LAB session, Erica will be delving into her world of projected visuals and speaking about her recent 3 month residency in Beijing on the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange.

The Pyramid Club is run by the Sound and Exploration Society.

Read more at the Facebook event page.


International Connections: An artist residency forum
Time: 5.30pm – 7.30pm | Thu 14 April 2016
Location: Adam Auditorium, City Gallery
101 Wakefield St, Wellington, New Zealand
Free entry

Hear internationally acclaimed visual artists speak about their practice and residency experiences in a panel discussion chaired by Courtney Johnston, director of The Dowse Art Museum. The artists – Marc Brandenburg, Etienne de France, Erica Sklenars and Sian Torrington – will share their work and their thoughts about the world versus Wellington.

Berlin-based Brandenburg is the current Goethe-Institut Artist in Resident at the Bolton Street Cottage; Etienne de France, from Paris, is the Massey University Artist in Resident staying at Te Whare Hera; and Erica Sklenars and Sian Torrington are both Wellington-based artists recently back from Asia.


Read more about Erica’s time in Beijing here!

Stay tuned for more from Lady Lazer Light on Kiwese!

http://www.ericasklenars.com