To celebrate and share the works of the late, great New Zealand composer Jack Body, the NZ Consulate-General in Chengdu and long-time friend, composer and pianist Gao Ping 高平 invited the NZTrio to perform at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music this month.
Kiwese attended a press conference (oooh) with Gao Ping and the lovely folk from NZTrio: Ashley Brown (cello), Justine Cormack (violin) and Sarah Watkins (piano), all dear friends and musical comrades of this celebrated Kiwi music maker.
With a YouTube search of the name ‘Jack Body,’ you will find a mixed bag of NZSQ performance recitals and club remixes of the house tune ‘Jack Your Body.’ A truly spectacular name, for a one of a kind, fun-loving and inspired man.
Te Aroha-born composer Jack Body will be remembered for many things. He was an educator, photographer, traveller, editor, facilitator and mobiliser of New Zealand’s musical dialogue with the outside world. Having lectured at the New Zealand School of Music for over thirty years, Jack introduced the Indonesian gamelan to New Zealand, wrote countless numbers of works, invited talent from around the world to perform, write and teach in New Zealand, and even released a photographic series of penises!
Jack attended school and university in Auckland but later called Wellington home, where lived with his life partner Yono Soekarno in Aro Valley. Despite his fascination with the music and cultures of the world, Jack was based in New Zealand his whole life and dedicated himself to bringing the world to NZ and vice versa.
We are forever grateful for his commitment. Rest in peace, Jack.
Hi NZTrio! This is not your first time in China, is it?
JUSTINE CORMACK: I forget how many times we’ve been here already! Jack established these music links with China. He is the reason we have been able to come so many times.
How did this trip come about ?
ASHLEY BROWN: It was a lovely invitation from Gao Ping and the NZ Consulate. We’ve been to Chengdu twice before to play at the Sichuan Conservatory. We love the food and the people. We are beginning to get further into the local music, too. Gao Ping is currently writing a piece for us, a piano trio with guzheng, which is a very important and exciting project – a way for China and New Zealand to join hands in a cultural way. Hopefully it will be performed on our next visit to Chengdu.
Jack said he enjoyed coming to Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou to find Chinese inspiration. What do you think inspired him?
GAO: Mr. Body came to the Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan region really early on－ the first time was about thirty years ago. He travelled out to really remote villages to sample their music, including ethnic minority areas in Guizhou. He loved folk music – the music that derived from the original ecology. He collected a lot of material – this whole journey was recorded in a documentary called ‘Big Nose,’ which what Chinese people call foreigners.
Fieldwork, data collection, sound recording, all of this had an enormous impact on his later works. He was not only interested in folk music but customs as well, like the backstreet hubbub of hawkers and peddlers of Chengdu at the time. He recorded these voices and well as the chanting of workers, then later added them into his works.
What are the highlights of tomorrow’s performance?
SARAH WATKINS: One special piece in the program is for solo piano with voice recording called ‘The Street Where I Live’ – the voice is Jack describing the street he lived on in Wellington. It is nice to have that voice as part of this conference, even though he is no longer with us. The whole program is a lovely display of Jack’s interest in so many different styles of music.
WATCH KIWESE TV: NZTrio’s performance in Chengdu.
Featuring excerpts from Fire in the Belly and The Street Where I Live by Jack Body and Four Sketches by Gao Ping.
What kind of connection did Jack have with Chengdu and Sichuan?
GAO: The first time Mr. Body came to Sichuan was in 1986. Although I didn’t see him back then, he forged some great connections with several musicians here at the Conservatory of Music. Later when I moved to the U.S. to study, I invited him to a performance of his works. When I eventually moved to New Zealand, I had a lot do with him. To be honest, we have always been pushing this NZ and China music connection, he came to Sichuan in 2009 with some other Kiwi composers. He is a New Zealand composer who really cares about Chinese music.
His real ideology was based around a musical worldliness. Not a worldliness where everyone is the same, quite the opposite, he hoped that every place could protect what was unique about them, while also being able to mingle with everyone else. This is what he was about. Whether in his own works, events or festivals, he was always promoting this ideology.
KIWESE: You mentioned that the NZ environment influenced you to compose Bright Light Cloud Shadows (2007). To what extent does your environment influence you work?
GAO: Certainly an artist’s environment has a very deep influence on his art, but it is not always clear. When you write you are emerged in the process, but the air, the light, everything, is what you are in – it does something to you, but it is impossible to separate what that is. That particular piece Bright Light Cloud Shadows was written in Christchurch, that is my NZ piece, although the title comes from the painter Bada Shanren. If I was to write such a piece now it would be very different, because I live in Beijing where there is no light and no clouds…
KIWESE: In addition to having such a close working relationship with Jack, what was he like as a person? Any personal anecdotes you’d like to share?
JUSTINE: He had a really wonderful sense of humour, as well being generous and loving, he really took care of people. There always seems to be a sense of humour in Jack’s music, my lasting memory of him is that wry chuckle. The first piece we will play at the concert is called Pain In The Arse, where have to scream out things like ‘pain in the BUTT BUTT BUTT!’ He would be chuckling at us!
ASHLEY: My memories are sincerity. What he taught us is that collaboration shouldn’t be superficial, where two groups simply share a stage, but to find ways for cultures to intermingle. Eating the food, meeting the people and actually existing together, having an understanding of each other. Having a laugh, telling jokes and a glass of wine with the people you are going to be performing with is really important. Jack certainly showed us how to share a few wines!
SARAH: Certainly one of our first memories with Jack was when we were travelling in Indonesia and our van broke down. So we had to pass a few hours in the middle of nowhere. Jack wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait in the van for a few hours, he wandered off and came back a while later saying ‘come, come!’ He had walked down a dusty road and found some houses at the end, where he met some families who invited us back for a cup of tea. That sense of exploration is what I will remember about him.
You recently ran a Douglas Lilburn tertiary composition competition. Even here at this event we can see a lot of NZ university promotion, and you will have seen the increase in Chinese students in Auckland. Is there much of a Chinese base in the performance or composition departments?
JUSTINE: Definitely in performance, composition not so many. It seems to me that music is valued by Asian people in New Zealand, that really comes through in their commitment and energy to learning about music. Great discipline, which is often lacking in others (laughs).
SARAH: We encountered some Chinese students over the years, I’m thinking Jeff Lin, and there were a few in the competition.
GAO: Concerts like this are important in increasing China’s awareness of NZ music. I think NZ is known for its milk here, a little wine, but I try to tell them there are great artists and composers!
Any stand out young NZ composers in your eyes at the moment? 你们现在觉得那些年轻新西兰的作曲家是出人头地？
JUSTINE: There are so many. Isaac Shatford – he’s a first year composition student. We’ve even brought along some of his music. In the Lilburn competition he wrote a piece for piano trio, which Lilburn himself never wrote.
On a hot summer’s afternoon, the sound of birdsong and motorbike alarms chorus together in the warm air at Zaoshanghao on Democracy Road.
Excitedly chattered about for the past few years and praised by Douban Music as “the true spirit of rock and roll” “amidst this increasingly conformist, fast-food generation,” Chengdu’s poetic post-punk band Hiperson greets you with their debut album No Need For Another History, out today on Maybe Mars!
Surrounded by leafy green banana fronds and sunlit rooftops, Kiwese had the pleasure of catching up with vocalist Chen Sijiang, guitarists Liu Zetong and Li Yinan and drummer Wang Boqiang, four of the band’s five boys and girls, who exude the chill, friendly vibes of Chengdu.
Recorded last year in an underground car park with the legendary Yang Haisong of P.K 14, No Need For Another History includes new tracks and reworks of well-loved demos. Warm fuzzy riffs crash through curtains of amplifier feedback; young voices scream lyrics of a history, a past and a present, of leaving and returning; a state of memory and forgetting.
Hiperson are an exciting new band that will leave you feeling as Comfortably Numb as a Sichuan peppercorn.
The name 'Hiperson’ has a few meanings, how did it come about?
JI YINAN 季一楠：我们一直想不到乐队取什么名字，然后突然想到这个名字因为当时才进大学的时候容易想很多事情，包括人和人之间的关系，然后发生在人生上的关系的一些事情 。Hiperson这个名字是描述一个你思考一个问题的角度，这样是在给person打招呼，感觉好像是另外一个非人类的东西在看一些人之间发生的事情。
We couldn’t think of a name for ages, then it suddenly came to us. We’d just started university, a time when you’re thinking about things like human relationships and events that occur in your life. The name describes the perspective you use when you are pondering a question; by saying ‘hi’ to ‘person’ it’s like a non-human entity viewing things that occur in the human realm.
So our own philosophy behind it is that when examining particular issues, if you jump beyond a personal perspective you will be able to transform it into something else – you can find more answers, it will be more fulfilling.
LIU ZETONG 刘泽同：第三方，God Vision.
The third perspective. God Vision.
And the Chinese name, Haipengsen 海朋森? The hǎi of hǎibiàn 海边 (ocean) and sēn of sēnlín 森林 (forest) has a nature vibe, was this deliberate?
LIU 刘：直接英译过来。是在一个开玩笑的环境里 !
It’s just a direct take from the English pronunciation, made up in a joking environment!
CHEN SIJIANG 陈思江: 然后选了几个字在排练室里。
Yeah, we just picked some characters in the practice room.
WATCH: Hiperson interview and performance of ‘He Made Up His Mind To Be a Tourist’ on The Sound Stage last year.
How did the band form three years ago? You guys all knew each other at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music?
LIU 刘：最开始我跟吉他手季一楠是同学，我们两个人就一开始认识就很聊得来，然后我们想做一支乐队。我们找到一个鼓手跟贝斯，就是现在秘密行动的鼓手跟贝斯手。 然后老季他认识了陈思江，是经过朋友介绍的，然后我们就去她里玩儿，这样就慢慢的大家都在一块儿了。我们的贝斯手黄哥黄仁涛也是我们同学，我们就让她一起过来试一下。我们之前的鼓手是陈庆凯也是我们隔壁班的同学，后来因为一些其他的因素，他就没有跟我们一起做了。现在这个新鼓手王博强进来了，我们最早跟他认识是他跟另外一个朋友一起做了一个两个人的乐队。
It started out when Ji Yinan and I were classmates, we got talking and decided to start a band. We found a drummer bassist, who is now playing in Stolen (秘密行动). Then Ji Yinan found Chen Sijiang through a mutual friend, we went to her place and had a jam and it gradually came together from there. Our bassist ‘Tao Ge,’ Huang Rentao, was also our classmate, so we got her over to try out. Our previous drummer Chen Qingkai was too, but after a while some other stuff came up so he left. Now we have a new drummer Wang Boqiang, we knew him from another two-piece band.
CHEN 陈：我们是在同一个school, 然后我是另外一个油画学院，但我们在一个campus.
We were all on the same campus and I majored in oil painting.
Do you think having formal music education has influenced you as a band?
I wouldn’t say we’ve actually had a formal musical education…
Because you all ditched class!
I think the reason we ditched class was that the teachers and classes were all Chinese, Maths, English and stuff. But in saying that, it gave us an environment where we could meet a lot of like-minded friends, and I think that has affected us more as a band than the actual classes. From there, it was more a case of relying on your own interests and working to understand them on your own terms.
What kind of experience did you have with music before going to Music/Art School?
I wouldn’t really consider it experience. I studied guitar for a month and thought it was fun, then wrote some songs and put them on Douban. That’s how I came to know these guys. Back then I was just randomly singing, just going with it, I never had training or anything.
JI 季：我是从初一的时候就开始，很神奇，因为我妈妈之前在电台在radio station 工作，然后她是管理那个碟库的, 专门放碟的仓库和磁带的tape 和CD的一个房子里面 。我初中的时候说我想学吉他嘛，然后她给了我一张CD的合辑，4AD的，是中文版的，上面配有很多CD乐队的介绍，歌词，照片，很好看那本书 。那个时候什么都不知道，就听了那张CD以后就想听更多的东西 。
I was in Junior High when I started playing guitar, it came about pretty miraculously. My mum was working for a radio station, taking care of all the tapes and CDs in the disk storage room. One day I mentioned I wanted to start playing guitar, so she gave me a 4AD compilation CD that came in a really beautiful Chinese edition book, with introductions to all the bands, lyrics and photos. At that time I knew nothing, then afterwards, I just wanted to listen more and more.
WANG BOQIANG 王博强：我是初中，因为我有朋友在身边学吉他，然后他说：“要不要我们就玩一个乐队吧？”然后我就随便去找了一个琴行, 不是乱选，那个时候感觉是自己对节奏也比较敏感，然后也挺有兴趣。那个时候什么都不懂，我们就在一起瞎闹。大学期间一直有一个做乐队的梦想，一直想把它完成。然后我也很高兴认识我现在的伙伴。
Back in Junior High, a guitarist friend said: “wanna play in a band?” So I went out and found a Tom Lee Store. It wasn’t just picking at random – I think I had a good feel for rhythm at the time, plus I was really keen on it. My friend and I didn’t know what we were doing and just made a racket. I’ve always wanted to fulfil my dream of being in a band, so I am really happy to be with these guys now!
LIU 刘：Hiperson 是我做的第一个乐队。我自己学琴还挺早的，也是初中开始，但我是读的那种封闭式学校，军校式的管理, 你不能随便进出，你只能待在学校里面，哪儿都不能去，后来我觉得很无聊，然后我就让我妈妈给我买了一把木吉他。当时有一本书叫做《吉他自学三月痛》就自己来学。
Hiperson is my first band. I started playing music quite early too, Junior High, but I went to a closed school with military style management, you couldn’t come in or go out, you had to stay within the school. I got really bored after a while and asked my mum if I could have an acoustic guitar. At the time I had this book called ‘Study Guitar Yourself in Three Months’ and worked at it by myself.
Are you all from Chengdu?
Our bassist is the only one! I’m from Deyang.
I’m from Mianyang.
I’m from Xi’an.
I’m from Quanzhou, Hunan.
JI 季：贝斯是成都的uptown.青白江。Almost another city.
Our bassist is from uptown Chengdu, Qingbaijiang.
It seems like you have a deep affection for this place, what do you like so much about Chengdu?
JI 季：有很多各式各样的原因。有吃。。。[笑话], 人也很好玩儿 。主要还是因为整个环境都比较适应 。成都那种环境特别容易让人沉下来，没有那么浮躁，你可以自己专心地做一件事情，周围外面的其他因素都不会打扰你。
So many different reasons. The food… [laughs], the people are really fun. The main thing is that the environment suits us, it’s really easy to feel at home here. It’s not complicated; you can just do your own thing without external factors bothering you.
We were never interested in going to another city like Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou – those cities don’t really suit our us. Chengdu has a more grassroots feel to it.
You guys have all been here for several years now, and in the past three four years or so the city has transformed remarkably. Do you think these changes have affected you creatively?
I think for us, the cultural changes have been more pronounced. In the past few years, there have been more and more events; projects and parties, small-scale and large-scale, it’s all growing because the way young people have fun and live their lives is changing. The internet has had a huge impact on that.
The changes in the city have given us more things to express. Whether it’s music or painting, I feel in past two years there’s been more to describe, more to depict, because all these different things are occurring. People are changing and their tastes are changing too. From a person’s appearance, to the things they like doing – all of it is in a state of flux, which sometimes results in really interesting combinations. Everything is converging.
Sijiang, how did you start out writing songs?
I feel like my creative process has changed a lot. When I started, I would just write about a feeling, like how I felt on a particular day. After a while, it’s sort of moved beyond these isolated feelings and turned into more multi-faceted descriptions that are more like stories or scenes.
All of your songs are in Chinese, I think they're great. Some bands that have been abroad like Hedgehog and Carsick Cars also sing in English, and the number of bands that fully sing in Chinese seems quite small. How do you guys view this?
JI 季：我觉得也不是说bad or good的问题，可能就是每个乐队的重心都不一样。
I don’t think it’s a question of ‘good or bad,’ each band just has a different focus.
I think it’s actually quite normal; rock music originated in the west and has been sung this way since the beginning, so the fact a lot of bands are singing in English now is just a progression from the original prototype.
The reason I write in Chinese has two sides: the natural and the unnatural. The natural being Chinese is our mother tongue – so it carries a different weight than English. That feeling of being exposed, naked, might disappear because it’s not our mother tongue, which is the unnatural aspect. It could put a wall between you and the things you’re singing about.
“Singing in your mother tongue is so direct for the performer and the audience，there’s nowhere to hide.“
If a singer is also a painter, they are able to write songs in Chinese more fluently. Like Muma, he’s a painter, and Ou Po [singer of Sound Toy 声音玩具], too. There’s some kind of phenomenon where artists are really good at expressing things in Chinese rather than English.
在你们的歌词里，有一些主题是关于历史，过去的事情和还没有发生的事情，记忆和忘记，就是这两个方面，还有leaving和returning。There seem to be a few common themes in your lyrics, such as history, the past and present, remembering and forgetting, leaving and returning…
CHEN 陈：我觉得我创作歌词的时候，可能我会把这些东西全部放到一起来看，就是有很多层面，就是说politics and personal feeling,和你的生活经验, 它有可能是结合到一块儿的。
When I write lyrics, I tend to put all of theses layers together, encompassing politics and personal feelings, life experience, society, emotions – they all roll into one.
One needs to be cautious when commenting on politics in China. The puns in your lyrics, for example in ‘The Curtain’ you say “zhè shì tōng wǎng jùyuàn de dàlù” (“this road is turning into a theatre”), this dàlù 大路 (road) could also be be dàlù 大陆 (Mainland China)?
Ah, you’re clever. I guess maybe I didn’t make a deliberate effort to avoid this political pun you’ve mentioned, but when you are engaged in the arts, you may not want to express your views to the public so directly; though they can be included within descriptions of scenes or experiences. Perhaps there are a lot of puns in the lyrics; perhaps sometimes I don’t articulate myself clearly.
“I don’t feel the need to lay out my views in such a direct way. I think it’s more important to evoke a feeling than convey a perspective.”
WATCH: Hiperson perform ‘The Curtain.’ Video by Maybe Mars:
Your new album is coming out soon, can't wait! How was recording at Psychic Kong?
CHEN 陈：Super cool, super tired. 我们去年8月待了10天，录音的话就是7天。后来我又录了几天人声。
We went to Beijing for ten days in August last year and recorded the album over a week. Then I did some extra vocals afterwards.
JI 季：它是我见过最underground的studio，在一个地下停车场里面，然后会走很久很久，里面很潮湿，很冷，没有任何光线，没有 fresh air，是在很热的夏天，进去以后就是另外一个感觉，就是很酷的设备和楼梯，那个地方你从眼睛看上去并不那么的专业，但是杨海松的态度和心是很专业的。很棒的一个经验，对我们的启发也很大。
It’s the most underground studio I’ve ever seen. It’s in an underground parking lot and you have to walk for ages to get to it, then inside it’s really damp and cold; there’s no natural light or fresh air. It was a really hot summer, but once we entered the studio it was a completely different feeling. It has really cool recording equipment, a staircase. At a glance, it looks really unprofessional, but Yang Haisong is an incredible producer. It was a really great experience and gave us a lot of inspiration.
What was like recording with Yang Haisong as your producer?
I think the biggest piece of advice we took from him was that everyone needs to be in charge of choosing their own sound. He doesn’t tweak the original sound a lot – what you hear on record is the way it really is. During that week of recording, seeing him in his element gave us a kind of spiritual energy. We weren’t used to being in that studio environment and it was hard to breathe at first, our brains went slow, but Haisong could just effortlessly switch into working mode. He’d get there at 7am, we’d start at 10.
WATCH: The Maybe Mars preview of Hiperson’s debut album:
How did you get involved with Maybe Mars?
Before that we opened for The Gar. We’ve opened for a bunch of other Maybe Mars bands and got spotted that way.
LIU 刘：我们在读大学的时候，兵马司就有许多优秀的乐队，包括我们以前很喜欢的Guai Li。我们一直觉得兵马司不像其他的厂牌，他更有自己的精神在里面。
When we were at uni, there were a lot of excellent bands on their label, including Guai Li, who we’re big fans of. We’ve always thought Maybe Mars is different from other labels, they have their own soul.
CHEN 陈：有一天我们去兵马司签合同，就和兵马司的老板Michael开了一个会，他说的话对我的映象很深，他说“We don’t want to make money, we want to make history,”就很打动我们。
When we went to sign the contract, the label boss Michael said: “we don’t want to make money, we want to make history.” That really resonated with us.
Your new album is titled ‘No Need for Another History,’ what does this phrase mean to you?
There are many different layers; everyone will have their own interpretations.
It’s from an old song we wrote.The history could be that of an individual, of a group, of a nation.
Or the world!
The album is gonna be available on CD and vinyl, though it seems like there are no actual record stores here in Chengdu?
Yeah, Liu Yitong and I are actually planning to set one up, with the goal of selling them really cheaply, so everybody can have record players and vinyl won’t seem like such a distant a concept.
In China, music fans are not necessarily going out and purchasing the music they like. What are your views on this ahead of your album release?
JI 季: 我之前看过一个我非常喜欢的乐队的采访，叫Fugazi，Ian MacKaye他做了一个讲座，说到了这件事情，他和他老婆做了一个新的乐队叫The Evens，他们去圣地亚哥演出的时候，他们还没有发过唱片，但所有人都知道他们的歌，所有的人都会唱，他一开始很震惊。不能避免我们就可以换个思考，就像我们的乐队的名字的理念一样，我们可以换一个角度去看这个事情，它也是很好的一件事情。
Recently I watched an interview with Ian MacKaye from one of my favourite bands Fugazi. He and his wife are in band called The Evens. They did a show in San Diego and despite not having released any records, everyone could sing along to all their songs. It was a total shock! So while we can’t avoid the issue, I think we can take the concept of our band’s name and change our perspective in order to turn it into a good thing.
LIU 刘: 我觉得还是有在转变，就是这个东西大家是去在网上下载还是去支持你的实体，包括现在国内有很多网站都还是有付费下载，就是一个慢慢的过程。之前我也玩游戏，我要去网上下载那种盗版或者是破解的，最近我玩游戏我都去买的正版，因为我会被那些游戏的工作人员感动，因为他们真的会花很多心血去做这个游戏，你为什么要浪费人家的心血你要去下盗版的。到时候也许10年之后，你会说我真的被这首歌感动了，我应该用实际行动去支持它。
I think it’s in a transition from downloads to support, including how there are Chinese websites now where you have to pay to download, it’s a gradual process. I used to download a lot of pirated games, but now I buy the real thing because I want to support the game makers. Why should they put their blood, sweat and tears into creating this thing if people just go and download it for free? Maybe in ten years or so, if people feel a song has really moved them, they will take real action to support it.
Actually, I think it’s been an inspiration, this internet piracy phenomenon. In many ways, it’s making up for deficiencies in Chinese pop culture, where these free things that we might never have been able to encounter otherwise are slowly being absorbed.
Have you finished planning the tour?
It’s pretty close to being finalised – we’ve just added two more dates, so about 29 shows all up. We are hoping to drive the whole tour with a Douban van. Maybe Mars have been a big help, we wanted to do something different for our first national tour, as most bands touring in China take trains and planes. Maybe we’ll start in the north, head east, south, then south-west.
JI 季: 因为开车可以节约开支的话，尽量就是两个城市隔得不是特别远，才能够更有效率，更节约成本，所以巡演就有很多小的城市，很激动。小到刘泽同的老家，很多很小的四线五线城市。
Driving could save a bit of money. We’re trying to plan it so we can drive between cities that are close together as efficiently as possible, so we’ll be playing a lot of small cities, which is really exciting. Liu Yitong’s hometown. A lot of small fourth and fifth-tier cities.
And Huizhou, Dongguan.
I guess these places would have very few gigs.
JI 季: 就算是一个小的城市，一个小的演出场合，只有五、六个人来看你的演出，也很不错，很朋克。
For a small city, having five or six people turn up is still not bad. Very punk.
The reason we’re in this band is closely related to our environment. Modern China is an exemplar of a developing country, which people don’t get a sense of unless they come here and experience it firsthand, like you have. The disappearance and revival of traditional culture, as well as the intensity of modernisation and urbanisation has confronted people with endless bizarre phenomena. It’s flesh and blood of ordinary people pressing up against commodities.
So we’re really looking forward to playing smaller cities, people there aren’t completely urbanised and they might think our music is weird, it’s exciting!
What do you think are some of the challenges for independent music in China?
Audience and understanding. Some people don’t get why anyone would choose to do music, including friends and family who’ll ask: What are you doing and why are you even doing it? There’s no money in it, what are you gonna do after that? You’re never gonna get famous, so what’s the point? Loads of questions like that.
Do your families support your music?
JI 季: 他们虽然不知道你在做什么，他不了解你做的音乐和事情，但是他们会支持你，家人的爱就是这样。
Even if they don’t know what you’re doing and they don’t understand the music or the other things in your life, they will still support you. Family love is like that.
Actually I think this generation of parents are just hoping their kids grow up comfortably, it’s not like the older generation who were worried about their kids having enough to eat and being clothed properly. Those basic questions aren’t so common anymore, as long as you can feed yourself and grow up healthy that’s the main thing.
On your 29 date tour of China, there will be places who have never heard music like yours. As a young band, are you hoping to leave an impression on other young people?
I guess we’ve put a bit of pressure on ourselves in that regard, but it makes us happy and compels us to keep doing what we’re doing.
There are so many in China who think in a completely different way to us, in that we like rock music and things that excite us, real things. They avoid these things and in favour of the pursuits of the older generation, traditional goals like stability, money, that kind of stuff…
Buying a house, ‘plain sailing’…
After the China tour, would you like to tour overseas?
Chengdu. An old lady in slippers fossicks about in the bright yellow leaves for fallen nuts from the local ginkgo tree. Bananas on pedicabs roll past mahjong players and open air eateries. Bundled up babies flail about like pudgy starfish on the laps of knitting grannies. The pace is chill, the sun shines, the sky is blue.
This is the environment where Allan Xia 夏昊禹, theAuckland-based artist and founder of the indie arts festival Chromaconand the transmedia production consultancy company Kognika, spent his childhood years.
Hey Allan! What brings you back to China this time?
Hey! I’d originally already planned the trip myself, then was invited to be part of the Screen Delegation with the NZ Film Commission for five and a half days in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.
Thanks! Yeah, I can see future initiatives going in this direction, seen as we have a Consulate-General here now. Chengdu for me has always been a very creative and artsy city. The overall mood, environment and pace of the city is what I’ve always liked about it. Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing are very business orientated – everything moves at a rapid pace. Whereas Chengdu is full of teahouses – substitute them for coffee houses and its like Auckland.
I moved to New Zealand when I was eight. It was a massive culture shock, really. We moved a lot and I went to like eight different primary schools in West Auckland within three years. So there was the language barrier, plus not having time to really make friends.
I think the lack of social engagement pushed me to become more interested in reading. I read a lot of everything, fiction especially, in Chinese and English. I was reading stuff like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and all the martial art novels. It definitely helped me keep up my Chinese reading skills.
I read a lot of comics as well: Japanese manga, Tintin, Astrix. I drew for fun, as well. I always liked it. I thought I was decent at it, in hindsight I wasn’t really, but it is good to be ignorant [laughs].
“Myths and legends and fantastical worlds with all these interesting characters… my love for storytelling was developed before visual arts.“
Your ‘Crossed Cultures’ remix of Renee Liang’s poem and Dylan Horrocks’ comic is amazing! I thought I was gonna cry by the end!
I feel like I was an observer in the whole thing – it came together so naturally. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever made. It was for a competition called Mix and Mash, which is all about Creative Commons and the idea of remixing work and generating new contexts for them. Renee’s poem and Dylan’s comic were put up under the Creative Commons License. Cultural identity isn’t something I always think about, but Renee’s poem encapsulated so much of my experience and perhaps even how I felt really deeply. It made me get over some stuff on a personal level, like I don’t think I ever need to make another piece of art about cultural identity [laughs].
How did you first go about pursuing your passion for art?
When you are in high school, you are thinking about your career path and that. I was really into indie web comics and games at the time. Once I decided I wanted to be a designer for film and games, I joined a lot of online arts communities like conceptart.org, CGTalk and CGHub, and started learning more and more. In high school, you’ll just get told what you need to do in uni, then the job you need to get. Whereas online, people are industry professionals who skip straight to the relevant information. That was really good for me because I quickly saw this pathway – and to get there I needed fundamental skill sets and knowledge. We don’t really teach drawing fundamentals in New Zealand, so if anything, swapping Science for Design taught me that I needed to NOT do seventh form. I spent a year in Chengdu and Beijing doing boot camp style art tuition classes.
Haha woahhh, how did that go down with your parents?
I was a typical Chinese kid – I had good grades in Science and Math… until fifth form when I decided I wanted to do art, then basically dropped everything else [laughs]. I was just drawing in math class. I went from A+ to D. It was a shock for my dad. Asian parents aren’t used to seeing D’s on reports.
How did the idea of bringing together local illustrators, comic artists, designers, animators and videogame developers in an event like Chromacon come about?
I did a group show with some illustrator friends at the gallery above Kfma few back. We had a really awesome opening. The whole “oh its low brow, but let’s try do a show, cos its K Rd!” vibe [laughs]. But after the opening, it was quite empty. I wanted the vibe of the opening expanded into its own event. Cos what’s the point of making art if people don’t see it?
For the first Chromacon in 2013, I thought it could be like twenty or thirty artists who I personally knew, but then word kinda spread and more people signed up. It just grew. It is a free event, but was still surprised with how many people came! Two thousand! Which is like nothing if you tell people about it in China [laughs].
Awesome! How are the plans coming along for Chromacon 2015?
It is gonna be from 18-19 April at Aotea Centre, with two floors this time. We went over capacity last year, which was positive but scary! The good thing was we had another room for talks and discussion panels and we didn’t have to turn anyone away.
How do you see creative outlets in China and New Zealand developing in the future?
I’m still trying to figure that out. It is also why the Kognika website is still quite empty. I want to co-develop a cross-cultural collaborative model with China, a strong and meaningful bridge between creative industries in New Zealand and China. One that is sustainable.
I think the most important thing at this point is to not make too many assumptions. Even I have. The more I engage with China, the more I realize I need to learn.
An entry from a travel blog about a two-month long backpacking trip around Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan and Hainan during the Chinese summer.
8am: Feeling a little bit stuck in a rut, I know that once I leave this place the Tibetan vibe will gradually fall away as I move south, but it is imminent and essential for me to do so (dwindling funds, altitude etc). However, Litang is not really inspiring me. It’s a rough round the edges town, dirty and trying hard to be a bit more modern… What will the day hold?
The day my perspective on Litang completely changed.
The Litang Horse Festival rumour mill was churning out different tales each day, this was the day it was allegedly meant to ‘restart,’ but of course, it did not. I’d been in daily contact with Dan (the US photographer I met in Kangding) via Weixin [WeChat]. He had gone up north to check out Ganzi for a few days and wait for the festival. There was an uncertainty in the air, a tension. The amount of military vehicles rolling round the dirt roads of the town seemed to drown out the small number of chilled residents, most of whom would pass the mornings and afternoons laxing streetside, rolling prayer beads methodically around their fingers. I relayed to Dan that Meduk the purple-contact lensed Tibetan hostel owner said it wouldn’t be on this year, but also mentioned it may start the 10th or 11th… shén me yī sì?? [什么意思, what does it mean??] I didn’t have that much time to wait around for it. Dan, on the other hand, said it was great for him, as the road back from Ganzi to Litang had crumbled apart and he was having to head all the way back to Kangding, then back over that huge rocky road to Litang.
In addition to the Tibetan mother tongue of the masses, I discovered differences in the Mandarin used in Garze. What I knew to be a plate of boiled dumplings, [水饺, shǔijiǎo], was always served as a spicy dumpling soup. The 8th. Needed to be in Lijiiang, Yunnan by the 14th. Early morning characters floated past the little restaurant and as I pondered whether to stay or go, an old man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth meticulously arranged several long strings of mushrooms on a wooden chair outside the front door of the restaurant, angling them in the optimum position for drying. Stay.
Met the Aussie guys in the lobby in the middle of Joel’s financial crisis. There are no international ATMs in Garze, apart from one in Kangding. They were the second victims of this technological deficiency that I’d met in the lobby during my time at Potala Inn, and like the French couple before them, they had to scrape together their remaining cash to buy bus tickets to Kangding before being stranded cashless up in the mountains.
Warmly welcomed the return of my camera battery from a French dude that had come from Tagong and set out to explore the town on foot. The dirt backroad to the monastery was full of ‘tashi delek!’ [བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས།] greetings from old Tibetans with their flap hats and eternally spinning hand held prayer wheels, big pigs in rubbished rivers, squashed square structures adorned with mantra flags and sunshine bursting through the rapidly retreating clouds. Lovely, warm and fascinating people. I climbed through a rectangular gap in a blood red wall topped with golden ornaments and clambered up a dirt hill, navigating around a small maze of narrow paths that stemmed off to the communities of stone brick houses, eventually reaching a quiet street that led to the monastery. It must have been a particular time for refreshing and repainting as teams armed with paintbrushes and durries created fresh murals and several gold statues were being resprayed in the cool air outside. At the front entrance to the monastery area, I encountered Roland the Austrian guy from my dorm and a German couple. I mentioned that I would be walking out of the town down past the Gold Arch (not McDonalds) in search of a dance and biǎoyǎn [表演, performance] in some tents that Meduk had vaguely mentioned to me in Mandarin and English. Down the back streets to the main town, I bought a banana from a wonky eyed lady in a snack shack and threw the peel to a ravenous hog by the grassy waterway. Saw a crew of scruffy young kids hatching a plot to frighten a a pack of stray dogs lying on a grassy plain; sneaking out from behind a large white prayer statue, firing an array of stick and rock ammunition then fleeing away with laughter as the barking dogs chased after them in revenge. A game tailored to their environment, kids can find fun in any situation. The kids out here are fearless!
The main drag of Litang is easily identifiable, lined with a community shops of all genres; curtains, windows, clothing, CDs, kitchen items, Buddhist goods, linen, raw meat and more, hoards of motorcycles and their owners, knick-knacks, prayer beads, doorways revealing handcrafted metals being clunked away at with years of experience (feat. large hammers on tiny metal targets between fingers, heavy machinery sending off sparks near the seated, sandal wearing machine operators), chatterbox ladies on stools out the front doing cross stitch, face masked women frying sausages in oil, stray dogs stretched out on the footpath having a nap, children playing with old car tyres, mamas with vegetable baskets on their backs and babies on their fronts, leather jacketed men in cowboy hats atop long hair braids all sitting on the steps, rolling their beads over their hands and baring their golden teeth. Seeing dudes who look like they are from another world or another era of time, mashing away at the keypads on their cellphones in China Mobile or queuing up at China Post. Military vehicles rolled through. A soldier or two trot down the footpath.
Stopped at the local gompa which elegantly peeked out from behind its stone walls to glorious effect amidst the gravel, rubbish and dogs along the street, inhabited by truly delightful people both inside the gate and out. I greeted the monk who sat by the dilapidated stone arch and his smile radiated such a warmth that I felt as if I’d just been struck by a rainbow beam. Once inside, the vibe was woah. I got my camera out and was immediately approached by two great gals who then leant on my shoulders to look at the photos on the screen, which made it feel like we were friends within the space of about four seconds flat. They were both dressed in very unique clothing, one had a tall yellow headdress and they both wore brightly coloured, ornately embroidered, long wrap-around dresses. We chat for a little while, by which stage several other smiley local gompa goers had gathered around to check out my curious foreignness too, allowing me to take some great close ups and receive a dozen more ‘tashi delek’! A hunchbacked lady gestured for me to follow her around the gompa, a daily ritual where they circulate through the square archways several times and spin the small wooden prayer wheels whilst chanting as they see fit. The hardcore oldies were simultaneously spinning the gompa prayer wheels with the right hand and spinning their hand held ones in the left. The gompa was also home to the ‘world’s biggest prayer wheel,’ which had several people of different ages and sizes rotating it around together, an impressive sight. This was upstaged by the actual world’s biggest prayer wheel in Shangri La, but who’s gonna go kill their buzz? Old, leather skinned men in camo green robes pulled over white shirts accessorized with the mandatory beads and walking sticks. One lovely old bloke out the front of the gompa and I spoke about family history for a while, then he agreed to have his photo taken, laughing and quickly plopping his hat back on his balding head, despite my reassurances that regardless he looked “hěn shuài!” [很帅, handsome].
The shops began to gradually disappear as I trekked further on down the road, locals would wave from their cars and bystanders would look at me with intrigue. It was a real sign of Litang’s foreignness from China, that even a Chinese-looking girl like me is a somewhat unusual sight. I continued walking down the road until the city fell away, paths became dirt and the only shops were small fànguǎn [饭馆, restaurants] based around a single wok on a gas element, a few steel manufacturing sheds and motorcycle garages and the vast grasslands stretching out towards the mountains ahead. Bought some aqua and a pack of guazi from a small xiǎomàibù [小卖部, kiosk, dairy, usually a sleeping lady behind a counter full of snacks and drinks] and had my walking directions affirmed. An array of vehicles hooned down the road; motorcycles with brightly patterned mudguard tails and long haired Tibetan men, military tanks, three wheeled carts that looked like they might putt to a halt at any moment and pick up trucks with full families perched on the back. Altitude and dehydration were starting to rear their heads as the robed monk that had been walking ahead of me for about half an hour hitched a ride on the back of a scooter with two other monks, widely smiling at me over his shoulder as they sped off with a plume of dust. An amicable tractor full of dark skinned, hat clad, bead rolling men implored me to jump on the back, but I was too slow to catch on and they chugged away into the distance. Soon after, a monk in a 4WD pulled up and gave me a ride the rest of the way down the road. He was softly spoken and had a calming nature about him through the ruminative look across his face and smooth driving style. I asked where he was going, he replied “suíbiàn guàng yī guàng” [随便逛一逛, casually roaming around]. Epic. Answer. Yo. I was speechless with his effortlessly awesome nature and mad sense of peace. I excessively thanked him as he dropped me off by a track which winded down through the grasslands towards a cluster of white tents. Young dudes piled on noisy motorbikes hooned around the fields, while a masked, hatted woman started walking and chatting with me and accompanied me right into the centre of the tents.
The sheer mass of people there around a large frameless umbrella pagoda tent thing watching the spectacle style performance, starring a group of performers with long haired wigs and fur costumes. Cross legged monks lined the ground seats on one side, the other sides packed with local nomads, Tibetans, children, oldies with prayer wheels; on rugs, plastic stools, benches or standing on the back of motorbikes, trailors and carts. The performance was all in Tibetan and had a lot of slapstick gags, each time one of the fur clad actors fell over, kicked another or teased an audience member, the crowd roared with laughter from the edges. The children were there by the dozens, so super cute, some with traditional clothes, some with qípáo [旗袍, cheongsam] covered in Apple logos, some scruffier than other, all endearing, curious and warm-hearted. An old lady handed me a yóutiáo [油条, fried breadstick] and I chilled with her, two kiddies and their mama having lunch sitting in the back of a cart, the conversation mainly smiles and nods from both sides, as they didn’t really speak Mandarin.
Rambled around the perimeter of the performance, enjoyed some local snacks from people in carts and got invited into the monk area which had Dalai Lama portraits and offerings of Coke, Sprite and Fanta. Sat quietly with some friendly old monks on the grass outside their prayer tent and drank one of the Fantas that had been thrust into my hand by a chatty monk. Sat with a family by their motorbikes and the gals leaned over to look at my photos. The baba was a champ – long black hair pushed to the side with a bandana, gold teeth and smooth shades. Ate some round, sweet bread balls on a stick with them, which I had just purchased from a jolly fat lady in a three-wheeler.
Grannies on the grass chatting over some noodles, kids doing cartwheels, monks lying beneath umbrellas, lads and beers, families chilling, big smiles and lots of ‘tashi delek!’ Granny on a brick cellphone with a baby in a basket. Newborn baby with mama and papa, all walks of life were here to enjoy the festivities. Though a completely different visual and aural experience than I’ve ever experienced, the prevailing concept of VIBE was the same. Garze’s version of (what once was) Wellington’s One Love. Outdoor get together of the community to share in the enjoyment of local performance, food and company.
I spotted Roland and we had some more bread ball sticks on the grass with Mark and Shavaughn a pair of funny peeps from the UK and Ireland who had randomly come across this event. Loads of kids came and hung out with us, getting particularly excited when we let them use our cameras to take photos. They identified all the people as they scrolled through my photos, “zhe shǐ wǒ de péngyǒu, zhe shǐ wǒ péngyǒu de dìdì, zhe shǐ wǒ jiejie… ［这是我的朋友，这是我朋友的弟弟，这是我姐姐的朋友, that’s my friend, that’s my friend’s little brother, that’s my sister’s friend] etc. One little dude asked if he could take my camera right into the performance to take photos. At first I said no, then I said “OK, wǔ fēnzhōng” [只有五分钟, just five minutes]. He ran away and disappeared excitedly into the thick of the crowd. About three or four minutes later, I was like “….hold up. WHAT did I just do?!” The crew was like “yo, did you just give your large, expensive camera to a small nomadic child?” I leapt to my feet and went around looking for him, ducking in and out of the layers of people around the performance gazebo (for lack of a more accurate word), but to no avail. Mentality was not good: Camera, gone. Photos, gone. Flashback to when my camera was stolen from a hostel in Ibiza and I lost all the photos of Becky and I with Shapeshifter and Tiki in backstreet Digbeth, Birmingham 2009. Noooo. Upon returning back to the original spot, the kid came running up to me looking as distressed as I was, “nǐ qù nǎr?! wǒ zhào bú dào nǐ!” [你去哪儿?! 我找不到你! Where did you go?! I couldn’t find you!]
The harsh sun and thin air tiring us out, we decided to trek back to the hostel over the lumpy grasslands. Spotted a contemplative red-robed figure sitting on the bank of a stream, it was the chill monk who had given me a ride! I asked him what he was up to, he said just thinking and observing. So. Cool. While he was friendly and helpful, he never smiled. We all trekked back across to the main road, traversing over streams, barbed wires and yak turds. It was a long walk all the way back to the Potala Inn, so I was glad to have Roland as company. Only 18-years-old, he just finished high school and was traveling before having to complete the mandatory year of community service in Austria. He chose to be a kindergarten teacher instead of joining the armed forces.
Collapsing back on my dorm bed, I could hear the sound of Daniel’s dombra from the bar/marae bedroom next door so went to go debrief of the days events. He spoke enthusiastically about how he had stumbled across a Tibetan wedding down a random street —- spontaneous and free-spirited, he offered to take us there!
Down a few small side streets, in a two-story building marked by prayer flags, the party rolled on! The ground floor’s dancing festivities of the daytime had wrapped up, but still contained dozens of local people smiling, chilling and imploring us to go upstairs where the music and chanting was coming from. WOOAH. The entire community must’ve been there, some in traditional dresses, others in casual vests, all joyful. The place was packed with people, long banquet tables abundant with food, snacks, drinks, alcohol and even cigarettes. Whether everyone actually knew the bride or groom is another question, one that is seemingly irrelevant. Some old ladies gestured for us to sit with them at one of the long benches stretching along the tables, another repeating “sit down! sit down!” in English while pushing us towards the food. Three bowls of yak dumplings were instantaneously presented to us by an unknown woman and the older lady opposite implored us to indulge in the array of unidentifiable meats and dishes in the centre of the table. This was all an incredible sensory overload of new experience and buzzy shit going on. The atmosphere was HUGE. Singing and chanting of Tibetan mantras came from each table, usually led by the group of men circling around and forcing seated men to skull full beers or bottles of water. An all day and night affair, the wedding continued to vibe with high energy, unlike Kiwi weddings which generally result in everyone hammered and dancing to Abba with their uncles by 10pm. Sculling a bottle of water was not considered any less of a feat than sculling a beer, everyone cheering and yelling during and after the ritual of each beverage. Daniel was handed a beer and surrounded by the men, who began to chant and clap him on with huge energy. The New Zealander in me emerged at the sight of a beer sculling challenge and I too was cheering him on with vim and vigour. I love Tibetans. The phrase ‘tashi delek!’ seems to extend beyond just a greeting, and from what I gathered is used freely for ‘cheers!’ ‘nice one!’ and generally just ‘woohoo!’ Traditional songs echoing throughout, content old ladies lining the benches and swaying to the sound, children running around and dancing, cups being filled, noodles passed to and fro. A lady planted her 9-year-old qípáo clad daughter over to speak English with us, a conversation which became far more natural and comfortable once her mother had floated off to socialise. Her older sister and then her twin sister also came to chat with us, their English at an impressive level considering their low exposure. The elder sister insisted on accompanying me to the toilet, a smelly little room of ladies collectively squatting over a central tiled trough, some facing each other and chatting. She continued to speak English to me as I hovered over the trough. Later on, three friendly French brothers and sisters were spouted into the room like water from a whale’s blowhole, proceeding to heartily thrash the paper cup of cigarettes on the table.
One of the most bizarre experiences of my life came when we were invited to the bride and groom’s side room which was full of loud, enthused, not necessarily drunk Tibetans, who pulled us in through the crowds towards the happy couple at the back. They had heard word of some foreigners in the main room and requested that we sing them a song in English. Considering our group consisted of NZ, Austria, Israel and France, our repertoire was fairly limited. The room quietened as we were presented to the bride and groom. We then sung the first two verses of Jingle Bells, the only song we could all sing together with some degree of fluency, which was greeted with huge applause from the wildly excited wedding guests and the couple as well. We tashi delek-ed the happy couple, were pushed aside by another group who wanted to sing to them and each had a fresh beer thrust into our hands. The festivities continued throughout the typically Litang power cut that came mid-evening, the throngs of people still filling the entire space, squashing onto chairs and squeezing into the bride and groom’s side room. I started an ‘olaay olay olay olaaaaay’ chant, which was picked up by a cute old woman who I was sitting back to back with on the bench, she was VERY into it hahaha!! After several beers, a shot of báijiǔ, [白酒, white liquor, 50%alc, often compared with hot lava] various meats, spicy noodles, dried sweet crackers, an apple, a bowl of yak dumplings and a mountain of guazi, we returned back to the hostel, high on Litang. ♦