Rumours have been circulating for months now, but the demolition of Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu has finally become a reality.
Kiwese looks back on the old venue and forward to the new, ahead of Chunyou春游 2016 this weekend.
When people ask where I learned to speak Chinese, there are two truths – I studied at Victoria University of Wellington, Beijing Language and Culture University and Sichuan University for five years in three programs. But it was at Zaoshanghao where I really found my voice.
Located on Minzhu Lu 民主路 (Democracy Road), a quiet old street off the First Ring Road in the city centre, Zaoshanghao was a little local bar run by owner Zhang Xin and his crew of can-do local bros. Driven by a DIY attitude, love of chilling and independent music, over the past seven years Zaoshanghao has become a staple venue in the Chengdu music scene as well as the hosts and collaborators of some of the city’s most memorable music festivals.
Zaoshanghao on Minzhu Lu is a five minute walk from my flat or a two minute bike ride. Many friends live even closer; some moved to Jiuyanqiao just to be near it. Stylistically speaking, the crowd is a real mixed bag – hip hop rap stars, rasta potheads, punk guitarists, computer engineers, wandering folk singers, poets, hairdressers, techno producers, experimental cellists, oil painters, and more. Zaoshanghao is the beating heart of our little community.
I’ve celebrated the past two birthdays and New Year’s Eves at Zaoshanghao. I’ve met almost all my friends there. Zaoshanghao and the community of friends that make it great are a huge reason I am living here.
Though not an official ‘livehouse,’ the low stage and banging PA system has spawned random jam sessions, afternoon reggae gigs, experimental shows and impromptu DJ sets. While the majority of shows are hosted at the garden venue in Flower Town, the Minzhu Lu stage has been graced by bands as diverse as Soviet Pop, Noise Temple, Kawa and Jurat T.T.
With a fairly loose chuck-on-your-own music policy, people would be constantly plugging their phones into the main system, filling the weekday airwaves with music to share.
Zaoshanghao catered through the seasons, providing a place of warmth and good company all year round. The courtyard out back is cold beer in the summer and roasting round the fire in the winter. Kittens and spiders scuttled about, the foozball table perpetually in motion. Patti Smith gazed over the space in her white shirt and blazer, while the giant wooden giraffe towered above the stage.
Climb the stairs to the rooftop and you’ll find yourself sitting on a platform among the haggard rooftops of the houses next door. Amidst everyone’s grief about the closure, many have cited the greatest loss as the two banana trees out back, which have grown into ginormous beasts over the past four years due to being smothered in a full bag of fertiliser.
The charm of Zaoshanghao also stems from the neighbourhood. Surrounded by trees, cheap eateries and dilapidated wooden houses, the kind where walls are insulated with compressed ferns and newspapers. Morning traffic consists of elderly folk biking home from the vegetable market, while in the afternoon the street is lined with three-wheeled snack vendors parking up to feed the outpour of students from the music academy.
The sound of musical instruments and school children can be heard floating through the air, punctuated by the distinctive clink-clink-clank of iron hammers from local sweet sellers – the Chengdu version of the Mr. Whippy tune. The buildings are built in the old style, with traditionally tiled rooftops, open balconies and patterned brick window fittings.
Minzhu Lu held the vestiges of the city people once knew, and while towering skyscrapers and identical apartment buildings sprung up like wild grass, Zaoshanghao was a little haven of sanity amidst the madness. People felt comfortable there. It was like home.
In a city that has experienced such rapid, unimaginable change over the past 20 years, it was in this familiar environment that the second Zaoshanghao found it’s roots. Although the buildings were rundown, they were full of character and history, traits which become scarcer and scarcer with every newly built shopping complex.
Minzhu Lu is a quiet residential street off the First Ring Road, properties from 1 through 13 were given their demolition eviction notices late last year. Zaoshanghao is number 13.
Word that Zaoshanghao was going to be 拆掉 demolished began circulating in conversation about a year ago – everything but the date was certain. The government wanted to build a music hall next to the music school, everything had to go.
On several occasions throughout the year, it was said the bar only had two weeks left. Weeks later, we’d still be sitting out back drinking beers.
In November, it sounded as if the news was certain – two weeks left, for 真的 real this time. Residents from the surrounding apartments were shifting out, the moving trucks were being piled up, restaurants pulled their shutters down and pasted notices of thanks to the community for their years of patronage.
Along with two architect friends, I began to film interviews with friends of Zaoshanghao and local restaurants along Minzhu Lu, with the idea of producing a documentary about the demolition of the street called ‘Goodbye, Democracy Road‘ 《民主路，再见》.
“How long have you lived here?” Yang Yang yelled across to a resident washing the dishes in their sink on the balcony.
“Since 1973,” they replied, “we’ve got to leave by this weekend.”
Everyone was shocked to hear that there were only two weeks left, and as with most Chinese bureaucracy, the issue was shelved for another few months.
All throughout the winter, we converged around the brazier out back, burning the remnants of the old community around us.
Winter was spent sifting through the vacated brick flats for wood, old furniture and pot plants. Some of the stuff the guys found looked like it belonged in a museum. Rescuing the old things before the bulldozers come in and nothing is spared.
With the neighbours gone, the sound system was pumped up to its full potential. New Year’s saw Hiroshi play hard techno until 6am.
Zaoshanghao didn’t officially open again after Chinese New Year.
Demolition of Minzhu Lu started mid-last month at the mouth of the street. A blue wall was put up around the perimeter before being replaced with a brick one, which will likely remain that way for another year or so.
The blue wall now sits around Zaoshanghao and it’s neighbours, marking the inevitable. While many of us are upset, the Zaoshanghao crew are already onto the next. This is the second venue owner Zhang Xin has been evicted from in four years and he is not letting it stop him from continuing.
I’ve been super emotional about the demolition of the old street and community. The evicted residents will be scattered into soulless high rises on the outskirts of the third ring road, forever separated from the neighbours they’ve played mahjong with for the past three decades. The abandoned buildings will be left to decay, then replaced by buildings of the homogenised, modern city blueprint.
For my local friends, the news is sad but commonplace. I listen to their stories about what Chengdu was like when they were young – full of teahouses with big wooden slide doors, street side barbershops, swimming in the river, roads full of bicycles and carts. Now it is enormous high rises, freeways packed with cars and billboard screens. I think about what Wellington was like when I was younger. It more or less the same now. Revisiting spots from one’s childhood is not a possibility that exists for the locals of Chengdu. People have a different perspective on change here, it has been a constant for as long as they can remember.
Sometimes I think that’s why people here like taking photos, as a way of preserving memories when everything has been destroyed.
However, in an endless cycle of destruction and construction, there is life, rebirth and creativity.
Zaoshanghao have started a new venue out in Flower Town: Morning House. Sunshine, fresh air, bird song in the flower-growing village in the south of the city. Moving into the old Xiwo, the crew have established two more stages on either side of the swimming pool. New beginnings, bigger and better. Shit just got real.
In true DIY style, Zaoshanghao have smashed down the fence at the back and expanded into some of the old houses out back, converting them into an electronic music room, rehearsal space and studios for local band Stolen 秘密行动 and folk singer Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼. At the front, they have built a beautiful wooden stage beneath a plot of tall, willowing trees. While the banana trees at Minzhu Lu will be missed, there are plenty more tree friends at the new venue.
The new Zaoshanghao is beautiful and inspired. This weekend it is gonna kick off, as the fourth annual Chunyou rolls around!!
Get your pre-sales on Zaomengshe.
4月23日 DAY 1: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 疆与他的朋友们 Jiang with Friends
15：20-16：10 亮子与乐队 Liang Zi
16：10-17：00 Pascal Pinon（Iceland）
17：00-17：50 Kingkong&The Chum（Thailand）
17：50-18：40 Apollo 20
19：30-20：20 海朋森 Hiperson
20：20-21：10 未之域 Terra Incognita
21：10-22：00 罗友生 Luo You Sheng
22：00-22：50 秘密行动 Stolen
22：50-23：40 声音玩具 Soundtoy
4月24日 DAY 2: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 汪文伟 Wang Wen Wei（SH）
15：20-16：10 张尧 Zhang Yao（CQ）
16：10-17：00 黄晶与乐队 Huang Jing（CQ）
17：00-17：50 搞乐队 Gao Band
19：30-20：20 树子 Shuzi
20：20-21：10 Don Camilo（France）
21：10-22：00 说唱会馆 CDC
4月23日 DAY 1: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
14：00-15：00 Eric Huang
4月24日 DAY 2: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
03：00-05：30 Yang Bing（BJ）
07：30-09：30 Voko X
11：30-14：00 chill set
14：00-16：00 Cvalda & Ni Bing（BJ）
16：30-18：00 Summer & Nature Bao
19：30-21：30 Harry Ho
21：30-23：30 Mickey Zhang（BJ）
I am going to be playing with techno kweens Su and Xiang from atmen in creating some dark grooves on the Electronic stage!
Kiwese is very glad to join the Zaoshanghao crew this year in making videos and doing interviews! Stay tuned for more soon..
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, andvisually 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.
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.”
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.
KIWESE: Sup Sklen, how’s it going?
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?
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?
Liquid Light Show at Temple Bar Beijing, which Erica participated in. Sept 2015.
Shocking Pinks DJ Set at Dada with visuals by Lady Lazer Light. Sept 2015.
Mos Iocos of Orchestra of Spheres with Lady Lazer Light. School Bar, Beijing, Sept 2015. Image / Live Beijing Music
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.
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?
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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?
While the Chinese Government plaster the streets with images of the ‘Chinese Dream’ 中国梦, there are quite different dreams being conjured in the belly of the Chengdu underground.
Zaomengshe.com 造梦社 is crowd funding website that provides a platform for the local creative community. Co-founder and Marmite enthusiast Lydia McAulay came over for a cuppa to talk about the website’s one year anniversary.
The music scene in Chengdu is probably the main reason I wanted to move here (uh, I mean, the opportunity for increased trade ties with New Zealand…) Last summer, after being shown a street party blaring from a kitted out supermarket trolley on a foot bridge, followed by a drum and bass rave at a swimming pool with fireworks, I knew Chengdu was something different.
Around the same time last year, co-founders Lydia and Mat were working through the long-winded bào àn 保案 registration process for Zaomengshe, which has since helped fund over 100 local campaigns and raised over ¥117,000.
As the small, dedicated team, including two developers referred to as ‘the app guys,’ suss out PayPal payment gateways and release the ZMS Ticket Scanner App, allowing for pre-sale tickets QR codes to be scanned by several devices at once, the opportunities for the website abound and the dream factory at Zaomengshe are showing no sight of slowing down.
Diligently hunched over a Macbook while wrangling several iPhones and multi-lingual phone calls is the usual state in which one will find Lydia. Zaomengshe is the labour of love (from which she earns a whopping total of 0.00 RMB) that she hopes will bolster the independent music and arts scene in the face of meaningless vast corporate sponsorship, which has been jumping on the growing music festival bandwagon in China and steering it down a bleak road of profit and commercialisation.
KIWESE: Hey Lydia, how did you first end up coming to Chengdu?
LYDIA: I’ve been here for about five years – but it must be coming up on six years now. I left New Zealand in 2005 and was living in Normandy and Ardeche in France for a bit over a year. I ended up moving to Guangzhou for a year, where I learnt a bit of Chinese from my flatmate. I lived in Scotland for a year and bit, then London – where I got a job in the IT department of a derivatives trading company, which sent me to Chengdu. They were really open minded and put a lot of trust in me. I learnt a lot working with them.
Did you have any prior IT experience?
No, I studied Politics and Art History at Vic [laughs].
So you are originally from Tauranga and lived in Wellington for a while. What generation Kiwi are you?
My mum is from outside Opotiki. She’s like fourth generation Kiwi. My grandfather’s grandfather was born in New Zealand. They came from Midlands England, and they were the typical settlers trying to find a better life: ‘farmland coming out your ears!’
My dad is from Scotland and lived at sea for like twenty years on cargo ships. He was in the Merchant Navy as the first engineer, second below the captain. He told me stories about going through the Suez Canal back in the day. They went up the river into Guangzhou quite a few times. There were walls along the river, he said their boat was slightly higher than the walls, so they could see farmlands and heard speakers blaring out Mao’s thoughts.
Coming to Chengdu, how did you see there was a need for a platform like Zaomengshe?
It was a long story. I left China for a year in 2012 – that’s when I met you in New Zealand – and one of my friends was living with Anna, who started PledgeMe. So I ended up having a good chat with her about crowd funding, and was thought “holy shit, this would actually be a brilliant idea in China,” because there are some real problems with artists getting funding here. The bottom line for artists is different to that of young people making music in New Zealand.
You mean creative arts funding sources like NZ On Air and that?
A lot of what happens here is traded in guānxi, 关系, relationships, so if you don’t have the right background, you are really hard pressed to get your ideas heard. Crowd funding is a way to break down those traditional barriers. I guess it’s the anonymity of the internet – on the site, people have a username to post their campaigns, you are just a person with an idea, so people will look at your idea – not who your rich daddy is.
What were your first impressions of the music scene back in ’09?
One of my first friends here was Li Lan, the owner of Lan Town 蓝堂, which was – and still is – the hub for folk music here.
First gig I remember going to was Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼 . He is really interesting guy, who used to be a liúlàng 流浪, how do you even translate that? Like a roaming musician. His lyrics are really poetic and he incorporates his local dialect, instruments and way of singing into his songs. He is also a shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族, it’s quite cool how he manages to bring these ethnic minority aspects into his music.
When you say shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族, ethnic minority, do you sometimes feel like a minority in China?
Yeah in someways. I guess it can be a little bit difficult here – being white. Because you feel like you will never be totally accepted, ya know what I mean? Peoples first reaction to you is that you are foreign. Whereas when I lived in France, you could almost mix in, especially in the small town I lived in. People wouldn’t realize right away that I was foreign, which was kinda cool. You feel like if you did actually stay there for a really long time, you wouldn’t feel like a foreigner your entire life.
“The thing is – people treat you like an outsider until they know you. It’s the same in any country. Once you get to know them, you stop thinking of them as ‘that person who is different.’”
What are the main platforms that people can use to share their campaigns on Zaomengshe?
People are much more used to doing things on their phones here. Weibo 微博, WeChat 微信, and we have QR codes. I talked to Xiao Xue 小雪 (The Hormones) about crowd funding an oven – she’s thinking of having an event where people come along and scan their QR codes to get a cake!
From an IT working perspective, what was internet censorship like in China when you first got here?
That was before Facebook got blocked. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all got blocked on the same day.
Is that day like a ‘where were you when Michael Jackson died’ kind of memory?
I think it was about May or the start of June 2009. I remember that day because my workmate who sat behind me was receiving distressing calls from Xinjiang, where he comes from, there were massive riots. They didn’t just block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they put the internet for the entire province on lockdown. My poor workmate – it was a really emotional time. We were all worried about what was going on out there.
Though I wouldn’t say that censorship has ever impacted our website. It doesn’t really affect people on a daily basis here. Well arguably the bào àn 备案 is censorship, but it’s just red tape. There’s a lot of red tape in anything you do here. But censorship is certainly not something that contributes to the story of Zaomengshe.
What are your hopes for Zaomengshe, coming up to your 1st birthday?
At the moment, a lot of what we do is working with bars who want to use our ticketing platform – and it’s great that we can support them in that way. But it would be really cool to have more crowd funding based events going up.
It’s difficult, there is a different mentality towards crowd funding here. A lot of people think it is like tuán gòu 团购 －this concept where, for example, if you want to buy a cheaper hot pot meal, everyone goes in on it and you can all get it for a better price. It’s not entirely false that that is not crowd funding – it’s almost an offshoot, but what we are trying to do is get people to change their ideas about what it means to be supporting music and the arts here. It’s about supporting, not buying.
I guess in NZ if you wanna support a local act, you could go to their gigs, buy their album on Bandcamp, buy their merch or whatever. Perhaps here in China, people are not so accustomed to paying for music online, so that cuts off a big part of supporting independent bands.
I think it’s the same in a lot of countries, the music industry struggles with free downloads being a pretty common thing. It’s not just China. It’s really common to use streaming services like Xiami for free.
Check out Lydia’s recent Pecha Kucha presentation in Mandarin about Zaomengshe, as part of a Creative Minds session in Min Town 明堂:
“The scene exists here without our website. We are just trying to do something that contributes to it, rather than to push it in any direction.”
What has been your favourite campaign Zaomengshe so far?
Probably Beat Chengdu, the New Year’s party last year that crashed our server. The guys at Zao Shang Hao 早上好 who put it on thought it wouldn’t sell over 150 tickets. It ended up selling over 600 pre-sales on the website, with about 2,000 people attending on the night. It was an awesome – it showed them there was a demand for that kind of festival, while also showing Mat and I what Zaomengshe was capable of.
Any local favourites in Chengdu at the moment?
I don’t really have a favourite. I just like the fact that people are being creative, it’s the key to things changing here. I feel like I’m just observing.
…But in saying that, I do really like Qi Qi’s music, Cvalda!
Oh, how’s your Marmite supply at the moment?
Onto the second jar. Bit worrying.
Eek. What are your other main hankerings?
So you are planning to suss out a boat and sail the seas, how’s that shaping up?
It’ll take a bit of planning. Technically, I looked this up, you don’t have to have an international boating license to skipper a vessel that’s under a certain size – and the size is enormous. You’d be surprised!
Count me in! Cheers, Lydia!
Zaomengshe will celebrate their first birthday at Zao Shang Hao 早上好 in Flower Town 三圣乡 this Friday 1st November! FREE ENTRY with a downloaded Zaomengshe app! Featuring Stolen 秘密心动, Proximity Butterfly变色蝴蝶, Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼, Zuo Yue卓越 and more.