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[Music Monday]: Muted Portraits
Secret sounds, spoken words, big indie, and homecoming queens and kings taking the stage throughout this week...
By Jul 13, 2015 Music
Music Monday is a weekly SmartBeijing column, serving up fresh audio/video streams from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever).


Hot times, my friend. Hot times. Glued to my AC at the moment, but looking forward to the nighttime, indeed, several consecutive nighttimes this week, each holding secret sounds, muted portraits of nocturnal beasts that shrink away by daybreak. The opposite of shadows. Here's a string of experimental improv, spoken words, dark dancers, branded capital-"I" Indie Rock, and homecoming queens and kings holding down the after hours:


Siwen Saodi

Let's start with a spotlight on this week's eponymous label. Muted Portraits is a new project by New York-based musician Gao Jiafeng. The concept is to release full albums not necessarily of music, but of spoken-word context surrounding the music. Jiafeng explains:

Every Muted Portraits album contains a series of tracks where each track consists of words spoken off-the-cuff in response to a given piece of music. Our editors visit multiple anonymous commentators from various backgrounds, presenting each with an audio recording whose author remains in secret. The commentators listen to the music and then speak about it. These conversations are recorded and then published as digital and physical albums.

Hmm... So far Muted Portraits has only existed in the form of an event Jiafeng booked for Pac NW folk experimentalist Arrington de Dionyso at New York underground venue Trans-Pecos, but Jiafeng's doubling down on the concept with two Muted Portraits events this week in Beijing, which will also see the official release of the first three Muted Portrait cassette albums.

Gao Jiafeng (photo by Zhang Wenxin)

First up, on Tuesday at School, Jiafeng's duo Siwen Saodi will perform with with Butoh dancers Gao Yang and Dan Min. If you're not familiar with Butoh, let me tell you: it's undoubtedly the most MUTED form of dance out there. Should work nicely with Siwen Saodi's similarly slow-moving experimental tone-building:

At School, Jiafeng and crew are joined by a number of other itinerant noisers, including Oakland-based cellist Crystal Pascucci, who's just finished a residency at Yunnan creative workspace Lijiang Studio. Tomorrow night, Crystal will be performing a set with her cello run through a few effect pedals to modulate the natural sounds of the strings, and will be accompanied by some local free improv heads on backup percussion. Might sound something like this:

Following that, on Thursday at Meridian, the Miji experimental music concert series returns for its 26th edition. Yan Jun, Miji's usual organizer, is taking the back seat for this one, lending the reins to erstwhile Zoomin' Night mastermind Zhu Wenbo. (Wenbo recently concluded his own long-running experimental music weekly and rebranded it as a cassette label, the first release on which features a live improvisation by Gao Jiafeng.)

Miji 26 features sets by Jiafeng solo and Siwen Saodi, plus a solo tenor sax composition piece by Li Zenghui. This will also be the official Muted Portraits cassette release show — Zenghui is the subject of one of the initial series of three Muted Portraits albums.

Miji 26 is Thursday, July 16 at Meridian Space. More


Also on Thursday, at Dada: underground futurebeat promoters Trap Don present the China debut of South Carolina-born, Berlin-based engima DJ Paypal. Paypal's been slogging his way down the slippery slope of internet-based hybrid dance genre semi-stardom for these last few years, recently breaking out with bigger and bolder bookings thanks to his affiliation with Chicago's stalwart Teklife crew (DJ Rashad RIP). Style is footwork, juke, stuff that flies over most people in Beijing's heads but what those few people who do get consciously domed with refer to as "that future shit":

Paypal recently released his debut EP, Buy Now (heh, heh), on Glaswegian label LuckyMe, and has been touring on that pretty hard in the wake. Expect Thursday night to be chock full of self-consciously too-cool club kids, Internet Reference T-Shirts (tm), Shackup imitators galore, probably a good number of walkups thinking to themselves "How the f*ck am I supposed to dance to this?" but trying their damnedest anyway.

50rmb, 10pm start. More


Gate to Otherside (photo by swansong)

Next, on Friday: Converse continues to quietly, mutedly imprint itself on the minds and eyeballs of School Bar's regular set of young rock'n'rollas with its second gratis Rubber Tracks showcase. Over the weekend I noticed what seems to be a semi-permanent Converse installation at School, in the form of a neon light centrally positioned on the bannister running parallel to the front of the stage. It wasn't plugged in or glowing when I was there, but it was still pretty conspicuous. Mixed feelings about that, but I suppose with venues dropping like flies the ones left standing have to make ends meet however they can, and we beggars can't be choosers. And we'd really be proper fucked on the live music front without School.

So, brand or no, it's a solid lineup on Friday. Live sets from increasingly electrified White+, "stupidelica" lo-fi love triangle Gate to Otherside, and rising stars The Harridans. Here's a newish single from the latter, "Moon Tiger", released by upstart label Ran Music. Apparently this one's gotten over 10,000 plays on Chinese streaming site Xiami:

This one was mixed and mastered by the Ran Music team, who are also hard at work putting the finishing touches on an upcoming release by Beijing boom-bap beat producer par excellence, Soulspeak. More info on that and other tricks Ran have up their sleeves to come.

In the mean time: Converse Rubber Tracks Vol. 2 feat. White+, Gate to Otherside, and The Harridans is Friday, July 17 @ School.


Last up: on Saturday at Yugong, Maybe Mars celebrates the return of two of its Young Turk troupes — Chui Wan and Birdstriking — from their respective inaugural North America tours this past Spring. Both were smashing successes by all accounts, despite visa troubles for both bands on either end of their North America jaunts: Chui Wan had to cancel the first leg of their tour due to some feet-draggers at the U.S. Embassy here, but they made it just in time to take the stage at Austin Psych Fest, where they shared a bill with the legendary 13th Floor Elevators. Birdstriking had to cancel the last West Coast leg of their tour after being denied multiple entry back into the U.S. from Canada.

Nevertheless, both bands fared well on the other ocean. Chui Wan cracked the Top 30 lists on several radio charts, and had one of the U.S.'s most important independent media organizations, National Public Radio, globally debut their latest video. Birdstriking also experienced something of a milestone while Stateside, finally receiving the long-awaited re-release of their debut, self-titled album, which has just been lovingly re-pressed onto etched-vinyl double LP.

Birdstriking was originally released way back in 2012, but its initial run was stunted by the fact that certain lyrics on its standout track, "Monkey Snake", raised red flags at SARFT and denied the album legal distribution within China. Here's that tune, which recently got the MV treatment (VPN time, obviously):

Birdstriking "Monkey Snake" from Birdstriking on Vimeo.

On Saturday, Birdstriking will finally get its proper release. Still not entirely "legal" to distro in China — the vinyl is being issued by US label A Recordings, the passion project of Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe. Like his bandmate Ricky, Anton has caught the China Indie Bug, or, more precisely, the Bird(striking) Flu. (Rimshot!)

That's Birdstriking + Chui Wan, plus an opening set from up-and-comers The Eat, on Saturday, July 18 @ Yugong Yishan.


Muted Portraits = TUE July 14 @ School & THU July 16 @ Meridian Space

DJ Paypal = THU July 16 @ Dada

Converse Rubber Tracks = FRI July 17 @ School

Birdstriking LP Release = SAT July 18 @ Yugong Yishan


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