MP3 Monday: Ben Ben
A quick look back at Taiwan shoegaze diva Ben Ben's Beijing buildup over the last few years ahead of her album release on Friday.
MP3 Monday is a weekly SmartBeijing column, serving up MP3s from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please email us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.
Today we take a look at Ben Ben, one of Beijing's more intriguing indie rock ciphers. Originally from Taiwan, Ben Ben represents this persistent phenomenon in which a musician moves to Beijing for its perceived musical manna, its mythical underground community, then quickly gets pretty disillusioned with the whole thing, then comes back because fuck it, it's really the only solid option. Actually most people who get burnt out on the music grind here just drop out entirely, but Ben Ben's kept at it. After three years of ping-ponging between Taipei and Beijing, writing songs and finding the right people to play them live and on record, she finally releases her latest, Sacrifice Mountain Hills, on Friday at Mao Livehouse. Here's a quick look at how she got to this point.
trailer for Skip Skip Ben Ben - "Sand" music video
Skip Skip Ben Ben was originally the name of Ben Ben's early solo work in Taipei. She put out a couple of pretty great releases under the moniker, the standout being 2010's No Fi, No Fiction. The three jams above are all off that. In this work Ben Ben's very much in her own head, which seems like a pretty gauzy place to be, full of meandering, Beatles-esque vocal loops and shimmery guitars, all that good stuff. Atmospheric to the point where you feel she is recording this in a cafe with an open mic but she's not actually on the stage, just incorporating the ambience into her own headspace. My favorite solo Ben Ben jam is "Camera," an even rawer demo cut that's hard to get out of your brain once it's wormed its way in there:
Boyz & Girl
In Taipei Ben Ben played in Boyz & Girl, a real amps-at-11 shoegaze quartet so resonant with the contemporary Mainland underground soundscape that they ended up releasing their self-titled debut on Beijing label Maybe Mars. In July 2010 they played a memorable show at D-22 with Birdstriking, Hot & Cold, and Carsick Cars that would sew the seed for Ben Ben's eventual semi-move to Beijing and draw the blueprint for her future musical projects here.
Carsick Cars circa March 2011
In late 2010 Ben Ben relocated to Beijing and joined Carsick Cars, which had just undergone a membership shakeup after original drummer and bassist Li Qing and Li Weisi left to focus more diligently on their band Soviet Pop and label, Rose Mansion. Birdstriking guitarist He Fan took over bass and Ben Ben jumped on the drums for a short but significant stint, laying down beats and backup vocals for a two-song Cars EP (to date their only release since 2009's You Can Listen, You Can Talk) and joining the band at the 2011 South by Southwest music festival.
Skip Skip Ben Ben's current Beijing incarnation
That phase didn't last too long. Pretty much immediately after SXSW, Ben Ben went back to Taiwan to try to reboot old projects and write new material. By September 2011 she'd moved back to Beijing and re-assembled Skip Skip Ben Ben as a full band, with Birdstriking's Zhou Nairen on bass and Sun Heting — Ben Ben's replacement in Carsick Cars — on drums. Lots of band incest going on there. Between conflicting commitments and Ben Ben's perennial pilgrimages back to Taiwan, the current incarnation of Skip Skip Ben Ben has taken a while to germinate. But last winter they managed to get into the studio with Yang Haisong, where they laid down a ten-song LP in a matter of days.
Skip Skip Ben Ben (Taiwan version) live at The Wall, February 2013
That album, Sacrifice Mountain Hills, covertly dropped at the tail end of 2012, but it hasn't seen a lot of press in Beijing until now. Partially because Ben Ben went back to Taiwan again at the beginning of 2013, where she assembled an alternate version of Skip Skip Ben Ben and hung out with Kevin Shields:
Now, at long last, SSBB is gearing up for a nine-city tour behind Sacrifice Mountain Hills. That all kicks off on Friday, May 10 at Mao Livehouse, where they'll play together with After Argument and Bedstars. Find more songs off the new record at Skip Skip Ben Ben's douban.