MP3 Monday: Zoomin' Night
A dip into the slow-running river of aural murk that's been flowing through Beijing's underground aquifers since 2009...
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.
So. The biggie for local music this week is Carsick Cars's album release on Friday. I'm not going to focus on that here, because I already featured some new Cars tracks on this year's first MP3 Monday and a mix, and pretty much every other magazine is running features on Carsick Cars this month, and we'll have CSC frontman Zhang Shouwang on the Culture Bureau later this week. Instead, we'll take a deep dive into Zoomin' Night, a weekly experimental music showcase that's been running since 2009. Zoomin' launched at D-22 and migrated to XP, where the mandate is more or less for this kind of music. In some ways functioning as a feeder for new Maybe Mars talent (bands like Chui Wan, Birdstriking, and Hot & Cold cut their teeth at the Tuesday weekly), Zoomin' Night was and continues to be the creative substratum for new moves from that particular corner of the Chinese indie/noise universe. Here's a sample of its sounds:
Zhu Wenbo in the studio (photo by semipunk)
Zoomin' Night is the product of Zhu Wenbo, a musician and promoter who's been an active member of Beijing's disjointed experimental music scene for over a decade. Wenbo was plugged into the nascent D-22 scene before it even began, having met Zhang Shouwang on a Velvet Underground-themed message board in the early '00s. He was a regular at Yan Jun's erstwhile experimental night, Waterland Kwanyin, which ran on Tuesdays at 2Kolegas until January 2010. Wenbo kicked off Zoomin' Night in August 2009 with a string of bands that would set the blueprint for the next few years: Hot & Cold, Birdstriking, pre-Chui Wan Yan Yulong side project Sister Oriented, and Fat City, Wenbo's band with guitarist Ma Meng. Fat City in particular established the baseline Zoomin' sound: raw, lo-fi, deconstructed, vaguely "rock" tunes with a heavy influence from vintage New York No Wave and '70s minimalist kraut. Fat City doesn't play any more, but they recently released a farewell full-length that was recorded in November 2011 — their heyday — and just now mixed/mastered by the go-to guy for these kinds of projects, Yang Haisong. Here are a few off that:
Xiao Hong & Xiao Xiao Hong (photo via Genjing)
Wenbo's other main project is Xiao Hong & Xiao Xiao Hong (小红与小小红), a protean duo with his wife, Zhao Cong, that's been going since 2010 or so. XHYXXH's sound has changed considerably over time, but in fairly discrete intervals. Their earlier stuff was slow and melodic, often played sitting on the stage, Wenbo tapping out melodies on a small keyboard and Zhao Cong whispering ghost vocals into a contact mic. That version of XHYXXH hit its apogee in the form of a 2011 self-released CD-r called Black Sheep, which later got a re-release via DIY United States cassette label Night-People. Here are some chillers from that one:
After releasing Black Sheep, XHYXXH took a drastic turn. Zhao Cong picked up the electric bass and Zhu Wenbo duct-taped a contact mic to his neck, ran it through about a hundred Boss pedals, and also did some things to a guitar. The resulting sound was at first much more harsh, pretty much pure feedback, but over the last few years they've refined it into a more subdued — though still angular and menacing — live set. Last year they laid down some of those tracks in a self-titled full-length full of studio one-offs with lots of Zoomin'-referential track titles. Here's one song named after me for some reason:
Find newer XHYXXH demos on their Douban and catch them live tomorrow night at XP.
Li Qing of Soviet Pop (photo via Genjing)
Another core engine of the Zoomin' Night scene from near Day 1 is Soviet Pop, the ultra-minimal modular synth/tape machine/sawed-off coke can/etc duo of Li Qing and Li Weisi. These two were the original drummer and bassist of Carsick Cars, leaving the band in 2010. They still play in Snapline, but their creative focus is set squarely on the far less structured sound systems that have variously taken the name Soviet Pop. Soviet Pop has long been one of my favorite Beijing bands, but musically, they're kind of a hard sell. In fact I'm not sure if what they do should be called music, even if they are capable from time to time of turning out "songs":
Li Weisi (photo by tutu)
The thing with Soviet Pop is they're constantly changing their instrumentation (albeit it's rare to see them without at least two of their PAiA modules at any given gig), aesthetic, and stagecraft to fit their current creative mood or the show at hand. In that sense they've been one of the most consistently interesting bands to watch in Beijing. Hot & Cold member/current VICE China video producer Josh Frank makes a compelling case for Soviet Pop reflecting the sound of Beijing-as-megalopolis in his 2012 documentary Howling Into Harmony, and I'm inclined to agree with him. Insofar as there is a "Beijing sound," for me it will always be a bleak industrial pulse, a flat monotone, a plodding rhythm appearing and disappearing at the whim of the maestros turning the knobs.
Adding another tributary into the river of aural murk, Li Weisi also starting playing solo under different monikers in 2013. Here are a couple of solo bass guitar jams (as Thunder Gecko) and 4-track tape machine noise (Faassst) that he threw down at some Zoomin' Nights last summer:
Li Weisi will play solo as Thunder Gecko at tomorrow's Zoomin' along with Xiao Hong & Xiao Xiao Hong, and you can catch Soviet Pop on Thursday at XP with French "musical travel agent" Philippe Petit and solo e-violin droner Yan Yulong. The latter isn't technically a Zoomin' Night, but it was booked by Zhu Wenbo, so it's all in the family. To see what the seeds sown at Zoomin' Night grow into, also check out Yan Yulong's band Chui Wan, who have the opening set for Carsick Cars on Friday at Yugong. And keep track of future Zoomin' Nights on the Douban.