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[Music Monday]: 羊鸣四海
Battering down the Ram Year gate: an exclusive mix of world premieres, album previews, and live cuts from the Chinese underground, SMBJ style
By Feb 16, 2015 Nightlife

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).


I don't even know if there's any live music this week guys. Probably. Maybe not though. In lieu of my usual gig selection, I'm offering you a special early chunjie gift. I hit up a lot of bands and solo artists that are releasing records, planning world domination tours, or otherwise making big moves in the upcoming Year of the Ram. Let's batter down the proverbial gate with a selection of world premieres, album previews, live recordings, and deep cuts from the Chinese rock / punk / hip hop / experimental music underground, an exclusive glimpse behind the (mostly Beijing) scene that only yours truly / SmBJ could provide. Your annual forecast:

羊鸣四海 2015 by Josh Feola on Mixcloud


1. Chui Wan - "On the Other Ocean"

First up: Chui Wan. This quartet, riding the crest of the Beijing psych revival wave, spent much of last year in the studio hammering out the details of their second album. Actually they spent some of that time inside XP during off hours, recording a set of demos with the club's sound technician Deng Chenlong before taking the more refined output of those ideas into a proper studio space. The end result, Chui Wan, is a more lush, dense, musical offering than their 2012 debut, White Night. You can hear how the band's sound has matured on this track, "On the Other Ocean", which will also serve as the name of their inaugural US tour later this year.

Actually, Chui Wan's tour plan was the inspiration for the title of this mix. They're playing May's Austin Psych Festival, which is headlined this year by the first 13th Floor Elevators show since 1968. Holy shit. Putting China on the world psych map. Look for Chui Wan's self-titled, sophomore album to drop on Maybe Mars just before that US tour.


2. Yang Fan - "Autumn In Your Town"

Yang Fan — the original guitarist and principal songwriter of Hang on the Box over their first three albums or so, later founder of Ourself Beside Me — produced the new Chui Wan record, as well as the forthcoming Bedstars debut (see below). She's also been putting the final touches on her own debut solo album, the thoroughly mystifying What Happened After 1001 Nights?

This one's been on rotation between my ears over various stages of mixing and mastering for well over a year now and I still don't know what to make of it. Truly new, unearthly sounds all over the whole thing. This track is as close as the album comes to spitting out a "single", I guess because the title soooort of works as a refrain. It's still pretty weird.

This LP will 100% be on my 2015 year-end list, probably near the top. Look for it on shiny Genjing wax around springtime.


3. Skip Skip Ben Ben - "Do the R 腦中的運動"

Hey Ben Ben!! Long time! How's Taiwan? Oh, what's that? You're coming back to Beijing?!! Yessssssss....

True, our favorite strait-hopping shoegazer Ben Ben — get a snapshot of her prodigious band history as of May 2013 right here — is headed back our way. She's mastering her newest long-player, Mirror in Mirror (鏡中鏡), put together over the last year plus with a rotating Taipei backup band configuration. And some drum machines, from the sound of it.

"Do the R" seems to channel some heavy Dirty Beaches / Hot & Cold influence, a natural choice for a peripatetic songwriting firebrand literally left to her own devices for long periods of time. Killer track. This one looks like another Spring / Summer release.


4. The Bedstars - "Booze Hound"

BEDSTARS has been one of my favorite Beijing bands since at least 2011. It took five years and probably about 5.7 million beers, but they're finally coming out with their debut album, Wet Hearts & Dry Heaves. "Booze Hound" is classic Bedstars, a mix of youthful insouciance, enthusiastic alcohol consumption, cigarette-burned, cracked smiles, and shining moments of sheer '77 punk rock brilliance.

You need to see Bedstars live to get the full experience, a fact they've been coasting on for half a decade now. But look for them to tear it up even harder than usual when Wet Hearts comes out. And prepare your liver... maybe line up a spare.


5. Luvplastik - "BnBoogie (live)"

photo by Jeff Yiu

Time to get some lo-fi grit in this mix. Here's an exclusive live cut from a show Luvplastik gave at XP last summer, provided by Bastards of Imperialism frontman Shanzhai Laowai (see below). Luvplastik — the duo of Dan Lenk and Dan Taylor — spent 2014 working the kinks out of their grainy psychedelic noise blues style, then collecting all the worked out kinks and making tunes with just those. They really floored me at Djang San's Underground showcase last month, and I expect more & bigger from them in the Goat Year. They put four tracks on a cassette released by Nasty Wizard last Fall, and are hammering out the details of a debut EP to be released by a new "startup label" this Spring. More info on that to come in the next few weeks. For now enjoy this gritty, DIY-or-die live sample.


6. Bastards of Imperialism - "Fuck All Night (live)"

Speaking of the BASTARDS: here's one of their originals, another exclusive provided by head hellraiser Shanzhai Laowai, aka Darryl Pestilence. Bastards of Imperialism was both the last band I saw in 2014 and the first band I saw in 2015, as they were rampaging the midnight slot at Temple for the other New Year's Eve we had a little while ago. Not sure whether they're going to put out an album any time soon, but I know they're making some lineup refinements and working on a slew of new tunes with which to slay prospective audiences in the new new year, presumably mostly at Temple / School / DMC. In addition to that, Darryl is looking to put together the second edition of his 100% DIY Beijing Drunk Fest, as well as a rotating show series under the name Dr. Smartass spotlighting women musicians within Beijing's blowing-up underground punk scene. An important platform for the parcels of the underground unable or unwilling to get label funding or festival slots, keep an ear on the Bastards and their fearless leader's moves in 2015.


7. MC Dawei - "独舞之殇"

Genre needle jump: here's an exclusive preview of Beijing hip hop scion MC Dawei's forthcoming, debut album, Lust, Scars, The Insulted Man. The lyrics here mostly treat the "insulted man" part of the record title: Dawei laments dancing alone in the wake of a particularly heinous romantic betrayal. The picture above is from the album preview performance he gave earlier in the month, which was totally insane! Multi-media, theater + dance hip hop opera, climaxing with Dawei's transition into full-on freestyling fascist dictator mode, a bad mass messiah delivering lines that would land most people in jail. He gets away with it somehow. Cui Jian was there and he was super into it.

Look for Lust, Scars, The Insulted Man to be self-released by Dawei in Autumn / Winter. We'll have a [Culture Bureau] with him beforehand and it will get very, very real.


8. 小红与小小红 - "小毛的爱国主义想象"

photo via Genjing

Palette cleanser, but maybe an ideological parallel: "Little Mao's Patriotic Fantasy" by Xiao Hong & Xiao Xiao Hong. The deconstructed "rock" / noise duo of Zhao Cong and Zhu Wenbo, XHYXXH has had a string of DIY cassette releases on their home-brewed Gong Bao Ji Ding label. Their new full-length will similarly be self-dubbed onto limited cassette run. From the sound of this tune, it'll be more minimalist bass shredding by Zhao Cong and sporadic percussion / untuned guitar / borderline incomprehensible ranting from Wenbo. Think this one will come out in Spring, after XHYXXH completes a mini-China tour with Australian industrial noisers Primitive Calculators (come back in a few weeks for our JUE preview to hear more about them). You can probably also catch some advance listens at a few editions of Wenbo's weekly Zoomin' Night showcase in the near future. Will let you know.


9. Hiperson - "The Curtain 幕布"

Balancing out all the Beijing: here's a first listen of Chengdu post-punk outfit Hiperson's forthcoming debut album. These kids made the grade for a bunch of people who responded to our 2014 Year End music survey, marking as they do a move of the China underground music spotlight from Beijing to the second and third tiers. Hiperson's a first-tier band for sure, though. They were handpicked by P.K.14's Yang Haisong, who's now running the show at Maybe Mars, and who produced their debut himself (as he has done for so many young Chinese bands). "The Curtain 幕布" is your first glimpse beyond the hype. Here are the lyrics if you're in the mood for a little Chinese lesson:

这是通往剧院的大路 人们交头接耳觉得兴奋
人们想要看到一些事情 那些还没发生的事情

有人说 那是一出喜剧 立刻就有人发出大笑
有人说 那不一定有趣 那他为什么还朝那走去
有的人 即将会看见自己
未知的舞台正在闪光 而这条长路就是幕布


他是一个今晚的演员 混在观众中前往剧院
他们互相猜测彼此的表现 却不知道对方近在眼前


10. Alpine Decline - "The Cuttlefish and its Ink"

photo via Genjing

Winding down with some out sounds: here's a sample of what Alpine Decline has been working on since the release of 2014's Go Big Shadow City, another one that made many year-end lists. From the horse's mouth (oof, mixed zodiac metaphor?): "Game plan for us this Year of the Sheep: We are just finishing mixing on the follow-up to Go Big Shadow City and preparing its release. Before that, this Spring will see a vinyl-only, limited run of INK, the drone record we've been sitting on the last two years. Drone, modular, and rock n roll!"

This one's the opening track off INK, a somniferous slip into gorgeous, reflective, slightly off-putting, tape-delayed dreamworld.


11. Birdstriking - "One Thousand Birds in My Wing"

Of course, no subconscious slip is complete without an abrupt crash landing. Here's a deep cut from Birdstriking's debut album, which was actually released in 2012. The initial release was kept pretty quiet, as it was technically illegal to distribute in China due to some politically sensitive lyrical content. It'll get an international re-release later this year on A Recordings, so I think it's fair game to include here. I'm bookending this mix with Birdstriking because they, like Chui Wan, will head out on their inaugural US tour this summer. Coming as it does on the heels of a successful 2014 UK tour with American psych legends Brian Jonestown Massacre, a highlight appearance at last year's Clockenflap Festival, and the addition of Penicillin's Xiao Wen on second axe, I predict this tour will cement Birdstriking as one of the bands from Beijing's younger generation of underground rockers to break the Carsick Cars / Nova Heart / Hedgehog echo chamber that exists among Western music journos. On the wings of a prayer...

That'll do it. Happy New Year, again! If you want more tunes for the cold break ahead, check out my 马肉 mix from last year. The Deadly Cradle Death jam on that one still hasn't seen the light of day (will come out on a Genjing 7" very soon I'm told), so there's that!


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