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).
Summer in the city! Everyone's coming out to play, whether they're playing guitars, synthesizers, glockenspiels, farfisas, or just plain old human voices. Zooming out to the macro field, here's a bird's-eye-view of this week's best underground, DIY, rock'n'roll, avant-garde, and semi-corporate live music gigs:
Kicking things off with a bittersweet tang: long-running experimental music weekly Zoomin' Night is calling it a day at the end of June. Zoomin' has gone down almost every Tuesday since August 2009, starting at storied Wudaokou rock dive D-22 and migrating, along with the rest of D-22's core scene, to XP. As XP is imminently closing, Zoomin' is losing its home. In a WeChat bulletin beamed out last week, organizer Zhu Wenbo confirmed that he'll be stopping his weekly gigs, transforming Zoomin' Night into a cassette label.
The first release on that front has just come out. It's an improvisation between Wenbo, erstwhile XP sound tech Deng Chenglong, and New York-based multi-instrumentalist Gao Jiafeng, logically enough entitled Feng Bo Long:
Zoomin' Night is one of the most important incubators of new sounds in Beijing, and it's a real blow to see it go. Arguably as much of a shock as losing XP itself, as the culture of the club is by and large the culture of this particular night. Get in while you can. Next one is tomorrow (Tuesday, June 10), featuring live sets from Chui Wan's Liu Xinyu, laptop noiser Vavabond, and newcomer Huang Hao mucking around with Max/MSP patches.
Keep track of the final Zoomin' Night schedule here.
But hey, let's stick to the bright side of dark music news: on Wednesday night, XP hosts the official release of my favorite record of the year, Yang Fan's What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
Yang Fan is one of those figures whose full importance to the Chinese music scene requires a proper zoom-out. She began her music career at 15, when she parlayed her after-school habit of hanging at bootleg CD shops into a band. A precocious shredder, she co-founded and wrote most of the early songs for seminal late-'90s Beijing punk band Hang On the Box. She left the band in 2003 and spent the next few years assembling Ourself Beside Me, a more introspective, wistful indie rock trio whose sole, self-titled album is still, to me, one of the best records that's come out of the Beijing scene.
Ourself Beside Me hasn't played since 2012, and Yang Fan herself has kept a low profile in the intervening years. She's mainly been in the studio, lending her production skills to younger turks on the scene like Chui Wan and Bedstars. But she's also been refining her singular solo work, hermit-style, and just last week finally unveiled this, her defining opus to date:
"So does Yang Fan present these bold death waltzes, a sonic statement skirting the line between consciousness and whatever else there might be beyond. An instrumental whirl, What Happened After 1,001 Nights? is a masterwork of the uncanny. Glockenspiel, harmonium, brass bell, the falling rain, a cat’s humanlike wail, ethereal solos on her guitar’s harmonic ghost notes: Yang Fan has soundtracked your subliminal anxieties, placing familiar sounds in an unreal scene as only the unconscious mind can. On the rare occasions when a discernible human voice does break, as on the album’s standout track, 'Autumn In Your Town', it speaks to lost love, an intangible longing. It breathes wormholes into the opium smoke-choked air filling, surrounding, hovering over the entire record."
Yeah, I'm a fanatic. Yang Fan will be giving a very rare live performance on Wednesday, July 10 @ XP, with Hedgehog's Shi Lu on drums and lo-fi folk artist Yixin on bass.
OK, zooming out a bit more, to see what some other bookers about town are up to. On Thursday at Mao, DIY promoters Kou Niao (口鸟) holds their latest jam, which they're calling [CO鸟LD] Outside Party. Over the weekend I was talking to Xiaoming, Kou Niao's main brains, and he told me I should use Cold Neo as its English name, I guess because it's chill and new.
So, Cold Neo has really impressed me lately. Xiaoming's one of those heads that you'll run into at 80% of the shows you go to. He's constantly scoping the scene for new talent, repackaging it with his own spin. He pulled out all the stops for his first anniversary party in March, assembling an all-headliner lineup of the city's indie rock elite in testament to his personal passion and sincerity in promoting a post-'90s vision of yaogun culture.
Transitioning into Summer, Cold Neo's "Outside Party" features live sets from Solaris, The ProzaX, Death Narcissist, Nakoma, The Himalayas, and Fake Weed. The music's still inside. I guess the party name is referring to the fact that it'll be warm outside, and you'll have to walk outside to smoke your cigs given the new smoking ban. (How awesome is that smoking ban by the way?!)
Here's a sample of Nakoma, who've been firing on all cylinders lately:
So that's Cold Neo's [CO鸟LD] Outside Party, Thursday, June 11 at Mao.
Elsewhere, in "things that are the opposite of DIY shows": Converse is throwing a party at School Bar on Friday night as the first in what looks to be a recurring series of live showcases held in conjunction with their Rubber Tracks pop-up recording studio project. I'm always dubious of multinational brands creeping on the underground music scene, but Converse has formed longstanding relationships with some of Beijing's most prominent indie bands, funding domestic and international tours for groups like P.K.14, Carsick Cars, Queen Sea Big Shark, Rustic, and more. And they're bringing Wuhan wildmen AV Okubo over for Friday's gig, so they're OK in my book.
AVO has just come off a Euro tour with post-punk founding fathers Gang of Four, and are hard at work recording their next LP. All reports indicate that one to be more fucked up and weirder than ever. Not sure when that'll be out, so for now here's AVO's prevailing "fucked up and weird" tune to date, "Opium":
Quoting myself again, saves time:
"'Opium' is a re-purposed stereo-heater churned out like some retro-futuristic answer to the prayers you’ll be praying years from now, as the decline continues to decline. The voice of 'Opium' is a voice out of time, a bi-gender mensch-machine crammed into a vintage Japanese vocoder, sampled and re-sampled til the original is forgotten in a self-medicated haze (while reclining, eyes open but not seeing, slackjaw dreaming). No clue what it’s saying (something about the Qing Dynasty GDP) — but the bottom line is: we’re all damned if it doesn’t ease the growing pains."
Yeah. Haven't seen AVO live since they've put this record out, definitely worth a look. They're at School Bar on Friday, June 12 along with Heat Mark and The Hotline. No entry fee, gee, thanks Cons!
One more for you, zooming back around to the underground from whence we came. On Saturday at Yugong, Xiao Zhan celebrates the 12th anniversary of his Houhai record shop, Rockland, with the 2015 Mushroom Festival. Xiao Zhan's another one of the more diligent promoters on the fringes of the Beijing music scene. Most of his bookings take place at his NLGX venue 69 Cafe, but he steps it up to the bigger stages a few times a year, most regularly for this annual Mushroom Fest. Solid lineup this year, including French-Canadian experimental folk duo Vialka, local favorites Alpine Decline and The Harridans, and scene veterans Bian Yuan and Late Troubles. The latter is the solo project of Snapline singer Chen Xi, and it sounds like just that: a stripped-down version of Snapline, less angular and abrasive, more tuneful and folky, but still with a beating metal machine heart at its core. Here's a taste:
Catch all that on Saturday, June 13 at Yugong Yishan.
Zoomin' Night = Every TUE of June @ XP
Yang Fan Record Release = WED June 10 @ XP
Cold Neo Outside Party = THU June 11 @ Mao
AV Okubo = FRI June 12 @ School
Mushroom Festival = SAT June 13 @ Yugong Yishan