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Aug 27/08

Back to loud

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 13:26

Lonely China Day

Ok, I admit it. I’m getting older in at least one stereotypically way: I don’t listen to as much loud music anymore.

I’ve been into heavier guitar rock since I was but a pup.. memories of my mother having to accompany me to Ed’s Record Shop to buy a Jane’s Addiction album because the guy wouldn’t sell it to a kid. (I grew-up in rather anal Toronto, especially back then, and the cover of the album in question featured some kind of claymation threesome sex scene.)

But let’s face it, if you’ve listened to this blog for a while or if you know me personally you’ll know that my taste has shifted decidedly acoustic over the past few years. What was once “indie” or “alternative” is now “alt-folk” or “stripped-down”. Even my taste in dance music is more mellow.. what was once drum and bass is now decidedly Herbert-esque.

So that said, it’s nice to go to a loud-ish rock show like the Tag Team showcase the other night and genuinely enjoy the over-cranked acoustics and guitar fuzz that still rings in your ears as you leave the venue.

Let’s hear a good example. As I mentioned yesterday Lonely China Day played an interesting set with nice light work and lots of effects to go with the noise. If you catch them live in the US in the near future they’ll probably sound a bit like this.

It’s the 27th of August today and I leave Beijing on the 1st of September. I probably won’t get a post in between now and when I’m back in Paris on the 10th of September, but I’ll try to pick-up some more music for future posts while I’m still in Beijing and when I get down to the Yunnan.

This Chinese series has been fun. Beijing has far exceeded expectations, musically and otherwise. Of course there’s so much more to the scene(s) here than what I’ve touched upon.. but as far as casual musical travel goes, Beijing has impressed.

I’ve met a lot of good people here- special to David of Panjir, Ed of MicroMu, Mat “of the alter ego”, Matt from Tag Team, and everyone else I’ve met for all your knowledge and some great nights out.

See you in a couple weeks.

Lonely China Day – Beijing Realize

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KTV and Dutch-Chinese youth

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 13:02

Tag Team showI really think that I brought Young MC’s “Bust a Move” to a whole new level the other night at some Beijing KTV cathedral. The lyrics were just flowing off my tongue and the beat was sweeter than usual. Because we couldn’t quite figure out the Chinese-language buttons I managed to get in two renditions in of this classic of classics.. amazing. (And yes, the room came with 44 bottles of Tsing Tao. Definitely a help on the mic.)

Ah yes, there’s nothing quite private-room karaoke in Beijing at 5am with a bunch of South Africans after quite a few pijou. (Actually, I’ve been known to rock a very similar evening in Toronto at the XO.. but anyway..) Like the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, a down’n'dirty night of KTV should be part of anyone’s must-do list in Beijing.

I imagine you’re not too keen on listening to a recording of me rapping (don’t worry – there isn’t one, at least not that I’m aware of) so we’ll be hearing some Beijng indie rock today. I’ve been busy “blogging the shit” out of Ed Peto’s Beijing musical venture, MicroMu, but we shouldn’t forget some other great labels that I’ve come across in this city.

We listened to some Re-tros the other day, an interesting group off Beijing’s Tag Team label. I went to a Tag Team showcase just the other night and saw a bunch more of their bands. Matt, the guy in charge of Tag Team, was kind enough to slip me a few CDs, including a couple by bands featured at the show.

The show was hit and miss, but there were definitely a couple of great acts. Lonely China Day put on an interesting preview of the kind of laptop-rock they’ll be playing on their upcoming US tour .. we’ll hear from them tomorrow.

Today we’ll hear some Arrows Made Of Desire. The band’s lead, Joewi Verhoeven, is half-Dutch, half-Chinese. He grew-up in Holland but “caught the first flight to Beijing, China to study Mandarin and film directing at the Beijing Film Academy.” He’s a really young guy and a really good guitar player.. he put on a fun set.

You can learn plenty more about Arrows Made Of Desire at the Tag Team web site. If you’re in the US you can buy their releases at the Tag Team online store. While you’re there be sure to check-out another Tag Team band, Venice Is Sinking. Their track “Esther C” is fantastic.

So hey, I’m still in Beijing. Seven weeks yesterday. Man. Now that the work bit is over I have only holiday-time in China to look forward to.. A few days in Beijing then down to the Yunnan province. Lovely.

By the way, I might be at the Hanggai show later tonight at Yugong Yishan. If you’re in Beijing and want one of those “beers on Benn loxo” I’m the white guy in a t-shirt who needs a haircut, hovering near the bar.

Arrows Made of Desire – Truism

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Aug 19/08

Javelins and the good old days

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 02:20

Liu DongmingLive and direct from the Beijing olympics: I’m posting this from the field of the Bird’s Nest, specifically between this morning’s javelin competition and the track. I’ve always thought javelin was a cool sport…

Some laid-back Chinese country-folk today by Liu Dongming. It’s off another MicroMu release.. yet another that I quite enjoy.

Ed Peto explains:

“Liu Dongming taught himself to play guitar while busking on the Beijing subways and has slowly grown to be one of the most feted folk singers in China. This song talks about how the old days were great, but you should also enjoy the times you spend together now, stop thinking only about the past: ‘everything will flow and I’m not sad anymore, those times we were destined to spend together, learn to enjoy, brother.’”

Nice theme. “Youthful Days” could easily apply to my time here in Beijing so far. I haven’t pulled all nighters and been out as much as this in a while. That’s not to say that where I normally live is dull – despite its surprising buzz, Beijing is no Paris – but it’s different when you’re visiting a place and not staying long-term. I’ve been in Beijing long enough to launch myself well into it, and short enough to go full throttle the whole time.

As usual with MicroMu releases you can download the whole album – free and legal – here: http://www.micromu.com/wp-content/uploads/MMDLLP002%5BMicroMu%5D.zip

Tomorrow it’s black Afrikaans South African hip-hop, live in Beijing (tonight). Say what? Exactly. Stay tuned…

刘东明 – 少年时光 (Liu Dongming – Youthful Days)

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Aug 18/08

Hyped Mongolian Beijing

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 04:21

Hanggai

And now for something you might have heard of…

Hanggai are all the buzz right now. Pitchfork gave them an 8.0 which will guarantee a storm of downloads by the indie masses over at emusic. The BBC gave them a glowing review. Hey, even I can’t wait to see them at 2Kolegas on August 22nd.

It seems like everyone finally stopped writing about “China’s upcoming classical music dominance” (I’ll rant about that later) and found a Chinese group to write about during the Olympics. Luckily, they’re really good.

Hanggai’s first release for the international market, Introducing Hanggai on World Music Network, is lovely. You can hear it everywhere else.. so today I’ll bring you a great track off a live recording made last year at the 2 Kolegas in Beijing. You can find the studio version of this track on their latest release.

The first time I heard this track, before (and even after) I realized that Hanggai had become so hyped, it took my breath away. Great stuff.

Hanggai Band – Wuji (live)

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Aug 17/08

Dreamy seaside China

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 01:00

Wang WenI was wandering around Beijing’s 798 “art zone” this afternoon when I found a small record shop – a rarity in this city. Inside they were playing some nice-sounding Chinese rock, which turned out to be Wang Wen‘s IV.

(Sidenote: from now I promise to always drop the post- from rock. Every Beijing rock band seems to be tagged with the unfortunate label post-rock.. I’m not quite sure what’s so post about their rock in the first place. It just sounds pretentious.)

To be fair I’d never heard of Wang Wen until I walked into this shop, but I like what I hear. Their laid-back, dreamy guitar sound is perfect for the night-shift I got stuck with today.

From their MySpace page,

“The band was formed in the city of Dalian, a busy seaport in northeast china, in the year of 1999. Wangwen was at first started by two awkward (at that time!) guitarists who were crazy about The Smashing Pumpkins and later joined by the drummer who also brought along the band name, representing the idea of an unknown band and insensibility to what others say. The band began to record their first demo- ‘the animal world’ on their own in the same year they formed. Since then the band members had been changing while continuous creation of new pieces of music and performing. ‘lingshuihe’(‘the IceWaterRiver’)was recorded on their own in 2000 and the third demo ‘the Tenebrous Yinyang Road’ was also completed two years later. During this period the music style of the band had been gradually changing from vocal to instrumental and started to draw broad attentions both from the reviews and the audience as well. It was considered as the one of the leading band from china in the fields of post-rock and acid rock. The band was influenced by: Mogwai, Red Red Meat, Mono, Explosion in the Sky, Polvo, Tortois–GYBE, etc.”

Pretty much sums it up.

Apparently they’re on a European tour this summer and seem to have some kind of a following in various countries outside of China, at least judging from their MySpace comments and some buzz on the web. The track on today’s post is from IV, their May, 2008, release on Fox Tail Records.

The young guy working in the record shop where I picked up this album was quite nice and offered up a bunch of tips, which resulted in me walking out with a bunch of albums. I felt nice actually buying music in China, though I’m not so sure that the artists will see any of the revenue from my buys… but in the very least they’ll help keep this little record shop in business, and the friendly guy working the store in a job.

Wang Wen – 污水塘 (Great Tactic)

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Aug 16/08

Mongolian acoustic

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 17:12

Mongolian Acoustic: 刚子Yet another MicroMu post. What a find..

Today we’ll hear some Mongolian-Chinese folk music sung by Gangzi, the sound man at Beijing’s only “metal” venue, 13 Club. When I first heard this I thought, hey, that’s Eddie Vedder in his youth, deep into some throat singing. Indeed, as Ed points out, you can hear a bit of that heavy rock in his singing but the Mongolian roots are evident. Give this one a long listen, as it doesn’t really kick in until the 3rd minute or so. It’s a beautiful one.

Did any of you ever see that great documentary film, Genghis Blues?

Here’s some info on MicroMu from Ed Peto:

“MicroMu is an experimental, sponsor-supported, free-to-user record label model. We focus on contemporary Chinese songwriters and naturally lean towards acoustic music as a result of this. We have set up a compact recording process both for live and studio/semi-live recordings which means that we can produce good quality music quickly and efficiently. We give this music away for free through our website, combining it with relevant editorial, videos, etc as a way of building context and community around the music. A vibrant, focused community is always of interest to a brand who shares the same audience, so we generate the lion’s share of revenue from a cash sponsorship deal with Beijing based Plastered T-Shirts. The label was self-sustaining from the day it launched.”

Interesting. I knew of at least one similarly noble effort started in Senegal while I was there, but there weren’t the listener audience to keep it afloat. With a massive population and a surprisingly vibrant contemporary youth music scene, not to mention a growing middle class who can afford to go out and see live music once and a while, it’s easy to see why projects like MicroMu are doing well.

As usual with these MicroMu releases you can download the whole EP – free and legal – on the MicroMu site here: http://www.micromu.com/wp-content/uploads/MMDLEP003%5BMicroMu%5D.zip.

I picked-up a couple recordings by another Chinese-Mongolian group, Hanggai, today. You’ll be hearing some music from those later this week, along with music from a few other albums I’ve managed to scrounge during my time-off here in Beijing.

刚子 – 日出

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Aug 15/08

Zhao Guang

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 11:18

Zhao GuangMore music from the folks at MicroMu today. Remember that you can download all of the tracks I post plus the full EPs and LPs at the MicroMu site. If you have trouble reading the Chinese (as most of us will) I’ll provide direct download links in these posts.

Today we’ll be hearing a couple tracks by the young Zhao Guang. This first of the MicroMu EPs is, once again, a wonderful listen. Long-time Benn loxo listeners will know that I’m always a sucker for nice, simple, jangly acoustic guitar music from any country. Finding this kind of sound in China was a pleasant surprise.

This EP was recorded a couple months ago in June, 2008. You can download the whole EP here: http://www.micromu.com/wp-content/uploads/MMDSEP001%5BMicroMu%5D.zip.

The title of the first track translates to “Throwing Handkerchiefs”. As Ed Peto explains, “This is based on an old Chinese children’s game. In the song, Zhao Guang talks of throwing a handkerchief off a building and resolving to follow whoever picks it up.”

The second, 小苹果公主, means “Little Apple Princess”. It’s “about a shallow girl..’you change your hairstyle, cut off your long hair, smile at the cars as they pass by, and jump onto the back seat of a stranger’s bicycle’”.

Apologies in advance for this popular reference, but I immediately thought of Bob Dylan when I heard the first track. In a very good way..

赵光 – 丢手绢 (Zhao Guang – Throwing Handkerchiefs)
赵光 – 小苹果公主 (Zhao Guang – Little Apple Princess)

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Aug 14/08

Folk between the towers

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 06:55

Zhang Weiwei and Guo Long at the Jianjinjiu

My first and favourite foray into the Beijing music scene was a MicroMu folk music night at the Jianjinjiu bar, a great little place between the Drum and Bell towers at Gulou. A friend of a friend, Mat, introduced me to Ed Peto of MicroMu, a record label run by his Beijing-based music consultancy, Red T Music. They host bi-monthly concerts at the Jianjinjiu – definitely worth checking out if you’re passing through Beijing.

Some of you may be thinking, as I did, “Beijing alt-folk music scene?” Yes – and it’s wonderful. The little I’ve heard and seen has been musically original and impressive. The gigs have been, for the most part, well-attended with enthusiastic crowds. Beijing Bohemian. Who knew.

That first night Ed was doing a live recording of Zhang Weiwei and Guo Long, two important musicians in the Beijing “alt-folk/ethnic” scene. Both were founding members of the group you heard the other day, IZ, and were also in the well-known bands Glorious Pharmacy and Wild Children. Apparently Zhang Weiwei is quite well-known, at least among Beijing musical circles, for his accordian work with Wan Xiao Li and increasingly for his own recordings.

The music you’ll hear today is from his first solo release, though it’s actually a new version of a song from a previous group, Wild Children. The title translates to “Stare at the northern sky”. It’s been stuck in my head for quite a few days now along with several other excellent tracks from the album. For this I am especially grateful since it finally released me from the musical clutches of that wildly irritating (but addictive) Beijing olympics theme song you hear on the radio every two minutes.

You can download Zhang Weiwei’s whole album – free and legal – on the MicroMu site. If you’re having a hard time finding the download links (the site is Chinese-only) try this: http://www.micromu.com/wp-content/uploads/MMDLLP004%5BMicroMu%5D.zip.

I’ll be posting music by another MicroMu artist tomorrow, and hopefully more in the future. They produce some really great sounds, and plus Ed is a good guy who has taught me much about the scene here.

A note from Ed,

“Here is a video of Gulou, Jiangjinjiu, Gangzi soundchecking and a massive firework going off. This was a practice for the Olympic opening ceremony fireworks a week later. You know the ones that went off in a row from Tiananmen Square through Gulou and on up to the Bird’s Nest…
http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzgxNjc3OTY=.html
Really gives a good idea of atmosphere surrounding the whole MicroMu @ Jianjinjiu evenings.”

You can see another video of Zhang playing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpoTubJqGFs

I’ll tell you more about MicroMu in the coming days and post some more of their music. Great stuff.

张玮玮 – 眼望着北方 (Zhang Weiwei – Stare At The Northern Sky)

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Aug 12/08

Beijing’s post-punk

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 05:23

Re-Tros

Apparently Mao means rock or rock’n'roll in Chinese, at least according to the people at Mao Live, one of Beijing’s best rock venues.

The rock scene here is fairly developed, especially considering that it emerged from pretty much nothing a decade or so ago. I’ve been to a couple gigs now and both were jam-packed with Beijinger fans, eager to rock it .. albeit still a little hesitantly.

A few days ago I checked-out the Re-tros at the Mao Live. Great show. This fun sampler-duo, Zig Zag, opened but unfortunately the crowd wasn’t so into dancing to their electro-pop.. a shame, since I’m a closet beep-and-pop dance fan.

The Re-tros – which stands for ReBuilding The Rights of Statues – got a warmer reception. My sources here tell me that they’re one of the better rock acts around the Beijing scene at the moment.. and I have to say that I was impressed. They had a good, original sound by any standard.

The first paragraph on their band page on their label’s site is classic:

“Born in the shadow of post-Tiananmen nihilism, the collapse of state run industry and a desert that will someday swallow the city whole, Beijing-based Rebuilding the Rights of Statues delivers explosive, danceable, unsettling post punk that leaves you unsure whether you want to take your clothes off and shake the spiders out, or go look for a rope, a closet and a copy of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot.”

Need I say more? A strange Joy Division/B52s fusion sprung to mind immediately after they played their first bar.

That night I got to meet Matt, the guy who runs Tag Team Records. Re-tros and a host of other good Beijing groups are signed with Tag Team so Matt’s a great contact to have here.

You can check-out music by the Re-tros and other bands signed with Tag Team on the label’s site. They also have an online store for those of you in the US. Keep an eye out for these bands abroad, too, since they’ve started touring abroad. Apparently the Re-tros were well-received at 2007′s SXSW festival.

Tomorrow you’ll get to hear music by that folk duo I wrote about long ago.. which reminds me: sorry for the slow posts. My access to Internet is limited and time is scarce. I’ll do what I can!

Re-tros – Boys In Cage

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Sino-Samba

Matt Yanchyshyn @ 04:01

I mentioned in the last post that I’d be checking out the Beijing samba drumming group, Sambasia, at a bigger venue. True to my word I went to see them at the Mao Live last week – what a great night.

There weren’t many people at the show, but amidst the sparse crowd was a group of Brazilians in town for the games I’m assuming, or maybe just passing through. Ladies in short skirts ready to shake it, muscly dudes ready to pull-out some capoeria moves and big guys with fast hands ready to drum.

Sambasia themselves put on a good show, but things really got moving when the Brazilians joined them on the stage. The previously subdued Brazilian ladies suddenly sprung into action and the dancefloor lit-up with Rio-styled sex. Wonderful.

Sorry, no music to go with today’s post but the pictures sing volumes:

Sambasia 1

Sambasia 2

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