Some yeah – I covered over ninety shows this year. That’s not even including the ones I went to without my camera. It definitely felt like I overdid this year – but perhaps that was because I came to realize this was gonna be my last full year in Beijing. So I made the best of it. Hell of a time was had.
Meng Qi continues to defy all convention and what we know of him – TWICE this year – giving his most accessible and heartbreakingly beautiful sets, using his moving moanful voice and gradually turning it into an instrument, evoking everything from Radiohead to Sigur Ros, all the while maintaining his artistry and mastery of his ‘toys’ and ear-tingling sounds. Goosebumps.
A debut so good I had to invite them back immediately! Dalian’s Floating in the Mist absolutely knocked it out of the park – finding nuance, resonance, and innovative chemistry between the lines of math rock and shoegaze. Or better yet, math rock on methadone, and shoegaze with bewitching chord arrangements. However you want to put it, there’s a lot going on under the hood of the quartet that feels fresh to my ears.
My 2019 festival experience was miles away from your typical music festival – it was quaint, low-key, BYOB, devoid of security or lines, set in a beautiful location and curated to perfection. Highlights included listening to SNSOS whilst stuck in a cornfield, being awe-struck by Peach Illusion, and reminding myself of the brilliance of Dan Taylor.
Don’t remember I last time I was so giddy to catch a band and then have them exceed my expectations – Qingdao’s The Bootlegs, who seemingly popped out of nowhere over the summer, flat out destroyed at Omni Space – belting out one jangly riotous nostalgia-soaked jam after another to the eruption of the crowd.
This year’s guest of honor goes to Kunming’s Plastic – the no holds barrel melodic punk outfit who seem like they can’t get enough of Beijing. A mess of sweat, chops, and inebriation who somehow managed to play close to an hour and a half without any lulls earlier this autumn even as its members began to show signs of collapse and comatose – pogoing from frantic and surly to mischievous and romantic; from reckless rampaging to slower-paced ballads. Punk rock personified.
Hazy Summer Nights was a gift of a showcase – a chance to dip into the indie scenes rising talent from across China – Guangzhou’s Hoo! – a mischievous abrasively fun and delightful indie rock outfit that’s brimming with shades of city pop and raggedy alternative rock, blind-sided me and had me at ‘ni hao’.
Chalk it up to nostalgia or the wildly active and happy-go-lucky local Xi’an audience, but catching Brain Failure again after who’s knows how long (and since the band lost frontman Xiao Rong) was such a rush, it had me kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Not even having bassist Kinbo stuck in a wheelchair was able to diminish the charisma and rock and roll chops they’ve managed to solidified into drug form – a high that that kicks in immediately and doesn’t let go till look after the lights have dimmed down.
I lucked out immensely with bagging both Shanghai Qiutian and Thin City, two bands that quickly found themselves on repeat all year – even luckier that both turn out to be the sweetest ragtag group of musicians around. Did I mention they rocked – the former igniting the live-wire vitality inherent to emo rock and elevate them to larger-than-life anthems chock full of rhythmic interplay; the latter giving a riotous bittersweet last performance – ripping into their sensational catalog of peppy rock and roll hits, hitting every beat and high note with bombast. You’re damn they did two encores.
One of this year’s pleasures has been heading out to Changping for Yichang at Home – the series that transport acts of all ill to the countryside for a homey, atmospheric and loose performance. And there was no better installment than having the young and excitable Backspace at there – giving a riotous krautrock new wave set that slowly but surely bleed into a full-blown improvisational jam late night with just about everyone including yours truly
Context is everything. In a last-ditch effort to distract my head from a throbbing hangover, I ventured over to DDC by myself to check out Taipei based indie outfit Manic Sheep. And I shit you not, they was no better medicine. Besides immediately clearing my head of all the clutter, I was treated to one of the finest sets of the year – a full-on dream pop sound that full of shoegaze sheen and indie rock highs that left me floored.
After a long weekend of filming in Shanghai (the amazing Plastic People of the Universe) I really didn’t expect much – but the wrap party at a Czech restaurant turned into an inebriated afterparty set from none other than Wu Tiao Ren – the Guangzhou crooners – who along with tons of other esteemed musicians (including Hai Qing and members of Omnipotent Youth Society) belted out some ramshackle jams with a rotating crew of misfits. Shanghai – you do wonders sometimes.
My favorite excursion this past year was making my way to Yiwu – the city home to one of the most mystical underground venues in all of China – GEBI Bar. An old Daoist Temple long abandoned on the edge of a mountain and turned into a bar and music venue, Gebi is pretty much a nomad’s paradise – a place that feels cut off from the rest of the city that sports some seriously good vibes. During my stay the visual arts company Atomic Visual Studio was hosting an evening of audio-visual delights – pairing some of their studios rising VJs with some untested, fresh out of the water DJs. In reality, closer to an intimate electronic party – a ‘show and tell’ with friends sharing their art with the help of music.
While I’ve had my fair share of experimental acts over the course of the year none sparked my interest as much as experimental composer, performer, sound artist and instrument builder Viola Yip who used the ‘electric flow and the vibrations of flickering light bulbs as a sound source’ in her set – creating a mesmerizing symphony of currents and magnetic tension that acted both as a electronic performance and as a visual art installation as lights and shadows danced in the background.
Not really sure how we (Subtropical Asia) pulled off China Tropical in the end – but I’ll be damned that seeing it all come together last March was something that’ll stick with me – particularly watching maverick Brazilian artists Ava Rocha and Negro Leo mesmerize audiences in Beijing, watching a documentary slowly turn into anything but a documentary, seeing them team up with Gooooose and 33EMYBW in a studio, and then blowing it all up at Modern Sky Lab in Shanghai. A whirlwind experience.
I fanboyed over Midnight Ping-Ping quite a bit at Mao Livehouse – a tight indie pop band that relishes in sun-soaked city pop ditties and guitar-heavy melodies with effortless enthusiasm. No bullshit – just streamlined catchy tunes that hit their target every time. What more could you ask for?
Watching Norwegian avant-core doom trio MoE meld together PowerRanger-style with some of Beijing’s most bewildering and offbeat acts (including experimental maverick Yan Jun and drone-heavy tombstone-wielding duo Rainbow Machine) was a class act in turning up the insanity and turning an evening of live music into something unique – a sprawling hour-long amorphous being masquerading as a set
Singapore exceeded my expectations – the diversity, the DIY ethos, and the communal aspect of the underground music scene was simply put, refreshing. Between showcases held in tight studio spaces to BYOB venues that can only manage to cram 20 plus audience members, each surly singing along, there was something intimate and welcoming (and unpretentious) about how it scene rallies together. The highlight came in the form of lo-fi bedroom acoustic pop performer Quiet Quiet, known to most for his role in emo math rock band Forests. Dipping between his own wistful, playful and devilishly self-aware material as well as a few Forests favorites, he managed to stir the crowd into a surreal frenzy, eventually being forced to close out with ’Tamago’ which might be one of the catchiest, stirring emo rock anthems I’ve heard. Heck, he managed to have the whole crowd singing along and even vocalizing the missing instrumental parts.