Kṣitigarbha 地藏, Khunathi 丘瑙底河, Shuimenting 水门汀 @ 9 Club 酒球会/Hangzhou 杭州)
Escaped to Hangzhou this past holiday (sans any test for those curious), and of course, found my way to the one and only 9 Club. A place whose general vibes is that of a university student shotgunning a beer (I mean this as a compliment) got a hell of a makeover last week courtesy of newly formed art/music collective PublicNoise, who took some of the holiday season’s rituals – mainly those of temple fairs and currying favor with the deities – and twisted it in on itself, turning the venue into a netherworld fair to pay tribute to Hades. Complete with fortune tellers, NPC costumed characters, ghoulish shots, and blanketing the entire venue in a blanket of darkness, spirits roamed the space looking for guidance every which way – but mainly through the psychedelic treats that manifested on stage.
Kicking off the musical sacrifices were Shuimenting, a long-standing Shanghai improvisational psych rock act that pops up here and there, in one dimension/form or another. Essentially the mood setters for the festival, while their set lacked punch or a firm enough through-line, they more than made up for in atmosphere, using a treasure trove’s worth of ethnic instruments and bewildering contraptions to layer their sound. In all fairness, the slow burn became a slog by the twenty-minute mark, and by the time the guitars finally started to pick up the pace, it was over all too quick. But theme-wise, this was probably the closest to the theme of the event.
I was delightfully enthralled by Khunathi, who I haven’t seen since the early summer. And holy shit, have they upped their games. Catching out the excess improvisational residue of their former selves, the band seems to be leaning even harder into their audacious grooves, injecting a lean, crisp psych blues sound into their music, captured with meticulous yet riotous glee by the trio (considering its members overlap with Shuimenting, one could view them as the wilder yet more streamlined version of that band). I’m calling it here – but Khunathi will be a band to be reckoned with in the Year of the Ox. Take note Shanghaiese.
I’ve spilt enough ink over Kṣitigarbha, one of my favorite acts from last year, whose mythic and transcendent swirl of influences and tones is full of intrigue. But speaking o bands that have taken the ox by the horns, Kṣitigarbha seemed to have only sharpened their edges and refined every aspect of their sound, packing a hell of a wallop that felt BIG. From the way each song seamlessly transitioned into the next to the way every instrument and performer seemed to be throwing themselves into each song with aplomb, the band seems to have crystallized the elements that work so well within their sound, whilst doing away with some of their more meandering characteristics – all without losing any of the allure or the alchemy.
The afterparty got the lights back on and a miniature dance party going with sets from electronic musicians 3FUNGI and GUAN keeping able fans frolicking into the night. Hangzhou….always a pleasure.