The Claptraps, Old Tea 老茶, Later Islands 后岛
– Mao Livehouse Beijing 2021.09.01
LiveChinaMusic heads back to Beijing (where it all began) with contributing writer Athole McLauchlan!
Later Islands wasted no time revving up their 4-piece post-rock pleasure craft. I was a mere two minutes behind the showtime, but a swell of melodic noise gouged a welcome path through the identikit consumerist shops, neon lights and plastic pop sounds that engulf the Beijing Livehouse.
First, we really need to talk about how magnificent their guitars were. The bassist stood elegant and poised playing an instrument seemingly crafted from the same purple varnished mahogany used by Prince’s luthier. And the lead guitarist curved and danced his way through each track cradling one ridiculously sweet marshmallow pink Fender Strat, with a mop of ragged pink hair to match. You must admire such attention to detail.
Later Islands formed in 2018 and the band all originate from a mix of Chinese cities. Their sound too is a mix of influences and styles. Ambient perhaps. Post-rock sometimes. Prog-rock even. But with gigantic dynamics and untethered ambition. They play each song like a new journey: a gentle melodic beginning, followed by sonic deviations, marauding crescendos of noise and rhythm, and always with a definitive ending; a satisfying conclusion. It’s a real art to finish a song with purpose. I absolutely loved that about them. To be honest, they completely flattened me with their high drama, energy, and the sheer joy of playing live.
By the end of the set, singing and harmonies also crept gingerly into the delivery. Definitely a route to pursue further, because deep within those cinematic soundscapes are some stadium-filling anthems lurking quietly in that beautiful wall of noise.
Old Tea are a harder, heavier 3-piece post-rock outfit whose live sound is thunderous and charged with a massive stick of sonic TNT. Leading that charge is lead guitarist Chang Liang who is mesmerising, hyperactive and commanding from the off – like a love child of ACDC’s Angus Young. From the beginning he was beckoning the crowd close to the stage, encouraging participation and musical rapture. I counted. It took Old Tea a mere 60 seconds from their gentle opening invitation to detonate the Marshall amps with blistering riffs and high-altitude noise levels. Honestly, these guys are one of the best live bands I’ve seen in China. The bass and drums roll along perfectly with crisp timing and controlled weight until, suddenly, the lead guitarist delivers another pristine thunderclap from the gods, and all hell breaks loose, and the crowd goes completely mental. Again!
But Old Tea are not here to wage war, they are here to win hearts and minds, albeit in the loudest way they can! And they certainly did. Their commitment was absolute. Their passion intense. Their histrionics compelling. Their charm and grace between songs was utterly beguiling. They wear their musical heart proudly on their sleeves. As a live act they are not afraid of the risks, unashamedly sharing all they have, radiant and joyous in the collective live experience. Catch them if you can!
As The Claptraps took to the stage I began to get really worried for my eardrums. Old Tea weren’t what you would call ‘ambient’ and The Claptraps rallying cry is ‘Go Loud Or Go Home!’
The Claptraps are the slacker fuzzrock darlings who released the first fully in-house effort of the wonderful Beijing tape-only label, Nugget Records. And damn it, they were unsparing in turning up the volume. Sometimes you must just go with the flow!
I have a real soft spot for The Claptraps. The last time I saw them they joined the stage to the ‘Choose Life’ monologue from the film Trainspotting, sound tracked by Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life. It was a firm statement of intent. Of cool nonchalance and swagger. They excel in that gorgeous, fractured guitar distortion of classic Creation records bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride. Fusing the gaps between songs with swirling shoegazing psychocandy. Delicious.
Their standout track, ‘On My Surround’, kickstarts with a ferocious machine gun riff, which returns frequently throughout the song. Suddenly, everyone is a carefree teenager, losing themselves in the noise and the neon lights. When it finishes you automatically reach out for the repeat button. Completely addictive.
Occasionally, nerves are on show in-between songs tonight (maybe missing the pre-match dose of Iggy to cool their boots), but when they dive-bomb into the next song they are in control once again. The Claptraps have a rare gift for melody that other groups don’t have. They infuse it with feedback loops, funky drumming, sharp electronic keys and driller-killer fuzzadelics on guitar.
Like going to see your cool cousins. Familiar, friendly but fearless when they need to be.