While math rock has always had a home here in China, over the past couple years it has found a wider audience, building a network of bands across the country, with more and more bands finding solace in the knotty rhythms, innovative arrangements and stimulating sounds. One of the band’s to have put their distinctive touch on the genre are Da Seven. The instrumental rock outfit bring an underground lounge room jazz approach to math rock – turning what could have easily been mellow jams sessions into elaborate off-kilter arrangements chock full of offbeat time signatures and robust musicality that’ll have your head spinning. I shot the band some questions before their performance next Saturday, January 23rd at Yuyintang.
Q: While math rock may be the bedrock of Da Seven, there’s a jazz intricacy to your music that feels genuine and built-in? What musical backgrounds did you all come from?
A: In terms of our current members and from the perspective of university, everyone except for our drummer, came from music school. From a professional working perspective, everyone, except for our keyboardist, all work piano store jobs.
Q: What drew you to math rock in the first place? Who are some of your math rock idols?
A: It may be that I always have a high degree of curiosity about many artistic things, so the music that ‘surprises’ is more likely to arouse my love. If I’m able to guess what happens next in a song, I’ll often find It dull.
Our band – we’re fans of toe, and also like Elephant Gym, LITE, and Mouse On The Keys.
Q: What mood or imagery do you believe your music conjures? What is the vibe of Da Seven?
A: I think that creative ideas are so important. For example, the combinations of unique musical phrases, odd time signatures, or super-fast tapping on the fretboard can all lead to something interesting. Music should be abstract, and if there is too much stress on one thing, it can limit self-development. Just like Bach’s music, it’s not so much a lyric as it is a recombination and arrangement of music – although now I gradually pay more attention to the transmission of emotions, but often I’ll try to restrain these emotions.
Q: I love the new release 9 Teen – what was the process of putting that together? Do the pieces come together naturally or do certain pieces take much longer to find their proper place?
A: ‘Hi 19’ is a combination of an instrumental part and a vocal part, which later turned out to be in the same key. The combination of the two complements each other. In one way, the music is quite complex in terms of instrumentation. But in another way, the emotional pull of the vocals doesn’t allow the song to be fully ‘math rock’ either in theory.
Q: You’ve recently have begun organizing math rock shows under the name Half-Rational 半理性呈现 – what was the idea behind that? How does organizing and promotion differ from being in the rehearsal room?
A: Half-Rational (this is sometimes called mixed bills) gigs have been going on for many years. Whether it is the current “Mathematics Class” or the previous “Math Rock Meets Post Rock”, the purpose is undoubtedly to bring bands of similar styles together and provide a platform for audience members to enjoy music that suits their tastes.
Of course, organizing a performance can be tiring. You need to set up and arrange many things as well as be there for the entire show. There are always unexpected situations that can occur, such as a band not being able to show up, a drummer suddenly not being able to come, or even low ticket sales. But when musicians tell me that the show’s atmosphere was quite good and enjoyable, it is usually because the fans who came to watch were ‘people who understand this kind of music’. This makes me happy.
Q: One of the wonderful things about math rock here in China (and beyond) is the tight-knit fanbase it attracts – what makes the math rock community special? What are some of the best interactions you’ve had with math rock fans over the years (this could also apply to you being a fan as well)? Do you feel the scene is getting bigger?
A: Because the math rock scene is really small, first you need to listen to a lot more conventional music and from there start to try new types; secondly, if you can have some music theory, it’s easier to understand and more fun. It’s really similar to jazz.
I think as a Shanghai music fan, the happiest thing is that you can see almost any number rock band you want to see, whether it is toe, LITE, Elephant Gym, American Football, Chon, etc. – almost all of them have been here. In China, some even come regularly every year. Therefore, I think there are more and more music fans, as well as the frequency of the word “math rock” popping up.
Q: What’s next for Da Seven and Half-Rational?
A: The next step for the seventh year is to release a new full-time album. This is a big challenge for us and requires a lot of accumulation. I even doubt whether we can complete it; If there is no problem with the epidemic this year, we want to take ‘math classes’ to more places!