Hey. The third installment of The World Underground will be called "南方" (South), and it will be about P.K.14. It will not have any interviews. That's all I can tell you at this time. I decided to shift last year's trek to EP3 for many reasons, all of which will become clear in the next few months. Episode 2 will be released by summer, and then I will begin editing this. I hope to have it released around the end of this year, around the same time P.K.14 put out their new record, but that's a tall order. In a perfect world, I will follow them on tour one more time, but it's uncertain if or when they will tour around the album release. More information to come. The website will be updated to reflect this change shortly. Cheers.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel Jazz Band. Shanghai. You could close your eyes and instantly be anywhere. For me, this was purely Chicago, but the old woman dancing with her hundred kuai drink surely had more stories than I. Six men, who average in age to about 85, with their trumpet player, the oldest at 97. This place supposedly became known as simply "The Jazz Bar" from the 1930's on. The band have been playing together since 1980, since China "lifted the ban" on jazz music. No idea what local kids think of this, but hugging the Bund area, it's a solid one-two punch of a night. If ever in Shanghai, skip some other tourist trap, and go here. Oh, and they make a pretty solid "Old Fashioned." 🕺💃
A lot can happen in a week. With Chengdu's NUART festival sadly cancelled for the October holiday, Maybe Mars suddenly announced a birthday party for their 10th year. A week of solid gigs, capped by a P.K.14 show that, sadly, we just could not stick around for. Here's how out week went down:
XY Pattern. Day one. We've been consuming food like we're about to die since rolling in. Dim Sum, pizza at Great Leap. Little Yunnan. After nearly five years, Brad S. continues to bring the best food recommendations. Hit DDC for the Nasty Wizard Recordings tape release. Caught Noise Arcade do what I thought was one of his finest sets to date. Started to get a bit drunk, and wanting to show my cohort Dr. Liu and the Human Centipede, decided it'd be best to pull double duty, hauling ass to School Bar. Rowdy. Hitting multiple gigs in one day reminded me of Chicago. Bought some tapes for future record packs. Ate a metric ton. Only just getting started.
Dr. Liu and the Human Centipede. School Bar. There are natural breaks from gigs built into this trip. Two, which we'll need. It'll up sleep and food consumption and keep us from dying. The next night, Brad walked us around Houhai and brought us to a secret marinated pig trotter spot. Wonderful.
SHOCHU LEGION (烧酒军团). School Bar. I'll never forget the first time I saw this band, partially because it's lodged forever in the history of terrible mornings. It was a gig at the now closed Old What bar, with Diders, and we got one hour of sleep. We arrived at the train station, completely wrecked and barely able to move, only to find out it was the wrong station. We headed clear across Beijing, missed the train, nerves wrecked, I left my expensive monopod in the trunk, leaving it forever to the taxi Gods of China. This was a much better morning.
Dirty Fingers (脏手指) at School Bar. So happy I was able to finally catch this band. They don't have more than a handful of songs to go through online. Someone said this set was largely new material. Gushing to their drummer afterwards, he said he was in metal bands before finding "this group of crazy bastards who loved 70's rock." It was spastic and raw as hell. They weren't in love with their own performance. Talk of too much Baijiu. However, it still bled energy, and was crazy refreshing to me. Hopefully we can get them to Dongbei some day.
Also last night, Ricky Maymi joined the ranks of a heavy week at School Bar, performing some classic songs from Maybe Mars history alongside Yang Fan and Guo Zhen. Wen Yuzhen rang the bell to kick off "Sunday Girl" by Ourself Beside Me, and it broke apart, half falling to the ground before he put it back together for one more try. The bass cut out randomly. It really didn't matter. Packed. Hot. After some insanely good sets by Dirty Fingers and Lonely Leary, it was a great cherry on top of an already excellent night. So cool to hear The Gar's "圈". Muscle Snog. Chui Wan. Dear Eloise. Snapline. Perfect.
Dream Can (谷水车间) at Yue Space. Another venue I hadn't visited. Great to see A.V. Okubo again. Haven't caught them since seeing 'em in Wuhan nearly 5 years ago. Time flies.
"你覺得恨? 卻離不開!" Taken at School when Ale belted out the chorus from The Gar's "圈".
On the last day, I mostly just watched. I've been waiting to catch Hiperson (海朋森) again for three years. They began with a screaming introduction with Wen Yuzhen, the vocalists of Future Orients & Lonely Leary. I figured they'd play at least one or two songs from their first LP, which I've been in love with ever since seeing them well before it came out. They didn't. Driving forward with all new material. Louder, faster. Precision pounding. Certainly, they had fun. I'm so proud of them, scrapping seriously brilliant set material for a totally new path forward. Brave. Birdstriking & Carsick Cars were great. What a way to end the week.
It was great to see you, Beijing. We headed to the airport at 4AM, and had a hell of a trip back to the Northeast.
Until next time.
I've been dying for some quality noise up here in Dongbei.
I was all set to pull the trigger on another October holiday in Chengdu, still quite excited after last year's excellent NUART Festival. We wrote about why that was so cool for China...and just like that, as China loves to do, it fell thru for 2017.
Leave it to Maybe Mars to pick up the slack on my yearning for rock and roll, and deliver just that, when a dozen acts from their roster descend onto the "public kingdom for teens'" capital of Beijing in early October.
Here's the lowdown.
Aside from what looks to be a great kick-off for this week at School Bar September 30th with Free Sex Shop, Dr. Liu and the Human Centipede, the first of 4 parties begins on Tuesday, October 3rd.
HNNNNNG. Get outta here! We can't fucking make this one. Sorry, folks, but it was difficult enough to get Friday off so we could finally catch our dear sweethearts Hiperson from Chengdu. Having just caught P.K.14 nine times in a row, I think we'll live.
I advise you to get off your ass and grip tickets to this one! Chui Wan's new record is great, as are P.K.14's new jams. Do it.
CHUI WAN: Bandcamp
Time: October 7th, Saturday, 21:45
Venue: Yugong Yishan
Line-up: P.K.14, Chui Wan, FAZI
Ticket: 120 RMB, pre-sale, 150 at door
Goddamn, this will be fun.
See you in the pit.
Ask any Chinese born P.K.14 fan what the band means to them, and watch their pupils dilate. After nearly twenty years, they still have more to say. What is our identity? Who are we? How do we define ourself in a fast-changing world? This is what Yang Haisong says he'll be singing about on their new record. To say P.K.14's outlook on these topics are necessary or important, in the current state of Chinese society, would be a vast understatement. There are deep layers here, and the band always finds a way to say exactly what they want, without alarming censors of the P.R.C. Haisong says his inspirations are but a sparkle. Alongside his bandmates, they don't know where they come from, or when they'll disappear.
Four years ago, these men changed my life, and took me on tour with them. Flashes of Chengdu and Wuhan still flow freely in my mind. I doubt they'll ever disappear. It was my first visit to China. Since then, I've written Yang Haisong every few months, to see when, or if, they'd trek out again. Part of me worried it'd never happen. After years of bothering, I'm told a tour has been planned. A trek south, as far down as Macau. That I can come, if I want to. They'll try to get a bigger van. I spend the next few months worrying it would be cancelled. It wasn't. These new songs, I don't ask for the lyrics. I just want raw emotion to carry me. To be a fly on the wall. Sound and color, bleeding out. The camera as my eyes, staying silent and letting it all roll over me. Now, how do I sleep?
Early morning in Heilongjiang. 6 A.M. My flight was over three hours out, but I like to be early. It's about an hour at most to the Harbin airport. I fumble around, triple check everything, worry about my monopod being accepted as check-in, and take off. We're sitting on the bridge outside of Harbin proper. Crawling. An hour passes. I start to get worried. My companion, she's reassuring. “It'll be fine”, she says. Another hour passes. We're still 45 kilometers away. My brain swaps to panic. I have thirty minutes to grab my tickets and get through security. I'm toast, I thought. I jump on Wechat and start looking at alternatives. I could fly to Beijing and take a train. I could do this. Do that. Minimal cost, I reason with myself, to just get there on time. Nine shows. Nine cities. Nine days, and it all goes to hell if I can't make it to Ningbo on time, as they're letting me in their van again. Nothing to do now but gulp it down, and see what happens.
We hit the airport gates. I jump out, grab my bags. Run up to the counter. The lady smiles. “You're late.” I laugh. I tell her, I know, I'm sorry. She points at the times, and says “Go.” We run to the side of the security check, my friend spouts quickly in Mandarin, points at the ticket time, and the first class check-in rope gets pulled aside. To be clear, I hate this. I get through the checks in 5 minutes, and to my gate before boarding even begins. I light a cigarette in the smoking room. Laugh. Hell of a start to it all.
I land in Ningbo to waves of relief. This whole trek, aside from Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is all new territory for me. It's raining. Grey. The taxi driver doesn't know the place, and I can tell. He drops me, and I wander a bit trying to find Beacon Livehouse. I do a few circles. Ask a few locals, but don't understand their responses, aside from a few grunts and points to nudge me in the right direction. Goddamn, it's good to be out of Harbin. I have a strange suspicion Dongbei people think I'm Russian. Gone are the warm smiles, the “Where you from?”, the random and ever present “Ganbei” (dry cup). Cold stares and quick answers for me, but that's a different story altogether.
I get pushed in the right direction a few times, and finally happen across a small room bar behind a graffiti splashed wall. I message the band of my arrival. The staff are beams of light. They all seem excited as hell. A fellow photographer grabs me for some selfies. She's got a tripod set up. They order me lunch. It's cheap and delicious. I devour it like it's my first meal all week. I try not to think about food on the tour. Resist the urge to start looking up these cities. I try not to think about P.K.14's impending arrival. I'm, honestly, still a bit nervous. My goal this time, is to go in blind. No plan. No interviews. Try to film mood and energy. How this makes me feel. It's a low-impact trip for me. I'm already in China. I know these people, and have spent hours in cars with them. Yet, jitters remain. It all melts away when they start pouring into the venue. I give them all long, hard hugs. Nervousness melts away to glee, and I start blathering about how grateful I am to be here.
I try to reign it in. There are some long days ahead. There's time for it all. I joke about how they'll surely be happy to no longer get monthly e-mails from me, inquiring about when they will tour. It's been years. That's a lot of questions.
Eventually, someone surely will write a book on P.K.14's influence in modern Chinese musical culture. They firmed their place in this canon long ago. Very few bands, not just in Asia, but the world, can claim this. Yang Haisong long ago gained legendary status not only as a front-man, a poet, and a producer...but for helping raise up the younger generation of China's youth culture. Time and again, I hear it from younger kids in China. “No, look. You don't understand, man. P.K.14 are the best band in the world.” I like to think that after all this time, after all these stories, that I do understand. They've certainly change my life as well, and even thinking in a Western vacuum, I can only begin to understand the impact they have on young, impressionable Chinese kids. Kids who have been force fed what to think, and when to think it, their entire lives. These songs. These lyrics. These performances. They're staggering breaths of fresh air that are sorely needed, and I don't even know what's being said.
I did not forget how incredible P.K.14 are as a live act, but it's still a bucket of water to the face. Kids lock arms and circle jump the room. I've got a shit-eating grin on my face. Their new sounds are as clean and inventive as anything they've ever done. Each instrument giving space to the other, but crashing together in perfect harmony at just the right moment. Photographers buzz around and try to capture the frantic energy of it all. A friend from Montana, Josh Wagner, he's currently bouncing around Asia, ending in Chengdu. He decided to come and meet me. I'm so happy he got to see this. It's an incredible first night, that ends in a small noodle shop nearby. Their tour manager booked me a hotel, but they don't allow foreigners, so they had to sneak me in the back door. We slip down the hallway and enter without issue. It's still funny to me that this is a thing here.
In the hotel, pure silence, for the first time in as long as I can remember. I can't believe I get to do this again. I dump footage, write a quick daily post on social media, and jump into a comfortable bed. Tomorrow, a gig in a temple, in the mountains of Yiwu.
“Welcome to the center of the universe.” slurred an excited man into my lens, about Gebi Bar, in Yiwu. We pulled up to the place greeted by more rain. A pack of a half dozen mangy dogs growled at our exit to the van. My mind was still swirling with Zhejiang province's mountains whizzing by in the van. More new territory. It really was a goddamn temple, in the mountains! Up a small side road, to a reconstructed red building. Ten years ago, they rented, and began to renovate it, in an aim to make something unique. The performance room's ceiling, the banisters, much of it is still original from its partial demolition during the Cultural Revolution. They've made some changes, but that's to be expected, as it was dilapidated. Problems have arisen, but like many others in China, they “close when the problems come, open when they've passed.” The place was amazing. Great food. Friendly staff. Local kids were excited, and gushed about Gebi. One kid was particularly upset that across China, in his opinion, you're forced out of these venues at 10 or 11 at night, and “can't even drink a beer or make friends.” This space, he said, was a place you didn't have to leave when the gig was over. Where you could meet people who share the same mindset, and create with them. P.K.14 tear the place apart, and I laugh while filming, trying to keep my camera steady. The endless rain cleared as they finished performing, and as far as this man's claim goes, he has no idea how right on he was.
Wenzhou. Tonight's venue is called MangTang. We snake through stunning mountain passes. Incredible landscapes on these drives, and no doubt totally different than if I were taking the train. The venue is an old warehouse district, old powder factories, now converted into cafes and shitty restaurants. China likes to do this, and it reminds me of B10 in Shenzhen. Everybody I talk to seems to be all for this, as it would remain unused and rotting if they did nothing. Mediocre or not, the potential is there, and something is better than nothing, especially in smaller Chinese cities. There's a lot of money in Wenzhou, and Johnny tells me of people buying up large swathes of property in other cities, sight unseen. It's insanely pretty here. Chill vibes, and a low energy crowd. I sat in the middle with my monopod, giving my body a break. Cute girls amassed after the show, and my attempts to find something interesting in the after-hours department were thwarted by rain. It's a seven hour drive to Quanzhou, but only three by train, so I wished the band a safe drive, and in the morning, I head off to the station.
Quanzhou. It's been a while since I've taken a fast train in China. They remain extremely comfortable. I set up shop at a large table in the food car, and nearly two dozen people begin to fill around me as I work. This is always fun, if you can remain relaxed and roll with the punches. More striking mountainous landscapes from Fujian province, as dozens of temples, and churches fly by. I wonder why there are so many Christian style crosses mixed with the temples, but nobody seems to have a clear answer for me. More pouring rain. Our venue is called the Animal World Music Commune. Strangely fitting as the area is filled with sculptures like Batman riding a bike with Ronald McDonald. I find it all super weird, shake my head, and seek food. The venue is a small bar with an enthusiastic owner, and the more I walk around, the more wildly confusing my surroundings become. The owner feeds us great stuff all night, including the largest bowls of noodles I've ever seen. Excellent hosts. The openers, Rejian Bei Shashou, are noise drenched shoe-gaze. Refreshing. They came from Xiamen, which is our next city. I tell them, bring a USB stick to the gig tomorrow, if you can, and I'll get you the video and a recording. A slick purple love hotel style room is booked for me, a short walk down the strange side-street. I sleep like a baby.
It's an hour drive to Xiamen. I'm twitching with excitement by a mere glimpse of the place when we roll in. Old meets new crush together on the riverside, and tourists have surely began to gulp down this city in masses. Years ago, on the first day I met P.K.14, Johnny told me of this venue. Real Live. Their friend had just opened it, and the band played the second ever show to be held there. Now, they were back, and I was in tow. Another warehouse area, converted out. The building that housed Real Live used to be an ice factory, and Johnny pointed upward at the old cooling coils, still in tact. Xiamen was amazing, and I wish I had more time. The most intense crowd of the tour so far. They even freaked out at the new songs, which made me so happy. I sat in the middle again, resting my shoulders and arms, but this was a different endeavor. Now I had to dodge the circle-pits, side stepping and picking up the camera when kids flung themselves toward me. Incredible to stand in one place and watch it all unfold. I had to run behind Xu Bo's amp for the encore. Xiamen, I'll definitely be back. The day ended and I found myself getting excited for my return to Guangzhou. It's been four years. The drive takes 10 hours, so I again decide to take a train. It's only a three hour train ride to Shenzhen, and a quick 45 minute jump to Guangzhou from there. That's what it was supposed to be, anyway. How wrong I ended up being.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, things don't work out exactly as you'd planned. I exit Xiamen in pouring rain, and it's very far to the train station. I make it with much time to spare, and am excited to be on pace to arrive in Guangzhou early. Then, the train doesn't leave the station. What should be a 3 hour ride to Shenzhen, becomes more than two hours of waiting at the station, only to swap to a slower train. We leave at 4:00 PM instead of 1. My brain does the math, and I'll still be early. It's still rainy, but we're going 200 kilometers per hour, so I largely don't even think about it. Around 6 P.M., I notice on the map we're still not even close. I ask the attendant, what's our arrival time? 9 P.M. I shake my head. No. This can't be... it's a 3 hour ride! She makes a motion of rain and clouds above her head. Fuck. I'm screwed. Knowing China, and transfer times, I'll never, ever make it. I accept the fact that I'm going to miss it all, including my most anticipated opener, a female-fronted grind-core band called Die, Chiwawa, Die! Despite this, I was still determined as hell. I jump off the train and hustle to the ticket office. My muscles scream, but I push on. I make a motion with my phone about a flight to some other city, and cut in front of the insanely long line. I never fucking do this. However, that line would have taken at least an hour, and I've only got an hour to spare, if I even want to try and film a single song from P.K.14. Nobody puts up much of a fuss, my feeling bad lasts about 4 seconds, and I run to the train. I'm in. 45 minutes to Guangzhou, and it's nearing half past nine. I hop in a taxi, tell the guy I'm late, and he scream off into the humid Guangdong night. I throw fifty kuai at the driver for getting me there so fast, and am in the venue in seconds, jumping to set up my camera.
P.K.14 are about half-way through their set. I spot old friends Song and Howie, and give them a knowing smirk. My camera turns on, and I'm plagued with shutter issues. Hard, footage-ruining, rolling shutter bars stream down the screen, and awful flashing lights, that you see in so many careless videos these days. I spend 80% of the remainder of their set trying to figure out how to fix it. It's either that, or don't film at all, and that's not what I'm here for. Finally, it dials in, and all is clear. I jump on stage and capture the final three songs, again behind Xu Bo's amp. Before the encore, I slide out and snap a photo of the audience. When it was all over, I tried to let the singer of “Chiwawa” know how sad I was to have missed her play. How hard I tried to make it in time. She understands, and pours me a double whiskey. At the end of it all, an impossible day turned into catching a handful of songs, meeting old friends, and we end the day with an insanely good Cantonese meal. It could have gone down much worse. Smiling, I think of my first time meeting Howie and Song, and again it feels like mere months ago, rather than years. I dump footage while trying to keep myself awake, keep myself aware enough to not make any major mistakes, and drift off to intense dreams of rain, mountains, and Guangdong humidity.
It's smooth sailing to Shenzhen, a 45 minute drive from Guangzhou. Man, I've really missed Canton. Guangdong province is a haven for BBQ pork and all sorts of delicious food. I've been to the venue, B10, twice before. Once with P.K.14, and again on the way back down with Haisong's other band, After Argument. Another converted factory space. The humidity hits me as we stand in the hotel's lobby. B10 moved to a different building in the same area, and it looks exactly the same. Some of the staff remember me, and comment on my camera upgrade. Hell of a memory. They were always so wonderful to me, and this time is no different. My on camera mic is beat to shit, all proper support bands are nearly torn off, causing the mic to slump onto the side of its holster. That's not good. They grab me rubber bands to ghetto-rig the thing from falling apart. Just a few more shows to go. You can make it, little buddy. You may recognize the woman in the photo below. Sijiang from Chengdu's Hiperson. She and Li Yinan came to see the show, and my heart just about exploded.
I tried to tell them just how big of an impact they had on me, seeing Sichuan through their eyes for the first time. In Chengdu, she told me you "have to find the difference between grays", and made me look at life in a different way. I tried to not lay it on too thick, but I meant every word, even the ones I couldn't quite articulate then. Last October, I missed them because they were in Europe. I am so endlessly proud of them. Sijiang, she gets it. She told me they would come play in Harbin, and to not worry much about payment, because we are trying to build a scene. They want to help us do that. I wish everyone saw things the way Sijiang does. See you in Sichuan, in a few months, dear friends.
I walk around, get coffee. An old friend, Jia Jia, messages me, asking where I am. We met in the forest in Indonesia, years ago, behind Wangi Artroom. She messaged the project's Facebook account, asking what to do in Indonesia, and I told her about this experimental series called Kombo. Jia Jia loved the idea, flew into Jogja, and headed straight there, with no break whatsoever. Now that's dedication. A truly glorious night, filled with a mixture of friends made throughout the years. I start trying to wrap my brain around finishing this all. It just won't stick, so I focus on just getting through the final show in Mainland China before we head to Macau.
Dongguan. They've never played So What Livehouse, so we didn't really know what to expect. It's a nice, small bar, with a short stage. The place reminded me of The Empty Bottle, in Chicago. There's a 5 year old in attendance. Upstairs, a fancy wine and tea room with a large, out of tune Chinese string instrument. Johnny immediately starts dicking around with it all. Haisong tries to relax. His back has been hurting for a while. He's laying on the floor again.
I get heavy on Johnny and Haisong and told them how much the last four years has meant to me. How much they mean to so many people. What the kids have told me over the years. The wide-eyed discussions. I'd like to think they understand. I try not to lay it on too thick, but I want them to know, in person, how much it's all meant to me. They tear apart a mixed up setlist to a small but eager crowd. I stay behind in Dongguan to rest, and they make the trek back to Zhuhai for an easier exit to Macau.
I'm more than satisfied, but I don't want to leave. My favorite moments are the ones that unexpectedly smack you in the face, in the best way. The ones that make you stop dead in your tracks, take a breath, and laugh. Their tour manager got me a final hotel, so I hit the streets for b-roll. I wave in a taxi at 2AM, ask where to get 叉燒, or BBQ pork. I ask him to take me where the drunk people eat. He brought me here, a goose and pork spot. I rock up and order while the half dozen women grin. They're genuinely, super nice people. I always eye how they treat the local guests. I kill one, then two bowls of freshly pulled noodles. Their grinning intensifies. Finally, I order one more plate of just pork. They howl. It was a perfect moment, and one that'll stick for a long time.
Macau was intense. It's not a difficult city by any means, it's just a bit rich for my blood. I'm sure if I had more time I could find some hits on the cheap, but I only had one day. The venue's up a rickety elevator, and the owner feeds me pork from a giant bowl. Goddamn I've missed the south, but whiskey and cokes are the equivalent of 100 RMB, or $15 U.S.D. I feel money seeping out of me, even just having been here a few hours. Xiao Long Bao joints circled my hotel, so I had to partake. The different money, the fact that you can use RMB and HKD everywhere. The endless casinos, mix of Portuguese and Chinese. I can't say it's a priority to be back any time soon, but I would like to return for a deeper trek.
So it ends. If music leaves a mark on you, P.K.14 have carved deeply into me, with transformative experiences that gave me a new outlook on life. A side of China I surely never would've seen otherwise. It's a lot to unpack. Doing this again was a dream come true. More places, foods, people, and stories that never would have been on my radar, without them. I am forever grateful.
It's going to be a bit before I wrap my brain around what this film will be, but it's going to be different, dark, and beautiful. Until then, thanks again, for everything.
In 2013, I got an e-mail. It was Benjamin Fawks, who owns Rozz Tox in Rock, Island, Illinois. America. He told me about his place in Guangzhou, Loft345. I was elated to have such a supremely crazy connection. A few weeks later, actually dropping into Mainland China on tour with P.K.14, I trekked down an alley while rain poured everywhere around me. It took me a long time to actually find the place. To me, nestled next to a public swimming pool, this place was amazing. Filled with art, geckos, good drinks, and great conversation.
I am excited to spread the word that Benjamin has created a new space in Shenyang, China. I asked him, "why the hell are you opening this in Shenyang", but I already kind of knew the answer.
Per their website : "We like putting our culture cells in areas where they are needed, where culture is lacking and where people are needing it the most-- Shenyang is just that. We hope to bring some interesting local, national and international minds together here and stir the pot."
I've been to Shenzhen. Filmed GUIGUISUISUI and Noise Arcade play a show there. The kids were rowdy as hell! However, like much of the Northeast that's not Dalian, the scene could use a leg up. What automatically came to mind for me, was that this could be another attempt at circuit builder, connecting Dalian, and hell, God forbid...Harbin. It's what we've worked for in Heilongjiang for the last year. I'm not entirely hopeless in the matter, and that's because China grows so insanely quickly, and you have people like Benjamin taking risks, just like this.
They've partnered with a craft brewer, and the whole thing looks as beautiful as that green, lush, striking Guangzhou hub, Loft345.
It's a 2 hour train from Harbin, if you catch the right time, so I'll be heading there before summer's end to take a look.
Until then, read about it here : http://www.rozztox.com/shenyang.html
It's closed on Monday's, which is my only day off. Figures. We'll get there anyway.
Cheers, Benjamin, and everyone who made this happen!
I am really excited.
Back in 2013, I was in a book store in Shenzhen, China and I saw some insane artwork. I had to have it, so I bought a bunch of postcards and posters, lugged them across China, and back to the states. I looked on the back, and saw the name "Sensitive Word".
I waded through the Chinese web, eventually finding an e-mail address for a man named Tony Cheung. Tony has become one of the biggest supporters of my project, a constant inspiration, and I'm glad to call him a friend. I'm so happy I could finally hire him to make the first proper design for The World Underground. This is the best.
If you'd like a t-shirt, send an e-mail to : email@example.com
Episode 2 follows Beijing based musicians GUIGUISUISUI (Dann Gaymer) and Noise Arcade (Michael Cupoli) on tour in Japan, Korea, and Northeast China. This is a film about the people you meet along the way. The endless sounds that now, can never be unheard. Noise meeting deep quiet, and confusion meeting exhaustion. An attempt to capture a three week trek through some of the most beautifully bewildering, drunken, noise-drenched landscapes on earth. To me, it's always surprising just how much can be shared without language. An inability to speak with traditional language can still bring powerful bonds. As technology continues to grow, so shall this. Alongside the Korea based media outlet Aweh, our goal was to align ourselves with as many local artists as possible, and see what stories came naturally. From Busan, to Osaka, take all these sounds and stories that stuck to us over the weeks, and bottle it into 90 minutes. I really think you'll enjoy it.
This film features performances, footage, and interviews by :
Noise Arcade (China)
Nice Legs (Korea)
Yamagata Tweakster (Korea)
East Guinness Crew (Korea)
Drinking Boys & Girls Choir (Korea)
Say Sue Me (Korea)
Bellbottom from 80's (Japan)
Ninja Man (Japan)
Tero Tero (Japan)
Blond New Half (Japan)
Psychedelic Desert (Japan)
Komai Satoshi & Cyappie (Japan)
Punk Disco (Japan)
Elephant Noiz Kashimashi (Japan)
Darklaw & Facial Mess (Japan)
Your Pest Band (Japan)
It will include many others. As with the first episode, the films page will include exhaustive details on all artists, people, and places featured in the film.
This film isn't an attempt to provide any sort of objective documentation of the people, places, or artists we discovered on our journey. It's not even meant to be a reflection of reality. It's simply a story we've chosen to share. Take from it what you will.
If all goes as planned, this will be released in Summer 2017. Keep an eye on our social media. In two weeks, I'll once again go on tour with Beijing's legendary P.K.14, so there will be stories daily.
Thanks so much for continuing to support this project. It means the world to me.
Sound Design by Dereck Blackburn of Quiethouse Recording
Film, photography, editing, and sound recording by John Yingling
Additional footage by Julia Pentelute
Four years I've been waiting, to say this again. My next project will be once more going on tour with Beijing's legendary P.K.14. I'll follow for 8 shows, in eight cities. I'll begin in the Northeast on June 12th, in Ningbo, and hug the coast with them down to Guangdong province, ending near Hong Kong. P.K.14 will comprise half of their set with new material from a record they hope to finish later this year. They'll also have a secret fifth member. Photos and stories are a given, but I'll also be filming. I'll try my hand at making an experimental film from the tour. Honestly, I've waited the last few months for an e-mail telling me that this is no longer happening. It didn't come. Full details are below, and beautiful posters for each of the 14 shows can be viewed by clicking here. Just a few weeks now. Unreal. Cheers.
Dates (I'll be documenting the bolded ones) :
*Update* : MACAU added to the itinerary. Why not. See you out there.
2017.06.08_合肥 HEFEI - ON THE WAY
2017.06.09_南京 NANJING - 欧拉艺术空间
2017.06.10_上海 SHANGHAI - MAO LIVEHOUSE
2017.06.11_杭州 HANGZHOU - LOOPY
2017.06.12_宁波 NINGBO - 灯塔音乐现场
2017.06.13_义乌 YIWU - 隔壁
2017.06.14_温州 WENZHOU - 盲堂
2017.06.15_泉州 QUANZHOU - 动物世界
2017.06.16_厦门 XIAMEN - REAL LIVE
2017.06.17_广州 GUANGZHOU - SD LIVEHOUSE
2017.06.18_深圳 SHENZHEN - B10现场
2017.06.19_东莞 DONGGUAN - SOWHAT
2017.06.20_澳门 MACAU - LMA
2017.06.24_北京 BEIJING - 乐空间
It's a secret to everybody. In Nangang district, down a nondescript staircase, lies Wan Pi Bar. No lit up sign. Just four Chinese characters. In the basement, Han Yu, who's almost 50, brews beer, "because he loves beer". He started 6 years ago. It's a good sized space. His tap handles, from foreign friends. He shows us photos of his 2nd spot he's building, says he's not happy with his progress, but hopes this new space will get him there. He wants to have shows. We sit for 90 minutes, try his new brews, and Lena translates everything I want to say to this man. We talk beer. InBev being assholes. Andy Junk & Lakefront Brewery. How we run shows. Selling. Nobody is doing this type of thing here. He doesn't want money. Just enough to do his thing. We left a bit blown away, and sauced for 50 kuai. Inspirational.
Rainy Season. A few weeks ago, Shaun told me he booked another show at The Door. His band, Cut Frenzy, and a band from Russia, who have a home base here. I wondered how many people would show up. I guess we both did. No touring band to draw curious minds. Doing a thing, just because. We arrived to a packed bar. As CF played, we looked around, and saw there was nowhere to move. Rainy Season play Russian cover songs, and are damn good at what they do. Those not watching the show mingle, and in this vibe, we realize, we've got a damn good thing happening right now. It just works. The true test comes this summer, when we try and bring our favorites from China to this city, and...gasp...charge an entry fee.
Let's see what you're really made of, Dongbei. It will be worth the risk. Here's to making something out of nothing.
P.R.C.M (中國絞肉機) last week, in Harbin.
This gig almost did not happen. It was originally scheduled at "The Door", but the Chengguan had other plans, locking down the main bar street in the city for an undetermined amount of time. For an undetermined reason. Leaving everyone to keep their front lights off, and lay low. Such is life in China.
Moving shows can be a disaster, and that being said, I am truly amazed at how this went down, especially for a city such as this. I don't mean to rag on Harbin. Really. It's just that, this type of thing, it just doesn't happen here. Even neighboring Dalian, home to bands like Wang Wen, is simply spotted with shows throughout the year, but Harbin, Shenyang, and Changchun, where many of these acts come from, it's still very much a crawling toddler in the grand scheme.
Six acts performed in just over three hours. Artists from Yunnan province, Changchun, Switzerland. Live visuals. A kraut rock band. A lot of people showed up. They actually put money in the donation hat. I have seen hundreds of rooms totally clear out for more tame things than much of last night, but everybody stuck right where they were, all the way until the end. I can't begin to describe how happy it all made me.
Thanks so much to everyone who made it what it was. It really means a lot to us. Dongbei, GOOD JOB! Stoked on summer. Bands : Come hang! Cheers.
I hate to say it, but life is fairly easy for me up in N.E. China. It feels stupid and shitty to be so comfortable during such tumultuous times. However, that's just the way it has rolled out for me. Working my ass off on a lot of fronts feels really good. I have begun to understand that some things are just going to take a little more time than I'd like, and that's okay. That's life. I get paid decently well, am throwing large chunks of money at debt for the first time in a decade. I have free time to finish a Bachelor's Degree and continue to work on this project. I like my job. Sure, Dongbei can be a bit grating sometimes, but for now, it's home. Having the privilege to travel is another large benefit to taking up this lifestyle. Though we have lined up some gigs in Heilongjiang, there is largely, nothing happening up here on a regular basis. We have an upcoming rager with Changchun noise heads. See the previous blog post for more information, if you're so inclined. That said, I really miss a consistent noisier end of things. I decided to take an extended Spring Festival holiday and head back to some of my favorite places. Check out a few new spots. Do everything I could to drench myself in as much art and music as possible. This is how it went.
First up : food. Night one in Kuala Lumpur. No hassles getting everything started at the airport. Data SIM, money, train into town. Easy, and all done with a smile. It's hot out. I laugh, as I haven't been this warm in a long time. Midnight by now. If you look at a few dozen lists of where to eat in KL, there are a few places that stick on every one, and that's the chicken wings at Wong Ah Wah, on Jalan Alor, a popular street food spot. I love a good Char Kway Teow, but these people, they're not wrong. After fifteen hours of travel, I limp to the end of the food street. Surprisingly, it's half empty. These wings are spectacular. Impossibly crispy. Try to go during non-peak hours. So good to be south again. My body is already happy. Today, all the food.
Now we're talking. Nasi Lemak with Rendang and chicken. Fragrant rice. Peanuts. Sambal. Truly an outstanding thing. On a tip from the ever-helpful Brad M. Seippel, I headed to what he suggested was the best in town, Village Park. Thank You, Brad. Couldn't ask for a better lunch. Afterwards, I met up with an old friend, Matthew Cronin, and his partner Lana Mckinnon. On the outskirts of Jalan Alor, we took a deep breath of Isaan thai food. Bar hopped with Kilkenny on tap. Ended with a second round of Wong Ah Wah. Tumultuous times call for a dive for warmth, and we've cosmically found it here, this week, in Southeast Asia. I hope you can, as well. Take care out there. Be well, and keep pushing on, friends.
I didn't expect to see anything like this in Malaysia. Happy to be wrong. The wonderful Shaze, who is away from the city, contacted me about a gig at Rumah Api, which I had still never been to. Think of all your favorite dirty DIY spaces around the world, and that's it. Perfect. It's been well over a year since last seeing the members of Shh...Diam!, who are very vocal on LGBTQ, women's rights, and issues we should all care about. Much of the venue is covered in such. This night, as I take a quick glance and see America massing by the millions, a small handful launched each other into the air again and again. It felt like home to us. Thank You, Malaysia. This was the warmest, kindest 72 hours I can remember. Today : Jakarta, MDC, screaming with Dave Dictor . Perfect.
M.D.C. Indonesia, day one. Flew in, ate Satay Padang. My friend Jay took me around to ten shops on his bike until we finally found a SIM. Met up with the wonderful Dea Karina, who brought me to "Ponti Fest". Yesterday, the collective's house was raided by police. Tonight, the M.D.C. crew played alongside two dozen other bands including The Elected Officials and The Restarts. Bonkers gig. So many kids. So many bands. Classic Indonesia. Insane heat in the main room. Anca Manimau was there! Spectacular night. Thanks for the killer first day, Indonesia. Tomorrow, a breather.
You can listen to a live recording here, or by clicking below while you read.
So nice to be street level in Indonesia again. First real taste of Jakarta traffic today. Truly bonkers. A short trip turned two hours, but that's the reality here. There are a few apps here like Uber, but for motor-bikes. Exact same concept. It's a ubiquitous set of food, available everywhere here. Chicken Satay with an intensely good peanut sauce. Two types of soup. Chicken + Goat. Tea. Rice. It's great, and I've missed these flavors.
Morning, Bandung. A three hour train ride in yesterday, and I immediately met up with Palmer Keen. He runs the spectacular "Aural Archipelago", documenting lesser known traditional music around Indonesia. Also in tow was James Russell Fritsch, who just began a new label, "100,000". Our meeting point, the Sudirman street market, a Chinese / Indonesian area. I immediately ate two plates of Guangdong style pork. We then headed to a seedy Jaipong club, which I can't even begin to explain to you right now. This is Palmer's porch. The green house, James'. I didn't know this upon separately planning to meet both of them. They've both left the country this morning, and allowed me to stay. Thank You for the hospitality. A few days of wandering, until Jogja band Seahoarse, who I met on my first run here, play a gig! Excited!
Last night, Palmer + Sinta said we'd go to a "seedy Jaipong club". I'm still learning what I witnessed. In 1961, Sukarno prohibited Rock and Roll, Western genres, so Jaipong was born. It's a Sundanese dance performance with traditional instruments, but players + dancers feed off each other. This place... indeed very seedy. There'd be a pop session, then Jaipong would start. Men would go up and dance with the women. However, respect was paramount. It's about sensuality. How close can you get without touching? You'd do a jig up to tip the band. People cheered. Wild atmosphere. A wasted police officer kept sitting by us, telling us he was a cop, grabbing us, and pulling Palmer up to dance. Definitely the wildest place I've been that few foreigners ever trek to. If you're ever in Bandung, go dive in.
Seahoarse. Well over one year ago, I caught their second show as a band, in Yogyakarta. Of course, now, they're tighter, faster, louder. An amazing warehouse spot, "Spasial" that supposedly used to be an old military area. Shops, cafes littered inside. Really something, and I'd assume, a perfect newer addition to Bandung's scene. Five other bands. A showcase for Jakarta based Kolibri Records. Really great to see this type of thing in Indonesia, such a massive space. Feeling pretty raw, with stomach sickness turning into body flu by night. My most anticipated gig is tomorrow, back in Jakarta, so I'm going to responsibly power through, and then rest when I get to the chill vibes of Yogyakarta. I'll be safe. Time to rest. Cheers.
Panca Dwinandhika Zen . He's working in Bandung, where we met, documenting tattoo culture. Not only has he worked in a prison, befriending the in-mates, he aims to capture the disappearing traditional world of the "hand-tap" style art-form. There are under a dozen remaining in the world that know this style, and he believes in keeping it alive. He's done another film about Bali. We talked about his current research, trying to find the Jugun Ianfu, or what were "comfort women" for Japanese colonialists. Near the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste, at 14 to 16 years old, they'd get large tattoos to be spared being chosen for this. They're now around 90, and he's trying to wade the difficult waters of finding them. Very nice to meet you, Panca. Until next time. You can read a bit about Panca's journey, in a VICE Indonesia article by Dea Karina. Click here to do that.
To Jogja! One of my favorite cities on the planet. This is BBDKK. Opening reception for "A Quiet Universe", which was nice. One of their members played a metal rod with bike parts as strings. I don't know the specifics, but I asked him about it and he said it was inspired by the group Senyawa. Good job Rully and Wukir! Chill night. It was Indra's birthday, and I asked him what his favorite spot to eat in Jogja was. He told me, an italian pizza joint. It was still open. Off we went, just in time for last order. We then decided it was a good idea to go get tacos down the street. These were good decisions, really, considering the lack of this type of stuff in N.E. China. We bode farewell to Indra. A few beers with the J's, and left the night as true gluttons. Another Happy Birthday to you, Uncle Indra. Thanks for the nice night. Today : Prambanan round 2.
Prambanan Temple. My second visit here. Really, just as good as the first. This, and the other main one around Jogja, you cannot go wrong with. Everyone seems to have to so much joy to be there. You'll get a boatload of selfie requests, first in a group, then they want to go one by one. I honestly do not mind, as everyone is so giddy about it, and not in a shitty way. You leave smiling. I think if anyone is really down and out in their life, they should just go here. We hit the grounds, and then went back to the city center, shopped Batik, and intense downpours began. Four hours of planning to hit a Sate Klathak joint, with no cars available, and around midnight, we ended up in the outskirts with Gisa, sipping on deep flavors. Indonesia is wonderful. Thanks to everyone who makes it so.
Spectacular show at Ruang Gulma Collective. Amazing space, great people. Ihsanul Fikri : "ARTMOSF, this time, is ecology. I use ecological elements. Sensor sensitive sound painting with pencil. Every scratch is the tone that represents composition of the plant. Fire reaction. I burned palm kernel as an icon for deforestation in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and they burn the forest. Minimal effect, only one, modulating pitch and shift."
Ikbal Lubys is from Malang, but this gig was at Ruang Gulma, in Yogyakarta, where he now lives. That bonkers instrument, handmade. "The guitar was made with really old railway wood. Built in 2013, it has a 4 piece knockdown system, for easier travel. The tuning is special, crossed strings, making two different areas of sound. Like percussion. Active and piezo pickups, but I never use piezo. It's better when played without guitar picks. I can get more than one sound if I turn between tuning system." This was a really great night. Off to KL for one night. This was an intensely wonderful trip, with a lot of layers, old and new. Indonesia, once again, you've left me grinning with a full heart.
Back in Harbin. Visions of Masakan Padang joints swimming in my head. This is Sumatran food. Eat it with your hands. Go in, and most of the time, you either choose, or they'll pile up all the dishes they have, in front of you. You're only charged for what you eat. Dangerous territory when you're hungry. It feels better than I thought it would, to be back in China. Familiar territory. Back to work on all fronts. Refreshed. Started a brutal new semester of school. Still working on the new film. Spinning plates. Plans I deemed set in stone, I'm already thinking of delaying. Strange calm with this decision. Not much else to do than keep rolling, do the best I can on it all, and let it play out how it may.
Lots happening this year. Thanks for following along.
Incoming noise to Harbin, Heilongjiang! It can be very difficult to get gigs together up here, but we've done it twice, and we're about to do it again. Largely thanks to "The Door", who is letting us do basically whatever we want, we've got a killer one coming up on March 15th!
Meizhiyong joins forces with a crew of other people, including a fellow from Sweden!
Full line-up :
粗糙影像（psychedelic rock 迷幻摇滚）changchun长春
PRCM (noise 粗噪音）(CN）
... (NIKO) notebook noise 笔记本噪音/CH瑞士
LGOOOO（experimental guitar 实验吉他）changchun长春
Consider everybody here super excited.
If you have any friends in Dongbei, let 'em know.
Until next time,
MDC - Live at Ponti Fest, Jakarta, Indonesia.
My recorder was cradled on my backpack, on a rickety piece of wood that Dea Karina and I were standing on. Even though there was a waist high concrete barrier dividing us, I still had to cross my leg over the area, barely moving the whole time, in order for no punk kids to fly back into the thing. Definitely the most nervous I've been for a piece of equipment in some time. This was a really perfect thing to see, right after this stupid asshole got put into office. Mastered by Dereck Blackburn of Quiethouse Recording. Thanks, Jakarta punks. Enjoy. Cheers.
No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist U.S.A.
Bristol, U.K. - The World Underground: Episode 1 will screen at the University of Bristol Arts Complex
19:00. Free Entry.
I am in Indonesia right now. Lots happening. Some things (including a live recording of MDC in Jakarta) soon.
Here's some cool final news of 2016. Depok, Indonesia ARC YELLOW have released a cassette on one of the greatest labels in Chicago, IL, U.S.A. You can support this at Bandcamp by clicking here, or on the widget below!
I'll be heading down south in three weeks, to hit some shows in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bandung, and Jogja. It's really about getting the hell away from Dongbei's crazy winter, and reconnecting to the scenes we fell in love with, in 2015. I'll be storytelling whenever possible, and report when I get home.
For now, enjoy this slice of 90's grunge, right here in 2016.
Take care out there,
It's been two years since I stepped foot in Sichuan province. The last time was a leaping point to follow a tour across Northeast China, Korea, and Japan. My next film. This trip, it's purely a noise and food endeavor. To get the hell out of the Harbin, Heilongjiang, where there's absolutely no underground culture to speak of. However...there's the ice festival, right? I've been told time and again it can be ill advised to travel during the October holiday. National Day. Otherwise known as "the week nearly every Chinese person travels somewhere", be it their hometown, or elsewhere. Flight prices go insane out of China, even from Dongbei to nearby Korea or Japan. The tourist hot spots get swarmed. So I figured I'd head back to one of my all time favorite cities. Chengdu. Nestled near Tibet in West China, the city captured me immediately upon rolling through with Beijing's P.K.14 back in 2013. This is Sichuan province. I'll spare you most of the redundant shit. Spicy food and cute girls, sure. It's important to note, you feel the change when you come here. It's pace, refreshingly eased. A great mixture of all the things you could want in a city, with a still reasonable cost of living.
These two very young local bands, Hiperson and Stolen, blew me away. In one short year, they both grew even better when I returned to book a show with them at Little Bar in 2014. They found their sounds and ran with it. Stolen finally released their intensely refreshing “Loop” LP. Hiperson were currently on tour in Europe. If you think back to 2013, in that interview via Episode 1 of this very project, that's a pretty amazing change in merely 3 years. Their first tour outside of China, it looked like it went smoothly, amazingly, with short snippets of video being posted of crowds reacting intensely positive. Their debut LP, “No Need For Another History”, was released shortly after being signed to Maybe Mars. I'm so proud of these Sichuan kids.
So there I was, dumped back into the humid, sweaty city I so deeply missed. A trip to see about capturing what's new. With China changing at the speed of light, it shifts and molds their scenes, for better or worse. There's a newer player in town, aptly named NU SPACE, and it began right after I last visited. It's a performance space, a separate gallery and store, a cafe. Impressively large in scope, and extremely well executed. Soundproof doors help keep noise complaints down on the live-house side. The weekend I booked my trip, they just so happen to be holding a three day music and art festival. I had no idea it would remind me so much of my favorite street ragers in Chicago.
A mere 3 hour flight from up north, I arrived mid day, bolted to my hotel, and jumped right into things. Arriving at the end of the first day, a hip-hop group, CDC, or 成都说唱会馆 Chengdu Rap House, that rapped in the local Sichuanese dialect closed out the kick-off day. The setup was DJ stages on one end, a street lined with arts and craft tables, merchandise, beer. It ended with a large main stage outside. The NU SPACE crew didn't stop there, as each day was peppered with electronic acts in the main venue's main performance room. It's basic, but potent. A rectangle outfitted with surprisingly great sound. My main objective was to scope the layout for tomorrow. So wonderful it was to meet the inspiring Kristen, a New Zealand born creative who runs a media outlet called Kiwese. We met and first spoke purely on the internet during that first run at China in 2013, so putting an actual face to the name 3 years later was really special. She was a big help in fundraising Episode One. Kristen curated the lineups for all stages at this years festival. No easy feat.
Day two, I woke up exhausted. It seems my body has atrophied a bit on the festival running end, despite intense exercise. It's a different muscle group and layer of activity, really. Never underestimate humidity, as well. Though it's October, Chengdu is still quite warm and sticky. I'm being accompanied all week by a friend from Shenyang who now lives on the outskirts of Chengdu. We eat some Sichuan dumplings, Hue Guo Rou, and Mapo Dofu for lunch. A pretty classic first meal. The flavors kick my mouth even though I had been waiting to embrace them. I welcome it.
I was most excited to see a band called Chinese Football, from Wuhan. A blatant nod to 1990's Mid-Western American emo, they even brazenly aped American Football's name. It's an homage, and the music follows suit. You can hear hints of Braid, Cap'n Jazz. In all my years following various music scenes in China, I've still yet to find a band that so closely models those scenes I grew up in near Wisconsin and Chicago. It was a trip to see and hear. After connecting with the band, they remarked on how they've never really seen anything like this in China. The staff of Nu Space should be seriously applauded for all their hard work, and making something of this caliber in Sichuan Province. Again, keep in mind, not only do they run this festival each year, they're deeply embedded in the scene, running multiple things at once. From what I see, it's not just their venue, either. They are wholly concerned with fostering a positive, driven creative community. That's special.
China has changed immensely since my circular trip, three years ago. Beijing especially, taking hard hits on both venue closures, but also tour cancellations for no good reason. One always has to keep this type of shit in mind, almost expect it, but it always hurts when it goes down. Venues are one thing, but after a stampede in Shanghai on Chinese New Year, things got especially touchy with any festival performances or public events. A notable example would be NYC's The Boys. Further pressing their luck with a really, super fucked up poster via the spectacular Tony Cheung, they arrived in China only to have their entire tour cancelled by higher-ups with only hours to go. Every venue in every city got a letter saying there'd be trouble if these events went on. So, mostly, they didn't. Even as I write this, the continual and ever-morphing changes keep rolling. For example, in little over one month, Shanghai's storied venue The Shelter, will close on the last day of 2016, after the “boring reason” of failure to get its license renewed. There's a long piece written here about what it has meant for Shanghai.
I caught my first electronic act in Nu Space proper. Sulumi, who currently lives in Beijing and runs Shanshui Records. We mulled around the cafe area a bit, watched little kids paint umbrellas. Got beer from the many Beijing micro-breweries like Jing A. Grandmothers who live in the nearby houses sitting on their porches, either wholly indifferent to the whole thing, or up bobbing their heads taking selfies. Garbage filled platform bikes with seemingly nothing to do but split the crowd gathered at the end main stage. A little girl hands almost dangerously hangs off the sound booths side, turning to me, I point my camera up, and she gives me the rock horns. It was really a site to see sometimes.
NUART Festival's final day, reeling a bit from peppercorns and booze, we again rolled in mid-day, after a long lunch of Thai food. I remember back in 2013, being so enamored with the immense diversity of Chinese food, laughing at people's suggestions in Beijing, to get pizza or burgers. Having not been too well traveled at that point, I wondered why anyone would bother. “Just wait...” was a response often gotten. Indeed, today, despite having only scratched the surface of the cuisine of these regions, I'd do terrible things for a proper taco. The switch has been flipped, and here and there, sometimes you just want that itch scratched. That said, for its size, Chengdu has a really great spread of restaurants that can do just that. It's safe to say, Dongbei does not have a “Mike Pizza Kitchen” or “Red Beard Burger”. There's a Western BBQ spot in Harbin that is pretty good, but it's no “Iron Pug”. There was little embarrassment involved in rocking up to these places, especially when my guide to Chengdu for the week, Shi Hong, had never really been exposed to these things. Teaching her to make the “New York” pizza fold was a dark moment of pride for me. Chengdu's train system remains spectacular, and it was insanely easy to jump and transfer to the area where Nu Space was holding it all.
That said, to have the whole damn thing go smoothly, is an amazing feat for Chengdu, and China in general, amidst constant crack-down. There were no police shut downs. Kristen told me, “NUART Festival is supported by the local government body, they provide some funding, and allow us to close the street for three days, which is epic.” To hold such a festival, with little to no problems whatsoever, is an amazing feat. In a country where impossible red tape and bureaucracy can kill best laid plans that were executed perfectly, over night, it's a huge step forward, so much so that many of the Chinese touring bands left hugely impressed.
Every day, we were on time, and for the most part, so was the festival. IIMMUNE, a Beijing based electronic artist who also runs the collective Prajnasonic. Deep, layered pulses with beautiful visuals accompanied by the boards in the back room. My body was still adjusting, having basically gone through four seasons of weather shift by now, the colder temperatures finally making their way south.. We sat on an elevated platform, awaiting Vladivostok, Russia's Starcardigan to take the stage. More old people bewilderingly bopping their heads, taking super shitty selfies, some just sitting in their doorways, no doubt pondering a healthy mix of amusement and confusion. I saw more older locals enjoying themselves and very little to no flustered pushback. To me, that's amazing, as even in my years of hitting hundreds of Chicago street festivals, upsetting people's daily routine meant some seriously sour faces. Perhaps, the whole thing is a testament to Chengdu's vibe.
Starcardigan rally the crowd into hand-claps over electronic beats, and I start planning a a foray into the best hotpot Stolen and these old friends can come up with, for the next day. It's something I'd been salivating over since even deciding to come back to Sichuan. Having some of these people back with me, it really was spectacular. Xiaobin, who I originally met in Guangzhou, has a particularly wonderful habit of showing up wherever I am in the south, without notice. She lives in Chengdu now, and over a quick beer in the cafe, she told me how Anthony Bourdain was just in town filming a new episode of Parts Unknown. She was on staff to help with the piece, and told me about one day, when they were mulling around in the office, their Facebook messenger was being scrolled through. She saw a message I'd sent Bourdain. Basically, I was yelling at him to please check out Stolen and Hiperson. I yelped at that mention. Sure, i'm just one of millions following his pieces, screaming at him to check out this and that, come to wherever, go see whoever. I think I'd be a pretty damn solid music advisor, though. Either way, funny to hear how things get on the radar, even if nothing will ever come from it.
Beijing based WHAI closed out the festival. I got distracted from seeing Xiaobin and the crew in the cafe, and my brain started to go fuzzy after too much stimulation. Being so far removed from art and music up on Dongbei, it amazed me how long it took to get back into simply holding a longer conversation, in English, about these types of things. Talking to them about what's happening. This foray into Asia has really been a roller-coaster in terms of leaping in and out of it all, building up a work ethic. Learning how to calm down and do things that are totally unrelated to what I love, for the good of the next half of my life. The age-old adage of “it'll all still be here” can be a tough pill to swallow when you're juggling ten things at once. However, solid amounts of effort, no matter how small, multiplied over time, is going to get me where I need to be by the end of 2017. There's an end in sight. I just have to keep going.
In an instant, clean-up crews seemingly had half the garbage off the street. Formol jumped on his motorbike and we headed around a few corners to find food. They mentioned last year, how afterwards, finding most restaurants had sold out of whatever they were selling for the day, it gave me one last nod of approval for the whole damn thing. I'm sure it's insanely stressful, having this behemoth event thrust upon your normal business operation, but to have everyone get cleaned out by nine at night, three days in a row, is surely a damn fine sight to see. We roll up to a wholly empty, but well lit small shop that has less than ten tables. The owner is sleeping at one of them. Formol wakes him, and asks about dinner. The guy doesn't skip a beat, breaths in, and jumps into getting us some rigorously refreshing, clear-stocked tripe and beef soups. Chengdu's ubiquitous red chili broth is well represented across the city, but things like this can go a long way to curb the rumble in your stomach if you've over-indulged, or are over-cooked with it all. We make plans go head a ways outside the city the next day, and I sleep like a baby.
In the morning, Formol picks me up on his motorbike, and we trek ten kilometers outside the city center. Stolen are rehearsing for an upcoming festival gig. Out here, was the old Morning House space. Realistically, this was a different world. I've been here before. You drop down a few feet into a side road, and it feels like you're in the jungle. Weather shifts. We grip a quick snack of noodles and bread from a street-side cart. Though it's near what seems to be a busy area for couples and locals to walk, there is very little happening, compared to the city proper. As with many places in China, it got built out of its old home, and now moved down the road a bit, to a new spot where creators like atmen hold events. Large stages, one with a pool. Practice rooms, and all sorts of open, breathable areas to create in. Even still, having these things out here seem like a blessing and a curse, on a noise complain level. Formol telling me briefly of last year's Aus-atmen festival, which was held nearby in an area called "Flower Town". Someone coming and unplugging the power, and later returning with a group of people holding metal pipes, when they'd just gone and plugged it all back in. Not quite a great position to find yourself in, considering the police's lack of activity with such situations. Stolen have new songs that continue their exploration into electronic, sonic guitar space, and visual experimentation. It's amazing to watch them grow. They don't want to move to Beijing or sign to any sort of regular contract. Now under management by a guy in France, he's going to bring them to Europe in December, with more plans to set down roots and go back a few more times. At least, that's the plan. I told them they no doubt have to align with Agostino from UZEDA and Bellini, and get themselves a goddamn show in Catania, Sicily. I should send them e-mail now. The band left to the festival grounds to sound-check, and I roll back to the hotel and get Chuan Chuan with Shi Hong. This is another thing I deeply missed, and haven't really gone properly in years, if at all.
In the morning, back on Formol's motorbike, and out to the festival, in the middle of nowhere, “It's just for money”, they tell me. A one-off event for the opening of some new high-rise sprawl, mini mega-city, that they continue to build. Billed as a sort of oasis, I see plugs for them even in Harbin. A particularly dark advertisement currently up in one of my buildings elevators touts one of their builds as “a new city, outside the dust.” Bleak. We get settled in the back stage area, and go out to the open grass to sit with the regular festival attendees. A security guard walks up and starts speaking to the band. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose, and they begin screaming back and forth. Apparently, the security guard told the band they can't watch the acts perform, and can only sit backstage. The entire band rip off their lanyards and throw them at the poor bastard, rightly ultra pissed. They go back and grab their gear, as if to leave, and the whole crew comes up and trying to calm the situation. Heated, it takes a good hour for it all to calm down. Eventually, they perform as the sun sets, and all is well. I notice there's a small cluster of girls screaming as each song begins, and they know all the words. Later, I'm told my Formol that they have a small group of people who show up to every single show they put on in the area, regardless of how far outside Chengdu proper it may be. Superfans! Stolen have really come into their own. In 2014, I was extremely impressed hearing a few new songs that would be released on a record at some point. They were intensely refreshing. The release of their first LP, “Loop”, puts all those new burners on a thing you can own, and I highly suggest you consider supporting them.
The next day Shi Hong brings me to an extremely packed Jinli Street and the I-Box art area, where cool kids were taking selfies, skateboarding, and getting pro photo shoots done around rusty art pieces. Our plan was to basically mull around and soak in as much of the city as we could, before heading to what is supposedly the best Hot Pot (火鍋) Chengdu has to offer.
Turns out they weren't kidding. Honestly, I never even bother with the thing outside Sichuan. This may be a mistake, but for me, it makes the trip south all the more special. As with many debates between the neighboring Chongqing and Chengdu, like who has the hottest girls, they each prefer their own. I think it's just preference. Either way, this shit is the nectar of the Gods. We rolled into everyone's favorite spot, 青年火锅, which is ran by first-generation Chengdu musician who was in bands 20 years ago. If you go into the bathroom, a decades old photo of him screaming into a microphone sits besides the toilet. He's still into music, and still involved with it all. Super nice guy. The wait was 90 minutes, a bit of which could have been National Day crowd, but it's definitely popular on any given night. Totally worth the wait. Hot Pot, logistically, is a simple concept. Dip your meat, veggies, innards, or whatever you have, into the insane broth. Cool it down in the other self-made mixture of oil, sauce, garlic, and tidbits of your choice. Continue. The best, but man...as others have echoed in articles on what NOT to do... Definitely hold off from partaking in this if you're about to play a gig, or do anything super important in a public space. You never know how your body will react to it. I was happy to find myself having no issue whatsoever the next day, but I'll never forget the hellish morning after of my first deep dive into the chili pool. Your mileage may vary. You are warned.
My final day had me wholly excited. We jump back onto Formol's motorbike one last time, and meet up with Xiang and Su of atmen. The ladies of atmen run a label, perform, run electronic event promotion. Host partied. Form a vision “looking for strongly contrasting elements” for a “mental and physical experience.” It began in 2015, and has been gaining speed ever since. I try to keep my eye on Chengdu, and Atment first caught it from an interview with who else but Josh Feola, which you can read here. We headed over to the infamous Poly Center, which houses underground venues TAG and Here We Go, near the top floors of a high-rise. Tonight, the atmen party closed out with SHAO. Another tip from Feola, who's been pushing him as the forefront of electronic artists in China, alongside IIMMUNE. That said, I was quite pleased to be able to catch all of this in one short week. Shao puts on a hell of a show. I won't pretend to be particularly well-versed in electronic music, but it's always been something I've found myself deeply curious about. This was certainly refreshing, and it reminded me of dark warehouses in Chicago, simply getting lost in the waves. I'll also note that, whoever the hell is bartending at their small, separate off-shoot bar...I forget the name. The guy spent a lot of time in Japan bartending, learning how to do things, and came back to Chengdu to make good drinks. It shows. He was extremely nice, and made the best goddamn cocktails I've had in China, outside of Xiao Hai's “Bar Trochilus” in Changchun. Really something. The staff at TAG were really nice, and the whole damn thing wrapped up one of the best weeks in China that I can remember.
If you find yourself coming to the PRC, you need to make this city, and seeking out these people and places, a priority. I guarantee you it'll bring you a sense of warmth in a foreign land that you've never quite experienced. Chengdu always has a knack for making you remember why you fell in love with this country in the first place. To that, I'll forever tip my hat.
Time is very unforgiving. I've been in Harbin, Heilongjiang for one year. Overall, it's been an extremely positive experience. It has forced me to seek solace in strange and unusual circumstances. Get out of my comfort zone. Hit ramen shops with Russian girls. Take my bank teller out for beers. Skulk around the extremely dirty streets, shooting whatever's around. There is no music scene here to speak of, outside of some classical concerts, which believe me, I've gone to just to maintain a sense of normalcy.
It would be easy to sit back and pickle your liver. Stay inside when the temperature drops to around -30 degrees, where it stays for weeks. Many do this. Dongbei...what a trip.
Since coming here, I've wanted to set up a show. There's some things happening in Dalian, of course, with Wang Wen and Doc Talk Shock (now just DOC). Chanchun has a very small scene, with Meizhiyong recently releasing the excellently crazy "China's Steel". Harbin, though...nothing. There are a few metal bands, but they never play. They're on some label, God knows who or what they do, and we've had conversations with them. They just don't really understand the whole "just do the thing" outlook that we have. I do not blame them. China as a whole is not set up in this way, outside of a handful of cities.
I met Shaun Handlen, who offered me the position that would bring me to Harbin. Technically, we met over 15 years ago, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This was either at Concert Cafe, or a DIY space called "The ______ house", where I met Andy Junk of Holy Shit! and began a lifetime addiction of going to rock and roll shows in dark, dirty spaces. It's a long story I won't flesh out now. Obviously, Shaun gets it, because we grew up in literally the exact same environment. For the entire year I've been here, I've poked and prodded, trying to make something happen. Nobody really wants to come, and I don't blame them, because there's nothing in it for them aside from just doing a thing, and a high probability of losing money on either, or both ends. I just got back from a spectacular week in Chengdu, which I'm finishing up a piece about in the next week or two. I hit Beijing, though simply to interview Michael Cupoli in Noise Arcade.
To my surprise, Michael contacted me recently. His girlfriend has family in Harbin, and he was coming to visit. Perfect situation for a rock and roll show.
Shaun's band is always up to play. So, with and answer to "with who", we began a search for a place that would actually allow us to do it. This proved an interesting feat, with a spread of outright denials, a couple indifferent parties, and many simply with a response of "it's too loud." Harbin loves their guitar and medium volume microphone cover-band schlock, but a drum set? Heavens forbid. Finally, we found not just one, but two places on Qiao Nan Jie, Harbin's main bar street. One was pretty large, they seemed into it, and agreed. However, for the local crowds here, the vibe was definitely a bit out there, for our purposes. We decided to see if we could find another space. I contacted a guy who had his hands in a few different things here, including an old, shuttered venue that has just opened up once again. He suggested a small place he co-owned called "The Door". A tiny stage in the corner. Not much room to move around. A perfect place for our first real run at something in this city for quite some time. The type of place that looks full with 20 people. Everyone was on board. So, we firmed it up, and I made my first posted in well over a decade.
We began spreading the word. I figured with it starting early, and ending at a reasonable time, that turnout could be alright. In the end, we really had no idea. We would have been happy with 20 people. To our surprise, a shitload of people showed up. Even at nine on the dot, the place was nearly full. By the time Cut Frenzy left the stage and Noise Arcade began setting up, you could barely move. Russians mixed with American expats and Dongbei locals. College kids turned up, and stuck around because the whole damn thing was over by 10:45. Sure, it was a free show, in a city starved for events of this nature, but that surely doesn't mean what you put on is going to be successful. This is a city where most are in bed by 9PM, and college kids have curfews ranging mostly from 10PM, with some around midnight. Expats, per Shaun, could give a shit less, and "won't pay for shows." For the university curfew crowd, after speaking with dozens of them, the whole "hopping the gate" thing isn't really something that's really on their radar.
That said...the show went perfectly. We threw Noise Arcade dough from our own pockets. The bar's manager and sound guy were extremely into the whole thing, and want to do it again. "We need to charge money next time!", he told Shaun. Yeah., we do. It left me impressed, and honestly, I'm quite proud of this city at the moment. Hell, even my banker friend showed up. That's a pretty big deal.
Recently, I met a kid who does freestyle hip-hop, mostly outside of a sandwich shop right down from where this show went on, spitting over beats from a dirty speaker. I asked him about performing when we put on another thing, and he said he's nervous, but entertained the idea. Anqi from Changchun is into coming. We're cooking something up for December. P.K.14 said "it's been ages" since they've been up here (the last time was on their 2013 tour, when I did the film.) and I think if I bother them enough, they'll make the trek, likely tacking on Dalian or something else on the way.
I thought I'd put some words up here, while this moment was still fresh in my head. One gig per year, it's better than zero, I'd say, and I'm extremely happy to be able to do it. We'll keep rolling up here. There's some really exciting shit in the works for 2017. Episode 2 is forming, and will get released. It's taken longer than expected, but I'm really excited about it, and this second film isn't something I can force out of me. I'm juggling quite a few things,. Trying to set up a long-term life, for a more long-form avenue to document things, and next year is really going to be something. It will begin in late January, when I head back to Indonesia, and Malaysia.
More to come on all this. In the mean-time, here's an unmixed, drum heavy live recording of Cut Frenzy for your listening pleasure.
C-ranking's for all.
Hey. There's a new interview from U.K. based Overblown Magazine. Really kind words. This is the current state of things. I discuss people, places, and process. A few tracks that have been sticking with me lately.
If you're reading this...thanks so much, again, for following along. It means a lot, to inspire anyone, and it means the world to me.
You can read the full pieces right here.
Still kicking. 24 hours to Chengdu.