Making : An evening in Harbin, Northeast China...
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.