Farewell, Dongbei! 3 months in China, Japan, and Indonesia
3 months ago, in what was either the dumbest, or best decision ever, I quit my job. The jury is still out on that one. Trust me, in the grand scheme of things, I really didn't want to leave Harbin, China. It was probably the most comfortable I have been in years, despite an insanely brutal winter, bad air, and questionable surroundings for my health. However, I went there with goals, I hit them, and it was time to get on the road for a while and see what happens. I'd set up a loose schedule, to tour with a few of my favorite bands on my way to Indonesia. The plan was to then settle into Yogyakarta, in central Java, and try to get my shit together for some sort of long haul filming excursions. This is how it began. These are largely unedited, tired, hung-over dispatches from the road, written hours after they happened, so please excuse some strange spoutings. (By the way, you can find links to all of these bands at the bottom of this page. Have a listen, and support them if you like it!)
Day one. Hiperson (海朋森) at NUTS Club, Chongqing. It's been five years since my last trek in the face-melting, crazy city just a few hours from Chengdu. A return to the beginning, really, when I was first blown away by their opening set for P.K.14 back in 2013. Their new material is great, and they say they've now got enough for a new LP. I got a taste of this last year at the Maybe Mars showcase, but they're tighter now, more confident. I love this band. Thank You, Hiperson. It's really meant so much to watch you grow all these years. What a perfect start to this thing. Next stop, Osaka, Japan.
Blond New Half. Namba Bears green room. Osaka, Japan. I am very lucky that these maniacs play like twenty gigs a month in Kansai when I come here. They will be featured in the long overdue Episode 2 of The World Underground. In fact, they were one of my favorite parts of that trip so many years ago. They still rule. I'll focus on new material for both them and Hiperson. Osaka is spectacular, and if you are in Japan it'd be foolish to not spend a good chunk of time here for so many reasons. Don't think about it too much. Just do it. Tonight, Blond New Half play "Ooh La La" in Kyoto, and I'm heading to the train station now! Giddy up!
After this, I somehow got lucky enough to get a Chinese tourist visa processed in Osaka. It was a dice roll, as the few stories I could find informed me I should have a Japanese work visa, but, in the end, it worked out.
Flat Sucks. Namba Bears. Osaka, Japan. I awoke a bit salty I missed METZ the previous day, and decided I was going to a random show. I picked a venue, headed out. Japan is spectacular for many reasons, but one is that you can just choose a gig, and it's probably going to be, at least, entertaining. At best, mind-blowing. Flat Sucks are kick-ass punk via Kyoto. I'd never heard of them. Between sets, I read about Bourdain's suicide. What a deep loss. I wasn't really handling it too well on the last band, so I drunkenly asked if I could say something. Got on the mic, and a kid jumped on stage and translated. Rad. I told them Japan changed Bourdain's life. I asked them to shout cheers. I poured beer on the floor. I don't think most of them understood still, but it didn't matter. It was good. It's time to roll extra hard for Anthony Bourdain.
Zhu Wenbo and Zhao Cong. The odds of us meeting this week, at this place, are quite remarkable. I met Zhu Wenbo five years ago at the now defunct XP Club in Beijing. He began an experimental night every Tuesday way back in D22, and continued it in XP, until it closed. He then brought it to an underpass, made it a tape label. He remembered that night at XP. Zhu and Zhao performed unique low-key sound pieces. Mizutama, 竹下勇馬, and 中田粥 held a collaboration in the main room. They put bits into a suitcase and brought it outside. FIGYA's small child, she hit it around. Their kid is always in the room, adding to the performances. All here, in this off the radar experimental space I always try to visit when I go to Osaka. China always wiggles its way back in somehow. Thank You, folks. Always a pleasure.
THE SHOKKMAN. Hard Rain. Osaka, Japan. Wild speed-freak punk rock! This was a "rest day", which means going to a show anyway but only recording audio and taking photos. Another random gig I had no idea what to expect out of, aside from seeing a few Youtube videos. I arrived to find my sound recorder's memory card was full, and I didn't have my back-up. CURSES! Happens at least once per trip. Never any sense in beating myself up over it, as nothing could be done. Blindly impressed once again, and a hell of a thing for a lazy Sunday night. Tonight, the final show, and my last night in Japan! Blond New Half & three others at my new favorite jam in Osaka : Sengoku Daitouryou! Let's roll.
鮫肌尻子とダイナマイト (Samehada Shiriko & Dynamite)
Japan, Blond New Half, old and new friends...Thank You. Always difficult to write a takeaway to this country that doesn't involve sounding like a lunatic fanboy, so I won't even try. I love you. Now, a long trek to Guangzhou, China, to meet a Hedgehog.
Thank You, Shenzhen. Tonight: Hong Kong! Hedgehog play "This Town Needs", a.k.a. "the new Hidden Agenda". Excited to see it! Spending a few extra days in HK before heading back to Shenzhen for Hiperson, so if you're around, give a shout! I think we'll attempt to shoot a Big Wave music video, too? Their singer is with us playing background stuff for Hedgehog. Alley wandering! All the dim sum! 叉燒! Onward!
I love this city. Endless exploration on a wickedly small scale. Always a bit daunting to me at first, but easy to settle into. It quickly heightens all your senses, leaving you to wander with a hawk eye for ridiculously good food and random shenanigans. It's got an extremely low tolerance for bullshit, and I'm always left a bit breathless after my time. That's a good thing. Another place I am unsure I could ever live, but damn if it's not one of the best short-burst cities to come dive deep, for however long.
Hedgehog were one of the first bands I found in China. They were many other people's introduction as well, forming around the same time as Carsick Cars, D22 club, and a slew of other bands. I never could catch them live. The timing was always off, almost hilariously so. All I could ever muster was to film them in their practice space a few times. They've been together thirteen years now. I'm beyond impressed they've kept it going so long, on top of releasing, in their words, some of their best work to date. No easy feat, considering Atom has a new baby. To follow along these last few shows has really meant a lot to me. Thank You, Hedgehog. Tomorrow, back to Shenzhen to await one last show with Hiperson.
After Hedgehog, I decided on a whim to fly to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, early. It was a gut feeling that I should go spend a few extra days there. I headed to a party my friend Kristen was putting on, for Hise of Machu Picchu, as he was leaving Chengdu after many years.
A layered beast channeling Storm & Stress, wavelengths from the world of Chengdu's STOLEN. This remains my favorite city in China. I cannot wait to go on tour with these kids for a bit in November. No sleep whatsoever. At the airport four hours early because I'd just be sitting on the internet, waiting anywhere else, realistically. Whenever I have a flight before 10AM now, I just stay up all night, nail that sweet spot before all the jam-ups, grip my ticket before everyone else, and sit patiently watching the frantic masses from the smoking room. Blinking heavily now, guzzling triple shot espresso watching heavy rain pour down on Sichuan, reflecting on this whole mad deal. Today, a flight to the gnarly, killer Wuhan, and man, it's been too long. Another Dirty Fingers gig. "Face Me On Stage", they say. The makings of an instant classic.
Lonely Leary. VOX. Wuhan, China. This band has really slapped me in the face the last few days. I caught them for the first time last year in Beijing, and their new LP quickly became one of my favorite recent records from China. I did not recall being able to make their Wuhan show, but there it was, washing over me on two hours of sleep. Rough edges, loud as hell. It's great. I've enjoyed it so much, that I am making another last minute move today. Because I only have one week left in China, I've decided to take the quick and easy fast train to Changsha, Hunan, today, to catch one more gig at the new VOX location that just opened. As they say, you only live once, my friends. Off to the train station.
Wuhan staple AV Okubo VS. Shanghai's Dirty Fingers, last night at Vox. A concept called "Face Me On Stage", where the bands set up opposite each other and "battle" song by song. Probably not a new thing, but definitely unique for China. Historically, most of my favorite rock and roll shows have been played on the floor. You don't see it much here, and it was great. It could have went either way, but in the end, a sweaty, hot mess of a good time, and classic Wuhan. This city rules. Today, I'm heading back to Changsha, Hunan for my final Dirty Fingers gig. It's the final show I'll see in China before heading to Indonesia! Off to the station.
Dirty Fingers, Thank You for what was no doubt one of the top 10 hangovers of my life. Brutal. China, you’re too kind, and that was one hell of a month. Took a 1AM red-eye flight to a layover in Kuala Lumpur. Nodded off at random. More aimless airport wandering, more guzzling strong coffee and waiting for my flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s going to be a long day. I’ll spend a few days here awaiting two Kolibri Records showcase gigs with Grrrl Gang and a few others. Excited for this new leg. Already seeing massive potential, with a lot already planned, as I head towards Jogja to settle in. INDONESIA, let’s go!
Definitely not in Kansas anymore. How beautiful is this? Very out of my element here, but I knew I would be, almost anywhere outside N.E. China. Indonesia is a different animal. So sweet. I love coming back here, but this time to stay, and to move to Yogyakarta, has me in pretty grand spirits. It's setting in now. I spent the night in the basement of Blok M with Yudhistirafrom the excellent band Vague, poking around old vinyl, cassette vendors, ending at the very cool Cafe Mondo. We talked about the difficulty of making tours profitable, or simply just breaking even. Booked a flight to Jogja for Monday to settle in, and there's a string of gigs that week, as soon as I land. Jakarta seems a lot less brash this week. Thanks for the warm welcome, Indonesia...it's going to be a great weekend of noise.
Tarrkam. Guitar Freaks, Jakarta, Indonesia. A few friends were super excited that I'd get to see this band, and I can see why. Very unique "kebinatangan-core" coming out of the capital city of Indonesia. Thanks so much to Kolibri Records for inviting us to their showcase. A great night! After the gig, we headed to meet Dilla at her punk rock collective, the "Ponti Punk" house. Funny that I'd already been here in January of last year to see The Restarts and M.D.C. Dilla now lives there, has left Sugarkane, and has a new band called Lips that I can't wait to see. We ended the night once again at a 24 hour Hong Kong style pork place, at five in the morning. Tonight : A stacked hardcore gig. I feel like I'm 15 years old again. Let's go, Indonesia!
Every time I doubt the malleable nature of the human body, I return to Indonesia, and am reminded by the insane crowds here, flinging around like rubber bands. Blood is not uncommon, but it's almost always with a smile. Yes, there is some macho bullshit here, sometimes. I find it to be rare. Yes, Indonesia has a sexism problem. I'll talk to you about that in a bit. This gig was purely positive vibes. It took about 3 minutes until I was offered the local bath-tub booze, then came Arak, and it didn't stop until the end. A ska band was wedged in the middle, and people went all out, dancing on a dime. "Local hero's" performed, and the whole place sang every word. When Indonesian punk gigs run smoothly, they're truly a magical thing. Today : Din Tai Fung and Turnstile.
Woodhull, refreshing noise-punk at Bengkel Cafe, an outdoor spot that felt like a 70's biker hangout. I arrived to some rowdiness, and local spirits. An inquiry into booze was made, and I was told there's "nowhere around to buy it", but then within minutes, someone copped 3 bottles of vodka. We made screwdrivers. By the third act, the singer jumped into the drum set, totally destroying it. People were pissed. It took them half an hour to put it back together, and the show went on. It's been such a great week. Jogja feels like home, and I'm so happy for that. Today I got a bed, fridge, and couches all set up in my new place. All the pieces are coming together, smoother than I ever thought they would, largely thanks to the amazing community here (and Hendra). Tomorrow, another Grrrl Gang show! Thank You, Yogyakarta.
Grrrl Gang at Sangat Coffee. Ya'll seem to love the live-streams. That makes me happy. Sorry I delete most of them. What an amazing show. The vibe of the whole setup was spectacular. I don't know how they get away with this shit. The bands ranged from Melt Banana style craziness to doom jams. We sat on a box truck that held the PA, drank the gamut of things, and smoked way too many cigarettes. Jogja, if this is even half of what you throw down on a normal week, my decision to come stay here long term was, to put it lightly, the best thing I could have done. I am super impressed, and this is really special. Last night specifically I found myself unable to stop grinning. Tonight, a gig at AOA space to cap off this insane week. Keep it rolling, Jogja.
Deadly Weapon last night at AOA space. I saw a gig in this place years ago. It was Eerie (who sound like Chicago's RUNNING, and are now sadly defunct) and Cloudburst, which this band pleasantly reminded me of. Killer heaviness. It's been a long time since I've seen Made Dharma rock out, but he played double duty this night, and is also in another great band called Warmouth. The performance area is in the attic, up some rickety stairs. I dig it, and it's hot, but not nearly as hot as Rossi in Jakarta. What a week, Jogja. I'm spent! Time for a break. I'm going to try and get my shit together a bit more here, and organize. Then, I'm heading to America via China for a week, to visit family, ship fundraiser perks, grab my degree and all sorts of paperwork, and jump right back into things. When I get back, the real work begins.
My neighbor has beautiful food. She greets me with "Hello, neighbor John!". It's like a food version of "Cheers", as she's so nice. Poking around local joints. Being in the city center has already proven very useful. Short walks to all the things, train station, and easy ride-share pickups. I'm behind my favorite coffee shop that much of the scene still hangs at. Fun spillover so far. It's a big adjustment, but going well. Strolling the neighborhood to smiles, or to be told "good morning" is a really good mental change. Harbin was a bit more rough on me than I realized. This is Soto Koyor, soup made with a turmeric base, beef fat, veggies, rice noodles. Fried chicken on the side. Her place is super cute, and the quality is a notch above street food, which will be good long-term. Total cost: 28,000 IDR (or about $1.95)
When all was said and done with this trek, I headed back to America for a week, hugged the family, bounced in and out of Guangzhou, China. I finally met Tony Cheung, who if you follow this project, you should likely be familiar with by now.
Record Pack 6 forming. Years of hoarding culminated into this, probably the best collection yet. New LP's by Shanghai's Dirty Fingers, Osaka's Blond New Half. Old Sugar Kane CD's from Jakarta. ZOO and Arrington, Nasty Wizard cassettes, Stolen and Hiperson from Chengdu. Cloudburst and Warmouth from Yogyakarta. Old school hand-picked Indra Menus cuts. Ikbal Lubys. So much happening here. Not pictured: Missoula's Magpies, and the loads of 7", LP's and CD's Conan Neutron just dropped off. Thank You, Conan. I love doing these. Tomorrow, I tackle the mystery boxes, shirts, and Tony Cheung art.
Amor Fati. A "sentimental collaboration show between ambient and soundscape music" by Daniel Bagas. Dance by Ichi Dilaga and Nindya Silvi. Part of Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta #30. They gave everyone wireless headphones and tuned into a private radio frequency. Tough to capture in photo form, but quite unique. This festival is awesome, and I went years ago as well. Sprawling markets and food stalls. All sorts of insane art and wildly imaginative installations scattered throughout. Yogyakarta, despite its size, really is a wonderful for this type of stuff, and it's all very inspiring to see it unfold year after year. They just don't quit.
Buktu. A very "Godspeed You!" influenced band, tight and impressive. Another open air gig, this time at Bentara Budaya. This space seems to be used for all sorts of things. I caught a free jazz performance here weeks ago. It was packed. There were tattoos being done in the back room. An art gallery. With a widely varied lineup, it was one of many benefits happening for Lombok, who have been hit by strong earthquakes relentlessly over the last few weeks, and are in a pretty bleak spot. Nice to see the communities here immediately jumping into action for their own. Even driving around on motorbikes, you see kids standing out in the street with buckets, taking donations for the brothers and sisters nearby. Cheers, Jogja, and best wishes to Lombok moving forward.
How to destroy drums (and make everybody angry) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Nice to see Arrington de Dionyso on Indonesian turf! Real nice day at Ruang Gulma, one of my favorite places to see a gig in Yogyakarta. Safe travels, Arrington! ❤️ Tomorrow: the mighty Senyawa.
A few days ago, it was Indonesia's Independence Day. My friend Ichi invited me to go to a traditional celebration near my home, which I of course, accepted. I was fed immediately upon entering. People were grand and jovial. To me, Indonesia, despite its issues, really has the ability to show you the true spirit of human-kind. It's been a bit of a rough start over here, but I'll find my footing. This is a big change. Today I head to Surabaya to begin a tour with Korea's Drinking Boys & Girls Choir, who I saw 4 years ago in their home city of Daegu. I'm super excited, and it should provide some needed clarity, and energy. My newest film will launch in the next 48 hours, and a new chapter will begin. For that, I am very grateful. Take care out there.
I launched The World Underground Episode 2, and headed to Surabaya to relax for a day and then meet up with the Koreans!
"National Police Shit" - Last night, the first gig for Drinking Boys & Girls Choir went off without a hitch in Surabaya. That is, until a bunch of undercover cops showed up to the space. It seemed like it might be just a normal "quiet down", and then they brought us all inside. I wasn't worried, until my friend Prabu was worried. They locked the doors, made us all sit down. They told us to not move, not smoke. Earlier, I had seen a partied out kid face down, get taken out and carried into a van. Apparently, that's why they came. So began an hour of interrogation on who brought whatever he did. Synthetic weed, likely, which Indonesia seems to dig.
It's funny though, nobody said a single word. It was kind of amazing, the silence. They searched us at random, checking cigarettes, asking a lot of questions that I'll never understand. Lots of stern nationalistic talk about how you don't need alcohol to play music. Asking if this is what Indonesia had become. The main guy threatened us with all sorts of shit. Bringing us to the police station. Drug testing us like China so loves to do. None of that happened thankfully. Honestly, the whole deal could have been much, much worse, considering Indonesian police can basically do whatever the hell they want. Hell of a way to start a tour, though. Onward, to Houtenhand, in Malang! Welcome to Indonesia, my friends.
EP2 screened in Borneo thanks to my friend Theo Nugraha.
I was told a few dozen times in the last week how amazing Malang, and specifically, the Houtenhand bar is. I tried to keep expectations at bay. It was a quick jaunt via Surabaya by bus. I passed out at my hotel for a few hours, and woke up ready to rage. Houtenhand is a three level space sprayed with art, very cheap beer, and a killer rooftop. Bondu Seo got his lip split open and bled all over his shirt, lots of crowd-surfing was done considering the fairly small crowd, and we all left quite exhilarated. Can't wait to go back here. As we speak, we're on the train to Yogyakarta.
"National Police Shit #2" - It's an 8 hour train from Yogyakarta, and we arrive in Bandung. An outdoor cafe space. The gig starts, and I run to get batteries. I come back to Meena saying their gig is cancelled. The cops came, and said we could either have the show without the touring band, since they have no permit, or not have the show at all. SNK gets on stage, play an improv "fuck the police" song, Prabu smashes his guitar out of frustration after three songs. Kids pull through hard, book two of the bands into a surprisingly large studio space. We make a quick run for food, and are told a few dozen kids are already waiting for them there. Tonight, we're triumphant. Cheers to Bandung for making shit happen. This was really special.
I had to re-take this photo, 4 years later. Couldn't resist. What I thought would be an easy three hour slide into the outskirts of Jakarta, took well over six. So it goes near the capital city. I met up with the bands at a sate restaurant, and we headed to D'jogja Studio, in Tangerang. I got a small bout of food poisoning, and ended up puking my brains out in between bands. Powered through with lots of water, and filmed the show anyway. Feeling much better today. What a killer tour. Exhausting. Heartwarming. Real great to go back to some of these cities. Thanks so much to 드링킹소년소녀합창단 - DrinkingBoys&GirlsChoir, Saturday Night Karaoke, new and old friends we met along the way. You're the best. Does this photo look familiar? Couldn't help but re-do it 4 years later. Time for some rest in Jakarta and Guangzhou.
Wew, lad. Okay. There you have it. There's a lot coming up. The future is uncertain. Take care out there. Keep an eye out.
Listen to and support these bands :