Culture

Chengdu’s Stolen Refresh the Post-Punk-to-Techno Vector with New Album, “Fragment”

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We’ve been teasing this one for a while, and now it’s here for you to stream in full: Fragment, the second album from Chengdu electro-rock band Stolen.

 

While Chengdu’s underground music scene has captured most attention lately off the strength of its trap stars, there is also a burgeoning indie rock scene in the city centered around bands like Stolen, Hiperson and The Hormones, as well as an upstart underground techno movement exemplified by Euro-inspired DIY label atmen. With Fragment, Stolen touches several corners of this multifaceted zeitgeist. The album is an hour-long, cinematic and synth-heavy long player of blacklight-accented, club-ready rock that sounds like it could play as easily in Berlin’s Tresor as in Chengdu’s Little Bar or NU Space.

Berlin has indeed become a major touchstone for Stolen Last year they released an EP entitled Why We Chose to Die in Berlin, which vocalist Liang Yi said he wrote before even visiting the city in person. “Once, when the band was on a break, I watched an hour-long documentary about techno at home, and after watching it I thought up that song title,” Liang says “We love the bands and the music culture from the time,” Liang and guitarist Fang De tell RADII, name-checking Can, Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Joy Division as important influences. “The biggest and most important similarity” between the gritty cultural fringes of late ’70s/’80s Manchester and Berlin and contemporary China, Liang says, “is that in both environments, there are a lot of different art forms in a process of growth. But the biggest difference is, of course, in the environment here, there’s more control. We have more limitations.”

Stolen vocalist Liang Yi at Concrete & Grass festival, Shanghai, September 2018 (photo by RADII’s Thana Gu)

Fragment is the logical end result of this algorithm of influences, charting a path from post-punk to techno first traveled decades ago, and shepherded in 2018 Chengdu by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder, a Manchester transplant who witnessed the birth of both genres. Stolen’s seven new originals on the album are padded out with three hard-hitting, four-on-the-floor techno remixes by Reeder from the band’s 2017 EP, which he also produced, having become immediately enamored with Stolen after seeing them headline a festival in Chengdu that same year. “With the start of their first song, the audience just erupted. It was absolutely thrilling,” Reeder says, adding:

I had not felt like this for many years, you could feel the excitement ripple through the crowd. I immediately realized that I was witnessing something very special. I could feel that these young guys were leading a new generation of creative Chinese artists. It was a similar kind of feeling that I had when I saw Joy Division for the first time, and when I saw New Order for the first time too. It was really exciting for me. From that moment I was hooked!

So: Fragment, highly recommended for fans of the aforementioned legends, as filtered through the minds of six talented, somewhat sci-fi-damaged Chengdu youth. Bleak industrial techno-rock for the Black Mirror generation.

And if you ever get the chance, definitely take the opportunity to catch Stolen live — their stage performance is a big part of their appeal, and the reason they’re continuing to win over new fans across China and beyond. Ever diligent to grow and improve, Liang Yi says that the band’s not taking the release of Fragment as an excuse to cool their heels, but rather plan to keep digging in:

To me, it might sound a bit cheesy, but I think more and more that every show is so important, and we should always put 100% of what we have into every one. Before it was hard in China, because the music business was not as well developed as it is now. But now, with the environment getting so developed, it’s possible to deliver 100% of your artistry into every show, and I believe that’s what we do.

Stream/buy Fragment here

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Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.

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