CITY MIX is a RADII series in which we give you a sonic spin through the underground music of a Chinese city outside the Beijing/Shanghai nexus.
Hangzhou, capital of China’s eastern Zhejiang province, has long been one of the country’s most prosperous cities, sitting at the sea-side terminus of a complex trading network uniting much of the ancient world during the Tang and Song dynasties. It’s also one of the most famously beautiful and refined cities in China, renowned for its literary history and for the idyllic views offered by its West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Despite this historical pedigree, however, Hangzhou also has a more progressive, grittier fringe. The China Academy of Art in Hangzhou has been turning out some of the country’s most provocative visual and multimedia artists for the last decade, specifically from its New Media department helmed by video artist Zhang Peili and sound artist Yao Dajuin. The influences these two avant-garde pioneers have brought to the water table has influenced a wide variety of experimental sounds being made in Hangzhou today, which are supplemented by the internet-damaged alternative club music of new label FunctionLab, as well as a healthy dose of post-punk, shoegaze, vaporwave, bedroom trap and more from other corners of the city’s music scene.
Here’s a healthy sampling to tune your ears to the sound of Hangzhou today:
1. Mice – “身姿祭献” [00:00]
2. GUAN – “Air Sac 气囊(feat.GUMME)” [01:58]
3. 养鸡 (yang ji) – “和全世界trap (trap with the whole world)” [06:41]
4. wooeton – “Vietnam Coast” (excerpt) [09:18]
5. self party – “Regina Sue” [11:17]
6. Dolphy Kick Bebop – “Equus” [15:03]
7. The Wisdom Teeth – ” 夜间视力” [20:39]
8. 切 (Qie) – “操场“ [26:30]
9. GG Lobster – “No One Like Us” [28:27]
10. YUNG MIN – “Brutal Death bb” [32:16]
11. ayrtbh (Wang Changcun) – “damn.gif” (excerpt) [35:33]
12. RMBit -“Enter the ether_p2” [39:00]
13. Dropdown – “CF stream” [40:25]
14. Li Jianhong – “1969” (excerpt) [52:39]
15. Lao Dan – “分身 無形 (Doppelganger & Immateriality)” [1:01:13]
16. Little Wizard (小巫师) – “Future” [1:04:58]
Mice is the latest artist signed to play rec, a label launched last year by Wang Changcun (aka ayrtbh below), a former lecturer at the Hangzhou art academy, and Xu Cheng, longtime veteran of the Chinese noise scene having been a founding member of Torturing Nurse. Mice’s debut album 迷自由行 will be released by play rec on Saturday (August 18).
GUAN, aka Guan Boyang, is one of the central figures behind FunctionLab, another label started last year by a crew of (mostly) Hangzhou-based producers. FunctionLab shares some sonic affinities with the Genome label in nearby Shanghai, and GUAN and other members (such as YUNG MIN and GG Lobster below) have also pulled DJ sets for Shanghai Community Radio.
Yang Ji, whose name literally means “raise chickens,” is a multi-talented force on the Hangzhou scene, also lending her abilities to a few (now defunct) bands including Qie (below) and Dear John Letter. While her other bandmates have been known to flake, she carries on with an impressively diverse range of solo productions, including this pristine piece of bedroom trap.
wooeton, aka Eton Woo, is someone we’ve featured before for his steadfast contribution to the meager Chinese vaporwave canon. On “Vietnam Coast” he unsettlingly contrasts a bit of non-PC dialogue from Full Metal Jacket with a kind of creepily possessive doo-wop number and it somehow works.
Woo also plays in the shoegaze band self party, a thoroughly fuzzed-out ensemble for fans of fully turnt up My Bloody Valentine.
Elsewhere on the Hangzhou rock spectrum sits Dolphy Kick Bebop. They’ve been kicking around the noisier corners of the rock scene for several years, and a few months ago released their debut album Smoke a Haiku Cigarette on cassette via Beijing DIY label Spacefruity Records (operated by the same people behind Beijing venue and record shop fRUITYSPACE, naturally). This track in particular contains the truest words any confirmed fan of psychedelic rock has ever uttered: “Someone’s gonna puke but not me… I’m in this shit too deep to disbelieve.”
The Wisdom Teeth formed in the San Dun suburb of Hangzhou in 2014, and recorded this, their sole album, in 2016 with PK14 vocalist and Chinese post-punk pioneer Yang Haisong. Like many of the debut albums by bands in which Yang has taken a personal interest, this one came out on Maybe Mars, the label Yang directs, even though the band had already split by the time it finally saw the light of day. Nevertheless, the album came with this bit of Hangzhou scene-setting from Wisdom Teeth vocalist Li Wangnian that fits in with this mix:
Back in those days, us and friends always went drinking in suburbs at night, at ‘Da Mo’ and ‘Ye Ren’ skewer booths, at the house we rent in Wang Yue apartment, on the rooftop, on the lawn, by the lake, and the empty streets. Now when I recall that period, it’s like watching an inexplicable movie. Some unexpected questions and beauty just coming up to you, made you excited. But when you awake from hangover the next day, you just thought everything sucks, like a failed ceremony.
Qie was a promptly formed ex-Wisdom Teeth project (featuring Yang Ji, left), which itself disbanded earlier this year. They only managed to get a few practice room recordings in, but they’re pretty great; find them all here.
GG Lobster is another prime mover of Hangzhou’s alternative club scene, a core member of FunctionLab and a regular at the city’s most important venue for incubating experimental electronic music, Loopy. This track is his contribution to FunctionLab’s second compilation, Functory02, released last month, and on it he reworks the hook from that track that blew MIA up into a heaving crew anthem. Into it. Check out GG Lobster’s recent SHCR DJ set for more.
YUNG MIN is technically in Nanjing, the capital of neighboring Jiangsu province, a 97-minute ride away from Hangzhou on the fast train. But he’s an instrumental part of FunctionLab — he has three singles up on their Bandcamp at the moment — and this track, also from Functory02, was too extreme to exclude from this mix.
Wang Changcun has been an instrumental force on the Hangzhou scene for over a decade now, for many years teaching at the art academy as a guest lecturer and using the city as a base of operations to release a constantly evolving body of work. This is a track from his latest release, Song of Anon, which I wrote about at length here.
RMBit, former students of Wang’s and graduates of the academy, are following in his footsteps in their blending of code with art. Though they’ve been active as performers for years, they put out their first recorded album last year on play rec, and are preparing a new one for D Force, the label operated by social network Douban which also released Wang Changcun’s latest album. Learn more about the more technical end of RMBit’s overall output here.
Dropdown (left, with Mice making a cameo in the middle) is a member of RMBit, and also released his own debut album on play rec in January this year. These guys really like including references to computer interface vocabulary in their band names it seems.
For something completely different: guiratist and improviser Li Jianhong, who ran 2Pi, China’s first experimental music festival, in Hangzhou from 2003-2007. Li moved to Beijing in 2011, but many of his seminal releases — including 2009’s Classic of the Mountains and Seas, released by legendary Tokyo burnout psych label PSF — were recorded in Hangzhou, as was this selection, which was belatedly released on cassette last year by Lyon- and Nanjing-based label WV Sorcerer.
This is another release from WV Sorcerer, for Hangzhou-based flautist and sax shredder Lao Dan. Lao is busy as a key member of a number of projects, including noise band Red Scarf and prog-via-Mongolian-folk band Haiqing, but he’s put out a few solo releases this year as well, including one for Modern Sky and this one, Functioning Anomie, recorded live in Hangzhou’s Qinglongdong Tunnel. “All natural cave reverb, the free improvisation of his alto saxophone, the sound of the passengers and the cars were recorded, as every functioning individual.”
We end with the “Future,” as everything does, all the way out in Shaoxing, a city of 5 million bordering Hangzhou on the southeast. Little Wizard’s second album, II, was released last year by Space Circle Music, a label that offers the full package of recording, distribution, and tour promotion for its select roster of artists, which most prominently includes Dalian post-rock heavyweights Wang Wen. Find the full album, as well as a series of remixes that inserts Little Wizard’s sound in other environments (trap, IDM, free jazz, et al), over at their Bandcamp page.
More from RADII’s City Mix series here
Cover photo: Loopy, Hangzhou
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