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.
Coastal cities are often positively impacted by the transient comings and goings of their inhabitants. Generally speaking, ports have served as creative hubs for millennia. When China opened up its first four Special Economic Zones in the 1980s, the city of Xiamen in southeastern Fujian province was included in the bunch. The city, also known as Amoy, suddenly transformed from a fishing town into an important center of commerce.
Within the last eight years, there has also been a boost in Xiamen’s underground music scene. With the establishment of venues like Real Live and MAO Livehouse, Xiamen was quick to catch up with larger cities throughout the country. Today it is a common stop on tours, and has developed strong rock and electronic scenes worth investigating. On a given night out in Xiamen today, one can expect to find bands making majestically crafted shoegaze and math rock alongside electronic producers throwing out smooth house and techno grooves. The city might not be the epicenter for creative culture in the region, but it is a place with plenty of potential for future growth.
Here’s a look at the past and present of Xiamen’s music scene:
Peach Illusion (桃子假象) – “凌晨三点钟 3:00 AM” [00:00]
Cheesemind – “Bush with heart-shaped leaves” [04:46]
Hotkey Killer (热键被杀手) – “游戏结束” [08:33]
Kirin Trio – “一个人的宇宙” [12:41]
Scarlet’s Other Parts – “纯情夜 (Pure Night)” [16:47]
Islet – “(Ddu Bowling)” [19:51]
Hemu Bitter (賀木苦毛) – “7 Day Lovehate” [20:59]
MIGO – “妈妈不让我谈恋爱” [28:29]
DFU – “woke up” [32:27]
Knopha – “端倪” [34:07]
CHEN KU – “镜” [41:50]
Peach Illusion (桃子假象) is a group consisting of singer-songwriter O.o and producer C.c. This pairing is a soft and innocent marriage of swaying rhythms and ballad-like guitars. The vocals are fresh, like the blooming of fruit in a spring orchard. Peach Illusion recently put out a self-titled EP on Guangzhou-based label Qiii Snacks.
Also on Qiii Snacks is the duo Cheesemind, which consists of members Ruibi Qiu and Chen Zhenchao. The indie-pop/shoegaze duo was formed in 2012, and is one of the many groups holding down this cohesive style, prominent in the community.
Hotkey Killer (热键被杀手) kick it up a notch, a delightful splash into the more shoegaze end of the Xiamen music spectrum. Members Han Jiachen (guitar & vocals), Mao Maoyuan (bass), Dr. Wang Yinying (drums), and Chen Jingchao (guitar) make up the band. On their NetEase artist bio, they describe their sound with a reference to the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: a lot of the themes in their lyrics deal with the dichotomy between childhood and adulthood. Hotkey Killer expresses the sentiment that if their listeners feel lonely, the band’s childlike songs can comfort them.
Presumably fans of Kirin beer, the 2017-formed three-piece describes their sound as indie/surf pop. If one individual in Xiamen’s music scene should be singled out for special focus, then it would definitely be Chen Zhenchao. The independent indie-pop songwriter has been a part of numerous groups, such as The White Tulips and Cheesemind, and is the guitarist of Kirin Trio.
The cinematic storytelling present in the music of Scarlet’s Other Parts makes for an intriguing listen. This is the long-term project of songwriter Airmum, who is also the frontman of local bands Daytrip Dormancy, Kakikuke, and Islet. He defines their material as “wordy prolix pop songs.”
The undeniable true gem of Xiamen’s music scene was actually in part started in Wuhan. As math rock is still a growing genre in China, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a group the brings the intensity of Islet. They are unfortunately now defunct, but the band’s members have gone on to form the current group Daytrip Dormancy.
Hemu Bitter (賀木苦毛)’s music operates in the post-punk territory of Xiamen’s array of groups. The aforementioned Airmum was the lead singer and guitarist of Islet while living in Wuhan. He returned to Xiamen after finishing up his studies at Wuhan University, and after Islet disbanded, he formed Hemu Bitter with drummer Huang Da. They had a very short-lived existence as a band, however. The duo only performed a couple of times, and released just four songs. Despite this, their music attracted a solid following in the Xiamen area.
MIGO is a three-piece indie-rock group who put out its first record in 2015. They do not regularly perform, but went on a China tour in 2018. In an event description from a recent show in Xiamen, MIGO expounded upon their reason for touring by stating that it was not just to promote their recently released record, but rather to go on a mission so that they could hone in on their sense of ritual instinct.
DFU is an instrumental hip hop and electronic artist who put out his first release, Delay Delay, in early 2008. The warm, almost spooky sounds of this three-song EP really stick out. It’s also notable that not much in this genre was being released in China at the time, and especially not in Xiamen.
Knopha is a producer with a wide range of masks when it comes to his electronic production style. His work is completely at home in the realm of remixes, but he also dips into deep house and left field club music territory. In 2018 he released an album on Shanghai label Eating Music called Nothing Nil. In addition, he has also worked extensively with Beijing electronic label Ran Music and its sub-label, Ran Groove.
Chen Ku has been producing and DJing for a number of years now, and has become an active member of China’s techno scene, taking part in the legendary Intro Festival in both Beijing and Xiamen. Chen Ku is also part of the local independent electronic music label I/O, and continues to release his own work on that label. He has been featured on Ran Groove’s compilation series as well.
Cover image: 賀木苦毛 (Douban)
More in RADII’s City Mix series:
CITY MIX: Something in the Hangzhou Water
CITY MIX: Emo Rap and Black Metal from Nanchang
CITY MIX: Tianjin Hidden Gems by thruoutin
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