Back in 2015, Hiperson roared out of the blocks with their excellent debut album, No Need for Another History, cementing themselves as one of the most exciting young rock bands in China. The group had met a few years prior, while students at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in Chengdu. Over the years that followed their formation, their interesting sound, approach and energy saw them borne aloft by hype and excitement.
Now, fast forward five years, and they are onto their third album, Bildungsroman, and have cemented themselves among the best bands in China.
Nevertheless, 2020 — as for so many people around the world — has not exactly gone to plan for Hiperson. They were due to perform at SXSW earlier this year, an event that was eventually cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and had also set their sights on a US tour and a European tour in support of Bildungsroman. The group have had to recalibrate and are instead planning to take in a 14-date tour of China instead. Tickets for that tour, if you’re wondering, are already sold out, as fans of the band rushed to snap them up in a matter of minutes.
This fandom, on the back of their third album, is warranted, with the group piecing together a magnificent, ethereal, poetic 10-track record in Bildungsroman, managing to surpass their already lofty standards.
Since the release of No Need for Another History, they have gone from strength to strength, with their second album, She Came From the Square, a rawer, more minimal, but also more aggressive and angular affair. Their recent EP, Four Seasons, feels more gentle, folksy and sprawls in many different directions.
Their musical style, which is a blend of punk, post-punk and emo rock, has continued to change over time, though they say, “The effort we put into this album [Bildungsroman] is unprecedented. We have been looking very carefully at what we have been doing well and how to amplify these things.”
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Bildungsroman, takes its name from the word that’s used to describe a coming of age novel. It’s a telling name but one that could be used for each of their releases thus far, as Hiperson have surprised listeners and expanded musically throughout the past half decade. More than simply a musical coming of age story, however, Bildungsroman feels like a Gesamtkunstwerk, or a complete work of art, with the album acting like an odyssey of sorts.
“Bildungsroman talks about a story in which the protagonist is reborn from a heart-breaking romantic relationship and casts her eyes on the bigger world of a busy and complex social life, contemporary phenomena and debates,” the group say, preferring to answer our interview questions as a collective.
That journey begins with the eight-minute opener “Spring Breeze,” which was released as a single back on June 16. Frontwoman Sijiang Chen starts the song in spoken word, saying to an old lover, “You say, I’m evil, I guess I’m somehow sly.” In the music video for the track, Chen holds a sheet of paper covered in Chinese ink characters, bundled up in a thick winter jacket and wanders the wilds of the UK (where the MV was shot).
“That paper was meant to suggest the existence of another character apart from the protagonist Sijiang, although not to be seen in the music video,” they tell us, adding that, “The paper might be read as a letter that a former lover has left, or an evidence of communication, to hint that the song is not just a pure monologue, but a response to someone.”
The eight-minute track — which boldly incorporates not just spoken word, but also flute solos, jagged guitar parts and powerful yelped vocals — is the starting point of Bildungsroman, and also the end of a love story, setting the tone for what is to come: a journey of self-discovery for the protagonist played by Chen.
Typical of Hiperson, the group’s lyrics hover around the edges of ambiguity, allowing for different interpretations of the story expressed. As they tell us, “we did not deliberately try to depict a different time, because the song itself deals with something larger than a certain time, it asks about ‘the whole story’ and it knocks on the doors of the ‘other worlds.’”
With that being said, certain aspects of the promotion for Bildungsroman do in fact point towards a particular timeframe for the story, though it’s hard to pin down. The group wear, for example, Mao suits (popularized by Sun Yat-sen as a political form of dress) in both the promotional images for the album and in the video for the album’s second single release “Our Ballad,” with Chen orating and singing from a pulpit.
While there’s the sense that this style of dress has some political connotation, that idea is refuted by the group. “We consider, when historical imagery gets rediscovered and reutilized it must start to mean something different in flow or something new in construction, rather than purely the old and the original.”
This reframing of the past, and their taking from historical occurrences to describe modern stories, is something the group are particularly interested in, and a process that lends a timeless quality to their music. “We draw most of the inspiration for our lyrics from contemporary life, while sometimes historical heritage appears in subtle ways. There may be a song on Bildungsroman which gives a sense of ancient epic, but the content is actually modern.”
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While, Hiperson’s quality has been in little doubt for some time now, the album does feel like a big step forward for them in realizing their artistic vision in musical form. This yearning to express new, interesting stories is a cornerstone of why they make music. “We would say, like so many people, if it were not for the flexibility and diversity of music, we would not love it so much and we wouldn’t think it was so magical.”
For Hiperson, this creative impulse, their drive to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, has reached a higher point on Bildungsroman. They sum it up well, when they say, “We have been thinking about what we now treasure the most in making an album: to deliver a genuine sense of a journey.”
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