Happy New Year! To celebrate we’ve put together an hour of world premieres, album previews, live recordings, and deep cuts from the Chinese electronic/post-punk/hip hop/noise underground, forecasting Year of the Dog 2018. Stream it & find a full annotated tracklist below!
We kick off with some obliquely festive music from Beijing-based producer Guzz, who released this as one of three tracks on his Koi EP late last month. In an interview with Chinese music site Wooozy (translated and reposted by us), Guzz says of shedding his origins in Beijing’s underground club circuit: “Actually it’s not that my music changed into something else, but that I have changed. I changed, so the music I produce changed.” Stream/buy
If you, like me, have been thirsting for a new Snapline album to chase 2012’s Phenomena, you’re in luck! The trio huddled together last year, recording new material in Japan and performing much of it live at a Maybe Mars 10th anniversary gig in Beijing over the summer. This track is one cut from the new record, submitted by band member Li Qing without a name. Forthcoming, Maybe Mars
Speaking of legacy D-22 bands: Hedgehog has a new album coming out later this year as well! And they seem to have broken away from their long-standing relationship with giant indie label Modern Sky, since this one (produced by Snapline’s Li Qing), will be released on Taihe offshoot Ruby Eyes Records. If you’re a fan of the band, you’ll find “Looking for the Coming Warm Spring” to be a real return to form, with all the epic effect of one of their foundational tunes (this one reminds me a bit of my favorite song of theirs, “Blue Daydreaming”). Buy/stream the single here, and look for an album to come out on Ruby Eyes in March or April.
Guzz – “Fleeting Whispers”
Lonely Leary has made my annual mix for three years running, and I’m happy to report that they’re finally getting ready to put out their debut album. A lot of bands in Beijing and around China have appropriated a lean, heavy post-punk sound, but nobody does it meaner than Lonely Leary. After a few lineup changes over the years, they’re back to their original formation, and I expect they’ll hit the road hard when their (excellent) debut finally sees the light of day. Forthcoming, Maybe Mars
This collaboration recalls the golden days of 2010, when Hot & Cold (duo of brothers Joshua & Simon Frank), the Offset: Spectacles (a trio that had uprooted from Hong Kong to Beijing), Yang Fan (of Ourself Beside Me/Hang on the Box), and Soviet Pop (a minimalistic duo featuring Snapline’s Li Weisi and Li Qing) all put their weird ideas together to cook up the Rose Mansion Analog cassette label. Those days are long gone, but eight years later all of the core musicians are still doing their thing. This recording features the Franks and the Offsets’ Tom Ng and Vince Li settling down for some slow-moving studio action. Stream/buy
Hot & Cold have kept their musical CVs remarkably full, despite the fact that they’ve lived on three different continents over the last several years. Josh is half of 工工工 (above) along with Tom Ng, and Simon has veered to dark techno territory with recent work, after having been introduced to weird club vibes in London and plugging in to similar networks during a few years spent in Taipei. (Read about that scene here.) This is a live cut from a recent show in Hangzhou — Simon has relocated back to Beijing, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from the Franks in the coming year, collectively and individually.
Switching up the vibe a bit, here’s a taste of an upcoming release from Eternal Dragonz, a label focusing on music from the Asian diaspora, with members spread across the world. Their major release last year was a soundtrack for artist Lawrence Lek’s Geomancer video (read about that here), and they’re looking to kickstart the Dog year with this track featuring Bloodz Boi, an MC/DJ/promoter who’s been spreading his talents across Beijing’s underground since he was a teenager, and Hong Kong rapper Fotan Laiki, half of the duo Cooking Bitchess. Forthcoming, Eternal Dragonz
Next up is another favorite of mine from Beijing’s weirdo club zone: the usually masked and always foreboding Zaliva D. I wrote this about his previous effort, 2016’s Story, and it applies pretty well here too: “It starts off with abrasive, wordless chanting — more like grunting really, or a kind of perverted overtone singing. When a rhythm finally manifests — after about two minutes — it’s marked by a ritualistic, South Asian-sounding melody on the high end and a dark, muddy bass line writhing around the bottom for the rest of the song. Though other Do Hits artists have been known to sample Indian instruments and vocals (see Guzz’s An Elephant in the Jungle for a recent example), this sounds and feels different, less neat, less club-friendly. Less friendly in general. More sinister.” Forthcoming, SVBKVLT
This one admittedly falls a bit outside my knowledge base, but Diva Li is quite well known to anyone in Beijing who follows house and techno flows. This is a sample from an upcoming release of hers on Beijing label RAN Music, and I think its minimal beat and robotic vocal hooks mesh well with the other vibes in this mix. Forthcoming, RAN Music
MengHan’s another long-time favorite of mine. Her output has been pretty sparse to date, but she’s working on an EP’s-worth of material that’ll be released later this year by Beijing experimental techno consortium Prajnasonic, and she has plans to travel to her personal mecca (Berlin) later this year to perfect her craft amongst the late-night monks in that hallowed land. Forthcoming, Prajnasonic
Stepping away from the precipice of “all interesting electronic music must be bleak and apocalyptic” we have Zafka, aka Zhang Anding, a longtime meddler on Beijing’s experimental/electronic music fringes. By day, Zafka runs consultancy China Youthology, and was once described as “the most knowledgeable person on virtual worlds in China.” By night he makes avant-garde electronica, which I’ve always found remarkable for its playfulness and — apologies to all the fire & brimstone escapist clubbers out there — its positivity. “Haunting Birds” will be featured on an album called The Abraham’s Machine, out later this year on play rec.
Maybe my most anticipated album this year is the debut from Kunming trio South Acid Mimi Dance Team (pictured up top). You may remember them from this fantastically fucked up music video I wrote about a while back. After a few false starts and setbacks, the group is just about ready to unveil (unleash?) their first long-player, and if this breathtaking head-scratcher of a sample is anything to go on, it’ll warp some minds. Check back on RADII at the end of this month for an exclusive interview with South Acid Mimi ahead of their album release, which should happen in March or April according to their label, Ruby Eyes.
Here’s a heavy dose of an upcoming album called Heavy Days, the latest from peripatetic Irishman Low Bow. Though he’s somewhat of a celebrity on the CCTV circuit, and a web personality with a huge Chinese follower base, he’s also been known to melt speakers in Beijing’s best rock dives. Earlier this year he borrowed Birdstriking’s Wang Xinjiu and Brad Seippel (thruoutin) to lay down the material for Heavy Days, which evidently was all recorded with every amp turnt to 13. Look for it to come out in March on Low Bow’s Bandcamp.
Winding down here with a sample of new work by Alpine Decline, another band that tends to make it on a lot of my mixes. They’re getting ready to release their latest album Return to Desolation Lake next month with a China tour, and despite the fact that the duo recently returned to Los Angeles after seven years in Beijing, the Chinese capital is still in their DNA. “Return to Desolation Lake is the band’s most tuneful and rueful collection yet — carefully, painfully rendered melodies for today’s maladies,” or so says the official writeup. It might surprise fans of the band’s earlier work, as they’ve more or less left behind previous obsessions with tape-echo anarchy, but it will surprise pleasantly I think. Forthcoming, Maybe Mars
Returning to the theme of “Whoa, remember 2010?”, here is Absolute Purity, a new band featuring the vocal talents of Guai Li’s Wen Jun. Guai Li unceremoniously exited public life immediately after releasing their excellent debut album, Flight of Delusion, much to the disappointment of their fans, who considered them to be among the very best of the storied D-22 era that includes some others on this list, like Snapline and Hedgehog. In a recent interview with Live Beijing Music, Wen Jun says: “Guai Li stopped activities right after the releasing and tour of Flight of Delusion because band members have different life plans at that time, but we leave open the possibility in the future. It feels wonderful to pick up the same thing you did six years ago, some parts remain the same and some parts have totally changed. Right now the flow of unbounded and optimal options in music drives me most.” Enjoy this blown-out live recording of a show Absolute Purity played last November for a sample before they have more to share.
We’ll end this full-circle, with a track from Guzz’s Do Hits cohort Howie Lee, who has just released a followup to his 2017 album Socialism Core Value. Part II is kind of sort of Chinese New Year themed, but unlike Do Hits’ Rooster compilation from last year, this is all Howie from beginning to finish. You can stream/buy the full album here, and check back on RADII in the next day or two for an interview with Howie on his thinking behind this album and his plans in the Year of the Dog.
For more, check out some of my mixes from previous years: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2012 | 2011
Cover image: South Acid Mimi Dance Team (courtesy Ruby Eyes Records)
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