Today we listen to a recent project by one of Chinese rock’s most prolific and versatile drummers, Zhang Yang. Zhang has two decades of experience rolling and flamming around the Beijing scene, lending his rhythmic talents to bands including Second Hand Rose (who are making their way to SXSW next month), Mongolian fusion band Ajinai, and eclectic folk/rock ensemble Dawanggang, among others.
He’s also adapted his skills to suit the times, collaborating in recent years with leading lights of Beijing’s electronic music scene, including Howie Lee and Jason Hou of Do Hits. Here are a couple of videos capturing Zhang’s collaboration with Howie, which crystallized during the Do Hits Motherland tour in 2016:
Last year, Zhang pulled from his network of past collaborators to form an ad hoc committee dubbed Zhang Yang Experimental Group. The lineup is as diverse as Zhang’s resume, and features some heavy hitters from very different corners of Beijing’s music scene, including Song Yuzhe (of Dawanggang and pioneering Beijing rock band Wood Pushing Melon), Second Hand Rose guitarist Yao Lan, professional bassist Han Yang, Zhong Yong (中庸) vocalist Zang Yuhong, and Jason Hou, who produced the album in addition to performing on synthesizer and his other instrument of choice, a glowing MIDI orb called an AlphaSphere.
Speaking about the album’s concept and execution, Hou tells Radii:
The title is Zhang Yang Experimental Group, but there isn’t an actual band. The concept is to invite crucial collaborators (Han Yang, Yao Lan, Zang Yuhong, and Song Yuzhe) from different eras of Zhang Yang’s musical career to play together once again in the studio, to tell the story of Zhang Yang as a drummer. So all of the music is mostly improvised in the studio, and I edited the best moments together.
I played synth and composed the opening and closing track. The songs in between are like memories — Zhang Yang is recalling his stories as a drummer on the plane while heading to Amsterdam to start a new chapter of his life. Zhang Yang recorded ambient sounds of an airplane, the ocean, etc, and the voice of his newborn son, which can be heard in the first and last tracks.
The final product indeed feels like a long, intimate jam, which unfolds with deeper meaning when it’s approached as a sonic time capsule capturing stray elements from 20 years of underground Chinese rock.
Cover image: Zhang Yang Experimental Group (张洋实验小组)