Re-TROS, once a leading light of Beijing’s explosive mid-2000s independent rock scene, has been building their sound quietly in the shadows for the last several years. Though they’ve popped out for the odd festival performance and an occasional overseas gig, they’ve been pretty quiet since the 2009 release of their debut album, the presciently titled Watch out! Climate has changed, fat mum rises…
When I interviewed Re-TROS singer Hua Dong in 2013, he told me that a new album was just around the corner, adding:
Another really important step for us is to move in some new directions musically, not just post-punk and new wave. We hope we can put out more and more interesting music and move further and further along.
Took another four years, but at the beginning of 2017 we got Re-TROS’ long-awaited followup, Before the Applause. And it’s pretty impressive. Comparing Re-TROS favorably with other Beijing post-punk bands of their generation, UK music webzine the Quietus effusively praises their latest: “rather than just presenting a decent imitation, as they did on their last record, here they absorb their forebears into a melting pot of their own devising. Re-TROS have become outliers, rather than copyists.”
I’ve always taken issue with the “copyist” argument against Chinese bands, who seem to be singled out for abuse when trying their hand at any “Western” style of music (be it punk, post-punk, or the current cultural juggernaut, hip hop). But Re-TROS has indeed found fresh ground here, adding an electronic sheen to their previously strictly instrumental — if heavily distorted — sound.
My favorite track on the album is the one above, “8+2+ 8 II”, in which buzzing, brutal electronics rough up an otherwise minimalistic gambit that the band readily admits was inspired by postmodern composer Steve Reich’s Clapping Music.
Though Before the Applause was released domestically via an extensive China tour in March, it’s just gotten its official international release, and the promotion engine of giant-indie label Modern Sky is chugging at full steam to get Re-TROS into foreign ears. They’re headlining Modern Sky’s upcoming festivals in Los Angeles (this weekend) and New York City (September 30), and will end the year with a string of dates in Europe opening for legendary new wave unit Depeche Mode. Not bad for so-called “copyists.”
Stream Before the Applause here, and find a full list of Re-TROS’ upcoming international tour dates here. Radii will be at Modern Sky’s NYC fest for an on-scene report, so keep an eye out for that too.