5 bands from China you need to hear

Written for Collapse Board

Beijing is to the world in 2012 what Brooklyn was in 2010 or Manchester was in 1989: where it’s fooking at, man. Only, people have better haircuts (and, in Brooklyn’s case, fewer beards). This isn’t entirely out of the blue – we’ve mentioned Guai Li and 8 Eye Spy and Ourself Beside Me before, and if you haven’t taken time to click on those links, we’ll come over to your house and beat up your cat.

If you did enjoy those acts – that raw, punky energy and sheer incendiary vitality – then here are a few more that you’ll love. I found them via tenzenmen [sic], whose Discover China compilation is a pretty good taster of this genuinely exciting hub of great music.

1. P.K.14

The obvious starting point is post-punk rock, but there’s a mournful violin in there that gives it quite an unexpected edge. It’s the only band that makes me think simultaneously of Sonic Youth and Wire. They’re taking overdone, tired references and putting them together in ways I haven’t quite heard before, and for that I give them kudos. In common with their tenzenmen labelmates, P.K.14 aren’t immediately different but are just quirky enough to be fascinating. They’re not a hurricane like (latter-day) Sufjan Stevens, but they’re definitely a breath of fresh air.

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2. Snapline

Spawned as a side-project of Carsick Cars, Snapline are one of China’s fastest-rising bands. Their first album was recorded in just two days with producer Martin Atkins, who also put together a split 7″ with Pigface a few years ago. They have a sort of motorik, jittery sound reminiscent of Factory Floor and Joy Division. [Nice. Incidentally, back in the day, we used to call this music ‘Suicide’ – Ed*]

3. Carsick Cars

They have that sort of droning, Velvet Underground-y sound that soon saw them picked up to tour with Sonic Youth, but they also cite Steve Reich and and Glenn Branca as influences. Shou Wang is a founding member of White, whose first CD was produced by Blixa Bargeld. Qi Ling and Li Weisi have both performed with Martin Atkins’ “supergroup” Pigface. [F***ing nice – Ed]

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4. 24 Hours

Until recently referred to as 24 Hour Party People, 24 Hours are tricky buggers to locate on Youtube and demonstrate their brilliance to you. They describe their reference points as post-punk, including Joy Division, Talking Heads and Iggy Pop. The band’s prior name comes from the film about Factory Records, but they figured “24 Hour Party People” was too long to easily remember. They claim it’s easier to sing rock lyrics in English than Chinese, but harbour ambitions to do so in future. Again, there’s a kind of fire and intensity to their sound that you tend not to hear in most Western bands.

[This video doesn’t really do justice to their wired intensity. Try listening here instead – Ed]

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5. White

White are Shou Wang and Shen Jing, and together they explore noise and minimalism – again with the Steve Reich and Glenn Branca, a bit of Throbbing Gristle and a dash of Neubauten. However disparate these acts are, there’s a common thread of influence that pins it all together – but the exciting thing is that each group picks it up and runs with it in a different direction. You couldn’t accuse these bands of being “samey” – even if most of these bands are the same band, given that White are another Carsick Cars side project.

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Perhaps Manchester circa 1989 was the wrong comparison. It’s more like Chicago in 1993.

Regardless, there’s a lot of genuinely enthralling music emerging from Beijing at the moment. A lot of the music in the West is made by jaded, tired, cynical people, and there’s something incredibly invigorating about hearing music made by people who are excited and delighted by what they’re doing. It’s infectious. It’s like that bit in Almost Famous when Penny Lane tells Patrick to put down the notebook, stop analysing and thinking about it and just let the emotion and energy of the music draw him in.

That is China in 2012.

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*”Ed” = Everett True

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