Kelly Dance is an Australian folk singer currently residing in Hong Kong. I first met Kelly back in the Summer of 2014, while I was on tour in China. That night, The Wanch Bar in Hong Kong was snug with a group of regular gig-goers as Kelly took centre stage with her partner and longtime collaborator Johnny Dance; producing an intimate acoustic set lead by Kelly’s impassioned vocals. At the end of the set, we spoke briefly about music and life in China before exchanging contact info. Kelly and Johnny had mentioned their work with Broken Stone Records, their Australian label (currently harbouring the musical exploits of the Maple Trail, Sister Jane, The Killing Words etc…) I gladly received an enthusiastic email later that same evening with various links to their music and spent the rest of my time in Hong Kong perusing their past material as well as the various artists on their label.
Skip forward to November 2014 and an unexpected message from Kelly explaining that she was planning a tour of China, and asking if I was interested in helping out. Naturally, I agreed and over those few winter weeks we put together a twelve-city tour of China encompassing the 1225km journey along the east coast from Hong Kong to Shanghai that would begin in January 2015. Kelly and I met again on the Hangzhou-leg of the tour where we performed to an intimate gathering of folk enthusiasts, the John Fahey dog, as well as UK songwriter William Gray (pre-Flounce era). We talked Scottish folk revivalists, Annie Briggs, Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, plus more contemporary artists like Laura Marling, and Fiona Apple. Kelly also discussed her fascination with Chinese sci-fi, her love for the work of writer Lu Xun, as well as her recent adventures around China. Later that evening, I was lucky enough to get a preview of her then unmastered recordings some of which inevitably came to appear on the ‘All That’s Gained’ EP.
‘All That’s Gained’ is a four song EP that captures Kelly Dance’s curiosity and exploration of life in China. Produced and mixed across the continents of Australia, Asia and Europe and finally brought together and mastered at the time-honoured Abbey Road Studio, in London. Vocally, it is silky smooth and intimate. She touches on themes of solitude, society, politics, and national identity, all umbrella-ed by her fascination with Chinese fiction giving her perspective to view the unfolding alien landscape that she finds herself. As with her previous album, ‘Goodnight Berlin‘, there are touches of experimentation within the arrangements and production. In particular, hear the unconventional tubular bells chiming throughout the title track backed by some lovely shimmering synths and horns, the slithering snake-like snare shuffles on ‘Dangerous Visions‘, the textured guitar screeching on ‘Socotra‘ with a subtle lift from the distant male vocals and pulsing horn section. In contrast, the stripped back simplicity of ‘Remember Me‘ highlights Dance’s sense of melody driven by her emotive vocals.
Throughout the EP, the lyrics paint heterotopian images of something familiar while her other-worldly voice is bursting with a lethargic confidence somewhat Americana in flavour. There’s a powerful sense of descriptive language and metaphor as she describes her new home as having ‘a tiger’s head with a snake’s tail’ on ‘All That’s Gained’, while favourite lines include, ‘when rapeseed blooms all around you/there’s someone following you’. KD’s esoteric theme comes to fruition in the alien landscape of Socotra where the internet is described as an endemic species of some strange monster from outer space. For me, this was a lyrical heaven and superbly written! KD seems to change the perspective of narration perhaps to that of a Chinese native who has grown up through the cultural revolution and now witnessing the first signs of a crumbling firewall and getting their first glimpse of the outside world. Political sentiment weighs heavy with the lyrics, ‘I’m thinking about liberation/ You show me incarceration/ Virtual fantasy/ Virtual harmony’.
Overall a well crafted, tunefully written EP with an array of layered textures and arrangements, all delivered by a beautifully hypnotic voice with alluring and purposeful lyrics. Well worth your attention!
Keep an eye out for further stuff from Kelly Dance and Broken Stone Records. Check out her new video for ‘All That’s Gained’ now up on Youtube. Favourite song – ‘Socotra’
‘All That’s Gained’ is out on Broken Stone Records from April 8th 2016.
For more info check out the artists website: