This piece is based around a playlist we created called ‘Made In China’ (https://goo.gl/5mU7gx) and was originally featured in That’s China Magazine (Hangzhou).
The playlist was created to promote a diverse range of artists, both Chinese and Western. The Sound Of Fighting Dogs aims to cover both well known and not so well known artists from all over the world. As many of the writers that contribute to the blog are based in China, there is often an emphasis on China-based artists.
Here’s hoping this article will provide a jumping off point for you to investigate more China-based music.
Track 1: ‘Road Prayer’ – John Carroll
The first track on this playlist is by Hangzhou-based singer/songwriter John Carroll. It is in fact the opening track of his 2014 masterpiece ‘Cenotaph Tapes‘ (https://carrolljohn.bandcamp.com/album/cenotaph-tapes). Originally from Limerick, Ireland, Carroll landed in Hangzhou via South Korea and his lengthy period based in Zhejiang’s capital has seen his musical time put to extremely good use, not only in creating the wonderful album mentioned beforehand, surely a benchmark for anyone in the city wishing to record acoustic music, but also as a founder of a small independent label called Medic Independent Records. John has toured extensively around China in bands and as a solo artist, and helped other emerging artists do the same. If you want a route into China’s burgeoning music scene, particularly as a solo acoustic performer, then this is the man to seek out advice from.
Track 2: ‘山羊哥哥‘ – The Herdsman
Hailing from Yunnan, this group includes a number of different Chinese minorities within its make-up, and this results in an enticing combination of traditional instrumentation and dancing, grounded in Pumi music but encompassing a range of influences. This group has played all over China, including big festivals such as Midi and Made In Chengdu, and have even been abroad as far as Russia and the UK. To this writer, somehow, they evoke 60s UK group The Incredible String Band, a musical recommendation interviewee Wang Niejing was more than open-minded enough to investigate further. Good lad. They describe themselves as having a natural folk sound but with an electronic edge. Does this make them folktronica? I don’t know but whatever it is it’s bloody great. Find out more via the blog.
Track 3: ‘Anyway’ – William Gray
Regular readers of that’s will no doubt have come across Gray in his capacity as a contributor to the magazine as a writer, or indeed, in relation to his output as an artist. Born in South Wales, Gray did a lengthy music apprenticeship in Leeds, home to one of the UK’s leading music scenes. After relocating to Hangzhou his album ‘Wensan Rd‘ caught the attention of Medic Independent Records who seized the opportunity to add him to the roster and get him gigging in different provinces of China. His first release on Medic was the ‘Tish’ EP in 2015 but this track ‘Anyway’ is taken from his newest release ‘Flounce’ which came out in March 2016 and has already received plays on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio 6 Music. The video in question features some great footage of Hangzhou and its people, the woozy 90s home video feel perfectly suiting the lo-fi aesthetic of the song.
Track 4: ‘Heart On Fire’ – Hedgehog
Could our first list of modern Chinese music be complete without a song from Hedgehog? We didn’t think so. Aficionados of the Chinese indie scene will no doubt be aware of this band. But not everyone’s an aficionado right? But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear great music right? Exactly. Of course you do. From Beijing, which that’s China Hangzhou will have to grudgingly accept is currently the cultural centre as well as the capital of this great land, Hedgehog slotted nicely into a homegrown Chinese music industry quickly gaining attention globally, with their trippy, fuzzy, poptastic offerings. If you like US college rock then you might well like Hedgehog. A special mention must be given to their tiny and aptly named drummer Atom, who kicks all kinds of ass.
Track 5: ‘Slipstream’ – Junks
Anyone who has been to a Junks live show will know this group is the real deal. We just don’t think there’s a more interesting live act than this right now in Hangzhou. If not Zhejiang. If not the whole of China. We make bold statements like this because we’re trying to rile readers. Disagree with our cocky assertions? Well then point us towards something you like and tell us why it’s amazing. We crave new music. Junks certainly hit the spot where new music is concerned, with ‘new’ being the operative word. Taking inspiration from the city landscape they have sprung from and an exciting, steadily developing Chinese electronic scene, this outfit have a look and sound that is both futuristic and retro at the same time, very fitting for the times considering the context of higgledy-piggledy Chinese megalopolises, that somehow manage to combine the past, present, and future in one fell swoop. Currently on hiatus as they work on weaving more elements into their live sound and prepare their debut release, expect this group to me making (synth) waves whenever they see fit to once again honor us with their presence.
Track 6: ‘Macherie’ – Skip Skip Ben Ben
Like Hedgehog, this group are considered Chinese Indie royalty. Important to be diplomatic and point out though that the group’s history is rooted in Taipei, Taiwan. But in terms of the overall history it’s all China right? Anyway, clumsily sidestepping that thorny issue, they’ve been compared with the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, and The Cocteau Twins which of course conjures up shoegaze but they’ve also got that grungey three-piece thing going on as well so if we’re talking lazy comparisons you could also throw Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh in there as well for good measure. Whichever Western bands we’re annoying them by comparing them to, if you’re into melancholic scuzzed up indie pop then this could be the group for you. What are you waiting for?
Track 7: ‘Chasing Ghosts’ – Matz Andersson
We’re proud to champion Matz on our blog. He’s a prime example of an artist who flies completely and undeservedly under the radar. This track is taken from his 2015 album ‘Lake Khovsgol‘. The first gig proper we saw Matz perform at was when he was supporting Bill Callahan no less. We get the impression he’s done a fair bit of traveling in his time and experienced a fair few things along the way. That’s what his music implies anyway, tenderly conveying the pent up feelings of a man who sounds older than his years. What’s incredible about the album this track is taken from is it was recorded in a tiny little studio in Ningbo with limited equipment. And it sounds completely organic because Matz has a great rapport with local musicians in his area who he plays with regularly at open mic nights and the like. The album is a fantastic example of what can be achieved on a limited budget if you have the right people alongside you.
Track 8: ‘Let’s Play’ – Queen Sea Big Shark
Another big Beijing band, their emergence around 2006 saw them labeled as China’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Was this fair? Kind of, it appears, BUT a kinder appraisal might be they experiment rather than copy as their willing flirtation with nu-rave and disco perhaps attests to. Despite appearing like they could gain global prominence things suddenly ground to a halt in 2010 but this year has seen them come back with a bang, including a set at Strawberry Music Festival. We’ll be keeping an eye and an ear on them to see how things evolve from here on in.
Track 9: ‘All That’s Gained’ – Kelly Dance
Another Medic Independent Records associated act in the sense Dance was indebted to Medic regarding her first proper tour of the Chinese mainland, in terms of finding suitable venues/promoters and booking dates. An Australian based in Hong Kong, this is an artist with one of those voices that sends shivers down your spine and makes even the noisiest of drunkards sit up and take notice. More than just a brilliant performer though, Dance is an able songwriter and is equally as accomplished in the studio as she is on a stage where she astutely surrounds herself with some very able collaborators. Our first encounter with her thoroughly beguiling music was the album ‘Goodnight Berlin‘ which was recorded in an East Berlin studio over ten days and nights. This track is taken from her recent release of the same name. It’s a very strong follow up and we’re keenly awaiting her next release which will be an album we believe.
Track 10: ‘Listen To My Back (That’s What I Know)’ – Brain Failure
I’ll be honest, when I heard about Brain Failure I just assumed they wouldn’t be my bag. I don’t really listen to punk music these days. But when I heard this track I was transported back to my rowdy adolescence which involved, too much of the time if I’m being honest, underage drinking with my friends, loud music, jumping up and down, around, into things and one another. Perhaps one of us would even manage to get off with a girl if we were really, really lucky and one was in a charitable mood. That of course would involve achieving the delicate balance of being drunk enough to lose all inhibitions but not being so drunk that vomiting would inevitably occur. Seeing as I can’t drink too much anymore or aspire to getting intimate with young women and still expect to be allowed back into the apartment and marital bed, listening to Brain Failure will have to do. And it’ll do rather nicely. Over and out.