Xinjiang rock group 舌头乐队 (she tou yue dui) aka ‘Tongue’ erupted on Hangzhou‘s recently opened Mao Livehouse this March, with a live show well deserving of the audience in attendance. With a musical background stemming from their roots in the Muslim Uighur capital of Urumqi (in west China – a predominantly Islamic culture), they have become one of China’s most prominent rock acts in recent years to sign with Beijing label Modern Sky.
At a packed Mao Livehouse, ‘Tongue’ supply formidable, metal-riffing hard rock crossed with Islamic sounds from the bands roots in Urumqi; and come as a welcome remedy from the unblemished pop mannequins you’ll find plastered on practically every bus stop nationwide. These guys are an independently functioning rock band with exceptional technical wizardry that fuses elements of traditional rock lineage with experimental/abstract sounds both in texture and as an homage to their Western Chinese origins.
Singer Wu Tun is a big presence on stage and his often hunched form delivers a menacing growl at peak moments in the set; while during instrumentals he disappears from view altogether for up to fifteen of the full eighty minute set. He nevertheless comes across as a much liked and respected figure even as he stops the band, brings up the house lights, and then proceeds to spend a good five minutes explaining to the audience about the dangers of not stage-diving correctly; to which the audience revels in his humourous anecdotes and concern for their safety, along with a young local boy (7) whose dream comes true when his Dad helps him on stage to briefly sing with Wu Tun and then join in the stage-diving antics.
Drummer Li Dan grasps our attention as he pummels intensely over the kit with masterful technique and an impressive ability to change the frequency of the toms mid song. During instrumentals he has centre spotlight and is no less of a showman that Wu Tun in connecting with the audience; where at times the music seemingly becomes overly abstract for a few fellow gig-goers, but they have a change of heart and opt to stay as sirens and wailing textures pulsate with the visual backdrop mid-set. Wu JunDe brings a gorgeous sounding bass that anchors the rhythm sections and adds melody and volume to the synth/keys section provided by Guo DaGang; which for my taste were probably the weaker moments in the set but certainly made up for it during the Pink Floyd-esque instrumentals with drummer Li Dan.
Head-banging lead guitarist, Li Hongjun is a powerhouse of metal riffs, with mind-blowing accuracy and attention to detail. With elements of 80/90’s Chinese leather wielding hair metal bands like ‘TangDynasty (唐朝乐队)‘ and ‘Yaksa (夜叉乐队)‘, he looks like something from the cover of Nirvana’s debut album, ‘Bleach’ for most of the performance. The animated visual backgrounds invoke images of protruding knives; moody and brooding with red hues streaked with Wu Tun‘s lyrics. At one point in the set however, the intense reds expose a strangely out of context hippie looking fractal rainbow as the band transforms momentarily into a parody of itself. The audience goes wild.
If you can get out to see these guys, then do! You’ll be blown away by what’s actually going on in China’s musical subculture, with something undeniably special a-brewing.