Interview ::: Gemma Ray

Gemma Ray Alessandra Leimer 2 hi-res colour


TSOFDs: Listening to the title track Psychogeology right now in my headphones I’m immediately transported out of my cold apartment in a crowded metropolis and whisked away to an altogether more expansive landscape be it, sadly in my case, only a musical one. I’m grateful nevertheless. Please tell us what inspired this song.

GR: Psychogeology is about the relationship between landscape and the mind, how your emotions and environment can feed off and mirror each other – this song in particular is largely inspired by a long tour around the USA and also New Zealand. I wrote a lot of this record either on the road or in the short bursts of being back in the solitude of my studio in Berlin between tours – taking stock of remembered images and processing everything. It’s about overcoming and how ultimately we are all overcome.

TSOFDs: Perfect description – completely aligns with what I’m listening to right now. You’re described as Essex-raised but you’ve obviously seen a fair bit of the world. There’s a restlessness to your music but I’m curious to know if there’s a place you call home that you feel very much anchored to – somewhere you see yourself always living or returning to?

GR: I feel more anchored to the process of making music and to loved ones more than to a particular place, but Berlin has felt very much like home to me for a long time. It’s been a steady source of inspiration, a comfortingly solid yet transient place to rest and refuel my creativity, to dream up and refine new ideas before heading off again. It gives me a sense of personal space and security that I can’t imagine not returning to it at various stages in my life.

TSOFDs: Following on from the last question I wonder whether there’s music you grew up listening to that influenced you that you always return to or whether you’re on a constant quest to find something new? It’s so easy these days, where so much music is pretty much freely available, to hop from one artist to the next and never settle for that long.

GR: I find the way you described finding new music very overwhelming actually, and don’t really consume music that way. I prefer to spend my time making music more than listening to it – I rarely have the head space to listen to music at home, but I do tend to go back to certain film soundtracks and jazz records plus a handful of pop albums like Pet Sounds, or Astral Weeks. When new music does pop up in my life I think I am even more enamoured by the unexpectedness of it, and I love being blown away out of the blue.


TSOFDs: That sounds like the best way to be honest. The way the music is layered on your imminent album release is both exquisite and precise. When it comes to playing the material live, have you put together a band that will play the songs just as they are on record, including all the harmonies and instrumentation, or do you set about presenting the songs in a different way, perhaps stripping them down?

GR: I often really enjoy subverting my records live, taking away the bigger production and getting to the sinew and bone. Though often born of necessity (reinterpreting big productions live can be tricky, financially). I have always loved embracing a more raw and minimal version of the songs and get to understand them even more that way.  Buutttt, for this record I decided to go for reproducing all the backing harmonies and full-band sound as it’s such a key part of the emotion in these songs.  Andrew Zammit is playing drums and Acetone Organ simultaneously, Gris-De-Lin is playing keys and singing, Judith Rummel plays bass and acoustic guitar and backing vocals and Claudio Jolowicz has been joining us for some shows on saxophones and flute. It’s been a real treat to do this, and the three part harmonies are really cool to sing live.

TSOFDs: I’m jealous of the people who’ve witnessed these album tracks live. Where has been your favorite country to gig and why?

GR: One of my favourite trips so far is perhaps one which took me to Australia, New Zealand and Bali – I love soaking up all the wildlife and epic landscapes and it’s always really amazing to play your own music in a place like Bali where the culture is so different, and to see how those local influences sneak back into the tapestry of my future work further down the line. Writing in strange hotel rooms with lizards and huge spiders is always going to evoke a new weird chord structure or something at least!

TSOFDs: The album, despite evoking a sense of journey, somehow comes across to me as you knowing exactly what you wanted to do when it came to laying down the tracks. Did you have it all mapped out before recording or did the same sense of exploration conveyed by the songs go into the overall process itself? It feels to me like the expedition happened before and recording was a means of accurately conveying or pinpointing where you have already been either physically, emotionally, or both.

GR: I spent a year or more in my studio working on numerous versions of the songs, breaking them up and re-assembling them, bullying myself about the lyrics and arrangements, before committing them to tape. At every stage of production I was staying true to the key message, mood, emotion and sense of place that I wanted the songs to portray right up until the final stage of mastering. I was zooming in on every tiny tweak that was either enhancing or diluting the emotion of the songs, however fine the tipping point. There was still a lot of experimentation in the overdubs phase, time to reflect and space for other musicians but I felt very clear about the record I wanted to make and feel like it says what I needed it to say.

TSOFDs: The effort more than paid off – there’s so much depth and substance to this album. Given the shrinking sales brought about by the Internet age do you think the album is an endangered species? Personally I think it’s safe because true artists will always be motivated by something other than money or popularity – they do it because they love it and there’s something inside them that needs to come out.

GR: I’m not sure – I considered the idea of making a series of singles, as many of my songs seem to want to sit in pairs, but when it comes to the crunch I can’t resist encapsulating a period of time within the confines of a full length LP. I wouldn’t be scared to veer away from that traditional format if it made sense to me but it hasn’t so far – I think singles are great but for me I still want an LP to take to the grave!

TSOFDs: Yes I hope music fans will always want the more immersive experience an LP offers. You’ve worked with Sparks, Alan Vega and on the Can Project. Please tell us where readers can find this music to check out and more about the projects themselves.

GR: I made a collaborative 7″ with Sparks which was released as part of my record ‘Island Fire’. Sparks were amazing to work with, I essentially covered Sparks, and then they covered me covering Sparks – and then I sang over the top! I’d love to work with them again…I’m such a huge fan of their recent record and live show too. Regarding Alan Vega, I asked him to be a guest vocalist on a girl-group style track on my record ‘Milk For Your Motors’, which was produced as a kind of homage to Suicide. I was very honoured that he agreed and have some incredible outtakes of his impassioned voice filling the streets of Manhattan – he recorded on the sidewalk, because the stairs of my friends’ basement studio (NY HED) were too tricky for him… somebody commented that it was the last true punk rock performance in New York! The Can Project was a special evening where Irmin Schmidt conducted new and old works with the Filmorchester Babelsberg, and I was involved in reworking and performing Can songs with the Berlin band Automat and my longtime collaborator and partner Andrew Zammit. I sang and played guitar alongside other guest vocalists – that was a special evening and heard some cool stories from Irmin Schmidt about the recording of one of my chosen tracks ‘Deadlock’.

TSOFDs: What amazing experiences. We have to get the China question in as we’re based here – any plans to tour the album in this part of the world?

GR: Yes! I would love to play in China!!

TSOFDs: Excellent. Fingers firmly crossed it happens sooner rather than later. Making an album and touring can be an exhausting process but have your thoughts turned to what you will do next? Are there more albums to look forward to – any more projects you can tell us about?

GR: I prefer to finish projects before I talk about them, but I do have a very niche covers record in the works and also am currently preparing for an audio installation which will be premiered in Berlin’s Volksbuhne as part of a special show I am doing there with my band in May. I would like to take this to other countries too… but in general, I will be just keeping on making more noise….

TSOFDs: That’s great to hear. Thanks so much Gemma for giving us your time and being so generous with your answers.

Psychogeology

Psychogeology is out now on Bronze Rat Records.

Interview ::: We Are Aerials

north Color logo with background

TSOFDs: It’s been a good, long while since we reviewed your solo record ‘I Was An Astronaut’. What have you been up to?

WAA: Since Astronaut I moved from Ireland to Scotland, wrote in other mediums, stopped playing guitar, then started again, messed about with some software, moved back to Ireland and now I’ve made two new albums – this one under We Are Aerials and a messy electronic concept album that I’m in the process of mixing. I don’t like all the self-promo stuff musicians ‘have to do’ so I’ve decided not to bother with most of it. That said, I think I need to write.

TSOFDs: We’re glad you’re feeling that need as we’re enjoying the results. Tell us about ‘We Are Aerials’ – how does this differ from Conor McAteer?

WAA: I had an album out under We Are Aerials before and had the idea that it would be more of an indie-rock project and the stuff under my name would be more folky but there was a fair amount of overlap. I decided recently that I just preferred the way We Are Aerials looked written down.

TSOFDs: Gotcha. How does the We Are Aerials songwriting and production process happen? Is it you taking a lead in all of the songwriting, arrangement and production decisions?

WAA: It’s a solo project so I do all the writing. On this one, I wrote the songs quickly and recorded them on the same day or within a few days. I took care of the arrangements. The only exception was with Titanic. I asked Eoin O’Callaghan to play piano so I recorded that with him. I had a good idea what I wanted in terms of the arrangement but Eoin’s a talented guy so I was also open to his ideas. It turned out even more understated than I imagined it would. Paul Casey mixed and mastered the album. The people I got involved in this did a beautiful job.

TSOFDs: Speaking of which, tell us about the music scene where you live/are from – do you ever want to try and make a go of a career in music by living in the more established cities in terms of the music business, e.g. London/LA/New York or are you content with where you find yourself?

WAA: There are a lot of independent musicians here in the northwest of Ireland, working across a range of genres and putting out high quality stuff. The live scene isn’t so great. There’s a real DIY ethos among the artists. A lot of us know each other but it definitely feels like everyone’s in their own bubble. It’s not really a coherent scene, just lots of independent people doing their thing. As far as moving to one of those cities goes, I’ve no interest in making a career out of this. I like that I can just make the music I want to make and not compromise. I’m not interested in trying to sell myself. I haven’t worked out how to do it without feeling mucky.

TSOFDs: Always feel free to allow us to feel mucky on your behalf. If it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it then we’ll have a bash, put it that way. Tell us about this word ‘haar’ that makes an appearance on two of the track titles on your new record – it’s a word we haven’t come across before – what’s its significance to you and the record?

WAA: The haar is the sea mist that hangs over some places in northern England and Scotland. In 2018 I spent seven months living in the north of Scotland and five in the north of Ireland. I’d never heard the word myself until someone said it when we were driving in Scotland. The Haar at the Edge of the World is about the idealized vision many people have of living in fairly remote settings. It contrasts this idea with the reality which is always more complex. The lyrics mention the mist itself over the landscape and then use it as a metaphor for narrow-minded views. You get these everywhere, of course, but again, it’s just the romanticized narrative set against everyday life. I should point out that I have a lot of affection for the north of Scotland. It feels like home to me in a lot of ways.

TSOFDs: Thanks for the explanation. Quincy Jones said something along the lines of, on a record, you have to leave enough space for the Lord to walk in or for the magic to happen. We’re not churchgoing folk ourselves but we get his meaning. Did you find you had a lot of clarity in terms of how you were going to approach this record or were you stripping away lots of instrumentation before it made sense?

WAA: I usually have a pretty good feel for the arrangement as I’m writing. A lot of people I talk to mention playing loads of parts, finding their track is too busy, and then having to strip it back. I like my songs to be more sparse. If the instrument isn’t adding something meaningful, why’s it there? Paul Casey got a really good feel for this when he was mixing. He just understood that the songs needed lots of space to give them the right atmosphere.

TSOFDs: Whilst we’re on the subject of talented folk, who are the artists that most inspire you currently?

WAA: I’ve been listening to Puscifer’s Money Shot album quite a bit. It’s brilliant – great lyrics, great melodies and very atmospheric. I’ve also been listening to Mogwai. Then there’s some of the old jazz artists like Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus. I also love Winter’s Gate by Insomnium. This one’s a 40-minute single-song melodic death metal album. Then there are a couple of songs called Didn’t It Rain and Blue Factory Flame by Songs: Ohia. Jason Molina had this way of taking a single chord progression and creating these incredibly hypnotic songs with them.

TSOFDs: Cool. There’s a lot for us to check out there. Tell us about the people that play on your new record and what they brought to the table.

WAA: OK, first, there’s Paul Casey. Paul mixed and mastered the album and played bass on The Haar at the Edge of the World. He has a good solo career and loads of albums that are worth checking out (paulcaseymusic.com). He’s also branched out into production and worked with all kinds of artists from local people making their first recordings to more established people like Chris Rea and Christy Moore.

John McCullough: played piano and Wurlitzer on Gaslight. Paul recommended him. I’ve never met him but strangely, my friends and I used to go and drink whiskey and see his band every Sunday night in The Belfast Empire when we were at university. He was playing with a singer called Ken Haddock and they did amazing covers of songs by Van Morrison, Prince, Hendrix. He’s an amazing player. I think that band still has a residency in The Empire. John has also worked with Sharon Corr and The Waterboys (johnmcculloughmusic.com).

Eoin O’Callaghan: played on and produced Titanic. Eoin is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. He’s got loads of projects but his minimalist electronica project, Elma Orkestra, is taking priority at the moment. He’s currently collaborating with electronic artist, Ryan Vail on an album/multi-media live show called Borders. Find him at ameliarecords.com.

Conor Mason: drums and bass on Death Squeeze. Conor’s an incredible musician/songwriter/producer. He’s in a band called Ports who are currently working on their second album but you MUST check out his beautiful new solo album, On The Surface (conormason.armellodie.com).

TSOFDs: Brilliant – even more music for us to follow up. Back to the album. There’s some interesting background noise on ‘Numbers’ – was this recorded somewhere local to you?

WAA: The noise at the start was recorded when my friend and I took a trip to Moville in County Donegal – half an hour or 40 minutes from where I live. I just used a portable recorder and edited when I got home. I did something similar for Harbour Lights. Some other background stuff was licensed from the BBC archives.

TSOFDs: You’ve been doing this for enough time to be able to pass on some valuable experience – what tips would you give to any aspiring songwriters out there just getting started, that are suffering from writer’s block?

WAA: For me, sometimes it’s just a matter of pushing through – nothing glamorous, just putting in the work. Other than that, listen to music – different genres. Read. Learn something new, expand your skill set, take yourself out of your comfort zone. Get out and see people. Live life. It’s the ordinary, everyday things people relate to. There’s always something to write about, you just need to find the right angle. Have conversations. There’s poetry in the way people speak if you’re open to it.

TSOFDs: Great advice. Thanks Conor.


Drugdealer ::: Honey feat. Weyes Blood

Drugdealer have returned with one heck of a sweet slice of retro pop featuring Weyes Blood who we’ve covered before here.

If you’re sick of modern pop production then Drugdealer have just the right brand of medicine. If you weren’t paying attention for a few seconds you might be forgiven for thinking this was Joni Mitchell backed by CSNY.

We’ve already heard with the track ‘Fools‘ that Drugdealer have something of a penchant for that 70s LA feel. But if you’re going to mine the past to provide something worthwhile in the present then there’s far worse music to be inspired by if you ask me.

With deportation, indefinite detention or even execution on the cards should I try and find any other kind, you can rest assured this is the only Drugdealer I’ll be seeking out whilst residing in the Middle Kingdom.

Find more Drugdealer on Bandcamp.

Is the World Heading Towards a Future with More Chinese Bands?

There’s been an article doing the rounds lately concerning whether China is headed towards a future without foreign bands. It’s easy to come to the conclusion, particularly given the common, wider Western media narrative concerning the country, that this is part of a general regression to more authoritarian, nationalistic, closed off times. As always with China, the truth is more complex than that.

It is rare to see balance in Western reportage on China. Anyone following China in a Western publication might be tempted to see the banning of social media sites such as Facebook for example, as simple, straightforward censorship. But whilst censorship of course plays a role, from China’s point of view why also would they allow Facebook to gain a foothold in their burgeoning domestic tech economy when it has been shown this company provides a backdoor, knowingly or unknowingly, to the NSA and exploits user data whilst also, knowingly or unknowingly, allowing other entities to do the same, to the extent this can severely undermine state sovereignty with potentially catastrophic consequences?

Put more simply, the Chinese are not content just to be another market in the world for foreigners to dominate. And why should they be? So, is this applicable to the burgeoning domestic music industry too? In the sense that China is seemingly investing a lot in its own music industry, and also, occasionally, feels directly threatened by the actions of foreign artists (see Bjork) then the answer is arguably yes, though how much these questions occupy the minds of those working within the actual industry itself is open to debate.

You will not find a case made for restricting foreign acts from touring China on this website. Neither will you find anything but solidarity with those foreign artists living within China that are finding it difficult to ply their trade in a live environment. What we will ask of you however is to consider a long and ingrained Western sense of entitlement regarding the accessing of foreign markets and both the pros and cons of protectionism, all within the context of a brilliant gig, consisting of one established and one up and coming band, both Chinese.

Ambitious huh?

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First up this evening? 浪味仙贝. My WeChat translate function states this means ‘stinky’ in English but let’s not trust WeChat. Ever. This band certainly doesn’t stink the place out anyway. First impression is this is a group who have a lot of potential. They’re a tight unit, the arrangements are fun and interesting and there’s some appealing melodies running through their set. They don’t sound a million miles away from bands such as Alvvays and Camera Obscura, if that’s your bag. Check them out here. If you were a Chinese agent or promoter, 浪味仙贝 is the type of new band you’d immediately want to work with. Strong look? Check. Strong songs? Check. Interesting onstage personas? Check. Audience reacting positively? Check.

Now imagine you’re a foreign band working in China at a grass roots level. You’re frustrated because you’re not getting offered support slots at the local live house despite the fact you’re talented, hardworking musicians. Heck, two of you even speak just about serviceable Mandarin. The reality is interesting new bands like 浪味仙贝 will be appearing more and more in China as the growing middle classes find recreational activities that, not all that long ago, used to be luxuries, such as listening to or playing rock/pop music, more affordable to participate in. Some will be adept enough to start trying to build a career in music. And yeah, it will mostly be them getting the support slots, not you.

With more and more proper live houses opening, the younger generations will be inspired, when seeing local acts perform, to start their own bands. It might not turn out to be as widespread a phenomenon throughout Chinese culture as it is in Western cultures (where I once lived in the West it felt like every person I met was in a band), but when you have this many people living in a country it doesn’t have to be – there’s still going to be a LOT of bands. They will often be meticulous in how they present themselves and, without wanting to indulge in Chinese stereotypes, they will be very hardworking. And to show I’m NOT simply indulging in Chinese stereotypes I will also add that they’re not going to be nabbing the best opportunities simply because they are willing to flog their guts out. There will be no shortage of raw talent to go with how well rehearsed these bands will be.

Thus it seems to me, very quickly, the novelty of Western music and acts will wear off, if it hasn’t already, as the Chinese DIY spirit truly takes hold. Couple this with the fact interest in foreign music actually only comprises a small percentage of Chinese music consumption anyway (not a new phenomenon) then where exactly is the interest in a local foreign band nobody has heard of who doesn’t sing in Mandarin? And if you were the promoter or agent, would you find it more straightforward to work with someone who spoke your own language and was from the same culture, or would you find it easier to work with someone who, to put it bluntly, doesn’t and isn’t? Foreigners are just here to teach English for a while, have some fun, then go home to their own countries anyway right? They’re not here for keeps surely? Why prioritize a local foreign band over a Chinese one if they’re not even here for the long haul? If you are here for keeps then it’s going to be up to you to correct this flawed perception.

This isn’t to state there’s festering resentment or a consciously anti-foreigner attitude on the part of agents and promoters that is putting non-Chinese artists in a corner or anything like that – it’s more the fact that growing, successful local music scenes have always generally been, at least partly, about people who are on friendly terms working together. Furthermore, human nature is often to do what comes easiest, and to always put off the more challenging tasks for another day. So, that promoter you’re pissed at who never replied? Well they may well have meant to get back to you but they were overwhelmingly busy and, actually, they feel a bit flustered when having to communicate in English, and maybe even don’t want to lose face by coming across as having a poor command of the language.

My experience of China is there are some foreigners that think they know the language well enough who will often display little self-awareness when it comes to bellowing a completely nonsensical, atonal form of Mandarin (if you can call it that) at every Chinese person they meet and then react with genuine confusion when nobody can understand this utter gibberish. At the same time, Chinese people that are really quite good at English will still be very shy about speaking and writing it. Yes. We’re arrogant shits is what I’m saying. And often we’ll think nothing of just speaking English to people within their own country and expecting them to reply in English. I’m not judging anyone. I sometimes find myself doing it. I am one of these arrogant shits (not the atonal Mandarin – I know I can’t speak Chinese). I have nothing but respect and admiration for Chinese promoters that continue to put on lesser known foreign acts because they believe in them and nothing but understanding for ones that don’t because they can’t break even doing it.

So my advice to any foreigners starting from the bottom and seriously wanting to progress within the Chinese music industry is get very good at the language, get to grips with the culture, and get out there and network LOADS because the odds of the market are already stacked against you. You’re going to have to be extremely persistent as with music industries everywhere. Gone are the days where because you’re foreign and have a guitar everyone’s going to want you to come to the party. But, hey, it was good whilst it lasted right? OK. There are still plenty of party offers but you know what I mean. I’m saying don’t take anything for granted. The Chinese grabbed the rock and roll ball a while ago now and, rather than running with it, they’re positively breaking into a sprint.

Catch them if you can.

Before apt mention of spherical objects bring us to this evening’s headline act, let’s direct our attention to the financial barriers regarding live performance that foreign performers residing in China are reporting. You won’t ever find me condoning pay to play, whatever form it comes in, not anywhere – and it’s not just China where it happens. People should be paid to work, not pay to work. People in all the creative industries are exploited terribly and it’s morally wrong. Whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, making music, whatever, it’s often the case that how long it takes to develop these skills is roundly ignored and people are offered, at best, paltry sums of money for their efforts. But, to sloppily steal the work (I can’t pay him, he died in 1776) of David Hume (sorry if I’ve misrepresented his ideas, it’s a while since I studied philosophy), in this arseache of a world, there is, generally, an ‘ought’ and an ‘is’. What I mean by that is just because something should be a certain way that doesn’t mean it ever will be that way. As long as we labor under this crappy form of capitalism then there will be people who are beaten with the crappy end of the stick. And the stick is getting more and more covered in crap for all of us as time ticks on. Ew. Smelly.

Perhaps it too would be helpful at this juncture to consider the other side of this equation. Sure, there are unscrupulous people out there looking to make a quick wad of cash at the expense of any artist, whatever their background. In fact, I’ve met plenty of them in my time. Mostly in London 🙂 However, there are also really passionate people who host live music but end up losing money doing it because there just isn’t the interest in the acts they’re putting on, however good they might be. If it’s hard putting on a successful gig or difficult snagging a support slot at your local live house, start smaller. Get friendly with a local bar owner. Play small, intimate gigs. Build interest. If you’re lucky, good, and work hard you might get a following and then local promoters/venues will be more eager to book you. It’s not going to damage their business doing so if the turnout is big enough.

But what of the taxes? Well, I’m a fan of taxes actually. Taxes help us pay for things societies need. Clumsy and/or corrupt wielding of taxation though is obviously going to be a problem as is not investing the money where it is needed. For me the burden of taxation should fall on those who can afford it. If a huge foreign rock band is going to make a killing playing in another territory then make it so a fair slice of that money is going back into the country whose market they are penetrating, and to the right places. If, however, the barriers you are putting up make it harder for a struggling band to survive, whilst depriving them of the chance to introduce people to quality live music, then everyone is losing. To go back to Hume though, I don’t think the Chinese waste much time fretting over what ought to be as opposed to what is. To very broadly generalize, they’re a pragmatic bunch and quick to adapt. Regarding the difficulty of putting on gigs featuring foreigners, they won’t be wallowing in the unfairness of the situation, they will be striving to calculate how best they can work with it or around it. And Chinese promoters are still trying to put on foreign bands by the way. At least at the time of writing. To also return to a previous point, when there are more and more quality homegrown bands emerging in China they can instead promote, is it realistic or even fair to expect those on the ground to be preoccupied with how best to accommodate foreign artists? I would argue no. Unless they’re certain the band will sell tickets at the required price, they’re going to be increasingly reluctant to take the gamble if there are better options on the table.


Right on cue then, Chinese Football. Just the name of the band seems to lend itself nicely to this piece. Chinese. Football. Our Western ancestors invented football right? Not only can foreigners not play easily in China any longer, the bands are even stealing our sports as their monikers?! Well, despite the football that is played globally today often being traced back to the UK, people were kicking balls around some 2000 years ago in China. So perhaps football’s coming home? For the sake of accuracy and jettisoning this tenuous joining of dots, and flimsy potted history, this band name was in fact inspired by American Football. Not the sport. No. The US band going by that name. Is this getting confusing? Sorry. Anyway, Chinese Football the band haven’t been around for 2000 years but they have been around a while now. As with the support act, there’s the Wuhan connection, a city that’s garnered something of a reputation as boasting one of China’s more vibrant alternative music scenes.

You might recall us covering Wang Wen not too long ago? Well, Chinese Football prove another example of a Chinese group that more than deserves to be on the global radar. They are that good. There’s elements of emo, punk and math rock running through their output but this comes in an overall package that is meditative, melancholic and tasteful rather than melodramatic and brash, and near always accessible. Like all great bands they pull together to serve up something special which transcends the tags of genre. Playing live they seem to possess a self-assurance rather than arrogance which somehow radiates that this is an outfit already guaranteed a place in the annals of Chinese modern music history. The compositions are sophisticated and refined, and the musicianship is top notch.

The existence of brilliant acts such as Chinese Football should not be used as justification that it is therefore permissible to make it harder for foreign acts to play in China because they are simply not required. That would be a ridiculous argument to make. The aim here is more to convey the reality of what is occurring and to suggest that it is not really the responsibility of Chinese promoters alone to rectify this situation single-handed, particularly if they can fill venues with punters who are as keen as these ones are tonight to listen to Chinese bands. They are working to earn a living like the rest of us after all. Where actually is the incentive to work with foreign bands when there are acts as good as Chinese Football and浪味仙贝that are much more straightforward to put on? As more and more bands as good as these two appear, surely the incentive to seek out foreign bands will only decrease further? It simply won’t be worth the hassle.

So, as much as it is important to note the changes in regulations, for example, that make it hard for foreign bands to play and tour in China, and to question them, it is also worth focusing on how more and more fantastic Chinese bands are emerging, to celebrate that and give them their dues. If foreign bands were deemed vital to the Chinese economy you can be damned sure they’d be making it easier not harder for them to play. This should not be seen as a return to the past then, when there were no rock and roll bands at all, this is something that points more towards how the present, and the future, surprise, surprise, is, and will always likely be, at least in our lifetimes, dictated by cold, hard economics. Why shop further afield for something that isn’t really any better than what you can get locally at a better value price? iPhone sales didn’t just drop because they were too expensive. People started to cotton on that Huawei ones could satisfy their needs just as well.

As it stands, with these apparent barriers to foreign performers, Chinese promoters can simply focus on continuing to build up the domestic music industry, whether this is protectionism by default or design, by offering emerging talent the best support slots, whilst also prioritizing the better known Chinese groups that have been kicking about longer. These bands, such as Chinese Football, they know are going to draw a crowd as headliners and bring in the bulk of the money, with less paperwork, less language barriers, and, perhaps, less need to bribe the local cultural department. Rapid development not only brought giant skyscrapers and worsening air pollution to China. It also brought bands that are gradually becoming more and more well known across the country, followed by a network of sizable live venues that can be filled with gig-goers aplenty, should the local interest be fostered.

Of course, with less cross-cultural exchange in the world nobody really wins overall but the racists and willfully ignorant, and those that pander to these instincts to further their own limited agendas. It is truly a bad time globally when it comes to narrow-minded nationalist politics taking root. But I don’t believe this is what is happening specifically with regards to those working within Chinese music scenes. Far from it. I think largely what is happening is there are simply more and more new Chinese bands to give chances to who are more than worthy of these opportunities. This is genuinely exciting and a beautiful turn of events, and I am pleased for China and its artists that alternative music seems to be going from strength to strength. That stated, efforts should be made more broadly to ensure this potential trend of decreasing amounts of foreign bands playing, if such a trend is not currently being overplayed, is directly combated. Chinese audiences and artists benefit from being exposed to music from other cultures and musicians should have the right to perform when and where they want to, within reason.

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But the flipside of this is where is the wider global recognition and embracing of great Chinese acts such as Wang Wen and Chinese Football? How are the US or UK for example making it easier for Chinese bands to live in or tour their countries? The Chinese have hardly been welcomed with open arms historically when it comes to being granted visas. This issue now cuts both ways and in an age where China is becoming increasingly culturally, economically, and politically confident, should not the onus be just as much on the West to come to overarching agreements with China that make it easier for Western and Chinese musicians to work wherever they may happen to choose to reside or tour? There are sound moral, economic and cultural reasons for this to occur. Unfortunately more the reverse seems to be happening, particularly in the UK currently due to Brexit. British musicians will reportedly find it harder to tour in Europe should the UK go through with its stated commitment to leaving the EU, whilst non-British touring musicians are already apparently being put off from playing in Britain. Like so much that is going wrong in the world currently, and for the sake of rounding this off with a light sprinkling of questionable football parlance before blowing the final whistle, the goal should be less pointing of fingers, less divisiveness, more openness, more acceptance of one another, and a more even global playing field.

Pick that one out.

Foxwarren ::: Sunset Canyon

Here’s something you can chew on right now. ‘Sunset Canyon’ by Foxwarren.

Foxwarren are Andy Shauf (guitars/keys/vocals), Dallas Bryson (guitar/vocals), and brothers Darryl Kissick (bass) and Avery Kissick (drums & percussion).

You might have read about Andy Shauf before on our site. We love his solo work and this song and video was among our favorites of recent years.

As with all the best Americana, Foxwarren are Canadians. Citing The Band and Paul Simon as influences, we think you’ll agree there’s more than a sprinkle of Neil Young here too.

That stated, and despite this type of music being much plowed territory, Foxwarren have more than enough individuality to make their unique take on it worth your while.

You can buy the whole album here on Bandcamp.

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Interview ::: Benny Sings

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TSOFDs: Hello. Thanks for taking some time out to converse with us. We were fascinated to find out you studied sonology. What is sonology and how did it affect your approach to making music?

Benny: Sonology is a study emerging from the art music from the 50s and 60s, in the tradition of Stockhausen and Boulez, and those kind of guys. A very serious study on composition in that tradition. Extremely atonal arty extreme soundscapes, all made with intellectual composition systems derived from old classical music like Bach, etc. A study that was way over my head. And dealing with anxiety issues back then made it even worse. My answer to that was Benny Sings. Easy, soothing music. Lullabies to make me feel safe again.

TSFODs: Good plan. Tell us where you grew up and what it was like in terms of the music scene. Was there an encouraging attitude towards making music and plenty of places to play?

Benny: I grew up in Dordrecht, quite a small town. It was the 90s and grunge was all the rage. So me and my friends began the counter culture of making pure sunshine music. Our band was called The Loveboat and was a reaction to all the (in our eyes fake) darkness.

TSOFDs: We can’t wait to hear the new record ‘City Pop‘ which is released on February 22nd. The track ‘Not Enough’ has an enticing, bouncy, breezy sound to it with something of a 70s feel, be it with a dark undercurrent – particularly if you check out the video. Is this reflective of the album as a whole?

Benny: I don’t know, that’s for you to decide. I think the rest of the album might be a bit more light. Not a fan of the darkness.

TSOFDs: We’re loving the bass sound on the aforementioned track – it has such a great groove. When you’re writing do you tend to jam around on an idea with a basic beat, for example, or do chords and lyrics come first?

Benny: First the beat, than the chords, than the rest I would say. Mostly. The computer is my guitar. You just pick the tempo, fiddle around with chords, and then start humming and mumbling. And then something pops up. Or it doesn’t and you start over again.

TSOFDs: We keep hearing how advances in recording technology increasingly mean studios are going out of business. Are you someone who records everything yourself in a home studio or do you prefer to work in a more traditional studio environment?

Benny: I have my own studio, but it’s just as good as a good room, with good acoustics I would say. You need nothing more than a couple of instruments, some mics and a computer. So I love real studios, but I don’t think we need it for the sound anymore.

TSOFDs: A track on the forthcoming album features Cornelius. How did this collaboration came about?

Benny: I’ve always been a fan of his, so we reached out to him. Super excited that he said yes.

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TSOFDs: With a Japanese artist on your new record, any interest in gigging more on this side of the world in the reasonably near future?

Benny: Well I play in Japan every year, so I will be returning, but I don’t know when. And yeah of course would love to play elsewhere in Asia, so who knows.

TSOFDs: What music inspired you when you were growing up? Are there any artists our readers should check out that perhaps they are unlikely to have heard?

Benny: I was a huge fan of Gotcha! A Dutch funk band. Those guys were my idols, I wanted to be them when I grew up. Not sure if you can find a lot on them from those days (mid 90s) online. This is what I could find:

TSOFDs: Awesome – thanks. You’re a proud addition to the Stones Throw roster. How did an artist based in the Netherlands end up on an LA based music label?

Benny: Well, we just visited them when we were in LA. Said hi, listened to demos. I knew Mayer Hawthorne who is a close friend of the label, he’s a long time fan. So probably that helped too. Never would have expected they would want to release, but we just sent them the album, and they said yes.

TSOFDs: Result. Thanks again for your time Benny and best of luck with the new record.

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Purchase ‘City Pop’ by Benny Sings here.

Favorite Albums of 2018

This is the last release roundup we’ll do. Yearly or otherwise. We’ve been doing it every quarter for a while now (with an accompanying playlist), as well as the yearly ones which we tend to put up around Chinese New Year. It’s getting a bit stale.

And, let’s be honest – everyone is doing these list things anyway. There’s always somewhere to go for a list.

Fear not. We’ll still be covering new music. But in an instantaneous HEY CHECK THIS OUT kind of a way – more in fitting with the times and how people consume music these days, for better or worse.

Hope that’s OK.

No? Tough titty.

Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

Bloody Ty Segall. Always releasing stuff. And always good. Give someone else a chance Ty!

Nils Frahm – All Melody

How did we describe it in the first quarter? A candidate for the most beautiful sounding album of the year already – and it still most certainly is.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

Top notch. And ‘Hunnybee’ is one of our favorite tracks of the year.

Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man

A healthy reminder that this is a fella who is still firing on all cylinders. If you’ve not listened to him since his Supergrass days then explore his solo work.

Beach House – 7

This album should have given anyone arguing Beach House’s best days are behind them pause for thought.

Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Arguably not as ambitious as his previous outing but, honestly, Father John is such a solid songwriter, it doesn’t really matter.


Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

The second quarter was quite the time period for quality albums. Some really tender and touching moments on this record.

Wang Wen – Invisible City

Being based in China, it would have felt wrong not to have a Chinese band in here but be under no illusion – Wang Wen are here on merit. This puts most albums released in the West in the shade to be frank. The article we wrote about this band was also one of our most popular pieces yet. Have a read.

Junks – Junks

2018 was the year we finally received an official Junks release. And it was worth the wait. Read more here.

Menace Beach – Black Rainbow Sound

The UK based outfit managed to pass that difficult test of evolving but still retaining their appeal. Check out our thoughts here.

Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance

That anger is voiced effectively in these messed up times is important. But if it is also really fun to listen to then even better.

Jump For Neon – Put Me Down Dinosaur

Read more about why our reviewer loved Jump For Neon’s stripped down second offering with a clickety click.

Julia Holter – Aviary

This album has so much depth you will never reach the bottom.