Mac DeMarco ::: ‘This Old Dog’

Mac DeMarco was always going to be a difficult artist for me not to like. He ticks all the boxes in terms of my personal tastes. Melodic songs. Check. Self-produced in a bedroom. Check. Kooky personality that has a life of its own apart from the music. Check. Down to earth and happy to chill with his fans rather than being an aloof dickhead. Check. My first taste of THE MAC was the album ‘Salad Days’. I was instantly addicted and began exploring his other albums. It’s always nice when you really like an album by an artist and then check out their other stuff and find another record you like even more and that was the case when I started listening to ‘2’ which I prefer to Salad Days but only just. So what of his latest releases? Well I like the fact DeMarco is reasonably prolific but I can’t say I’ve listened to the EP ‘Another One’ as much as his other releases. However, new LP ‘This Old Dog’ stands a real good chance of repeat listens…

DeMarco has openly stated his love for Neil Young’s output, in particular the album ‘Harvest’. Well, not only do I share his love of that particular record, but I’d also assert his adoration of the Harvest sound sometimes shines through in his work, not least on the title track. Listen to the way in which the kick and snare snap and drift through the arrangement before the pedal steel (real or midi it’s hard to tell these days) woozes in and out. It really conjures up ‘Out On The Weekend’ and the aforementioned album in general one could argue. Before that we have the track ‘My Old Man’ a very honest opener with some delightful electronic meanderings backing it all up. By track 3 there’s something of a break from the melancholy with ‘Baby You’re Out’. OK this is hardly a song suddenly setting off at a breakneck speed but it does retain a quirky groove that might remind you of certain tracks on the album 2. It’s on songs like these that I could really imagine DeMarco straying into Dr John territory at some point. ‘For The First Time’ recalls another familiar side of this artist to those that know him, the cheap keyboard sounds flailing around a rich-sounding bass guitar before we go back into acoustic groove territory with ‘One Another’.

Another endearing quality of Mac DeMarco is he’s not afraid to slow things down in an age where much music that fits into the rock and pop bracket, especially that aimed at a young audience, is often served up at a high thumping tempo leaving not much room for the music to really breathe. Playing slow and measured is a real skill and something DeMarco is really starting to excel at. Pleasing for the stoner crowd too no doubt. The flip side of this though is that you sometimes wonder whether DeMarco is getting a little too settled into a comfort zone. It’s fantastic to hear a still quite young artist so comfortable in their own skin and self-assured about what their strengths are. But sometimes you just want Mac to change gear a little and throw in a few surprises. ‘On the Level’ is a great example of what he can achieve when he gets a little more experimental. Sure, we’re kind of back to the same keyboard and bass territory mentioned previously in ‘One Another’, but the production is just sublime and it’s no surprise this track is getting radio play.

My verdict? This album is a great addition to the DeMarco catalogue and well worth your time.

Gig Review ::: 舌头乐队 (Tongue) at Mao Livehouse, Hangzhou 17.03.2017

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.

band-shetouyuedui-mask9

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.

band-shetouyuedui-p1-mask9

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.

http://www.shuhtou.com/

https://site.douban.com/tongue/

Best Albums 2016 ::: ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore

Yes we realize this is long overdue but frankly you’re lucky to be reading it in March. All these things we mean to get done. Life’s just too busy. With the Chinese New Year period having now drawn to a close though, actually, it’s as good a time as any to look back and think about the amazing music the admittedly troubled year of 2016 fired our way. We decided to pick one album for each month.

January: David Bowie in true David Bowie type fashion gave us Blackstar at the beginning of the year, blew our minds, then shocked us with his sudden departure. What a hard act to follow and we’re not convinced anyone equaled this album, let alone bettered it. What made Bowie’s passing all the more difficult to cope with was how this record initially alluded to a really fascinating musical future. A future Bowie himself was apparently intent on pursuing before he finally succumbed to his illness. Blackstar is somehow distinctly Bowie yet utterly different. Yes you can hear familiar strands such as the use of saxophone and the flirtations with multiple genres, but the overall listening experience is positively otherworldly. How appropriate.

February: A toss-up between DIIV, Field Music, and Animal Collective for us. I’m going to go for DIIV just for the way the opening track ‘Out of Mind’ kicks off their, arguably slightly bloated album, ‘Is the Is Are‘. Dreamy, hypnotic, jangly, bouncy loveliness. Of course one good track does not an album make (take note Kanye) and other standout moments include ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)‘, which conjures up Sonic Youth, immediately followed by the catchy ‘Dopamine‘. At the start of the morning this album can, perhaps, start to drag a little bit, but late in the evening to close out the day with your intoxicant of choice, it’s a winner for all us losers.

March: We’re going to stay loyal to Hangzhou’s own music scene here and go for William Gray’s ‘Flounce’.  Local bias? Definitely maybe. But we weren’t the only ones to like this album you see. No. In fact, Gray made his way onto a national playlist courtesy of Tom Robinson on BBC Radio 6. Not bad going for someone marooned all the way out here in the Middle Kingdom. Opening track ‘Child’s Play‘ is delightfully experimental but still retains the essence of a classic pop song, whilst title track ‘Flounce‘ sees the album really blasting off into some faraway reverb-laden, synth-heavy galaxy. Or something. Just give it a go.

April: We might be the only people on the planet not to really like ‘Lemonade’ by Beyonce all that much but it just didn’t do it for us. So we’re going for Yeasayer’s ‘Amen & Goodbye’. ‘Silly Me’ following ‘I am Chemistry’ gives the listener as catchy a couple of tunes as they could want and, generally speaking, the craft and production on show during this record is stupendously gratifying. The catchiness takes on new heights with the intro and repeated hook of ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. There’s just an awful lot going on during this record. It’s wonderfully playful and it’s catchy. Did we mention it’s catchy?

May: If there’s another record which was released in 2016 to carry the same artistic weight as ‘Blackstar’ then for us it’s Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’. Benefiting from the co-production of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, Anohni is granted the minimalist and stark presentation such weighty topics songs such as ‘Drone Bomb Me’, ‘4 Degrees’, ‘Watch Me’, and ‘Obama’ encompass. If you ever hear anyone say gone are the artists who tackle the big issues of the day then shove this album in their ears. The song ‘Crisis’ is still as moving as the first time I heard it. Apologies to Car Seat Head Rest, if you’d released your album in June it would be in the next paragraph.       

 

June:  Can’t say we remember being that bowled over by much this month so the return of DJ Shadow is the obvious choice with ‘The Mountain Will Fall’. Perhaps not the best record to be released by DJ Shadow but you can’t argue with the Run the Jewels and Nils Frahm collaborations.

July: A simple way to decide which your favorite albums are over a set period of time is obviously to consider which ones you keep coming back to. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you just get the urge to listen to a record.  Well ‘Freetown Sound’ by Blood Orange is one such record. A beautiful patchwork of recorded audio nestled betwixt cracking songwriting makes for one of those stream of consciousness type of LP experiences. A joy to partake in, and a defining record of its time released by a man seemingly enjoying something of a creative peak. And does anyone think ‘But You’ sounds just a tiny bit like Michael Jackson returning from beyond the grave – or is it just me?

August: This time we’re going to give in to the hype. In addition to Beyonce, Frank Ocean is the other artist critics were positively salivating over during 2016. Well we can just about see what the fuss is about with his record ‘Blonde’. For anyone unfamiliar with Ocean that is into more traditional types of genres this may prove a longwinded and difficult listen. But for me it’s one of those albums that, even if it leaves you a bit cold the first time you hear it, you want to come back for more and then you’re hooked. It’s appealing the way in which Ocean defies expectations by omitting beats from large portions of the record, and there’s a druggy kind of feel to proceedings which makes it a good headphone album for the escapists among us. And for those wanting big pop moments look no further than ‘Nights’ with its irresistible chopped up beats and spliced guitar sounds.

September: A difficult month to decide on this one, a cracking new Nick Cave album for one thing, not to mention Bon Iver. Well after repeated listens I just couldn’t get on with the Bon Iver one so that’s pushed to one side. Nick Cave has a rich back catalogue to draw from and I didn’t like this latest one quite as much as the one that preceded it. So, as flawed a decision-making process as this undoubtedly is, I’m going for the Solange Knowles‘ album. Let’s agree that 2016 is the year of the trailblazing R&B artist. And I never thought I’d find myself writing that due to the fact the only type of R&B I used to go for was the type made by Ray Charles and ripped off by The Rolling Stones. But that’s the thing about good music – it defies preconceptions. It doesn’t matter what genre it is if it connects. And ‘A Seat at the Table’ certainly does just that. Give it a spin. Once the lush opener ‘Rise’ has given way to the enticing groove of ‘Weary’ I challenge you not to be addicted.

October: October saw the return of the group American Football. Was it the worth the wait? We thought so. If you like your guitar music to be challenging rather than dirgey sometimes then this could be the record for you. Expertly knitted together with overarching melancholic refrains drifting in and out of focus, the sound of this group is all-enveloping. There’s a cleanness and crispness to the production which is really appealing on the headphones. Beautiful.

November: Another welcome return came in the form of A Tribe Called Quest. And if there was ever a time we needed this group then it’s now. The deft sampling. The grooves. The lyrical content. The whole package. Q-Tip‘s production is unassailable and this is one we’ll go back to again and again. And whilst the record will undoubtedly give Tribe fanatics what they want from a Tribe record, it doesn’t rest on its laurels. There’s a restlessness to the flow, that determination still there to create something genuinely forward-thinking and relevant to the now. Better each time you listen to it.

December: December? Fuck December. See you next time.  

 

 

Interview ::: David Kay (Junks) @ Xihu Music Festival, Hangzhou

junks-logo

TSOFD: Was this your first Xihu Festival appearance? How did you find performing and what are your thoughts regarding the festival as a whole?

DK: This was the first Junks appearance at the festival, but Ursula and I played here a few years ago as Party Horse. I thought the festival was great, and it’s a cool place for a music festival, positioned as it is behind West Lake and just in front of some leafy hills. The weather was shit leading up to our appearance on the Saturday (Oct 29th) and it was pissing it down most of the day too, which impacted the festival’s overall attendance. We played on the DJ stage, which is unusual for a band, but seeing as though our sound is pretty electronic, mixing elements of synthwave and nu-disco with more traditional rock and punk structures, I guess we fit in okay. We got a good crowd during our show, and as we began to play people flooded in from out of nowhere, which was cool. I love playing festivals mainly because they are so fucking loud!

img_3296

TSOFD: Have you played other festivals in China? If so what have you made of the experiences overall and how does this compare with festivals in the UK either as a punter, performer or both?

DK: I’ve played a number of festivals in China and the UK, both big and small, whether it be with Junks, Party Horse or as DJ Ectoplazm in China or with Tiny Dancers back in the UK. I’ve enjoyed all of these appearances, and the ones in China have been particularly enjoyable due both to the novelty factor and the fact that the scene feels really fresh and embryonic here. It’s still early days in China in terms of festivals and festival culture, so it’s great to play a small part in this emerging scene. Some festivals in China have no alcohol for sale, however – none at all – which is a real bummer as it’s hard to enjoy a festival without a dozen pints of over-priced lager, right?

DK: There are lots of differences between UK and Chinese festivals. For example, the whole camping thing has largely been lost on the Chinese, as has the concept of partying until the sun rises. But, seeing as though I’m no spring chicken anymore, that’s probably a good thing.

img_3116

TSOFD: Do you feel there was a healthy representation of different forms of music at the festival – any local or national acts you’d have liked to have seen play that weren’t billed?

DK: To be honest I didn’t get to see much of the wider festival as I had to get home pretty quick after our show to relieve the babysitter, but I was gutted to have missed Queen Sea Big Shark on the Sunday as they are probably my favorite Chinese band. Helen from Nova Heart also DJed on the Sunday and I heard she was great, so it was a shame to miss out on that too. That’s often the case when you play festivals though, you often miss other bands you’d like to see due to scheduling issues, although I did catch Chengdu rapper Kafe Hu, who was pretty cool.

Overall the line-up seemed pretty eclectic, with acts from the mainstream and the underground well-represented and genres like hip-hop, trap, pop, rock, electronica and house all getting a look in. I think it would have been nice to have a third stage, maybe one exclusively reserved for acoustic acts, as that would have given punters a place to kick-back and relax and, moreover, a chance for local singer/songwriters like William Gray and John Carroll a chance to flex their acoustic muscles.

img_3238

TSOFD: It has been said that China’s live music scene is more geared towards festival season but this is steadily changing with more and more live venues opening up nationwide. How well do you think Hangzhou is currently competing with the likes of Beijing and Shanghai, or even Wuhan and Chengdu?

DK: I think Hangzhou is a little behind the cities you mentioned in terms of its live music scene, but with Mao Livehouse and Loopy opening up recently, at least we have a couple more great venues to call our own. I think Hangzhou has plenty going on – and has lots of good musicians and DJs walking its recently spruced-up streets – but the city as a whole lacks edge and any kind of deep-rooted music scene. There’s too many cigar-bar style venues and not enough CBGBs.

img_5388

TSOFD: What’s next on the horizon for Junks – any new releases or gig or festival dates our readers should be making a note of? How about DJ events?

DK: We should have one or two more shows before Christmas and the work on our debut album continues behind the scenes. The best way to keep up to date with the band, and to find out what makes us tick, is to head to either our Facebook page for gigs and vibes, our Soundcloud page for music or follow us on wechat (ID: Junks_hz) for more detailed show info etc. You can also search for us on YouTube to see a few of our VHS-style music videos. We also making a short documentary about our musical adventures in China – so watch this space!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JUNKSOFFICIAL

 

Introducing ::: More In Common ‘HOPE not hate’ Compilation Album

Anyone with even just a casual interest in history and politics may well note that when there is a rise in economic hardship, absorbed by the general population, then this can result in heightened tensions, often manifested in xenophobia and recorded instances of racism. The rise of Trump in the US has, of late, provided one catalyst for darker impulses within a society moving out of the shadows and basking unashamedly in the limelight. The Brexit campaign in the UK has provided another. When politics of this nature sinisterly sidles into the mainstream then it gives repugnant viewpoints more space to fester and more confidence on the part of those expressing such opinions that these views will be accepted, grudgingly or otherwise, on the part of the wider populace. In such a climate it is unsurprising then when we read statistics pertaining to racist hate crimes going up by more than 40%. Anecdotal evidence supports this also when we are told people that have lived in the UK for a long period of time, and have never experienced anything in the way of hostility, are suddenly being confronted by strangers on the street, simply for being “foreigners”.

hope-not-hate-comp-1

It is easy to feel powerless at times like these, so what better moment for people to come together and express joint opposition to such concerning developments? Simon Tucker, a representative of the Carmarthen branch of HOPE not hate, hit upon the idea of using his knowledge and contacts from his role as a promoter of new music to an inspired positive end, in short, melding this with his laudable charitable aspirations. The response from artists to his project has proven incredible, with 95 tracks contributed overall. And the Brexit referendum making the pound worth significantly less notwithstanding, a fiver is a bargain not to be sniffed at. It’s beyond me to review all of the tracks right now, and I’m sure not even the most avid reader of music blogs wants to read that much of my waffle but let’s dip into it and give you a snapshot. Why not listen whilst you read?

Before getting started you might be wondering A) how you possibly have time to listen to this many tracks and B) do you really want to download an album this size onto your already close to full hard drive? To answer A) my advice would be to treat it like you’re listening to the radio. Do you refuse to listen to the radio because there’s far too many bands potentially you’ve never heard before? Of course not. You switch it on, have it on in the background, maybe whilst you’re getting on with other stuff and, intermittently, a track might well leap out which makes you want to hear more from that particular artist, so you then investigate further. That’s the best way to approach this compilation in my view. To answer B) if you download in MP3 format it’s actually not that much space BUT if you’re not even willing to make that commitment the great thing about Bandcamp is you can install the Bandcamp app on your smartphone, which gives you access to all the music you’ve ever bought on the site and you can stream it like you do with services like Spotify.Or just stream it on the device of your choosing and if you want to download at a later date, it’s there if you want it because you own it. The lovely thing also about buying music on Bandcamp is that it appears on a dedicated page, showcasing your online record stash.

People often complain that the days of the physical music purchase are disappearing and that means people will be gradually less inclined towards connecting with others through the perusing of record collections. Bandcamp addresses this by showing what you’ve purchased on your own personal page. No need to wait until there’s a party round your house to show off your records, it’s online already for others to have a nosey if you want them to. Just imagine how impressed fellow music lovers will be when they see you’ve lent your support to such an awesome and eclectic compilation. Ah yes. The compilation. Just how awesome actually is it?

To start things off we have some ambient electronica from Chris and Cosey, and then Ian Watson. This swings from welcomingly mellow in a Röyksopp meets John Wizards kind of a way to slightly unsettling on the part of Watson, but not in a bad sense. Then with Vukovar our first atmospheric indie earworm takes hold, dropping back down to a nice piano and string led ballad from Climbing Trees before the pulsing electro of Lippy Kid sets in. So far pretty bloody enjoyable. There’s plenty more electronic ambient material to keep things slowly simmering before this is broken up with some lovely silky vocals courtesy of HMS Morris. Fold give us something to tap our feet to, along with some welcome jazzy overtones. Musical proceedings keep on ticking along nicely before Kevin Pearce’s ‘Dynamite’ jumps out of the speakers, which might strike some listeners as a little bit Peter Gabriel. Nice. Next to really reel me in? ARGPH, evoking a more laid back British Sea Power on this particular track. Chick Quest are also one of my favourite discoveries thus far with a sound that makes me want to witness them live – frenetic instrumentation and welcome use of the horn on show here. An even shorter and straight to the point song comes from MELLT which reminds this reviewer of 60 Ft. Dolls, but also the Swedish group Bob Hund. We actually heard about this compilation via our very own Hangzhou-based songsmith William Gray and he gets an honorable mention now for his ballad ‘Music To Her Ears’, which gradually blossoms into something very special, complete with string arrangement and female backing vocals. Similarly pleasant is The Gentle Good with ‘Briwsion’, a swirling little ditty of acoustic loveliness. Perplexing in its psychedelic meanderings is Hotel De Salto’s ‘Bigger Than Elvis’, firing enough sonic treasure into my caffeine soaked brain to make me want to hear more, whilst the highly rated FFUG show just why they’re so highly rated with the hazy ‘Speedboat Dreaming’. Whilst the joyous thing about this compilation is it has introduced me to a massive amount of artists I’ve never heard of, one act I have already heard of is Bloodflower. They ably demonstrate why they’re a duo that has been receiving national airplay, with their proficiently produced track ‘Horizon’. Aled Rheon’s ‘Wrap Up Warm’ is nearly a nice, err, warm way to wrap things up if not for the fact this duty is left to Cpt Smith with ‘Llenyddiaeth’.

It will take me a long time to delve deeper into this compilation and I’m very much looking forward to doing so. To those acts I haven’t mentioned I’d say some artists may take longer to grab you than others but when they do they might very well take a firmer hold. To those reading, get this compilation bought pronto. Good music for a good cause. Can’t say fairer than that. I’m going to listen to it some more right now.

Hwyl fawr!

Check out the official website for more info.

Here’s the relevant YouTube Channel.

Live Review ::: William Gray – Matz Andersson – John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo, China

Medic Records Presents William Gray/Matz Andersson/John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo (Saturday 22nd October)

Without wishing to pour cold water on the considerable improvements taking place regarding China’s live music scene in recent years nationally, and even more recently, finally, in Hangzhou, a remaining bugbear is solo acoustic acts are still perhaps not getting the spotlight they deserve. Take for example the recent Xihu Music Festival in Hangzhou – why was there no stage dedicated to acoustic acts? Would it be all that hard to set up a small tent for a more intimate experience than that offered by the main stages? It would provide welcome shelter from the rain if nothing else.

Festival circuit aside one might be forgiven for thinking there’s not enough appropriate venues? Well think about the amount of coffee shops that exist in a city such as Hangzhou and I am sure many other metropolises in China. One would do well to remember it was the cafe scene of areas such as Greenwich Village in New York that spawned the likes of Bob Dylan, a long time before he went electric. An acoustic or folk scene is one that could potentially thrive here and perhaps save the odd coffee shop from going under, such is the highly competitive nature of the business environment, simply by getting more bums on seats. And acoustic music is, logistically, so much simpler to host. A small PA system is pretty much all that’s needed. Less expense. Less hassle. Arguably, for a smaller venue, even a PA system is not necessary.

The feeling is that many in China believe full band = better. Solo acoustic performers may well find, if wishing, be it reluctantly, to take on a corporate gig to earn much needed revenue (not much to be made from selling music these days) those booking will specify they want more than one performer or a band. It seems what can be seen with the eyes rather than heard with the ears is more important to many of those doing the booking. When those hiring acts openly state their preference is for a band rather than a solo act one can only assume this is down to ignorance on their part, unless they are specifically stating what type of band they want and why that is, for example if it’s for a funk night where wanting a funk band rather than a singer-songwriter is of course entirely justified. Our assertion is that wanting to book a band and not a solo act is fine as long as the reasoning is not based on a lack of understanding or the belief that a solo performer is unable to provide a performance that is as competent or as arresting as a full band. Indeed, a solo performer can in fact often provide a performance that sounds better than a full band. There is no hiding when performing alone, a mistake is there for all to see and this often means solo acts are a lot more rehearsed and have their material more finely honed.

Anyone that argues an acoustic performance is somehow less than what you might get with a band, that the time of Bob Dylan the acoustic act was long ago or that an acoustic performer can’t cut it in certain live environments or please the punters, should perhaps tell that to people that saw the likes of Elliott Smith or Jeff Buckley perform solo, or, if more inclined towards mainstream pop, they’d do well to note, as we’ve mentioned before on this blog, that Ed Sheeran sold out Wembley Stadium three nights in a row. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the two words that are ‘Jon‘ and ‘Gomm‘. Think that these are all Western acts, and there’s not the same quality in Hangzhou? Wrong. Feast your eyes and ears on this, an act Singapore-based Soi Music TV recently filmed near West Lake in Hangzhou.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, how grateful we are then to Medic Independent Records for providing us acoustic lovers with the much needed means to get our six string fix. Tonight we witness three quality acts in their acoustic guises. First up is John Carroll. Much missed on the live circuit over the past year or so, only periodically gigging, Carroll has been hard at work on new material he is aiming, we are told, to release next year. Tonight is his first bash at performing many of these new songs live and, going by what we’re hearing, we’re going to be in for a treat when the new release arrives. Immediately striking is the fact this material sounds very different to previous album ‘Cenotaph Tapes‘ which was quite an inward looking work, largely melancholy and downbeat, the sound of a man who perhaps had a lot to vent and channel. This album is a rewarding listen for anyone who enjoys acoustic music, but particularly those who empathise with feelings of alienation, particularly the sensitive laowai marooned in China types.

However, Carroll’s new creations are rewarding in a different way. To put it bluntly, there are earworms aplenty. Some of the songs are rough around the edges, as might be expected from a first outing, but what is noticeable is that this doesn’t detract from the catchiness. So catchy in fact that this reviewer overheard the barman attempting to sing along even though he didn’t know the words due to English not being his mother tongue. A casual glance around the bar sees many transfixed and plenty of foot-tapping going on. Positive signs indeed and some who are only familiar with ‘Cenotaph Tapes’ might just find themselves surprised by Carroll demonstrating such unabashed traditional pop sensibilities. Take ‘Ambushed From All Sides‘ for example. A hook Teenage Fanclub would be proud of and you could even imagine Lennon and McCartney choosing to pen a ditty of the same name after spying it as a potentially promising headline come song title in whatever newspaper they happened to pick up that day.

Disappear Into Thin Air‘ is another example of this. Less jaunty than the aforementioned song and more reflective but similarly enticing in terms of a great pop melody. Whilst there is something very Ireland and the UK about these two songs, the song ‘Gravedigger‘ perhaps conjures up influences from the other side of the pond, sounding like Neil Young spliced with Thurston Moore, be it with an Irish twist. Old favourite ‘Don’t Shield Your Eyes‘ also comes out of the bag for those who know Carroll’s older material. All in all a great performance. Check out John Carroll’s Bandcamp page here.

Next up is Matz Andersson. Andersson is becoming something of a veteran of the Chinese music scene these days. And not only as a solo artist, for he has also toured extensively fronting rock outfit Exit 4, and this includes televised festival appearances no less. A Swedish-Chilean songwriter and a well traveled one at that, Andersson has much to draw upon in terms of his cultural heritage and life experiences to channel into his songs. His laid back guitar style which combines finger-picking and strumming is easy on the ear and he possesses a singing voice which is husky and reassuring. If you have heard his album ‘Lake Khovsgol’, recorded in Ningbo with musicians he struck up a rapport with locally at open mic nights (another example of why space for acoustic performance is so important) you will know Andersson is certainly an accomplished songwriter. If not, if present tonight in Ningbo, you would certainly know by the end of this performance. Relaxed on the microphone, Andersson treats an eager audience with an assured delivery of tracks from the aforementioned album such as ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ as well as newer songs, ‘In The Rain‘ and ‘Hold On To Yourself‘.

Joining Andersson onstage for ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ and also ‘The Eternal Return‘ and ‘That Old House‘, are Tom Rutherford (percussion) and Joe Patterson (bass). These two know exactly what the songs need. With this type of material less is often more and they provide the necessary delicate touches quite wonderfully. Musicians like this should be cherished because, more often than is preferable, otherwise able players lack the musical maturity to resist the urge to play all over a songwriter’s carefully crafted material. On November 25th Andersson plays at Time Beacon in Ningbo where he will be supporting Pinball City. The following day, as befits a man who relishes the act of bringing his music far and wide, Andersson will be playing in Nanjing, again supporting Pinball City. Those looking for quality acts to book – look no further.

Listen to Matz Andersson on Bandcamp here. If you’re more of a SoundCloud person, follow him here.

ningbo-gig-102216

Final performance of the evening comes from William Gray. With a new EP ‘Seine’ to promote and a busy year all round for Gray given he also released his album ‘Flounce’ in March, the headline slot was more than appropriate. Would the performance live up to the billing? The answer is definitely yes. With gigs such as these, running order can be a bit of a conundrum. Basic logic states that as you work up to the final act you get a bigger and bigger audience and the evening peaks at the end. However, on a Saturday night people often hit smaller venues such as Cosy Bar as a precursor to other events such as club nights. This can be a blessing or a curse. For bands, it can be a bit ego-deflating to wait all night to go onstage only to find numbers have thinned out for your set. However, for an acoustic act it might actually provide something of a relief, as less people also means less noise.

There is a deftness of touch about Gray’s guitar style and a softness to his approach to some of his material that warrants an attentive ear. This then is one of those occasions where an event benefits from less drunken chatter and a core, still sizable, audience of people remaining primarily for the music as well as to socialise. Once a quieter foundation is established this then gives the act the capacity to play the room rather than battle it. It is actually the case tonight that Gray plays a more upbeat set than some who have seen him perform might be used to. For example, he opens with arguably one of the standout tracks from ‘Flounce‘, the lyrically zany ‘Heather‘ which, with its palm-muting, is positively new wave in its rockiness, be it a more lo-fi, laid-back sounding incarnation. Just as happy to fingerpick as he is to apply a solid rhythm guitar approach when needed, Gray will also more than happily combine the two and this adaptable philosophy is also mirrored in both his singing and his lyrics.

At some moments in the set he is positively belting out the songs, at some points his voice is quite soulful. At other times it can rise to falsetto. In terms of the words sometimes they are minimalist, see ‘There’ off the new EP, at other times quite wordy, for example ‘Black Dog Underfoot‘, a song which is all the better heard live. Once settled into his set, Gray is reveling in the occasion, not going too loud too soon, always holding something back and toying with the audience, so he can crank up the volume where necessary simply through touch or how loudly he sings, rather than needing to turn things up on the dial. One standout moment is ‘Open Season‘ which I just had to dig out by later listening through all of his material here on Bandcamp. I found it on his 2010 release ‘Vertical Wealth‘ which contains some lovely, woozy sax that Destroyer would be proud of. The live solo version this evening lulls the audience into a false sense of security with a repetitive one note refrain which then turns into a somewhat Elliott Smith style chord progression before Gray really lets rip for the outro. All the material comes across well and Gray performs a remarkably long set, picking a wide range of material from his now sizable back catalogue, including all of the songs from his latest EP ‘Seine’. For a 30 RMB entrance fee the performers tonight have really given people their money’s worth. Ruddy well done.

Follow Medic Records on Twitter and Facebook.

Interviewed ::: YiFei from ‘Loopy’

中文 – CHINESE VERSION (see below for English)

Loopy背后的概念和设想是什么?凭什么可以让这个空间在众生中脱颖而出?

一个城市的文化进程中总有人会做一些让它变得更丰富、更美好的事,无论是什么职业,什么行业,都凭借着自己对城市的喜爱、事业的执着和生活的热情,一直默默坚持着。

loopy也是这城市中的一个小角色,和众生一样并无特殊之处,自然的发生,适时的消亡,如果说能够脱颖而出,也许是因为它一直努力着带给人们新鲜的事物和体验,时间久了便能记得它,运气好的话还能在城市中留下一点点印记。

 可以再说一些关于Loopy的设计和详细情况吗?

在传统百货商场里放置这样一个空间本身就是一种尝试,我们用建筑的设计语言来构造室内,以营造出不同区域中的不同氛围。让人一转弯就能发现一处惊喜,而这样的小惊喜又充满了整个场域,甚至在场外也能感受到,于是你在空间中就能一直处于探索的状态,最后总能找到令自己最舒服的位置安顿下来。

img_2437

 人们在Loopy可以期待怎样的音乐?

以电子音乐为主,其他音乐类型为辅,所以参演的会有乐队,DJ,制作人,声音艺术家、视觉艺术家等,另外loopy也对声音与视觉相结合的新媒体艺术作品感兴趣。

你觉得现在杭州的音乐场景是怎样的?

就像我之前说的,杭州一直在慢慢变的更好,音乐相关的艺术家、厂牌、主办方、场地等等都比之前变的更多元化和国际化,市场也开始慢慢变的规范和成熟起来,特别是现在的年轻人,资讯的发达也让他们都有了甄别优劣的能力,玩的也越来越有品质。我对杭州之后的音乐场景表示很期待。

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

除了音乐,Loopy还可以提供什么?

几乎可以提供与音乐相关的一切体验,loopy还有黑胶展卖和试听、乐队专辑和周边产品售卖等。目的是想营造一种氛围,能对本地音乐文化有所促进,让年轻人多一个去处。当然我们还有美味的西班牙tapas和各种酒精。

 如果有人想要来Loopy演出,该怎样做?

最好直接过来现场,可以一起喝杯茶先。

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Wechat: loopylive Weibo: @loopy

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/loopyliveHZ/

Instagram: loopy_live

enquiry and reservation: info@loopy.live, 

phone: +86 156 5801 8959 / 186 5718 8959

Address: 313, 77 Zhongshan South Road, Hangzhou

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

英文 – ENGLISH VERSION

What is the concept behind Loopy? What makes the venue stand out from the crowd?

There is always someone keep doing things in order to make the city getting better, no matter what he is doing, it only rely on his passionate for career and love for life.

Of course, Loopy is one of them, like all crowd, normal and peaceful, born naturally and die timely. But if we have to admit something that makes Loopy unique, i would say enable and inspire. It will keep bringing people fresh experience and leave something behind, fortunately.

img_3065

Can you tell me a little about loopy’s design and specifications?

It is a try that loopy was placed in a typical shopping mall, Architectural design language made this interior space have different area with different atmosphere. people can keep exploring as there are full of surprises at very corner, even from the outside. and there is always perfect place that you can finally settle down.

What kind of music can people expect to hear?

Mainly electronic music, sometimes other types as well, Performers including Bands, DJs, Musicians, Visual Artists, etc. also loopy is very interested in  audio/ visual and contemporary media work and installations.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

What do you think of the Hangzhou music scene?

Like i said, all those artists, labels, event organisers and venues are making Hangzhou’s music scene getting better. Everyone in this industry are getting more professional and international, as well as the market. Especially those teenagers in these days are improving their ability of telling music stories, even their life story too, all of these are great for the city and i am expecting.

 Beside the music, what else does loopy offer?

Almost every experience related to music.  for example, hundreds of new release and second hand records you can try, brand-related products for sale and relaxed atmosphere that you can enjoy conversation with everyone. Also Spanish tapas and alcohol are indispensable.

If someone wants to play at your new venue, how do they do this?

Better come over and check the venue. Experience it and have a cup of tea.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Wechat: loopylive Weibo: @loopy

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/loopyliveHZ/

Instagram: loopy_live

enquiry and reservation: info@loopy.live, 

phone: +86 156 5801 8959 / 186 5718 8959

Address: 313, 77 Zhongshan South Road, Hangzhou