There are only a handful of independently run music labels in China but more and more independently produced music is being released everyday, fueling a small yet burgeoning indie music scene. Holding to the spirit of truly independent music, many Chinese bands are producing truly original music and oftentimes you can hear traditional Chinese musical influences. Here are some of our favorites.
One of Hong Kong's best kept secrets, My Little Airport is an electro-noise-pop duet from Hong Kong comprised of Nicole (the unassuming and charming vocalist) and P (who plays the guitar, keyboards and writes most songs). They rarely play live but with their two albums to date they have been gaining some recognition lately, even climbing into the Hong Kong Radio charts.
Their second album becoz i was nervous at that time, off of their own Harbour Records label, is a refreshing dream-pop album about all things pubescent: Youth, growth, friendship, emotions and memories. P details relationships and his old friends on tracks like "You don't wanna be my girlfriend, Phoebe" or the waltzy "Leo, are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?" Using a small Casio keyboard, P forms a light sugary sound against grainy strummed guitar tracks while Nicole compliments with her airy playful singing (in both English and Cantonese). Textured with poppy harmonized horns and layered organ effects, they produce a full sound different than their more stripped down debut, the ok thing to do on sunday afternoon is to toddle in the zoo. Keep a lookout for the release of Zoo is sad, people are cruel on Madrid's Elefant Records, who are bringing this Chinese version of electro-pop to Europe and beyond.
Listen to their song "Nervous" (åªå› ç•¶æ™‚å¤ªç·Šå¼µ) here.
For more info, track listings and to buy the album (HK $15) visit Harbour Records.
Having gained a fan-base of near cult status people were anxious for Xiao He's (aka He Guofeng) release of A High-Flying Bird Never Falls onto a Trudging Cow's Back, a live recording. A folk-rock solo musician his music, at times, is reliant on using his guitar equally as a percussive instrument as he wails intricate rhythms and sings short concise folk songs. On this particular album much of the melody is carried out by an accordion accompanied by a hand drum and his voice swells from whispering to all out screaming. After he took a short hiatus I was lucky enough to see his return in a live performance in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, where I was blown away by the clarity and strength of his voice during a capella songs.
In what can be described as glitch-alternative rock, Lonely China Day can be compared to the likes of Radiohead with their driving rock beats and spices of electronic/synth effects. Their first release with Tag Team Records, EP (which I favor over their new album) Sorrow, is a laidback rendition of their layered vocal tracks, looped guitar rifts and experimental reversed tracks. Deng Pei (the lead singer, guitar player and songwriter) applies a slight delay effect on most of their drum work but strums clean guitars with no effects, repeating simple but catchy rifts reminiscent of Album Leaf.
Composer and vocalists Hu Zi and Wang Juan from Shanghai joined forces to form Gemini Trip. Released on Modernsky's electronic sub-label Guava, they create an original blend of ephemeral electronic music and ballads. Offering an electronic texture compatible with vocals, this down-tempo music is a raw take on the overproduced numbers. Hu Zi (who was put in a dancing art troupe at age 13 because of his AB blood type, which is thought to make good dancers) composes trip-hoppy syncopated beats while Wang Juan (originally a folk singer) tastefully lends Bjork-like vocals. As you progress through the album it evolves from synthetic beats and loops to the use of more organic sounds like animal screeches, bird cries and water drop echoes.
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A good friend took me to see the Subs live in Beijing. I'm not usually a fan of punk music but with ferocious riffs, pounding rhythms and hell-bent screaming vocals it ranks among the best live acts I've ever seen. Kang Mao (the female lead singer from Wuhan )lost her brother when the tanks rolled into Tianamen Square and she has plenty to scream about. One glimpse at a Subs concert and it became clear that Kang and her fellow band mates have extremely urgent things to say. Although I couldn't understand what they were screaming, it was so powerful that I wanted to cry. The energy was unbelievable, everyone was pogo-ing and for a minute I was transported to what the punk scene must have been like in New York back in the day.
Listen to several tracks here and check out dates for their upcoming second tour through Europe as well as regularly scheduled shows in the Beijing area.