By Declan Fry
Over the holidays, and during the first week of semester, I had the chance to check out a couple of shows.
Here’s what went down.
China Meets Melbourne/中国来到墨尔本
On Wednesday of the last holiday week I saw White+, Birdstriking and Carsick Cars at Collingwood’s The Tote. They belong to one of China’s major indie labels, Maybe Mars, and came to Melbourne and Sydney thanks to Julian Wu and Maybe Mars foreign distributor Ricky Mayami, who runs an awesome webpage that’s always busy proselytising for Chinese music overseas. Ricky is also the guitarist for Brian Jonestown Massacre and one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
White+ make big, beat and electro-swirl driven soundscapes that are just crying out for someone to lay down some bars over them:
They’re probably one of my favourite current bands in China.
Birdstriking are a bunch of really nice dudes who I was able to hang out and chat with. They’re playful and hooky, but also wildly experimental at times. Their 2012 self-titled debut was reissued by Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre in 2015 following China’s Central Propaganda Department restricting its distribution, thanks in large part to the track Monkey Snake (“You have the lies, the media/It doesn’t mean you can transform my mind”). They just released the record on vinyl and I was lucky enough to get them not only to sign but to lay down some artwork as well.
Carsick Cars are probably the most well-known Chinese indie band in the West, thanks in no small part to their supporting Sonic Youth on a European tour. To be honest, they’re not my favourite contemporary rock band in China. Their first release does contain some totally awesome tracks, like 广场 (The Square), 蘑菇 (Mushrooms), and 棒子 (Stick), but their following releases have been wildly inconsistent and feel relatively listless, hampered by a lack of musical and lyrical direction.
As part of the Maybe Mars Australian visit, the label also hosted an art exhibition from Chairman Ca at The Old Bar in Carlton. Chairman Ca (pronounced sah) has been redefining the visual identity of Beijing’s underground rock scene for the past decade. His work is iconic, having produced many classic posters of the scenes most notable artists and venues. Chairman Ca is also the founding member of China’s Cult Youth Comics who’ve published several volumes of collections of Chinese comic art.
LA Meets Melbourne
On the Friday before university resumed I caught a show at Boney in the CBD that saw Illegal Civilization, an LA skate crew who produce videos and clothes, drop in to the city. They were over thanks to Thank Guard, a very awesome local label who are helping promote soulful, vibey hip hop.
Thank Guard’s approach is kind of reminiscent of the ‘Native Tongues’ movement/collective that artists like Queen Latifah, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were part of. As their website describes it:
Each time a teenager chooses Afrocentric/sun-drenched jizz-jazz over trap bangers, an artist like Marco McKinnis, Carmani, Hope Tala or even our own Baro is one step closer to making a global impact with their music.
And what’s not to love? Mainstream rap is often culturally genius, but the genre moves pretty slow: repetitive bragging, male insecurity, meaningless violence and certain flows have been resold for 20+ years now.
There’s no doubt, Illegal Civ have helped nourish a growing urban alternative. Right now, they are probably the biggest platform in the world repping this niche. Wouldn’t be surprised if a Kanye-level star drops something influenced by this tip in the near future.
As someone who finds trap pretty interesting in and of itself (just check out the trap influenced jazz of Christian Scott), but who also feels underwhelmed by a lot of the popular and critically-acclaimed representatives of the genre (isn’t rhyming in triplets about insecurity as endless consumerist conquest kind of tiresome? How many bars of chicken-blue-cheese /choppers-jacu-zzis/they-see me-rockin/real-Rolex-watches can you take? And that’s just me coming straight off the dome…
But back to the night: Performers like Ojikae are developing their stage presence but on record are already remarkably fully formed: just check out the track Existentiality.
Nasty Mars are serious fun onstage, mixing cool grooves with soulful vocals and even being brave enough to channel D’Angelo at one point, the singer taking off his shirt to sing ‘How Do You Feel?’.
And Baro…Baro I just can’t get enough of. At the end of the night I happened to pass him outside and told him ‘hey man, nice set’, because it really was. There’s something genuinely new and striking about his instrumentation, which feels rickety and woozy yet also soulful and romantic. He’s also equally good both as a singer who can deliver pop melodies and a rapper who can make the house jump.
Melbourne Meets Everyone
Neil Morris, a Yorta Yorta man, opened the night with an acknowledgment of country. We had a chat and shared some food later on in the night, and I have to say he’s a very cool guy.
Soreti was both the MC for the night and delivered some bars of her own.
SoulE also performed on the night, and although unfortunately I don’t have any video of him, I can attest to the fact his set was excellent.
Sophie Grophy is ridiculously charming and a great performer: she had presence on stage and chops aplenty. Plus REMI was going absolutely crazy on the decks during her set. If you wanna check out her stuff, well, apart from her many great songs below, I’d also recommend her youtube account, which includes a Rivers Cuomo-esque opening up about the development of her songwriting that’s just too cool.
The highlight of the night for me was perhaps Lady Lash: she demonstrated some serious melodic chops on tracks like ‘Family’, a great ear for scatting, and an ability to connect the act of writing with her performance, including stepping out into the audience during her final song.
REMI delivered like an absolute pro, clearly strong in his stage presence and full of the swagger and confidence that mark his rhymes (and Sensible J’s beats!). His last album, Divas and Demons, was really compelling, in part because it combines that swagger with an insecurity that gives his music so much of its drive and personality: a sense of turbulence and anxiety that often permeates his flow, lyrics and instrumentation.
The night ended with open mic freestyling. One guy in particular really stood out; so much so that, after he’d finished his 16 bars and was about to leave the stage, REMI’s producer, Sensible J, asked him to stay on and keep rapping.
Bringing It All Back Home
By way of conclusion, I’m gonna have to do a shout out to a nice thing that happened on a tram the week after university resumed: I was wearing a Kendrick Lamar T-shirt, and a duo from LA, rapper 1000 and beatmaker Chapter 3, happened to strike up a conversation and ended up giving me their CD.
Small world: it turned out that we had both been at the Boney gig.
Standout tracks for me on the CD, entitled Buying Wolf Tickets, are probably Brown Boy, with its sweet combo of thick fuzz bass and loping xylophone, and the track So Ruff, which features shimmering synth and vocal loops over the verses, plus some sweet P-funk bubble bass running all over the track. You can check him rapper 1000 here and his producer, Chapter 3, here.
You can follow Declan on twitter as @DeclanFry1 at https://twitter.com/DeclanFry1