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5 Beijing bands you may not know now, but will soon
Under-the-radar Beijing bands that are reinvigorating Chinese rock
Editor's note:This article was inspired by CNNGo TV's exploration of Beijing. Watch the show on the CNN TV channel -- international air times can be found here. All related articles can be seen below.
Anyone who follows Chinese rock has probably heard some of the bigger names in the Beijing scene -- P.K. 14, ReTROS, Hedgehog, Carsick Cars. But in the shadows of these indie giants, scores of other bands have been quietly fertilizing.
In the last couple years, a diverse crop of these talents has pushed above the soil, demanding attention with their insistent, brash reinventions of underground music.
Though not all of these bands are young -- some are older artists whose years of work have bloomed into sharp, nuanced maturity -- they share an intensity that belies their stylistic differences.
Here, in no particular order, are five bands, flying just under the national radar, whose sound and energy are reinvigorating Chinese rock.
Once denigrated as “Carsick Cars Jr.,” Birdstriking have come into their own over this past year, with a unique brand of art rock that combines the stripped-down energy of punk with the ethereal precision of nose-diving hawks.
Sounds strange? It makes sense when you see the performance of vocalist/guitarist He Fan, whose quaking fits and banshee screams drive the “loud” part of the band’s loud-soft-loud songs.
But despite their more abrasive moments, Birdstriking have honed their sound into energetic, and fairly straightforward, brand of rock -- which they recently channeled into the recording of their first record for Maybe Mars, under the direction of PK14’s Yang Haisong.
Upcoming gigs: June 10 at Yugong Yishan with Rustic; July 19 at D-22
Who will inherit the indie-pop crown now that Hedgehog have abdicated with their latest mix of rueful ballads and wild noise dirges?
The best candidates by far are Mr. Graceless, a fresh-faced trio of college students who emerged from a pool of university bands last year with a growing collection of cheerful, round-edged indie-pop songs.
With their mellow, stuffed-nose British vocals and slightest edge of experimental dissonance, Mr. Graceless recall 1980s Manchester, if you replaced all that post-punker angst with a kind of quirky, self-effacing cheer.
The band is in the middle of recording their first record, which they say will be out by October.
Upcoming gigs: Look for them to tour China by the end of the year.
The Offset: Spectacles
Though they’re relatively new to Beijing, the Offset: Spectacles set themselves apart from the beginning with their subdued, brainy experimentalism and aloof Hong Kong mystique.
With two guitars, a bass, and no drums, the Offsets create propulsive, lo-fi rock that invokes the spirit of 1970s underground art rock and proto-punk.
Their sets are raw and electric but controlled, with the two guitarists hammering their interlocking, rapid-strum riffs into shimmering bands of tension that crescendo into waves of pitch-perfect fuzz.
Though they don’t perform very often, the trio keeps busy releasing experimental music on their homegrown label, Rose Mansion analog, and are working on an upcoming album.
Formerly known as Maze (迷宫), Glow Curve hold the singular honor of being one of China’s best post-rock acts.
In contrast to many of Beijing’s slicker, more stylish bands, Glow Curve boast a scrappy, DIY background --the young quartet emerged from the experimental art collective No Jiji, and over the past couple of years have slowly gained traction on the Beijing circuit with their tight musicianship and rapturous, cinematic rock symphonies.
Avoiding the formless drone of less talented post-rock bands, Glow Curve construct complex, hypnotically intense songs that sparkle with pointillistic interplay.
According to frontman Xue Ran, the band recently recorded their first album, which they are releasing themselves, through No Jiji Records.
Upcoming gigs: June 12 at Yugong Yishan with Envy, June 18 at D-22, August 25 at Qi Livehouse in Zhengzhou, August 26 at Aperture Club in Xi'an, August 27 in Kui Livehouse in Lanzhou, August 30 in Tianshui in Gansu, September 2 in Little Bar in Chengdu, September 3 in Nuts Club in Chongqing, September 4 in Guiyang, September 8 in Guilin, September 9 in Changsha, September 10 in Vox in Wuhan, September 11 in Guangzhou, TBA, September 15 in Ningbo, September 16 in Hangzhou, September 17 in Yuyintang in Shanghai, September 18 in Nanjing
Streets Kill Strange Animals
Originally from Nanjing, the inimitably named Streets Kill Strange Animals found a home in Beijing’s experimental scene two years ago with their angular, discordant melodies and noisy experimentalism.
But in contrast to some of their more free-form peers, Streets avoid saturating listeners with noisy feedback, instead plucking out real melodies and maintaining a controlled starkness that recalls late-1980s/early 1990s math-rock bands.
This is only the latest vehicle for vocalist and guitarist Leng Mei, who continues to collaborate with other experimental musicians, and says the band will release their first album some time this fall.