February 24, 2010

Indie Asia with the Handsome Furs

» Handsome Furs – I’m Confused (3:36) – 4.6MB mp3 @ 178kbps


Handsome Furs are a Montreal indie rock duo who draw musical inspiration from their travels—Russia and Scandinavia for last year’s Face Control and their 2007 debut Plague Park, respectively. For anyone who is familiar with Dan Boeckner’s songwriting/guitar work for Wolf Parade, it should come as no surprise that the synthesis of his trademark punk riffage/yelping and his wife Alexei Perry’s keyboards/electronics over sequenced beats yields jittery indie pop.

The Furs’ second album was good enough to merit CNN’s blessing for an Asian tour last fall, flip-cameras in tow, including a handful of shows in China about a month and a half before I landed in Beijing. Their mission: to create authentic travel content for the Cable News Network.


Of course, it seems like a bit of a stretch for CNN to co-opt the indie cred of the relatively obscure Canadian duo, but Sub Pop pulled it off and I, for one, appreciate the production value: flip-vid footage, when edited properly, can pass for decent amateur cultural interest content. Indeed, each webisode consists of vicarious sightseeing excursions with the Handsome Furs.

Although the winsome pair invariably see Beijing through the eyes of tourists, Dan and Alexei still manage to come off as rather genuine when, for example, they rep Double Happiness (my cigarettes of choice). Similarly, brief clips of a gig at D-22 and a brief cameo by Nathaniel of Splitworks (who I had the pleasure of meeting towards the end of my stay) elicit a distinct personal resonance that, at the risk of sounding completely cliché, really brings me back.


Unfortunately, the videos are not embeddable—apparently CNN doesn’t care for free publicity—so you’ll have to go to the microsite at CNN.com/IndieAsia to watch the videos… and, of course, comment on them.

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December 4, 2009

Erase Errata


I retract my initial characterization of D-22: it could pass for a “Lower East Side hotspot.” It turns out that my previous warehouse-turned-clubhouse description is far more appropriate for neighboring metal venue 13 Club, with its spacious main floor, multiple side rooms and pentagonal windows. I stopped by 13 Club last Saturday for the first (and possibly last) time before heading over to a show (pictured below) at D-22, and I must say that my musical allegiance lies squarely with the latter venue. [Footnote: D-22's address is listed as 242 Chengfu Road and 13 Club is supposedly at 161 Chengfu Road, yet in reality they're two doors down from each other, a perfect example of the irrational street numbering here.]

Also, Weezer’s “In the Garage” is probably a more accurate description of this DIY practice space. I might have to go with Carsick Cars’ 中南海 as the D-22 theme song (more on this in a future post).

But hopefully, I wasn’t too far off the mark… and I have pictures now, to prove that it actually exists (as opposed to just being on other blogs.)

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November 25, 2009

Beijing Electro City

Well that didn’t take long.

I found the new Chinese sound…

…or at least a sound that I was new to me, by way of a Chinese artist.

But first the requisite tedium of time, place, overanalysis and a dozen other tangents:

After catching La Loupe last Thursday, I opted not to see Au Revoir Simone or Rahzel (playing separate concerts—Chinese people are crazy but they’re not that crazy) and take it easy on Friday because 1.) the shows were relatively expensive—150RMB [$22] and 100RMB [$15]) respectively, which sounds cheap but taking drinks and cab fare into account, would have made a relatively expensive night out; 2.) I was afraid I would go through another pack of smokes (a health concern, not a financial one; more on this shortly); and 3.) I was saving my energy, money and health for Saturday’s cryptically-titled “Great Beer, Bad City” concert, showcasing China’s finest electronic music talent, at 2 Kolegas, “Beijing’s Hottest Dive Bar & Live Music Venue” (according to their website).


You'll have to excuse the poor quality of my photos; low light, strobes, movement, inebriation and ineptitude are to blame.

You'll have to excuse the poor quality of my photos; low light, strobes, movement, inebriation and ineptitude are to blame.

Like D-22, 2 Kolegas has established itself as a legit venue since its founding by two expats a few years back, attracting indie acts from near and far (I regret missing YACHT’s Halloween show there). Also like D-22, it happens to be off the beaten path, but (unlike D-22) this does not work in my favor: 2 Kolegas is a 15 km / 25 minute / 45RMB taxi-ride away, in the northeastern reaches of Beijing… in the parking lot of a sketchy drive-in movie theater that I might have mistook for a carnival (further explanation is clearly necessary, but will not be provided.) As with most places I’ve tried to find in Beijing, I found it on the second try, after a 15-minute detour down a shady side street lined with empty cabs—I had hoped they were ferrying passengers to nightlife off the main road, but this was not the case.

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November 21, 2009

Beijing Rock City

or, Music Teaches Me How to Live My Life

One of my primary concerns about leaving Brooklyn, indie rock epicenter of the world, for the relatively conservative environs of Beijing was that I would be subjecting myself to the padded walls of my existing mp3 collection while the Western world partook in the likes of new Jay-Z remixes, Lil Wayne mixtapes, Yeasayer singles, etc., etc. This, clearly, has not been the case: while Piratebay, Blogspot and WordPress are strictly off-limits, any number of other services can more or less fill this void with the mellifluous sounds of The xx and Au Revoir Simone. (I even picked up Chinese copies of the new Basement Jaxx and Calvin Harris albums at a record store.)


P.K.14 by Matthew Niederhauser via NY Times; click to see the whole slideshow.

About three weeks ago, an errant search on Hype Machine led to a fateful click on a link to the subtly-named blog “Fuck Bad Music”. I didn’t find the track I was looking for, but I did discover that one of FBM’s contributors, as far as I can tell, shares my situation: an American (from Portland, OR) who recently landed in Beijing. In her quest to conquer the Beijing rock scene, she finds her way to its latest, greatest outpost: D-22. The name was somewhat familiar from nightlife listings, but I finally got around to checking it out only after reading her review.

While Angel takes comfort in the familiarity of the small-ish venue, I am at a loss for an analog in New York: D-22 is slightly too big to fit the bill as a Lower East Side hotspot and slightly too nice—in that tacky Chinese way—to come off as a word-of-mouth Brooklyn ‘space’. To be fair, D-22 could definitely pass for an East Atlanta haunt: the venue attracts a regular (if somewhat scant) mix of bona fide Beijing hipsters, Azn bros, fangirls and a fair proportion of curious expats, despite (or due to?) the fact that the unassuming storefront is tucked away in a strip mall several miles from the city center.

As for the music itself, Chinese rock music is highly (and inevitably) derivative of Western rock music. Still, increasing recognition has substantiated the emergence of a Chinese sound. I had actually downloaded a couple of Hang On The Box and P.K.14 albums a few years back, when I first heard that the Chinese had taken to rock ‘n’ roll, but (if you’ll excuse the forthcoming pretension), as an amateur anthropologist, I believe in collecting ethnographic data before passing judgment—in other words, actually experiencing the subculture.

Matthew Niederhauser again; I will echo Angel's praise for his work.

Matthew Niederhauser again; I will echo Angel's praise for his work.

An initial survey of D-22 suggested that the nascent scene might better be described as pubescent, given the prevalent 90′s alt-rock influence. Any given song might—at best—sound like the band had just discovered Weezer; uninspired Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots or Red Hot Chili Peppers imitations were more common. In retrospect, this was actually a good sign, as it suggested that every subgenre of guitar-based music might see some play in Beijing.

Indeed, subsequent visits have attested the breadth of the Beijing’s punk rock underbelly, and I must admit, to Angel’s point, that I’m about ready to call D-22 home. (Almost literally: the venue happens to be just under a kilometer from where I’m staying. At an average of 30RMB [$4.50] per show, I really have no excuse not to become a fixture at the end of D-22′s bar.)

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