20 tracks for free + a beautiful Beijing commute + a bit of Blue Note history
+ one of the most anticipated albums of the year
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In this edition: a bargainous compilation, a trance-inducing trip across the Chinese capital, and a song for every 70+ years of the PRC.
Also, a quick reminder that this Friday is Bandcamp Friday. I try and use Bandcamp embeds and links here as much as possible as for now they seem to be the platform that gives artists the best deal (please let me know if this isn’t the case). On Bandcamp Fridays that deal is even better as the platform waives their share of revenue, meaning more money goes to the artists and labels. Please consider supporting the artists below by buying their music.
Stay gold: Sleeping Dogs tease new LP
One of China’s best bands right now, Sleeping Dogs, released two new tracks last Friday. The Beijing-based group, whose line-up features former Chui Wan members Liu Xinyu and Li Zichao, “are influenced by different kinds of groove-oriented music, and try to blend them into a new instrumental form,” to use their own words. The results are excellent. Think: funk, jazz, Tony Allen-inspired percussion and licks of Tommy Guerrero-like guitar.
The two new tracks are taken from the band’s debut album, Blunt Razor, which is due out some time later this month (it’s Fela Kuti’s birthday on October 15th, which could be an interesting date for them to aim for, but no idea if that’s what they’re thinking). The pair of songs dropped the day before a week-long national break in China and I imagine they immediately put a lot of people into holiday mode.
There’s an intricacy to Sleeping Dogs’ musicianship, but a beautiful simplicity to their energy, their vibe. These are musicians who have largely done the experimental and challenging art thing and are now happily focused on making music that just makes you feel good. And that’s exactly what you get with this pair of new tracks, ‘Golden Tree’ and ‘Agora Bar’ (named after a drinking establishment and live music venue in the heart of Beijing).
So where are the embeds? Well, neither song is available on Bandcamp or the like just yet, but you can find them on Tencent Music and NetEase if you have those services. I’ll drop a link on Twitter when the full album is available on international platforms and probably mention it in this newsletter again as well. In the meantime, check out Sleeping Dogs’ Space Puppy EP and the Afrobeat-inspired Pinang Tunes for a taste of what’s to come.
And speaking of bands exploring groove- and funk-infused guitar music on the Space Fruity label, don’t sleep on Pu Poo Platter, “a Chinese instrumental group formed in Brooklyn”. They recently put out their debut EP:
Electronic label Shanshui turns 20
Back in the mid-’00s, the Shanshui label helped give a sense of collective identity to a group of electronic artists in China who were actively exploring downtempo, breakcore, IDM, lo-fi electronica, techno and more. Producers such as B6, Dead J (aka SHAO), Covox, COM.A, and ME:MO.
Maybe that’s a lot of obscure genre tags and unfamiliar names, but essentially they were making interesting electronic music at a time when there wasn’t a huge amount of it about in China.
These days, Shanshui is largely an outlet for founder Sun Dawei’s various projects (under his own name, as Sulumi and as CTAFAD). But a little while ago the label’s Bandcamp page sprang back into life with the addition of a range of old releases and it seems like it was in preparation for this: a 20-track 20th anniversary compilation that incredibly is pay what you want.
Twenty tracks for whatever money you’re willing to send them. Or for nothing if you really want to go that way. Given the quality of the productions included, it’s an incredible bargain. Go give it a listen at least.
And if you enjoy Sun Dawei’s Chinese traditional instrument-studded ambient piece on this compilation, then you’re in luck: he’s gone on a releasing spree recently with a slew of (beautifully designed) records. He’s also not done yet — new LP 後 Hòu is out on bié next month.
Hugjiltu finds beauty in a Beijing commute
Hugjiltu made his name as part of stomp-along Inner Mongolian act Hanggai before further helping define the traditional Mongolian music-meets-rock ’n’ roll landscape through Ajinai. With GAAL, he delved into more psychedelic textures, creating music that felt suited to lying on the grasslands and gazing up at the stars.
Solo album Cycle — originally recorded in 2020 and recently given a cassette release by London label Dusty Ballz — is also about a feeling of space, but in quite a different way: the songs track Hugjiltu’s regular commute across Beijing, beginning at ‘Mount Elephant’ and ending at ‘Second Ring Road’. Yet while that may conjure up images of traffic jams and inconvenient metro interchanges, Hugjiltu turns the journey into something beautiful — as with GAAL, he creates music that is calming, rhythmic and at times almost hypnotic. Field recordings, reverb-soaked vocals and the low rumble of throat-singing blend with gently rising horsehead fiddle, lute and guitar parts; glittering synths and floating tsuur (Mongolian end-blown flute) melodies also appear throughout the almost entirely improvised album.
Cycle may be about a journey, but as the name suggests, “the album does not give only a one-way ticket.” Instead, as the description on Bandcamp notes, “The two sides of the tape are designed to play recurrently as the traveller shifts between the metropolis and the mountainside, and between a meditative subject who gazes internally and an unreserved spirit who reaches out to the wide social world.”
Picking your way across the Chinese capital has rarely sounded so alluring.
Jun Xiao makes Blue Note history with Atypical Airship
According to a post on his Weibo, guitarist Jun Xiao became the first Chinese artist to release a solo album on the legendary Blue Note Records with his LP Atypical Airship, which came out a couple of weeks ago (coincidentally on John Coltrane’s birthday).
As you’d expect from a release on a label famous for records by Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, Atypical Airship is primarily a jazz album — it’s largely centered on the interplay between some free-flowing piano and guitar solos — but there are some interesting departures. After the emo-ish opener ‘Drown Into the Deep Down’ (featuring Re-TROS’s Hua Dong), there’s ‘Surfing Rock,’ which as the name suggests transforms into an out-and-out rock track, and the trip hop-tinged ‘Somberton’, where vocals come courtesy of Leah Dou (who I believe I’m legally obliged to mention is Faye Wong’s daughter).
Proof that Chinese jazz isn’t dead... up to you whether you think the second half of the Zappa quote applies.
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October 1st was National Day here in China, marking the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. That gives me an excuse to point you toward Krish Raghav’s incredible list of songs for every year of the PRC, “an attempt to distill the many diverse, fascinating currents of music in mainland China over the last 70 years into a primer, an invitation to dig deeper.”
It starts with ‘March of the Volunteers’ and runs via revolutionary ballet pieces, Jean-Michel Jarre, WHAM! and Cui Jian to end on Chui Wan and Hualun.
Here’s the playlist (which goes up to 2020):
Wrapping up this issue with ‘Autumn Tiger’, a brilliantly soothing, sultry slice of chilled out hip hop from rapper tingting and producer Sdewdent released on Eating Music around this time last year. It’s named after the last burst of hot weather in autumn before the winter truly kicks in…
And on the seasonal theme, here’s a calming new vocoder-led track from synth master Meng Qi, which was made for the Beijing autumn:
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