Beijing punk + Mongolian metal + Hokkien leisure music
+ Maybe Mars' big birthday bash gets kiboshed
Welcome back to Concrete Avalanche, a Substack about music from China.
This time around: Beijing punk darlings,
a big birthday party, a glimpse inside the mind of Bloodz Boi, and metal music with lyrics by Demogorgon.
As ever, thank you for reading. Please consider taking a moment to share this newsletter if you feel so inclined.
Beloved Beijing punks Xiao Wang unleash their debut album
“I don’t believe there’s nothing we can do. There’s a lot we can do if we just take a little risk and start with ourselves.” This is the quote accompanying the debut album from darlings of the Beijing live scene Xiao Wang, who are after five years together have finally put their powerful songs on record. Echoing that quote and in true DIY style, the album has been released independently, with a little help from a crowdfunding campaign.
The album was recorded earlier this year at Gebi, an excellent gig venue and studio occupying the site of a former temple on the outskirts of Yiwu — and a place that has form in capturing the live energy of bands on record. Kachakacha sees live favourites such as ‘Sonicbaby’, ‘Stasii’ and ‘Sleep’ given a bit of studio polish, but not so much that they lose their raw edge.
The band say they hope their songs “convey power to ordinary people living in turbulent life through their voices” and there are certainly moments where the album feels like a release of frustration. Staying true to their kawaiicore sound however, Xiao Wang offset the metal-like roars with some cute segues, and the upbeat energy that flows through the record makes it a fun listen.
For now at least, you’ll have to dive into NetEase to listen to the album. Hopefully it’ll be available on international platforms soon. If you can’t access NetEase, check out the band’s YouTube channel (which is where the above embeds come from) and their Bandcamp, which has a handful of early / live recordings. You can also find two Xiao Wang songs on the School Bar 10th anniversary compilation on iTunes / Apple Music here.
Pioneering label Maybe Mars (belatedly) marks its 15th anniversary
Or at least, they were due to. The day before this newsletter was set to go out, Maybe Mars announced that they had had to cancel their birthday gigs. Again. Here’s what I’d already written anyway:
This weekend, Maybe Mars are celebrating their 15th birthday in Xi’an. Over two nights, the Beijing-based label is putting on ten bands, including Carsick Cars, Hiperson, Birdstriking, Backspace, and Lonely Leary. That is, assuming this month’s shows can avoid the Covid complications that led to the original dates in October being canned with just a few days’ notice. Maybe Mars have also apparently put together a digital-only compilation to celebrate their anniversary — a collection of “unpopular tracks,” it was half-jokingly framed as to me, “to let people discover those hidden gems.”
There’s a lot, lot more to the Chinese music scene than just one label of course, but the Michael Pettis-founded imprint has had a major influence on bringing alternative Chinese music to ears around the world, particularly in Europe and the US. And the bands who have featured on their roster have played a big part in laying the foundations for the scene that exists today.
Revisiting their back catalogue is a reminder of just how strong their run was in those first few years. The label is still going of course — just last week they released a new, very Maybe Mars-y album of post-punk — but things inevitably feel quite different now to when they first launched amid the wave of optimism and excitement that surrounded the Chinese rock “underground” in the late ’00s (a wave they helped generate).
Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Maybe Mars’ discography, there’s a lot of great stuff to dig into. I’d suggest starting with Carsick Cars’ classic album, checking out this compilation, and getting a taste of their more recent output with Hiperson’s outstanding Bildungsroman.
Otherwise, as I’m not sure when that promised “hidden gems” compilation from the label will drop, indulge me in sharing a few of my personal favourites from Maybe Mars’ early years that haven’t always gotten as much attention as the above.
One of those songs that became so well-loved the band got tired of it and stopped playing it for a while, ‘Circle’ still sounds fantastic nearly 15 years on.
This was kind of a weird release if I remember it right: Muscle Snog had basically ceased to exist by the time this came out, but thank goodness Maybe Mars managed to convince them to put these songs down properly before they disappeared — this track and ‘Kill Me in a Dirty Nation’ are especially good. Muscle Snog may have only lasted a few years, but frontman Mai Mai continues to put out interesting experimental guitar releases and bassist 33 went on to form Boojii and Duck Fight Goose and become a rightly celebrated electronic producer as 33EMYBW.
His folk-rock band Low Wormwood continue to garner plenty of acclaim, but this solo effort from Liu Kun remains relatively under-appreciated. Stripped back songs are given some added texture thanks to the involvement of brilliant folk oddity Xiao He.
I first saw 24 Hours play live on top of the “lighthouse” (ahem, it’s actually an old signal tower) on The Bund in Shanghai as part of a showcase of new Xi’an bands. The infectious garagey guitar music and upbeat performance that made them a crowd favourite that night was largely captured on record for their No Party People album. They were also one of the bands to work with Martin Atkins, when Maybe Mars put the PiL and Nine Inch Nails man into the studio with a series of Chinese acts.
Nanjing noise-rock outfit 8 Eye Spy were another artist to put out a record on Maybe Mars and then disband not long after, but this was an album that showed the label weren’t afraid to bring more “challenging” music to a wider audience.
Mongolian metal, but not as you know it
With its guttural sound, traditional Mongolian throat-singing feels well suited to metal music. The morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and other traditional Mongolian instrumentation have also been deftly incorporated into some strains of the genre, with Ulaanbaatar band The HU being a prominent case in point. Inner Mongolian act Nine Treasures are another (less prominent) example:
Muqali, a thrash band from Nanchang, don’t particularly care for any of that. “Far from being another trend-followers of ‘Mongolian Folk Metal’ that puts tons of traditional music passages into their music, Muqali’s punkish riffs wholeheartedly pay homage to the legends of old school black/thrash,” as the blurb from Pest Productions puts it. Muqali do draw on Mongolian culture through frontman Tergel’s “obsession with ancestral worship and Mongolian war culture” but sonically, as Pest Productions note, this is far more in line with ’90s Finnish black metal than the sort of thing stereotypically associated with the steppes.
Also recently released on Pest Productions (and also with Mongolian links), MIIIST’s Let It Ever Be Remembered… EP has the imprint calling them “one of the most exciting young acts emerging from the underground BM scene in recent years” — high praise from one of China’s most respected metal labels. The progressive black metal band, who hail from the Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, put out a three track demo EP back in 2020 and featured on Pest’s strong Death Kult Over Black Congregation III compilation earlier this year, but this is their debut proper and it’s an impressive one.
This new release updates one of those demos, extending it from 10 minutes to almost 14, and adds a similarly epic 14 minute title track alongside two shorter, introductory pieces. Those songs come with “lyrics by Demogorgon,” incidentally, one of the most followed metal commentators on Weibo.
It’s also apparently the first release from Pest Production’s US arm, which I assume means it’ll be easier to get the CD version if you live in the States? Not sure, but what is certain is that the digital edition is currently pay what you want on Bandcamp.
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Daisuke Shen has posted a wide-ranging interview with cloud rapper, NTS regular and all-round sensitive soul Bloodz Boi. As Shen says at the opening of the piece, “Bloodz Boi, while known for his ethereal, vaporous music, is first and foremost defined by his ability to love, and love deeply.”
In the interview, Bloodz Boi talks about his sleeping pill-propelled songwriting, lacking the energy to make hyperpop, outsider subcultures and lots, lots more.
Be sure to check out Bloodz Boi’s music as well. His Soundcloud, with a Mark Kozelek diss track, NTS shows and a plethora of collaborations, is a good place to start, as is his Bandcamp and / or his album with Claire Rousay and More Eaze, a crying poem, released on Orange Milk Records earlier this year.
Signing off with love.
Fuzhou “casual rock” act The 尺口MP recently reworked their 2017 EP 爱 (ai, meaning love). Dissatisfied with the “primitive” sound of the original, frontman A Xing took the latest line-up of the band back into the studio this summer, donned the same clothes he wore for the first recording of 爱, and remade the five nostalgia-laden, beach-appropriate tracks.
I never really minded the roughness of the original, but these new versions do add a slightly different, more shoegazey dimension. Anyway, as someone with personal connections to Fuzhou, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to shout out the city’s best band.
For more “Hokkien lo-fi leisure music”, as they call it, check out The 尺口MP’s debut full LP below and don’t forget that it’s Bandcamp Friday on November 4th.
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