Location: 北京 Beijing, 中国 China
艺术品 Artwork by Nini Sum @ Idlebeats
Mr Graceless are a 3-piece indie rock band formed in 2009, with members hailing from all over China and now based in Beijing. Zhang QiuShuang (guitar and vocals) is from Sichuan, YuanShuai (usually on bass) from Shaanxi and Zhao JiuLong (drums) from Beijing. The band recently released their debut album ‘The Tree Ever Green’ and we caught up with them for a special version of “Throw That Block”, off the new album.
The Mr Graceless manager, TR—who incidentally took his name from the logo on his PC a decade or so ago—called us late last year and suggested a day on the ice. It was early December though and the lake hadn’t yet frozen over. “It usually freezes the week after Christmas,” TR explained. “Let’s catch-up then”.
So for a few weeks, we watched the weather reports religiously and probed friends who’d visited the popular bar area surrounding the lake. Finally, we received word that the lake had frozen over and the ice was teeming with ice chairs, ice bikes and people stumbling around on skates, like newborn foals. The Houhai lake, it seems, is where Beijingers go to play in the bitter, winter months.
When the time came, we opted for the serenity of the less popular side of the lake, called Xihai. It was after midday on Saturday, but deathly quiet and wind carried sounds that I’d never noticed in Beijing before , particularly the haunting sirens from a kit of homing pigeons circling above, like squadron of WWII fighters.
We noticed the modest band of three trudging across the outskirts of the lake, lead by YuanShuai (guitar and vocals) in his indie-hunter stylings, complete with Ushanka hat. The camera caught him by surprise…”I’m shy,” he chuckled nervously, while Zhao JiuLong (drums) and Zhang QiuShuang (rhythm guitar and vocals) attempted to warm up with what looked like an improvised 80s-style aerobics routine. Together members of Mr Graceless, have a boyish charm that infects you before they even begin playing.
Here, their song, “Throw That Block” is mixed with the ambiance of lovers learning to skate, hockey players passing their puck, and old Olympic speed skating hopefuls weaving through the stray toddlers. Though the band sight influences like The Beatles, Stone Roses and The Strokes, we can’t help but hear a touch of Kurt Cobain in the contrast between the sweet acoustic riffs and abrasive chorus. That is to say, we love it.
If you’re in China, make sure you catch Mr Graceless on their national tour happening right now. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of their new album, ‘The Tree Ever Green’.
艺术品 Artwork by Nini Sum @ Idlebeats.com
Skip Skip Benben are a patchwork of different bands and different genres, with Monkey (猴子) on drums, Steven Zhou (周乃仁) from Birdstriking and ½ Heavy Korean on Bass and Benben (斑班 ) from Freckles, Boyz & Girl and Carsick Cars on guitar and vocals. Our meeting with the band was preceded by weeks of anticipation, for a lot of which we didn’t even know the name of this brilliant new[ish] Beijing act.
Back on the 18th October 2011, we walked into a surprise show from Beijing indie stalwarts P.K.14, at D-22 in Beijing’s university district. Shortly after arriving, our friend Josh of China music and culture blog, pangbianr slid out from behind the bar to say hello. In passing, he mentioned that he knew a Taiwanese folk singer called Benben that he wanted to introduce us to later that evening, “I think she’d be great for your DaBaoGe project,” he said.
In the haze of the beer, smoke and distorted guitars, it was another two visits in as many weeks, to the now defunct D-22 venue, before we pieced together the story behind Skip Skip Benben: an appealing blend of alt-folk, psychedelic indie rock and down-tempo, tropicana grooves. Off-stage, Benben is intensely shy and we tried, in vain to convince her to venture outside the crocheted-kitch security of her nostalgically decorated apartment. We could hardly blame her though; it was easily one of the coldest days we’d seen in 2011.
One song. One take. Skip-skip done, done. We reviewed the sound and it was…magical. In fact, we’ve had the audio take from this recording looping over and over in our music library, listening to it every day since that frigid morning in December. We hope you enjoy it too.
Check out more knick-knacks from the band on their blog.
If you're in Beijing or Shanghai, you can catch them live at one of their upcoming shows:
25th Feb in Beijing with The Pains Of Being Pure Heart @ 愚公移山 (Yu Gong Yi Shan)
8th Mar in Shanghai with Next Year's Love @ 育音堂 (Yuyintang)
Another shoot beginning on a sharp Winter morning in Beijing, this time at 7am. The practice space leased by Residence A is well past the 5th ring road, in a district called Tongzhou, which only just scrapes into the capital’s city limits. With a little bit of imagination, the pokey enclosure becomes a safari hut, retrofitted to the baron rooftop plains of a semi-abandoned commercial building.
It’s dark inside the tiny room. We could be camping in the middle of the countryside under the fluorescent light of a rectangular moon. The warm glow of the fire emanates from the center of the room as Zhaozhao strums his acoustic guitar, supported by his band of brothers Xiao Bing and Chen Shao, as he wails into the darkness. Panning around the camp circle, the familiar patterns of wildlife reveal themselves, then retreat again and the song loops over and over like a campfire favourite.
We’ll be watching with interest as this very young Beijing outfit becomes a fixture of the city’s prolific independent music scene. Stay tuned to their douban page for new tracks from their debut album.
Location: 北京 Beijing, 中国China
Artwork by Nini Sum @ Idlebeats
I noticed Lucifer before I came to know him. His audible confidence and familiarity with the D-22 bar staff brushed my ears and turned my head. His unconventional, boyish charisma was perfectly paired with a blunt fringe, full length army green over-coat, leather boots and a flash of red trim that my memory can't place. We were both there to see Wuhan's infectious post-punk outfit Mini Train Heart. The fleeting non-encounter was interrupted by the squelchy synth drums of the next song on the set list and we drifted out of sight amidst the noise and thick plumes of tabacco.
Later that week we spoke on the phone and I inquired whether Lucifer's Rustic band mates would be joining us. "It will be just me", he said, "I want to play you a song called Dong Cheng. The lyrics are really interesting."
It was a very brisk Saturday afternoon when we met Luficer and his French co-star, Audrey—founder of a brilliant art zine called Laji—on Gu Lou Dong Da Jie. We follow Audrey and her peacock colored, vintage style Chinese cruiser along the sidewalk to see a small crowd gathering as Lucifer tuned-up.
We recorded in the song's eponymous Beijing district, on a small laneway, splashed with an even smaller pool of soft, golden afternoon sun, outside our favorite whisky bar, Amilal. With the icy wind, whipping through the laneway, it must have felt like strumming a cheese grater. Seeking shelter and a second track, we boarded one of the crowded public buses streaming down Gu Lou, which is where we pick-up the story in the video above. What resulted, was a sweet pop song that had Lucifer turning on the charm, melting the hearts of old ladies, and displaying exceptional balance, with a driver who seemed only to trust the full application of either brake or accelerator.
The innocence and simple pleasure of the song was reflected in the smiles of the women on that bus, starring through the sound as if reminded of the days when a similarly handsome young man may have sung it to them.
Email us or hit us up on Weibo if you'd like the private link to the "Dong Cheng" film.
"At least Beijing's horrible pollution is good for something," a friend said, when commenting on the dreamy hues bouncing between Shouwang's face, his guitar and the surrounding apartment complexes. From Shouwang's 23rd floor rooftop, the toxic dust and the cold, distressed textures of the city become beautiful. In this way at least, this shoot was like walking amongst the ancient Greek sirens: an island meadow, "starred with flowers" with a suave gentleman perched in place of the myth's treacherous winged maidens, at home among the clouds. It's a wintery melody, performed in the dusk of Beijing's warmth, that not only awed us with a likeness to the moment and place, but beckoned us closer and closer to the island's edge, leaning out, desperate to bring a piece of this fable home.
In the end, an Australian native Cockatoo can be heard screeching through the chords. This lone bird, pacing along the upper most ledge was a beautiful twist of circumstance in our documentary and a the perfect segue into Shouwang's first Australian tour later this month, with the Carsick Cars.
We also captured, Shouwang communicating with the mysterious cockatoo and an amazing version of Shouwang's single "Invisible Love" in second, unreleased video. If you want to see it, send us an email (blog at dabaoge.net) or a Weibo (weibo.com/dabaogeshows) and we'll send you the private link.