Reel Cool #3: New York (China) Dolls

Five live tracks from two of China’s most influential indie punk acts and one incredible, ‘free folk’ act. Filmed almost exactly 12 months ago in Brooklyn’s powerHouse Arena. I love the film grading and production. Feels like it could have been filmed 30 years ago. Very special performances.

The bands in these films write the sort of music that transcends [I hate that word] culture and language. In different ways the live performances from these artists has that magic that draws you in. The artists are so consumed by their music that you are forced to mirror them. It was only when Yang Haisong lowered the mic and the closing titles appeared, that I felt my shoulders relax and began to process my thoughts on the music.

According to Shanghai’s indie music nerd Andy Best, bands like P.K.14 and Carsick Cars are now being cited as influences more often than some of the historically popular international acts, by the younger indie acts forming in China.

Maybe Mars, a musician-run label associated with Beijing underground rock club D22, were setting up a US tour with three of their best acts. I duly put the opening NYC date in my calendar – at a new venue to me The powerHouse Arena in DUMBO (for you non-New Yorkers that’s a newly upscale area underneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges on the Brooklyn side). The Arena turned out to be a huge multilevel bookstore-cum-artspace and the show, as well as the first date on the tour, to be a launch party for an exhibit of photographs of the Chinese music scene from a new book – ‘Sound Kapital: Beijing’s Music Underground’ by Matthew Niederhauser.

1. Xiao He – Untitled

Arriving late I found the place packed, but I was just able to set up in time to get Xiao He’s last tune. This piece was a lengthy improv involving electronic looping, acoustic guitar, and Mongolian style throat-singing – all to bewitching effect.

2. Carsick Cars – You Can Listen You Can Talk

Next up were the catchily named Carsick Cars, a young and winsome trio who played just three songs, opening with the liberating ‘You Can Listen You Can Talk’ and closing with – reportedly a Chinese underground anthem – Zhong Nan Hai – a silly song about a popular cigarette brand that just happens to be named after the seat of Chinese Government. The point being, as I understand it, that being punk is being beyond politics.

3. Carsick Cars – Zhong Nan Hai

4. P.K.14 – Eden

Lastly came P.K.14, apparently elder statesmen of the movement. Sporting a tight Swedish drummer, and singing in pure mandarin, one could discern a wide mix of influences from pop to punk, to post-punk, to freak-out rock. I’ve picked two tunes from them – the more melodic ‘Eden’ and the wild closer ‘Some Surprises Happen Too Soon’.

4. P.K.14 – Some Surprises Happen Too Soon