Temple booker/enfant terrible, Chairman Wow, gives his comprehensive view from the bar of who has raised their game and is ready to slay you all in 2017.
December and January are always full of year-end round up lists, and we've all already seen plenty of "top 100 albums of the year" lists across various major music media outlets, and a handful of "top 10 Chinese albums of the year" lists from local sources. I'm currently busy catching up on all the things we were all supposed to be listening to in 2016.
I'd like to take a bit of a different approach to this pretentious ritual - one that reflects the local realities of music making in Beijing (live shows) and is future-focused on what we can expect from 2017. When I book shows for Temple Bar and elsewhere I try to prioritize young up-and-coming bands. One of the most/only gratifying aspects of booking shows is watching a brand new band barely manage their way through a Wednesday night set then build and improve over 6 to 8 months to become capable weekend headliners with an enthusiastic local following. This list comprises the acts I'm most excited to watch develop in the coming year, and some of the brand new bands you should be following at live gigs over the coming months.
What is my criteria?
While I certainly love bands like Dress Code (who haven't even been together for a year), their rapid rise as major voices in Beijing's hardcore scene, domestic touring, frequent gigs, and full album recording mean they don't need really need the attention I'm trying to provide here. They're fine. All the bands on my list have been practicing and performing since 2016. Most of these bands (with the exception of Duff Beer) have performed just a handful of times and generally on weekday nights when only the most committed local rock fans are present for shows. These bands are still in the process of finding their footing in the scene and honing their sound and have yet to develop a major local reputation and a dedicated audience. These are the bands I expect to see rise up and take over the scene over the next year. To borrow a term from my current president, I expect them to be silent-h "huge."
If your band is not on the list, its likely that a) I don't have enough familiarity with your band b) I forgot about your band (I really need to start keeping a gig journal) c) I don't really like your band. Please consider which category of exclusion your band likely falls into before messaging me.
Silent Speech are an indie rock group with a pop sensibility that sounds prepped for an inevitable Modern Sky signing. The reason why I'm excited about Silent Speech is because the influences they're drawing on to make "indie rock" are different from what I'm normally accustomed to hearing from Chinese indie rock bands in Beijing. Whereas brit pop bands like Blur or Oasis have provided the archetype sound to many past and present local Chinese indie rock bands (Casino Demon, Penicillin, Secret Club), Silent Speech are taking their cues from the likes of Morrissey and Radiohead. This makes for more complex song arrangements that include keyboards, synthesizers, and the occasional trumpet for color. You might notice a handful of their tunes suggest these guys have spent a lot of time listening to 'Creep' or 'Fake Plastic Trees' and that their songs carry a grandiose quality that makes them sound almost too big to fit inside small venues like School, Hot Cat or Temple.
Backspace are a band that I hate because they're all much younger than me, have been performing for only 4 months and already have 30 minutes worth of tunes that are well-developed enough that they'd might as well record their first album. If you're feeling fairly well-adjusted and capable of confronting your own musical and artistic inadequacies, I highly recommend checking these guys out at their next show. Backspace are clearly modeling their music after local post-punk forebears like Birdstriking and Snapline, but with a dreamier, more reverb-laden, shoegazy spin (like Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People). You can find a handful of gritty lo-fi demos on their Douban, but these honestly don't do the band justice. I'm looking forward to their probable Maybe Mars released debut album.
Beijing has a long, strong tradition of punk music and Duff Beer have taken up the drunken sloppy punk torch held by such bands as Joyside, The Bedstars, and The Diders. Their current set is an upbeat blend of originals and covers like Joyside's Sunday Morning. I really shouldn't have to sell this more than that but I'll continue. Duff Beer are gearing up to be hard-hitters in the punk scene because they've spent the last 6 months playing upwards of 5 shows each month and honing in their chops and are now a much tighter more confident presence on stage. I mean this is just fun, mindless mosh pit punk rock. I'm looking forward to seeing them pull in bigger crowds on weekends in the spring as they develop more original tunes.
Oldy Baby are a new punk duo on the scene. Oldy Baby already have a strong high-energy 30-minute set of original tunes. These guys would be absolutely perfect at a house show in the Pacific Northwest or on a lo-fi cassette tape recording packaged with weird poorly xeroxed hand drawn album art and a bad poem or two. Their tunes remind me a lot of the poppy jangle punk band Harlem, but there is a sort of manic, frantic quality to their style as well that reminds me of early psychobilly bands. I'm prepared for Nathan to suddenly break into Paralyzed by Legendary Stardust Cowboy at the drop of a hat. Oldy Baby are trying to play each and every possible show they can at the moment, so you'll have a lot of chances to catch them and watch them develop through the spring.
Them Wayfarers are the newest band on this list and have only a couple live shows and about 5 original songs under their belt. I'm looking forward to the unique sounds and colors this band is developing. While at their core Them Wayfarers are a bass and drum duo, they've made a strong effort to avoid constructing guitar-reliant tunes, and instead bring in horns or a keyboard to guest perform on various songs. Their emphasis on collaboration results in a sound that swings between Primus-style bass driven prog rock and Death From Above 1979 noise punk breakdowns.
The Beauty are key contributors to the local power pop scene that's emerged over the past year. They have an EP's worth of cute little indie rock honky-tonk original tunes but make their influences clear to their audience with covers from The Strokes and The Vaselines making up a core part of their live set. The Beauty's biggest issue right now (for me), is that they don't bring a lot of confidence to the stage. I'm half convinced their singer (who is a lovely guy) spends the first few tunes trying to hide behind the microphone stand before loosening up a bit. As The Beauty continues to perform through the spring and gain some confidence and stage presence I expect them to pick up a core base of dedicated, swooning fans.
I'm nervous about discussing White Paper because I know I'm going to describe them "wrong" and receive some WeChat flack. More than any band on this list I expect White Paper to be the one that inspires strong conflicting opinions. White Paper were first described to me as a punk rock band resembling Minutemen, but having seen them perform once and having spent time with their recordings I see them more as genre wildcards. White Paper's musical ideas are very sophisticated and unique to the current scene - they have these fantastic crunchy John Carpenter-esque chiptune interludes on several of their songs. I'm more inclined to say White Paper are of a more industrial, dark wave flavor with a dance-y dash of The Killers. White Paper put on a very audience-engaged, loud show. Check them out.
By Dream are a welcome addition to our rising post-rock scene. Our current post-rock scene has strong representatives on the math-ier or prog side of things (Rhonda, Macondo, Nakoma) but By Dream plays a gentler, simpler variety of post-rock that relies on dynamic changes and strong melodies in a more traditional verse-chorus structure to drive their tunes. By Dream also happen to be intense dedicated perfectionists and practice incessantly which comes through in the tightness of their live sets. Their music is soft and delicate, reminiscent of bands like The Sea and Cake - you'll likely want to sit down and let it guide you through an introspective journey.
Streams of Life throw some of the most energetic and exciting shows in the scene right now. Their lead guitarist favors a wireless unit between his guitar and amplifier, freeing him up to move through crowds, leap across tables and engage in other rock hero shenanigans without getting tangled up and accidentally hanging himself. Stylistically streams of life fall somewhere between post-hardcore and post-rock - a sort of Macondo vibe that sounds like of like At The Drive-In, or the less overly indulgent portions of the Mars Volta discography without any vocals.
Tekno.Prisoners.de are a rare sort of band. These guys are the perfect litmus test to find out if your new friends, colleagues, classmates, or Tinder date are actually fun. They have committed to a gimmick that fills a massive hole in your life you didn't realize was there. Do you remember the song We Like to Party by Vengaboys? Have you been to a middle school dance recently? Now imagine that song covered, really well (no really, just roll with this), as a happy hardcore song by four Australians pretending to be Berlin club rats. Tekno.Prisoners.de played some of my most favorite shows in the latter half of 2016 - I had a blast - and I'm looking forward to getting them back on stage to play in the new year.
Check out LIVE BEIJING MUSIC to see and hear more from the bands