China's Maybe Mars label and Carsick Cars head overseas for SXSW
Danny Sigelman is a Twin Cities native who has spent the past year working as a DJ for a Chinese government radio station in Beijing. In preparation for this year's South by Southwest festival, Sigelman filed this report about a handful of great Chinese bands who are making their way overseas to play in Austin this week.
History surrounds Beijing's Yugong Yishan nightclub. Nestled in the courtyard of early 20th century warlord, Duan Qirui's palace it takes it's name from a children's fable which translates to "the foolish old man who moved the mountain." The idea that persistence overcomes the greatest challenges.
Another time capsule was launched within it's wobbly walls last week when record label Maybe Mars hosted their own South By Southwest send off party which deploys the best of the Chinese underground scene toward the Texas music orgy with a string of performances and a US tour to follow.
Maybe Mars also runs it's own petri dish of a rock club, D-22. Operating on the outskirts of Beijing's university area the distinct influences from the NYC 70's and 80's new wave era ring out amongst it's locals with a melange of distorted keyboards, detuned guitars, flannel and eyeglasses that would make Steve Urkel proud. This is Beijing's version of post-punk 3.0.
Beijinger's P.K. 14 (who were named one of the 50 bands to look out for at SXSW by Spin magazine) along with rock and roll heroes Carsick Cars, electronic experimentalist White, Xiao He, Snapline and A.V. Okubo will be embarking on the label's most ambitious mission to date. Having gone about as far as they can in China the label and flagship artists hope to press palms and make the connections necessary for blowing up in the Western world. All have performed across Asia and the European festival circuit, Carsick Cars being one of Sonic Youth's handpicked favorite openers in the UK. But the U.S. stands to be the last frontier with only Snapline having their music available stateside on Invisible Records.
After trampling the U.S. in their Converse All-Stars last Fall for a successful East Coast tour Carsick Cars lead singer Zhang Shouwang talks about how he felt right at home. "When we played in New York we felt like we played there many times. Not like strangers."
Almost giving up music after growing bored with his guitar instructor's heavy metal methods Shouwang discovered the Velvet Underground whom along with an interest in art rock and minimalism has developed his own style of driving indie punk that is as danceable as it is anthemic. In the same "less is more" spirit, it's hard to get Shouwang to say much. He remains ambiguous about their song "Zhong Nan Hai."
"Maybe it's about the cigarettes. Maybe it's about the government."
In China you don't try to stick out too much as an individual. Assimilating is the standard in a world drowning in whitening cream and long fake eyelashes. The pervasive techno and anemic love songs that dominate the daily soundtrack gives Shouwang and his labelmate's mission a greater weight of importance than your typical music industry road to stardom. They hope gaining international recognition will translate favorably in acceptance back on the Mainland.
Taking it in stride he brushes any pressure off. "Pop music is everywhere though. Not just in China. What's most important to us is music."
Complete band bios and a schedule of Maybe Mars' artist appearances at SXSW is available on the label's website.
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