A line up of some of Wellington’s best bands featuring female-identifying guitarists, bass players and drummers, including Hex, Womb, Linen, Mr Sterile Assembly, and Oonaverse. With Mean Wahine DJs from Death Ray Records!
Wellington Museum/ DJs from 7:30PM, Bands 8:30 PM/ FRI 24 MAY / $10.00 / CASH BAR
Brimming with frustration, imagery, and verve, New Zealand-based rock duo HEX (Kiki Van Newtown and Jason Erskine) deal in subversion: a discordant, electric experience under the umbrella of sonic twilight. Since 2015 HEX have toured throughout New Zealand, Australia, and the USA, opening for major acts including Dinosaur Jr and The Kills. HEX spent 2018 touring the U.S including official showcases at SXSW, and being covered by The Chicago Tribune and NPR, who said “HEX calls its sound “witch-rock,” and damned if it doesn’t sound like, well, witch-rock: dark and sinister, gritty and ethereal, muscular and feminine. The portentous epic “Sight Beyond the Line” storms and billows with ominous intensity, driven in part by the commanding presence of singer Kiki Van Newtown.” Their next LP ‘Big Woman’, due for release in late 2019.
Part punk, part noise, math rock, free-form squall, mr sterile Assembly are not easy to box, and are quite happy about that. Described as “A jolt of pure creative spirit married to social commentary, and damn good fun!” by NZ Musician, the punk duo have toured their socially conscious lyricism and organic odd time-signature mayhem across the globe. As Nick Bollinger says, “Catch them if you can. There’s nothing else like it.”
Armed with her trusty Axe and a Peavey Rage, Oonaverse (Bek Coogan) has made an art out of breaking down the barriers between performer and audience. Described recently at the Audio Foundation’s Nowhere Festival as “NZ’s first lady of rock’ n’ roll yodelling and a veteran of counter culture,” Coogan was the only member of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra to ever jump offstage and crowdsurf at a gig (much to the surprise of the seated audience). She supported Bonnie Prince Billy on a tour of Germany with the band Full Fucking Moon, and once wrestled a person-sized replica of the Palmerston North clock tower and won, riffing over it in a symbolic victory over concrete and patriarchal linear time. Is it art? Is it music? Will it hold together?
Made up of twins Charlotte and Haz Forrester and their sister Georgette Brown, Womb creates oceans of sound – from alt-folk soundscapes to the outer boundaries of dream-pop, where swirling synthesisers intersect with tenderly plucked guitars and otherworldly singing. With two albums under their belt, the trio is set to take on a ten-date tour of China in 2019.
One of Wellington’s buzziest new bands, Acid Rock trio Linen’s sound combines beefy grooves with fruity riffs, to create a long lasting mood. Guitarist Emerald, Bassist Kate and drummer Tom are always seeking the chance to create, establishing a body of work that feels authentic and personal. They were a standout act at the 2019 Newtown Festival.
Death Ray Records’ (RIP) mean Wahine Djs will start the night off at 7:30PM.
Update: all $$ collected will go in solidarity to the affected Muslim communities of Christchurch after the recent white supremacist Attacks on two mosques.
Come along to Valhalla for the converging of threes.
An evening of gargantuan goodness
The three-headed beasty of Ghidoragh pounding out epic, frenetic tunes like spitballs of sound.
Unsanitary Napkin – a three-piece power house channelling a punk fury – like serenades for the spitting heads of Trump/Jones/Kavanagh – the Axis of Deceivable.
mr sterile Assembly – 1+1= 3 for this lot, sharpening claws for an impending international trip of weirdness with a bunch of tunes looking for a place to settle, best danced with three left feet.
Get it in your ears!
Been a while since we had a show in Wellington, and gonna be nice to be back at Moon. It’s our first show back after the Tokyo/Seoul tour so should be crackling….
Will be nice to play with Pom Pom from Palmerston North, and Good Fuck from Wellington.
Huge thanks to Stefanus Endry Pragusta for the image for the poster… Awesome!
So incredibly excited about the pending excursion into Tokyo and Seoul. Both will be new experiences for the sterile roadshow. Years ago when we returned home from our first central European tour we stopped off for a weekend and Ditzy Squall played couple of shows in Osaka and Kyoto, the sterile band at that time had found itself in a reorganizing phase. So super stoked that now its happening for real.
So firstly, MASSIVE thanks to Kaori, bass player for Goofy 18 [who we are playing with twice] from Tokyo, and Ian-John Hutchinson from Seoul for all the help and assistance in support us to make this adventure possible.
We met Ian-John when the South Korean experimental music collective Bulgasari recently toured New Zealand Aotearoa. We are looking forward to reconnecting with them on their home soil.
- OCTOBER 13 SATURDAY : Japan, Tokyo : Venue Aja Bar : with 5w1h, Fudds and GOOFY 18
- OCTOBER 14 SUNDAY : Japan, Tokyo : Venue Waseda RiNen : with Haiti from limbo, Danzetsu-koryu and Papalion
- OCTOBER 15 MONDAY : Japan, Tokyo : Venue Nishieifuku JAM : with Goofy18, NA/DA, ELECTRIC MONGOOSE U.F.O. FACTORY and HAIGAN Facebook link
- OCTOBER 18 THURSDAY : South Korea, Seoul : Venue YogigaPal Gallery : Ddakji#10 (improvised music series) with Remi Klemensciwics (Fr), Kieran Monaghan (NZ), Chrissie Butler (NZ)
- OCTOBER 19 FRIDAY : South Korea, Seoul : Venue Strangefruit Hongdae : with sOo Jung Kae X Rui Inaba, Gong gong Consent and Maluihan
- OCTOBER 20 SATURDAY : South Korea, Seoul : Venue Haro : with Hanjoo Lee, Mustang Sally x Ian-John, Yukie Sato Facebook
- OCTOBER 21 SUNDAY : South Korea, Seoul : Venue Bbang : with 4 other acts
Got a busy few months ahead with local travel before some international travel…
First the local.
A couple of weeks later there’s gonna be a secret show in Wellington…can’t say nothing…never
This weekend a very rare event indeed with DSLB, the solo project of Chrissie Butler opening for the touring duo know as HackedePicciotto.
DSLB recently release the album TwohandsTwice and will be using that format of wind-powered keyboards, electric motored or manual, to set the scene for the evening.
The tour of HackedePicciotto has been organized by the Audio Foundation:
[from the AF website] “Audio Foundation is pleased to announce a nationwide tour for HackedePicciotto, stalwarts of Berlin’s legendary underground culture of the ’80s and ’90s and giants of multimedia art and industrial music.
Both artists are legends of their own making: Danielle de Picciotto moved to Berlin in 1987 where she became the lead singer of the band Space Cowboys, co-initiator of the Love Parade, and frequent collaborator with the Ocean Club alongside Gudrun Gut. Alexander Hacke is founding member and bass player of avant-legends, Einstürzende Neubauten. Over two decades, the duo has collaborated in countless international projects in addition to regularly releasing their own compositions.
In 2010, de Picciotto and Hacke made the decision to abandon their home, forging a nomadic path from one city to the next, eschewing all sense of fixity and stability along the way. The absence of a permanent place of return has since informed their work, which they produce relentlessly in search of“external & internal clarity, archaic principles and philosophies, and the means to master the rigours of the road.” The duo describes the cause for their restlessness as stemming from “gentrification, and the annihilation of individualism, as wells as the rising cost of living and the relentless sellout by the mainstream entertainment industry.” In response, “artists need to find new ways of working … in order to upkeep integrity and autonomy. The old patterns no longer function.”
After years of live performance, the intensity of Hacke-dePicciotto shows, along with the duo’s reputation for existential angst, proceeds their arrival. de Picciotto’s Hurdy Gurdy, autoharp and kemenche combined with Hacke’s virtuosic lines on bass, guitar and percussion, punctuated by melancholic, translucent harmonies and underpinned by low electronic rumbles. The soundscapes engendered by this collage bring forth a mesmerizing universe of sound and emotion, leaving audiences both shaken and overjoyed.”
Huge thanks to Roger Graumeijer, of RoxPx.com, for collecting great images and the following moving pictures from our recent swift South Island tour.
The three recently recent album on our skirted Records were sent to Nick Bollinger of Radio NZ for potential review. And we were wonderfully surprised when this appeared. Thanks heaps for the positive clip.
Nick Bollinger discusses the rhythms, rants and recent releases of Wellington-based independent musician Mr Sterile.
Here’s an act that has travelled as far and wide and played to audiences as diverse as any band from this country ever has – though that hardly means Mr Sterile is a household name.
Mr Sterile is the performing alias of Kieran Monaghan: drummer, vocalist, occasional bassist, guitarist, and – for these particular recordings – virtually everything else as well.
Monaghan has been performing under the Mr Sterile banner since around the turn of this century, often in collaboration with his partner Chrissie Butler.
There’s a high level of theatricality about what they do. Their stage costumes are like some mash-up between Bride Of Frankenstein and early Split Enz. At times they incorporate other musicians as well. These larger aggregations are known as Mr Sterile Assembly. Otherwise it’s simply Mr Sterile, which is the case with two new releases, which are essentially Monaghan solo works – though that doesn’t mean they are not packed to the gunnels with sound.
The music might not conform to any old-school punk-rock rulebook, still there is a punk impulse behind it – perhaps politically even more than sonically. The lyrics are like wake-up calls; warnings of the various mechanisms and instruments of oppression that threaten our lives.
But there is a satirical as well as a sinister side to the Mr Sterile aesthetic, which you’ll find everywhere from the lyrics to the handmade packaging. Sacred cows and self-congratulation are prime targets. The first of these two recent releases is called The General Pathetic, with both its title and graphics parodying a well-known Kiwi rock classic.
Monaghan’s primary instrument is the drums and this music comes at you rhythm-first. Those rhythms can be layered and complex, as in the industrial waltz of ‘Cast Adrift’, or furious and combatant – try ‘Kraschenbanger’s Return’. At other times the effect is almost folky (‘Setting Fire To Bob’).
The General Pathetic was actually recorded about six years ago, though it has only just been mastered, and is the more lo-fi of the two new releases.
The other album – Haters, Wreckers and Other Friends – is a bit more sonically refined, though sheer ferociousness isn’t compromised. This is music with a lot of sharp edges that seems to combine the sonic force of Fugazi with the angular rhythms of Captain Beefheart. Chimes of gamelan deepen the textures. Tracks like ‘Would We Be Alive’ imply a spiky kind of funk.
A third new release, also from Mr Sterlie’s label Skirted Records, could be heard as the antidote to the other two. It certainly makes for a study in contrasts.
Two Hands Twice comes out under the name DSLB (that stands for Ditsy Squalls Lunch Box) the alias of Mr Sterile Assembly bassist Chrissie Butler, and consists simply of five instrumentals played on a wheezy old pump organ. These are minimal and meditative. Built around single note drones in no discernable tempo over which harmonies are very slowly added and subtracted, it is like music in slow motion. The song of a glacier, or an organic, handmade version of Eno’s ambient music.
After listening for a while my nervous system seemed to settle to where just the addition of a second note became a momentous event. But sometimes the organ is joined by unidentified rattles and bangs – it might be a washing machine in the next room – and something almost akin to a groove enlivens the drone.
With these three releases out in the world, Mr Sterile Assembly are heading back on the road soon, premiering some brand new material. In the past they have toured extensively through South East Asia and Eastern Europe, places few New Zealand bands have ever set foot. But this midwinter jaunt takes them to Christchurch, Dunedin an Invercargill.
Catch them if you can. There’s nothing else like it.
For the first time in a long time we get to return to the south Island for a few shows.
The HELLo Show is our new work in progress, a developing idea of new songs and presentation, a push back against frantic apocalyptic fantasies without denying the mounting data of impending difficulty thats ahead of us. And a bit more raucous fun.
- Christchurch : Thursday June 7: At the Darkroom with local acts Carradine Choke and The Ruling Elite
- Dunedin : Friday June 8: At the Dunedin Musicians Club with Infinite Justice and Bad Bandmate
- Invercargill : Saturday June 9: At the Southland Musicians Club with Murgatroyd, Otepuni Moonshine and Seafog [from Dunedin].
The Ruling Elite
The poster has been designed specifically for this tour by the wonderful artist Stefanus Endry Pragusta from Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. Many thanks for the international collaboration! This is his statement on the work titled “TODAY”:
New Zealand Fringe Festival:
The Electricka Zoo are one of Wellington’s most intriguing new live bands – a duo of live electronica duo by the Digitator, and Dave Black on guitar & bass. We combine diverse influences from EDM to postpunk avant-garde rock, jazz, reggae, Balkan and Portuguese music into our own homegrown NZ sound. For this performance we’ll be introducing live video imagery that can respond dynamically in real time to the music. www.facebook.com/electrickazoo
Grumblewood are a quartet of merry minstrels from Wellington, New Zealand. Influenced by the progressive and folk rock giants of the 70s, their music integrates elements of baroque, jazz, and traditional folk music into a vintage rock setting. Their songs are highly original, dynamic, and complex; with lyrical storytelling and instrumentation not commonly employed by contemporary musicians, such as flute, mandolin, and banjo. www.facebook.com/grumblewood
mr sterile Assembly is a dynamic and assertive two-piece of drums, bass and vocals, tightly focused, and a fast-paced performance orientation. Hi-viz punk rock! www.facebook.com/mrsterileassembly
Battle for Endor are a 3 piece alt rock band who sound like a 6 piece. They bring new elements to the hard rock genre like multi-instrumentalism, and live use of looping devices, looping guitar, keyboards and even overlapping vocal lines to great wide soundscapes that aren’t usually encountered alongside melodic hooks and catchy rhythms. Executing these soundscapes while keeping things tight and engaging for the audience is an exciting challenge in a live context. www.facebook.com/battleforendor
Tickets $10 – available 7 December
It’s been a fair while since any update. Seems like we took a year off.
So feeling rested, reorientated and recuperated we hit the sticks again, with a bunch of new project.
First a number of shows coming up – Wellington, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Plus we are in the early stages of planning for a much bigger tour at the end of the year.
We have a new look, some new stories and tunes to present to you.
And there are two new solo albums and one remastered album to be released on the bands own label skirted Records. The first is beautiful new atmospheric and acoustic collection of five pieces of sound from DSLB, piped out from bellows over the green pasture of the Manawatu. The album is called TwoHandsTwice.
The second is Haters, Wreckers and other Friends by mr sterile. The most recent collect of random ramblings compiled into one particularly rock collection. Putting the uncomfortable in to the comfort zone. UPDATE: And already these’s a nice wee preliminary review from the Organ Mag in London!
And finally is a new remastering and repackaging of the mr sterile solo album The General Pathetic. More lo-fi and chaotic the album spans the some of the solo sounds from 2005-2012.
Each album is to be assembly by hand, limited to 50 physical pieces only and to be released early April
This here solo mr sterile track was recorded 98-99 and was released as a bonus track at the end of the last ep-cd called Dork by Wellington punk group Loosehead.
[click the word Dork to download]
The song later developed further into a bigger band arrangement and was released on the album Hulagu.
Flash and Exposure
He drops his trousers to all,
showing what’s in store.
Carries with him his ethics
like Indonesia in East Timor.
With a plan and task in mind,
out lined for the local poor.
Who fumble with the deadbolt
cos free trades at the door.
Blood running deaf to our ears,
radio relays how the money grows.
The heavy knocking of the IMF,
in Poorsville progress comes in blows.
The consumers all want a bargain,
as the warehouse jingle goes.
The vulgar prophets at the door,
keen to make a south Pacific Mexico.
Gone the tribal homeland,
in the global market place.
Unless there’s something to consume,
a natural resource you can’t replace.
Or a quaint ethnic show, of dissent there’s no trace.
Cos the World Bank’s funding your survival,
they’ll buy the smile off your face.
Demands are made and met,
by embarrassed men, call it duty.
carnage hidden out back in the third world,
seen in the west as ads of ideal beauty.
Minority groups, indigenous peoples,
to finance cede their sovereignty.
While then visitor at the door,
with his daks around his ankles,
Flashing his filthy economy.
This is it. Awake on the last morning of this eight week tour. Sleep was hard to hold due to the heat, the mosquito bites and the impending departure. But we are here and this day is this day.
The sounds of a waking Bangsar street start with the continuous swishing of the overhead electric fans disturbing the still and close heat. Each motor sounds slightly different when you focus on them individually. Next is the increasing traffic sounds, so far it’s only bikes and cars. As the traffic jams gather nearby, our street becomes a quick relese valve for the congestion. But it’s not that busy yet. There are unrecognisable bird calls. Bird song of quick staccato, of single middle-ranged notes rising and twittering. There’s a dog next door that is silent for now. It found its’ voice earlier on in the night.
Slowly the light fades away the darkness and the trees outside the window take shape revealing their tropical forms. The mosquitos are silent until right in your ear. The four cats indoors have yet to stir. Where we sleep is surrounded by books, of art of the region and abroad, of politics and punk rock, of art history from Malaya, songs from Sabah, of inquiry and exploration. The education is rich when you find people who do not accept simple answers. Where we can contemplate a region that is so close to our home, but so unknown. These journeys are personally enhancing. We are aware of the privilege we carry, and value the opportunity to locate and erode our coastlines of ignorance. We wake into our last morning.
The way we leave England is extraordinary and absolutely unforeseen. It becomes the perfect distraction/transition to the final leg of the tour. We were given the opportunity to stay in the House for Essex, the Living Architecture building in Wrabness designed inside and out by the amazing english artist Grayson Perry. This option became available as Chrissie’s sister had entered a ballot to stay in the house, unbeknown to us, and we were the succesful recipients. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We are both fans of Perry’s work. He became known to us when we heard the story of a transvestite potter wining the highly regarded Turner Award. It was the first time the award had been given to a potter, a crafts person, rather than a fine-arts practitioner. And it was also the first time the prize had been awarded to a flambouyant cross-dresser.
The House for Essex stands alone in a field at the end of a lane. The only access we have had to Perry’s work to date is via the print medium, never seen in the flesh, or clay, and here we were under his skirting boards. The house in total is the artwork, the entire conceptual work, from the shape and flow of the house, the details of clay tiles and colours, the installed artworks, and the collections of cds and books all are considered as part of the overarching narative of making a secular shrine to the ordinary life of an ordinary, and imagined, woman from Essex. It’s brilliant.
On the last morning we rise at 3am. We need to make our way to Heathrow airport for check-in at 7am. Leaving the house and locking the door behind us, we make our way through the black, fogless dawn towards the city lights. We leave rural countryside, then megacity London, then the hemisphere as we make our way to Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia.
We left in the morning, and arrived in the morning. We effectively lost a night somewhere, and with that we lost a sleep as well. It was about 0 degrees when we left the UK. In KL we arrive to 26 degree, a dramatic difference.
We catch the express train from the airport to KL Sentral terminal. There we reconnect with our good friend Joe Kidd. We will be staying with him till we depart KL.
We catch a cab across town. We strip of our autumnal dress from the UK into something more appropriate to the heat, and start the regular process of rehydrating from equatorial perspiration. The heat is so close. The place smells of the humid environment. What this heat and humidity does to bodies, the soil, the bacteria all goes into the complex smell that becomes the smell of South east Asia. It’s welcoming.
We arrive home to Joe’s and go to eat straight away at one of the local Indian vegetarian cafes just across rhe road from the house. Amazing choices and extremely delicious. The food induces sleep.We grab a good nap to re-energize in preparation for the show tonight.
Waking we reorganise our luggage so we have less to cart across town. A friend of Joe’s arrives and supplies a large bag of homegrown Rambutan, a delicious fruit with a soft and spiney outer casing. The fruit is demolished, and we’re ready to go.
We taxi to the venue called Rumah Api (Rumah means house, Api means fire). The venue was named after it suffered an arson attack from far-right wing boneheads years ago. The venue stood strong and resilient. We played Rumah Api on our last tour here in 2011 as well. It is patently obvious from the outset that our costumes could not be more inappropriate for the conditions, woollen jackets, dark suits, tiny room, high humidity and energetic activity.
The show is already cranking when we arrive, we are performing fourth in a line up of six bands, predominantly hardcore styles. The bands appear to be among friends, some audience sings along to some tunes inbetween the sporadic explosions of dancing that look like a gathering of windmills in attendence of a fight club. It’s all legs kicking and arms being swung wildly in wide circular motions. It’s really reminiscent of the old parade style dancing of the 50’s where an individual will take centre floor to show off a personal adaption of their dance move to the observations of others.
We prepare in the back room and the sweat is already dripping with zero exertion Activity will only make the flow torrential. This idea proves true as we set up on stage. It’s not usually a problem till the make up runs into your eyes. Then the stinging starts. The white paint produces a clouding effect as a film of white paint covers the eye ball.
We don’t play hardcore so those frantic dancemoves are absent during our set but they remain antentive trying to figure out what’s going on. Others have got it and can be spotted grinning away and dancing individually to our joyful awkwardness. It is a drenching event, and fighting back the jetlag, the show feels absolutely satisfying.
We finish then dismantle our set up, and get engaged in multiple conversations with locals who have questions about what they’ve just seen. In our experience this is a practice particular to south east asian audiences. Elsewhere we are usually approached for the most part by individuals. Here it’s almost always by a group who want to talk or take photos.
We leave as the last band is completing it’s set. We make our way across KL to bed. There’s not many hours before we have to rise again to catch the early morning bus to Singapore.
Four hours sleep before the alarm goes off. Our costumes were hung up to dry after being sodden after the show. It’s a gross feeling if they are still damp like pulling on wet knickers. Fortunately they are bone dry. We leave the house and walk the fifteen minutes in the dawn to the bus stop and check in. Thankfully there’s time for roti chennai before departure. Today is Chrissie’s birthday.
The journey takes about five hours. The passport control is swift as we cross into Singaporean teritory around midday. From the terminal we catch a taxi into the Indian quarter where L Cube, the venue, is located. However the advertised name for tonight’s show is the Hellcube. L cube is a local rehersal space that also hosts occasional small shows. We meet Rei on reception. She’s super helpful at helping us settle, directing us to good food, and sorting a space for us to nap while we wait for our organiser and friend, Shaiful, to arrive.
It’s been nine years since we last saw Shaiful, we missed him on our last trip to Singapore. While we’re waiting a bloke called Stevphen from the UK arrives for the show. We met him a few days ago at our last show in the UK and an odd set of circumstances means he also happens to be in Singapore at the same time. He also knows Shaiful, but only via the internet. This will be their first face to face. And then Shaiful’s face walks through the door. We reconnect with a short walk to a nearby food court before returning back to L Cube in preparation for the show.
Shaiful is performing in the first band, and this is their debut show. They also have the best band name – Frog and Potato Warfare. The set is swift, rawkus punk rock but with an major intention to create fun and lift the life of the show from the outset. Band members change instruments, activities are organized as part of the show like a ballon and ball war, where soft projectiles are dispensed and everyone is a target. There is no barrier between the band and the audience. It is a delightful riot.
The next group is Indecixive, a tight, confident Singapore thrash band. Again, we only hear them as we are away getting changed, but their sound is robust and unrelenting, and the aftermath of their performance leaves a sweaty crowd who appeared to have behaved quite energetically.
Our turn. Our last show. The gear is solid, the drums are at the front of the stage, and we let rip. There will be no other opportunity for a night like this. The audience is close, but we egg them on to get closer, entice them onto the stage with us. And it’s great. Warm environmentally and receptively, goony dancing, and a room full of grinning. A conga line forms on stage and dives into the bodies of the front row. It’s a perfect ending. Shaiful comes on stage to wrap things up but first sings, and gets the audience to sing with him, a happy birthday tune to Chrissie, ala Singapore punk rock style. Perfect.
The crowds leave slowly, conversations are had, people linger and follow as we leave L Cube in search of a late night feed and beer, more good byes at traffic lights, and then we find a place to drink in an area where prohibition is not enforced. An alcohol ban is in place in the Indian quarter after the riot that happened about 3 years ago. It seems that rather than admit that there’s an issue that needs addressing, that there’s a dissatisfaction among some members of some populations, the authorities simply enforced this race-based liquor ban. However, the liquor ban doesn’t extend to across the road so it’s an easy regulation to get around. We go and find sleep. Waking the next day, we retrace our steps back to KL for a few days hanging out before flying back to Aotearoa.
For all intents and purposes, the tour has officially ended. It has been a truly remarkable time-out-of-time experience. Spanning eight countries, playing 22 shows, meeting many new people and having the opportunity to talk and learn and discover.
We have an immense gratitude to everyone that has helped us on this trip, in what ever capacity. We hope that appreciation has been conveyed wherever we have gone, and across all languages despite our ability to directly covey our thanks. It is remarkably inspiring to see so much activity, community building, community nurturing and developing, spaces being made for potentials to play, spaces being made for explorations despite whatever impositions authorities impose, connections across great distances being made and ongoing support offered to each others endeavours.
We have witnessed time and time again the belligerent optimism of creative making. We’re thankful for all the precious opportunities to touch and taste and be immersed in these things happening. Keep going.
But for now, for us, It’s all over.
Here we are, sitting in a hrad, Czech for castle, in the western town of Loket. This place has been hill-top and centre in this village since the 12th century. The actual location of our performance tonight is reported to be in the ancient royalty’s entertainment room, where the various monarchs entertained or administered other business. The throne room is backstage.
It’s been two and a half years since we were last in the Czech Republic, it’s so nice to be back.
We left London before dawn this morning, up around four-ish and back through the sleeping city to Stansted. We land at Praha (Prague) and have a small wait for our ride to arrive. It’s easy to remain occupied with pizza, beer and Czech-watching.
Mirek, frontman for Už Jsme Doma(UJD), arrives by bus first. The van with the rest of the band is not far behind. Once it arrives, loaded with equipment and bodies, out spill the rest of the band. It is always wonderful to reconnect with old friends, warm, enveloping and welcoming
There are also new introductions, firstly to Ruda the driver, and Votja the new drummer for UJD. Votja has been with UJD for the past year now, and comes with the experience of playing in punk bands for many years. We load our gear into the last space available and leave Praha for the town of Loket near the Western boarder.
The trip is all talking, story-telling, and Czech beers in the backseats. Evening falls and we enter Loket after the two hour journey in the drizzle. It is a winding route to access the castle shrouded by low cloud and poor visibility. You can imagine the ominous image cast in centuries past as one approached this fortress in the gloom. We enter Hrad Loket through large wooden gates. The town is dressed in mist and drizzle, there are radiations of orange from tungsten street lamps through the wet, the air is full of gems of orange as the light inhabits single falling raindrops.
We have a task to do though. We park in the central grounds of the castle and load guitar amps, drums, and PA gear up the stairs and into the festival hall. The equipment is assembled and soundchecked surrounded by ancient swords and crossbows. At the other end of the hall is the dining room. Long tables are set out and wait for the dozens of bodies to occupy. Someone is setting up the kegs. This castle happens to be the only venue in Loket and it has been functioning for the past four years in its current iteration. It appears it took some convincing to get the go-ahead to be able to run modern concerts but it has been a positive step for the town. Bands now come and play in this extraordinary venue, and subsequently more people visit the historic site as a important site of tourists interest.
People start to arrive early and in numbers. We are thankful we are up first, in the lineup of three acts, and can fully enjoy watching UJD. We make ourselves up into our costume, walk across the open courtyard, up the stairs and then enter the hall via the front main entrance. We are all ready to go, there’s a decent audience waiting, and boom! we’re off. It’s a great set, we look out and see people smiling, dancing and a party unfolding. Playing in Czech feels like coming home.
Next up is UJD, they deliver a solid set. It’s a delight to stand in the audience and hear everyone around singing along. There are new arrangements of songs and a host of other familiar tunes. Votja’s drumming seems harder than the previous drummers we’ve seen, more wirey, more punk, more attack. It adds a powerful lift to the music. The final act is a local group called Blahobeat, a local five-piece, sturdy old-school/post-punk rock band. A fantastic gesticulating frontman who is a dynamo and holds centre stage.
After the show we go to friends of Mireks’: they have offered to let us stay at their house for the night too. So we pack down our gear in preparation for leaving the next day, and then head out into the mist for a midnight stroll across bridge over the river to bed. Once at the house we’re offered nightcaps of Slivovice, a strong Czech alcohol, clear in appearance, made of plum and tastes like fire. If you inhale at the wrong time when consuming the burn is so much more intense! It takes a couple of goes to get it right. Sleep is welcome.
After waking, our plan is to meet the band at a restaurant but first it has been arranged that we have the opportunity to explore the castle in more depth. It’s a fascinating walk up the wooden stairs to the top of the towers. We see the geography of the land from every direction. On the way down the stairs continue to go further into the basement from our exit point from the building. Looking over the banister in the central well is a large sculpture of the local dragon, every castle needs one.
Another ‘key’ attraction of the castle is the ‘torture chamber’ display. This is definitely eye-catching with the ultra realist sculptures illustrating in graphic detail the interrogation techniques used in-house during the dark ages. It’s extremely graphic and brutal and quite unsettling after such a pleasant time meandering moments before. We didn’t take any photos. How is it possible to forgot the horrendous acts inflicted by one human onto another? Additional reminders do not seem necessary. There were tiny cramped cells, sensory deprivation chambers, chairs of deathly discomfort and devices of entombment and suffering. Directly upstairs from this basement of suffering was the palatial chambers for the monarchs. It was a graphic education.
We left and went looking for lunch and to reconnect with the others in a local restaurant.
Czech food is often limited for vegetarians, and harder for vegans. Today there’s a lot of deep-fried cheese in multiple varieties of presentation, onion soup or our tour staple, Bamborachy, a Czech savoury potato pancake. And a country that has a sweet fruit-filled dumpling on offer as a main cannot be all bad either.
Sated, we load up and leave. Our next destination is the town of Tabor, at the venue CESTA (previously mentioned in the Italian post). It will been ten years since we last set foot through the doors of CESTA. A lot has happened since then and we’re both deeply looking forward to being back there.
We arrive Tabor in the dark, and the cold has set in. Warmth returns in bearhugs with our old friend Chris, it’s like time hasn’t passed and we seem to pick up where we left off. Pressing practical matters take precedent and we need to set up the show. Only our two acts are playing tonight. There’s some swift and skilful problem-solving required to manage several technical issues, and things feel tense as the approaching starting time looms. Technical issues are always a potential issue to navigate, sometimes a show can feel like a constant battle against the elements. But there’s a skill learned across time that it’s better to roll with the challenges that present, such as equipment faliure or sound issues, than to fight them.
We play first and it is a gratifying personal milestone to be back here making music. CESTA holds a significant place of importance in our experience of developing and presenting our creative work. UJD follow us, and the room swells with locals. If we’re not mistaken this may be UJD’s first show in Tabor in their nearly 30 year duration. It is amazing how busy this band is and how many shows they are able to play in Czech Republic every year, a country that is not so different in landmass to Aotearoa. It’s impressive that there is such a wide number of welcoming venues available to this assertive Czech rock music on a regular basis.
The show ends and some head to the bars in town. We remain at CESTA and are able to catch up with Chris properly after his task of hosting the show is complete.
Bedtime arrives and we go to sleep to the sound of a potbell burner gifting heat to our room on this satisfying Autumn night.
Morning brings breakfast at CESTA, coffee, dark rye bread and jams. Chris returns from errands and we spend a bit more time talking before we need to return to the road. We appreciate being in close company again and to be able to hear and share the details of large life events. When you live at such distance from each other, settling for quality rather than quantity is essential.
In the back of the van and unsuccessully trying to sleep. Got to sleep at about 3-4am last night after a very late show in Lanškroun, our third show. It was a great show for us, assertive, solid and intentional. We didn’t take to the stage till about 01:30. UJD went first just after midnight delivering another powerful set. Great sound by Miloz who has been the band’s most regular sound person for many years. It is a loud venue. This show was part of a local arts/theatre festival, and the bar was flooded with folk who had attended or participated in theatre events. Our concert is the after party. And they partied.
We leave Už Jsme Doma in Lanškroun. Good byes are always emotive, and we hope it is only a see-you-later. We feel lucky that we have found a fraternity, a family, of like-minded music makers across the globe.
Now the GPS is giving directions in Czech. We are in Votja’s van moving towards the Webrocka festival where we play our fourth show. Low damp cloud is everywhere and there is very little to view. We are moving towards the Polish boarder.
This is the 15th year of the Webrocka festival, a local festival that also acts as a fundraising event for a local group working with kids. There seems to be a large turnout for the festival. Two stages are programmed and music runs continuously. There are also breakaway rooms with smaller but very roudy acoustic performances. One stage starts as the other finishes and change-overs happen simultaneously. We are on the downstairs stage in a very cold cellar space and we play after Votja’s other group 100%. They are great, high energy punk/funk styled chaotic songs. The bass player Marco, an english bloke living in Czech, has a spectacular and aggressive bass technique, an assertive slapping style that treats his instrument as a true uninhibited extension of himself. The sets feels a combination of songs and improvisation and these two are rock solid with each other. It’s a delight to watch, a real highlight to see this committed performance.
The entire event seems to be tightly stage managed and on schedule till the headline band before us takes the stage, then the schedule seems to stretch. Our first set was to start 1145 but didn’t start till 0030. We are rostered to play two sets, this first and then a second about an hour later. Time continued to stretch and we ended up completing our second set at 3am. Fortunately at the end of the night we have a much warmer space upstairs to put our heads down for a few hours sleep before heading of early to a town to catch a train to Prague.
Our final journey to Prague is through amazing country side of rock formations that feel like giant’s building blocks, unusual and very old. We leave Votja at Pardubice train station, this line will take us the rest of the distance to Praha.
We exit the train at the terminal and are met by Romek Hanslík, the bloke who has helped us with our Czech bookings. Romek also runs a tour management service that includes UJD and the Plastic People of the Universe.
Our final show is at the Prague rock club Vagon. It has been arranged that for our final show we open for the Plastic People of the Universe, a group that has obtained a legendary status through the history of being a long-haired, underground psychedelic group prior to the end of the communist regime. They were often in trouble with the authorities which resulted in prison time for some of the band members. They also moved in the same circle as Vaclav Havel who became the first prime minister after the Velvet Revolution. They have also achieved the status of iconic legends for also for being a group performing for almost 50 years. There is one remaining original member.
Coincidentally, in relation to Velvet Revolution, while we have been here there has been a national holiday to commemorate the events which sparked the Revolution, the bloodless transition from a communinist state to something more open. A commemoration has been set up across the road, across from the venue, and people have come in their droves to lay and light candles at a sculpture to mark the place and the event.
Sunday night shows, like many places on the planet, are plagued by the pull of Monday morning work. People tend to remain home and tonight is no difference, our audience is compact. We open the evening with a sense of personal closure, this is our last show here and it’s been a whirlwind. It is gratifying being back and being able to access these opportunities. We are thankful to the people that have supported us to make this a reality.
It’s a tough audience, hard to know what they thought, but we gave it our best and what more can you do than that. The Plastic People take the stage, Jiri, the original member, the guitarist who has been with the band for years and a much youger trio of bass, guitar and drums. It’s obvious that this is who the audience have come to see. It is definitely cool to see the Plastic People, and a privilege to see them tackle three new songs tonight.
It’s done. We pack away our gear as all the equipment is dismantled and head for our backpackers for a few hours kip. We need to be up at early-doors and return to the airport and the UK.
We leave London at sparrowsfart to catch our plane to Finland. It’s early early and its amazing to see the city asleep. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate – at this pre-dawn hour the majority of the population of London appear to consentually slip into sleep in their millions simultaneously. It’s as if at the end of the each day they all collectively go ‘good night’ and slide into slumberland. This major city feels truely dormant at this dark hour. It seems a bit odd. We catch our train then plane and leave.
Descending through the blanket of cloud we start to see the outline of islands and water. At a distance these look like pebbles in a puddle but that is just a illusion of distance. As we go lower we can see roof tops and roads, signs of life appearing out of the beautiful snow covered landscape.
We land at Helsinki airport. Leaving the plane to walk across the tarmac to a bus to take us to the terminal in the whisper of falling snow. We learn swiftly to step with caution as the black ice makes itself known underfoot.
Finland, to date you win the prize for the most grumpy boarder guards at passport control. More chilly that the outdoor environment. Well done.
Once across the boarder we eventually decipher the metro line that will take us into the heart of Helsinki. There are two trains to choose from and they both go to the same place, but it took some moments to learn to interpret these new signs and directions in a completely unfamiliar dual language.
We arrive at the central terminal where we make our way to the front entrance of the train station. As we leave we look back at the remarkable facade of massive stone sculptural figures holding illuminating orbs to light the paths.
It is bitterly cold, zero degrees. It is a land of coats, hats, gloves and scarfs. Although there is still the random pedestrian seen strolling in shorts, t-shirt and jandels!.
We walk to the venue which is a short distance but maybe takes longer than usual to walk as we navigate snow drifts, traffic and ice. Mounds of fresh snow are piled up to the side to keep the paths open. These snow banks are over one metre in depth.
GPS is our friend and we find the venue, Henry’s Pub, easily. It is located on the perimeter of a central square. It’s a modest sized bar that warmly welcomes us with rest, food and brews while we wait for our contact and organiser, Kaarle, and the other bands, to arrive.
Slowly band members start to gather and introductions are made. The other groups are Sirja & Konfuusio and Lizards. The performance of Sirja and co seemed to be a collaborative project – Sirja being the main song writter and the trio Konfuusio adding the rock to her songs. There were some solid tunes and we also really enjoyed hearing that particularly finnish sound. Moments were reminiscent of Dunedin band Cloudboy. Next up, Lizards, a competent performance that reminded of a Jack Black musical project. Our performance was last, and seemed very well received. There were a few responses that felt quite overwhelming and some seemed particular energised from what we had offered. One lovely comment we received was that we ‘played Finnish music’. Somehow what we played made a particular kind of sense that was unanticipated. A lot of very fine music has come from Finland so we happily received the compliment.
Post show we head for the trains again, our accommodation is at Kaarle’s place, located in the village Jokela, about an hour out of Helsinki. We first need to navigate those offers of post-show drinks and after parties. The last train to catch is at a quater to midnight and it’s a close-call, if we miss the train it’s a night in a Helsinki pub and the snow.
But we manage to extract ourselves and head for the train. We find out the snows only started yesterday. This marks the start of a long winter and it’s interesting to discuss the impact this has on the locals, how they cope during the long dark winters. We catch the train with minutes to spare, striking up random conversations with others on the train who are keen to teach us Finnish swear words … important stuff to learn.
Jokela is a small village, two supermarkets, a pub and a pizza shop. We investigate the town when we wake, the local lake has already started to freeze over. Bird prints can be traced in the fresh snow, small collections of the white dust gathers and balances on the last of autumn’s fruiting trees. There’s no wind, it is still and crisp and cool. The lake has started to freeze. We pass time with pizza and beer before we have to reconvene and hit the road for our next show in the city of Tampere two hours north of here.
It is an uneventful roadtrip. There’s a small opportunity to sleep as we cruise along the motorway, between forests, deer fences and snow.
In Tampere we are playing at the pub called O’Haras, it has a vague celtic feel but plays a broad and fascinating background music selection that swings between contemporary finnish pop to brutal nordic metal. The cross section of drinkers in the pub seem to not be bothered by whatever is blasted across the sound system. It’s quite wonderful.
The bar’s venue space is downstairs. We are playing with a local trio called Xes, guitar, drums and barritone saxophone. One of the downsides of wearing make-up is that it takes about 25 minutes to prepare, and during this preparation we often miss a lot of the preceeding performance before us. It’s a constant tension. Xes present entertaining show. They are currently recording their first album with the extrodinary finnish musician Pennti Dassum. Pennti has been involved in many, many awesome musical projects and we hope at some point to meet him. We have many mutual friends. It’s funny that we almost meet via Xes. Next time.
We play well. And again it’s well received. This is confirmed in part by the regular plying of alcohol from audience members with offers of gin and other alcohol during our set. And then the enthusiastic responses after we finish. It seems our music has found a natural home among some of these Finnish ears. It is definitely encouraging when we contemplate future tours to know that it will go down well here.
We leave O’Hara’s and head to a local pub for an after gig tipple. Here we get to enter into some wonderful conversation while trying some local liquorice tasting liquors. Closing time arrives and we spill out on to the street to a nearby taxi stand. We travel across town and stay with one of Kaarle’s friends in a student university hostel. A very nice meeting and full of encouragement.
We are in Finland for three nights but have only managed to get two shows. Even though we started the organising earlier in the year confirming shows seemed a challenge. We discussed this at length while in Finland to understand what the Finnish context is like. It seems the Finnish independent music scene has been hit hard in the economic downturn. Several years ago it was possible to play many venues and many shows. Things have got tighter and the opportunities have significantly reduced. Venues are only hiring bigger bands that have some draw but are not creating opportunities for newer acts. It would seem that this is going to be a problem in years to come. New acts need places to cut their teeth, to develop innovative sounds and to hone skills outside of economic imperitives.
So we find ourselves with a Saturday night off in Finland. We decide to make our way back to Helsinki, that way it will be easy to get to the airport on Sunday.
We find a reasonable priced hotel in the inner city. The snowing hasn’t really stopped. And we seek out heat. Given that one of the things Finland is famous for is the sauna, we make our way to one of the older saunas in Helsinki central. It is a sauna that has been functional for the best part of the last 70 years, gender segregated into male and female only. There’s no obvious clear instruction so it’s basically learning by observation. The pattern seems to be hang out in the heat for a bit, then out into the snow for a beer then repeat. Health-giving activities. It seems the traditional saunas are disappearing due to the modern apartments all having electric sauna instalment. Many of the classics saunas have gone, there are only three left.
And that’s it. A weekend in Finland, an excellent investigation to see how we go here and it will be totally worth returning, hopefully not too far into the future.
A massive massive thanks to Kaarle for all the work that went into setting up the shows, and for the hosting and transportation. Also big thanks to Pietsu, Kristian, Petri, Marge, and Jan.
Rome, a city of small cars and scruffy green spaces. Hints of old artifacts visible from a bus window. Does it smell as it did three thousand years ago? A country of roundabouts in lieu of traffic lights, a roading system with more curves than a sack of spiral pasta. Big blue skies framed by rising ranges in one direction, and the halitosis of progress breathes its smoggy breath out the other way. A city adorned in street-art tattoos on almost every conceivable surface.
Italy is our next destination after China. We land after an exhausting 30 hour journey from Beijing, through Qatar, to Rome, to train, to bus, to van to bed. We’re camping down at Invizin. We arrive on the Monday night and have a few days to recover from the jetlag before a show on Friday. The party is to mark the 1st birthday of this recently established cultural hothouse in San Giovani, located on the outskirts of the village of Tornareccino, East coast, South of the city of Pescara by an hour or so.
It’s warm when we land but the temperature drops as we head into the hills. On a clear day you can look down to the north and see the Adriatic coast. For the first couple of days jetlag dictates our patterns.
Invizin is the new art/science/technology and sustainability project of Hilary Binder.
“Invizin is a not-for-profit international cultural laboratory focused on stimulating and supporting ideas that challenge the status quo of social tolerance and material and intellectual sustainability. We invite and form international collaborations to apply artistic practice, scientific research and analysis, technological advances, and radical thinking across multiple fields. Based in the Italian region of Abruzzo, Invizin develops and implements model solutions that build creative and sustainable common futures…”
We first met Hilary about ten years ago when SABOT, the duo she drummed with, toured Aotearoa New Zealand. Sabot had been based in the Czech town of Tabor where Hilary, and Sabot bass player Chris Rankin, established the cultural exchange station called CESTA. The CESTA project was an art/culture/activist/community development project. It was truly inspiring for us when we first encountered it, and it still remains a key example of art and action in practice.
As well as catching up with Hilary on this tour, we are excited also that we have the opportunity to return to CESTA in a few weeks to perform at the house. Chris remains at CESTA and it’s been wonderful reconnecting in the setting up of our show there. More on that later.
We take refuge at Invizin, wrapped up in the presence of Autumn turning across the countryside. We sleep, then wake to a valley dressed in low cloud, go slow and charge up with food and coffee. We head into the village for a beer and visit local cheese shops and hardware stores. The population of the village is 1832.
The days roll past slowly as we recover from the jetlag. We spend the hours talking, eating, exploring the Invizin library, eating Gelato by the Adriatic and seeing flags of local successful protests to stop off-shore oil exploration. In the evenings it’s back to more food and alcohol. It’s a holiday.
Much of the conversation centres on the working concept Hilary has for Invizin. The building is a multi-level space on the top of a rise on the outskirts of town. Hilary has one level as living space and library. The ground floor has a history of being a restaurant many years ago. This project of Hilary’s is a new iteration of her ongoing commitment to social justice and social change, based on anarchist philosophy and the power of creative expression. Invizin is continuing to grow into a regular space for local musicians to gather and discover musical improvisation, to gently and sonically push out boundaries of perception while establishing new patterns, friendships and opportunities. There have been other previous Italian projects as well, such as creating festivals to celebrate the women of the villages.
Recently though, the place was burgled. A whole collection of useful tools and other bits and pieces were taken. Hilary entered into conversation with the thieves in the form of posters around stating to not steal from poor artists, but the rich and the state.
Earlier in the year Hilary was approached by some local musos asking her to sing for a group they were establishing. Eventually Hilary said yes and the group Polemica burst into life. They have recently self-released their first album of original material on vinyl and are touring across Europe diy style. Many of these ways of working, in an independent self-determined way are new for the band members. It seems to us that Hilary has already helped to create new openings for some members of the community.
A huge focus of our stay though is that we get to perform at the first birthday of Invizin on our final night, playing alongside Polemica and a local reggae DJ for the locals.
The building Hilary uses for Invizin used to be a local restaurant years ago. Downstairs from the main living space is the actual restaurant and the large kitchen including a purpose built pizza oven. We spend a full day tidying up the space in preparation, and we get a fire going in the pizza oven in anticipation that it will be functioning perfectly on the day of the party. We are guided by text messages from a local pizza oven master on the best way to reignite the oven afters 18 years of sitting idle. And it works perfectly, there’s no fleeing of nesting birds or any other critters from the smoke and the heat. The heat radiates. We bank it up and close it down and hope that in the morning we have made a hearty bed of charcoals to facilitate perfect pizza production.
Our final day rolls around, the kitchen is prepared. We work on finishing setting up the space. There is constant communication back and forth of what other provisions will be brought, food, drink, sound equipments. We stoke the pizza oven and given it the first test run. Will it work? How long will it take? So many blind questions. The only way to find out is to put the theory to the test. A base is rolled, toppings applied, make-shift instruments made, and the tray is pushed into the centre of the oven, surrounded by a mound of brilliant orange embers. There’s no thermostat so we have no idea how hot the beast gets. It takes about 5-6 minutes, the pan is rotated, moved around and monitored. The Utopizza is born! And to our estimation, it was as perfect as it needed to be! As far as signs and portents go, this is a goodie.
The afternoon rolls, people start to arrive with food, drink, the DJ with a box of music, the sound system has a few bugs discovered and corrected. And the evening cranks into a party. The oven is in production, kids are in the kitchen making their own food, and the music starts. We are up first and we are warmly and generously welcomed. A few dance, people charge drinks, and we feel like we fit right in. It is a delightful thing. Wonderful conversations afterwards, people want to share there experience of us, sense is made across language divides, enthusiastic Italians with no english proclaim at length of the fun they had, alcohol is a good lubricant for language exchange. And then Polemica prepare to do their set. There’s an air of excitement for the lads of the local community and Hilary. They have just recently returned from a two week tour and are honed, great song writing, some really solid tunes, and a confident delivery. It is really very good. It is the first home show for some time and they are welcomed and the party ramps.
All finished. The community leave for home, the Dj plays the last reggae tune and powers down the system. We head off to bed for four hours sleep before we need to be up and off to catch the bus back to Rome’s airport.
Heading back towards the airport, sleep, snack, stare out the window listening to Leila Adu on headphones in this mist-lifting landscape, a fine musician and true internationalist, music for the world, skillful and hopeful. The warm weather undressed the night.
The sun touches the haberdashered suit hanging in the window. They are dry now. Last night they were sodden with sweet.
The sun touches eyelids sleeping on a Sunday floor. Warming them. The light projects redness to the retina and the brain responds. Waking.
The sky is blue. Good morning Beijing. The last morning. The next bed we wake on will be Italian. Ears singing tones of volume from the night before. There is a small presence of beer in the brain. Waking slowly, slowly.
Last night we saw stars in the skies above Beijing. Sparkles of ear rings for the Cheshire cat smile, that slender slip of a moon grinning down.
Sound resonates through the apartment walls, of hammering, of chairs being scrapped across floors, of small activities. The city sounds like wind. Maybe those are bird songs? Listen to industry, maybe rubble being dumped, all the cars sound like one, the echoes of the petrol powered motorbikes throttle can be heard, the electric scooters are silent. Occasional car horns honk, so much less so than in other cities, a lone call opens it throat and calls to others. There’s no ashvelt orchestra this morning. Waking more.
Flexing, feeling stiffness and muscular fatigue from days of lugging cases and playing shows. Arthritis says hi. The room is warmer. The last morning in China. Awake.
Last night was memorable. Someone commented on the spectacle we made; a mosh pit manifest in a Moroccan restaurant in Beijing. Is that not something spectacular?
Our show was held in a venue called Caravan, a Moroccan restaurant in Beijings embassy district. It is a regular restaurant by day. The owner, Badr, is a huge music fan and musician, and is committed to providing the space as a venue as well. He treats the performers excellently, feeding all and providing a few drinks to boot. The show was opened by a local DJ Fido and followed by a three-piece called The Death Narcissist.
We arrived yesterday morning on the overnight train from Wuhan. The Beijing train terminals may be some of the busiest we’ve seen. We are being hosted by Susu and Dann from the local art/oddball group Guiguisuisui, its unfortunate that we won’t get to see them play.
The accommodation could not be in a more perfect position, centrally located to great eateries and Metro centres. We have the opportunity to wander around for the afternoon. Oddly down a back alley we find an english styled pub serving beer and chips with brown sauce, we partake.
But today is the last day of an exceptional ten day tour. There is one show to go and that will be at the artspace called Fruit Space. The show will be mid afternoon, and then from there we head to the airport and leave for Italy.
But first we go for a last lunch with Susu and Dann at a particularly flash vegetarian restaurant. An incredible array of tastes and textures finished with a spectacular ball made of white chocolate, surrounded by a moat of steaming liquid nitrogen. The ball is then shattered by one of the waitstaff to revel odd white chocolate breadlike sandwiches with a jam paste on the middle..we need to report that it looked better than it tasted. And then we leave our wonderful hosts and hitch a cab to Fruity Space.
The venue reminds of the venues back home such as Pyramid Club. Fruity is an underground facility which also supplies a bar and small zine and record store of local experimental items. Were are playing with two other acts. The first is a saxophone and noise collaboration, the noise maker manipulates sounds made from two sheets of metal with contact microphones attached. Its less boisterous than we expected. Next is Wellington musician Dan Beban performing on a traditional local string instrument with another local on violin. Dan is currently on an artist in residence programme hosted at the Red Gate facility across town. We hoped to get out that way to explore but have run out of time. Then our turn. The set up is pleasing hut we are soon told then we need to turn down due to issues with volume. We take this in our stride and it doesn’t compromise the performance at all, in fact its quite fun playing with this enforced intimacy. There’s a lot of laughing and we enjoy the lighthearted end to our ninth and last show.
And thats it. Done. All thats left to do is pack our gear away in preparation for our impending longhaul flight. We have a couple of hours to kill so head for a last supper with our friends and beer.
We depart on our own by taxi, leaving behind new contacts and friends. We make our way the gargantuan Beijing airport. We have a long haul ahead of us. But behind us we have accumulated wonderful memories from and incredible eye-opening and challenging experience. It has been a truely immense pleasure to spend time in such fine company across this country. We feel this trip is a brilliant preparatory expedition in anticipation of returning sometime. It was that good!
The morning after Nuts. A 6 hour bullet train ride is the method of momentum to assist our arrival in Wuhan. Wuhan, we are told, is the most punk of the Chinese cities in terms of music and venue. This message has been reiterated several times, along with the impression that it’s a brilliant fun place to play.
The train ride to Wuhan is beautiful, moving through the haze and the low cloud. Those impressions from old Chinese landscape painting in the flesh, in Terra and timber. Mountainous regions are cast with garden plots. Every portion of the land is used to produce food. On steep inclines and in the deep valleys, single or double story dwellings scatter through the landscape making up the villages and small cities free from skyscrapers.
And there are so many tunnels. Blackouts then flashes of beauty, then back to the black. A deep valley to the left holds major roads and homes, we must be high up. The core of many mountains have been drilled to make way for this transit network. When travelling at 140+ kph, the precision needed to ensure confidence and safety is mind bending.
We arrive in Wuhan, take the Metro into the city then take time to hail a cab to take us to the venue Coastlines. The city is built around rivers and long roads which are difficult to turn round on. We are meant to be at the venue at 5.30 and at 6.30 we are still stuck in traffic.
We find the venue located down a small side lane. Scratty in a cute way, it’s small and well equipped. Out in the back room we dump our gear between four 8 x 10 bass speaker cabinets and amps. We wonder if they hire stuff out or just got a bulk deal?
We get food in a tiny restaurant in the same lane. The owners are intrigued and quiz Kristen about us, what are we doing and how do we make a band work? It’s possible not many foreigners visit this eatery at all. We talk of inviting them to the show but they will still be working when we finish.
Even though the club is only a couple of hundred meters away from the restaurant the owners have never been in. They comment that they frequently see drunken foreigners late at night coming from there but have never felt like it was a venue for them.
There were to be three bands on the bill but one has cancelled due to injury. The first band is called Panic Worm. Their sound is great. Five guys playing post-punk sounds and the singer has studied the intonation of Mark E Smith of the Fall. We get the sense they are quite popular and they deserve to be.
The audience is really responsive to our set. There’s a lovely energy in the room to play with and we have a blast. Probably the most dancing since Guangzhou. There are more foreigners at this show than others as well, all young men in Wuhan teaching English.
One conversation sticks from a talk with a local. He says he’s a trained musician, works as a bass player, and comments on the ‘fun’ of our performance. He says how ‘fun’ is impossible for him. Making music has always been work, and a sense of necessity was instilled from early on in life to work hard. ‘Playing’, or playfulness never led to success. He can see what he’s missing and not sure how to access it, even doubts it may be possible to relearn. He says he thinks this is something foreigners are better at. His denim jacket is covered in band patches, Slipknot and the like. You can see his interests, and also feel his resignation. We’re conscious to not be dismissive, or overly optimistic. His assessment may be correct for him? Hearing him out feels important.
We pack with a sense of urgency, we need to get back to the train station to catch the 01:40 sleeper to Beijing. And we don’t want to run.
We saw tiny bits of Wuhan, at night. Had a great time.
Depart on a train full of sleeping bodies.