The 1990s came in with the roaring fuzz of grunge's
distorted guitar sound and went out in flurry of synthesized
breakbeats. As electronic music is increasingly categorized
into ambiguous genres like techno, trance, house, and
drum and bass, originality is often forsaken for the
marketability of labeling music. Ironically, what was
once considered one of the most innovative and pioneering
musical movements of the 20th century (i.e. the work
of Can, Faust, Kraftwerk and Eno), has become a commodified
industry of re-hashed samples and tired beats. Thus
it comes as no surprise that in a sea of mediocrity,
the double blessing of record sales and critical acclaim
is all the more elusive.
As China's first all-electronic band, Supermarket faces
daunting challenges. More importantly, they encounter
the added difficulty of reaching out to a relatively
unexposed Chinese audience. On their debut LP, 1998's
The Look, Supermarket introduced a blend of synthesized
beats, vocals, and jangly guitars to China's rock-dominated
scene. Their new release, Weapon, displays a more sophisticated
sound that draws from a wider range of influences. Unlike
Supermarket's New Order/Cure-influenced debut, Weapon
employs a more complex arsenal of breakbeats and samples.
The first track (enigmatically entitled "S1") opens
with a drum and bass beat, while the second track (predictably
entitled "S2") mixes a live distorted drum beat with
a cool harmonic blend of male and female vocals. "S3"
is an endorphic blend of traditional female vocals set
to a backdrop of drones, chimes and bells. Other standouts
include the cool-miked drums and backward masking on
"S4" and the laid back trip-hop groove of "S6."
Much to their credit, Supermarket has drawn from a wide
range of influences without sacrificing their own original
sound. All the more impressive is the fact that they
are virtually the only group in China of their kind.
With the international success of similar acts from
Japan (Pizzicatto Five and Cornelius), Supermarket is
an encouraging sign of good things to come for Mainland
electronic music groups.
LITTLE CHICKEN HATCHES
(Modern Sky's Badhead)
With a half-open Beijing sewer lid on the cover
of their Badhead label debut, Little Chicken Hatches,
Tongue make defiantly weird music straight out of the
Chinese rock underground.
Formed by a group of "former factory workers, farmers,
and students" from UrŸmqi, the capital of northwest
China's Xinjiang province, the six-man band pushes the
envelope of modern Chinese music with their take on
post-punk art rock.
Eerily evocative of Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter,
lead singer Wu Tun's snide snarl and anarchic lyrics
("I guess it's education/I guess it's law/I guess it's
virtue/I guess it's limitations") are a fitting complement
to drummer Li Zhongtao's stacatto beats and Zhu Xiaolong's
abrasively tweaked-out guitar riffs. The overall effect
is a cacophonous swirl of syncopated, off-beat, randomly
interspersed melody snippets, punctuated by frantic
keyboard trills courtesy of Guo Dagang.
Unfortunately, the originality of the music is offset
by the typical problem of poor production quality and
antiquated recording techniques. Mainland producers
have not caught on yet to the concept of camouflaging
the vocals in the mix. Likewise, the drums are badly-miked,
and the guitar parts are recorded at far too low a volume,
completely washing out the bracing effect of Zhu's power
The album sounds like it was recorded in a padded room,
more resembling a Canto-pop album than the grinding
wall of noise that is the essence of Tongue's live performances.
Perhaps a live album or a video of their shows would
do the band more justice.
Tongue will play at Friends Live Club Friday, March
4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are RMB30. See Zhaole Directory
for venue information.