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  Beijing Scene


(Modern Sky)

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.


(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 Urmqi, 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 chords.


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.



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