Better late than never, we say. Festival season is finally upon us here in Beijing and taking the reins this May are the new kids in town: Rye Music Festival. The event, one of the few festivals to actually grace Beijing this year, is hosted by Taihe Music and various other music companies who have emerged in the ever-shifting industry as of late.
After a successful outing last fall, the organizers have thrown together a hefty two-day lineup that’ll take place over the May 25-26 weekend once again at the Changyang Music Theme Park. Hosting an array of Chinese and international acts, it’s a business-savvy lineup, matching some of the mainstream’s most beloved stars (and in a stroke of organizing genius, having pop star Jay Chou and ex-girlfriend and fellow Mandopop star Jolin Tsai headline the opposing nights) with an array of indie rock and pop acts that lack the pull of their superiors.
Most notable for us out-of-towners is the inclusion of influential Scottish shoegaze band Jesus & Mary Chain, ’cause why the hell not! It looks like the gamble has paid off, with tickets already selling at a rapid clip. In the interest of balance, we shine a spotlight on some of the festival’s lesser-known acts.
The young Essex band led by rapper Jordan “Rat Boy” Cardy has been making waves since their humble beginnings – “creating homegrown raps with a rock edge that paint a lyrical dissertation of suburban Britain” – eventually receiving NME Magazine‘s Best Artist Award followed by a frenzy of attention for their debut album SCUM. A freight train of a sound that mixes the visceral energy of punk with hip-hop beats, they’re a band with one foot in the past and one foot around the corner – calling to mind everyone from The Streets and Jamie T to NOFX and The Clash. The type of band that’s tailormade for the stage, they recently dropped their newest LP INTERNATIONALLY UNKNOWN, produced by LA punk veteran Tim Armstrong.
Mowmow Lulu Gyaban (モーモールルギャバン)
Japanese acts are often known for their quirky idiosyncratic stylings that favor the absurd and surreal, all the while maintaining a level of musicianship that is head and shoulders above most bands around the world. Mowmow Lulu Gyaban – inspired by the art rock and glam rock scenes of the ’70s – is all of that and then some. Donning simmering and spangly gold costumes, hairstyles laden with so much hairspray that they should be deemed a fire hazard, and leotards that’ll still burn your retinas even if you many to escape the blaze, Mowmow Lulu Gyaban’s secret weapon is their complete absence of a guitar, putting emphasis instead on the bonafide chops of their drummer and bassist, and injecting their sound with an almost surreal avant-garde aura. The result is groovy, mad, and heaps of fun.
The Taiwanese band I’m most excited to catch at this year’s festival is Deca Joins (a name which is apparently – and bewilderingly – short for “decadent / decaffeination joins together”). The four-piece jangly indie rockers became overnight sensations following the release of their 2017 album Bathroom, and for good reason, as their music matches tender melodies with a laid-back slacker rock charm that’s downright irresistible. The band has gone through many incarnations (including names like FUBAR and Gray Dwarf Star) but seem to have struck gold this time around, keeping their lof-fi sensibility intact amidst swirls of slow-burning psychedelic undertones and lo-fi indie pop stylings that “represents the f**ked-up lifestyle and revival of Slacker Generation.” Yes, please.
Fazi are no strangers to the Beijinger blog, but that won’t stop me from singing their praises up and down the street, as I do truly believe they’re a band that has not yet found the recognition they deserve among international crowds (though recent European tours have steadily been changing that). Formerly The Fuzz, the band has been as prolific as ever in the past few years, releasing one album after another. Whether it’s stirring indie rock anthems or an experimental psychedelic-laced jam fest, Fazi thrive thanks to their stage presence, lead by a frenzied lead singer who shakes convulsively until his eyes spin into the back of his head, laying down sermons that are a jittery, heartfelt blend of jagged post-punk swagger and melodic indie rock pop.
Formed in Moscow in late 2006 to immediate success in the growing Russian indie scene, Pompeya earns a spot on this list for simply representing one of the world’s largest but criminally under-represented countries. Combining new wave and ’80s pop with a shot of Motown-era funk/disco, their music has been described as “sunny, vibey music of hot summers, cool breezes, and driving in cabriolets.” At home, their fanbase goes beyond the hordes of screaming music-goers – their fourth show in history was opening for British rock band Stereophonics, and just last year, they had the honor of having Jules de Gasperis mix their LP in the US. Color me intrigued.
The Chairs (椅子乐团)
Led by the young and talented singer-songwriter Chou Chiu, Taiwan’s The Chairs are an indie-folk trio that feels like they’re hitting all the right notes, injecting their music with keen songwriting, city-pop vibes, and jazzy and psychedelic guitar work all without losing their indie pop facade. After their debut record skyrocketed them to success and garnered them all sorts of awards (including a win for Best Newcomers) they returned last year with their magnetic follow-up – Lovely Sunday – a romantically delightful album that’s not afraid to wear it’s heart on its sleeve whilst creating songs that buzz with life, giving folk music the much-needed kick in the ass it needs time to time.
Straight Fire Gang
Straight Fire Gang, made up of Feezy, XZT, and Ziiga – a motley crew of Shanghai and Hangzhou natives who studied abroad in the US and bonded over their mutual love of hip-hop – hit their stride last year with two sold-out national tours across China following the release of their well regarded LP Climbing the Wall. Rap that’s eager to keep listens on their toes (tracks span everything from odes to the popular Chinese pastry shop Baoshifu to dive deep homages to their shared love for Yeezy), they’re one of the few rap groups out there that feel genuinely refreshing and who speak to the new generation of young Chinese kids “born in the middle.”
Chengdu’s Stolen continue their ascent toward nationwide recognition, wracking up more and more attention both here and abroad for their post-punk stylings. That was until their latest LP Fragment saw them go down the techno-rock rabbit hole with the help of Berlin music legend Mark Reeder, helping them solidify their place as one of the scene’s most distinctive bands, cheekily blending sci-fi elements with sprawling cinematic backdrops that paint visions of a dystopian universe. There’s also a kinetic, darkwave buzz that feeds into the band’s retro, almost gothic, take on post-punk leading many to coin their sound as “Sinomatic.” No matter your opinions on that tag, Stolen has carved out a nice little corner for themselves in the China music scene and they’re a band that begs to be seen live.
Images courtesy of the organizers