Chinese indie rock, heard much about it? Neither had I. The limited attention it’s had on international shores is likely due to a number of factors, including the nauseating amounts of domestic psych-rock in Melbourne at the moment, as well as the Chinese cultural revolution. The cultural revolution disassociated China’s arts movement from the mainstream progressions throughout the late ’60s and ’70s, meaning that Chinese musicians weren’t able to overtly indulge in the psychedelic era in the same way that Western groups were. The consequence of this is that Beijing groups Carsick Cars, Birdstriking, and White+ have jumped on the bandwagon slightly later than most, taking the essence of indie-rock, and injecting it with a millennial maturity and sweeping electronic soundscape rather than the blown-out hums of the original movement.
These groups held their gig, ‘Carsick Cars/Maybe Mars Showcase’, at the Tote on the 24th of February. I’ve never experienced a bad show at the Tote, and this was no exception. Maybe it’s the entertaining ‘decorations’ in the bathrooms, the Coopers on tap, or the general grunginess of the venue which makes me feel a li’l edgy – whatever the reason, it’s the perfect venue.
I’d seen the members of White+ before the show in the smokers area, looking reserved and lurking quietly amongst the crowd. Suffice to say their social demeanour was a stark contrast to their stage presence – lurching around the stage and projecting sounds which were reminiscent of the avant-garde and space-rock genres. White+’s self-titled LP is constructed from tracks named after various colours, with their daunting number ‘blacK’ creating a sense of entrapment in a gloomy technological realm. Their music was able to construct an atmosphere of sound which felt as if it were permeating through the walls, and it was quite interesting to see how the two-piece managed to conjure up this unique noise.
Following the first of the imported acts was local group Primo!. The Melbourne three-piece had some melodic moments amongst their post-punk soundscape. One of the guitar players held an incredibly tight foundation throughout all their tracks, looking effortlessly steady and composed. The all-gal group had some really strong numbers, including Bronte Blues, which even managed to win over my musically snobby accomplices. Unfortunately, Primo! don’t have much of an online presence, and even their gigs are pretty rare, so I’d recommend booking yourself a ticket should one ever come up.
Birdstriking were the third group to hit the stage, and definitely a highlight for me, probably even my favourite act of the night. The four-piece incorporated the psych-rock whirls with typical indie-rock vocals, and kinda punk-rock tempos. My first impressions of them weren’t great, I mean, it’s always a bit cringeworthy when bands name themselves after a metaphor, which is exactly what this group had done. ‘Birdstriking’, apparently, refers to when a little bird gets hit by a plane and dies, but simultaneously damages the plane’s engine – a strange example of asymmetrical warfare, but I suppose it works in a sinister sort of way. Despite my reservations, it seems that the band does what it says on the packet to an extent, given that Birdstriking have had issues with the People’s Republic of China, which banned their 2012 self-titled album from being distributed to mainstream shops and outlets due to the lyrics having failed the scrutiny of censorship tests. So in that sense, the PRC engine has tried to take out the bird, but I’m not sure how successful the birds will be at taking down the engine… The group’s political activism – expressed through touring and defying PRC orders – is certainly a bold move, and a spirit which infused their performance with a bit more poignance than it would have otherwise possessed.
The venue was quickly filled by vast numbers and varieties of people, a few of which seemed to be appalled by all the smoke in the smokers area – I wonder if they were also distraught by the amount of music in the music venue – evacuating the table with great haste at the glimpse of a filter. After combatting the stock-standard guy who’s bragging about how many intoxicants he’s ingested, and asking everyone “what’s the go for kick-ons, guys?”, Carsick Cars took the stage.
Carsick Cars didn’t impress me all that much. Yeah, their music established an impressive showcase of noise, but that’s all it really seemed like: noise. Going into the performance I had anticipated to hear sweeping riffs of indie rock influenced by political agendas, where as what I got was, whereas what I got was indie-surf rock mixed with repetitive and uninspiring lyrics. Although that’s not to say that their performance was completely intolerable. The composition of members Shou Wang, Alex Turner and Wang Xu seemed to mesh really nicely, with the drummer looking as if he were about to pass out most of the time; being balanced by the floppy-haired bassist who barely broke a sweat.
The best part of Carsick Cars’ set was watching all the super dedicated fans throwing themselves around, this one gawky guy in particular, who threw his glasses off somewhere among the crowd as he dived further to the front and into his metamorphosis (Kafka eat your heart out). Despite not really enjoying Carsick Cars, the event was very well managed as per usual at the Tote, with each act coming on at the allotted time or even a few minutes early. Whilst I’m unlikely to attend another one of their gigs anytime soon, the groups certainly brought with them an international zest which was welcomed in the Melbourne music scene.