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[Music Monday]: Awesome Tapes from Minhang

Previews of a huge Tuesday–Saturday of underground dance music from Awesome Tapes, Primitive Calculators, and The Bug.
By Mar 16, 2015 Nightlife
Music Monday is a weekly SmartShanghai column, serving up songs from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please contact us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.

One of the many, many tapes on the Awesome Tapes blog

Top of the morning to ya Shanghai. Hopefully everyone is filled with Guinness and regret. As you pee away the last of the green beer and prepare for that power point presentation on exporting widgets to the world Music Monday has an epic soundtrack of all time awaiting you.

Before we get to all that a big shout out to the Split Works kids for pulling off the Japanese metal show Boris last Friday in this harsh climate of music cancellations. Times are tough for any foreign act trying to play in China but especially stringent on Japanese bands, like the cancelation of last week’s Kawabata Makoto from Acid Mother Temple. Promoters tried to slip him in under the radar but just did more harm than good as the Beijing venue XP was closed down for over a week due to the booking. Also newly opened rock bar and live house Inferno got some special attention from the man due to trying to showcase the famous Japanese experimental artist who is listed as a "cult leader" under the banned performers list.

A big booooo and hiss to the Ssighborggg kids who canceled last Friday’s gig simply because they did not read the Visa rules properly and were turned away at the airport upon arrival. They tried to swing in on the 72 hour visa free policy but were denied due to a flight transfer technicality. This was the final straw for live house Yuyintang who has bared the brunt of weekly foreign show cancelations from the start of this year. Now Yuyintang will require a 2,000RMB deposit if you try and book a foreign act which will be defaulted if they don’t arrive. Don’t worry Round Eye and other expat outfits this does not apply to you.

Enough of all this rock talk as this week we focus on some of the best underground dance music in the world descending onto Shanghai (fingers crossed). First up on Tuesday is Brian Shimkovitz’s Awesome Tapes from Africa, Friday features '70s synth punk pioneers Primitive Calculators at Yuyintang. Then Saturday is big daddy himself The Bug which is shaping up to be a killer gig with the added support of Manga. Jesus, if my liver isn’t already blown out from last weekend this time around she is surely shot.

Awesome Tapes from Africa

Well I’ll be damned this booking is quite a surprise. After hearing Awesome Tapes from Africa (ATFA) for the first time back in 2013 from his radio show on Beats in Space I never thought I would see the tape-master himself grace Shanghai's stages. Sure at first glance some New York DJ dude trying to stand out by only playing cassettes sounds like a hipster cry for help. I haven’t been a big supporter of this whole tape craze that’s sweeping the nation over the past few years but ATFA is the one act that turned me on to this lower quality format medium. Brian first traveled to Ghana starting a project researching Ghanian rap known as hiplife. From there he started branching out to researching other forms of rare grooves from the continent that still has much undiscovered music scenes. Eventually Brian started a blog where he presents these finds in a very simple to find format of East, West, North, South Africa along with cataloging by decade. It's truly a passion that has benefited countless hungry music diggers from around the world.

Since 2006, ATFA has posted over 250 tapes on his blog, with nearly 4,000 more stored in his South Williamsbourgh pad waiting to be sorted. On top of digitizing rare tunes for the masses, AFTA has also started a label re-releasing cassettes and also releasing the music for the first time on vinyl for collectors. He only does a re-issue if he can find the original artist and get permission. This is no easy task as most tapes don’t have contact info, but being able to properly promote the artist is the foundation of his work. Make sure to show up early Tuesday as weekday gigs always start on time, and watch Awesome Tapes from Africa do his thing a pitch controlled tape player. Here's his Boiler Room set, but to really get into his grooves just go on the ATFA website and listen to the artists directly.

Awesome Tapes from Africa – Boiler Room Set

Primitive Calculators

If you want to talk about the primordial ooze of early drum machine use and synth experimentation, then you have to mention Primitive Calculators. Born out of the lesser known late '70s underground scene in Melbourne Australia, this band was one of the first to use synth based equipment to make punk rock. Specifically they used a Wasp, Roland SH2, and Roland CR-78 drum machine. They came up in a Melboure club night called Little Bands, which featured short sets from start up projects, and Primitive Calculators are one of the staple acts on this recently rediscovered scene. Like all great punk bands they came with fists of fury of fury and burned out with a blaze of glory, playing their last show in 1980. In 1987 the band got some time in the limelight when they appeared in the 1987 movie Dogs in Space, which featured a young Michael Hutchence.

One of Nick Cave’s earliest backup groups The Boys Next Door were part of the Little Band scene. Fueled by booze, trees, and dole food stamps a sound was born from dystopian synths and epileptic drum machines that would echo throughout the '80s and '90s, and until the final reformation of the group in 2009. This was for the first Australian version of All Tomorrow Parties which of course was curated by Nick Cave himself. This eventually lead follow up album titled The World in Fucked released in 2013 -- over 30 years after the original self-titled LP. As over the past few years I recently just discovered and fell in love with these early synth bands like the Screamers, and this show on Friday will be a special treat. Put your dancing shoes on because this one is going to get rowdy!

Primitive Calculators – "I Can’t Stop It"

The Bug

Even though Kevin Martin a.k.a. The Bug has been to Shanghai before, he's still my top pick for Saturday’s gigs. Since his last visit he has put out an amazing full length on Ninja Tune records titled Angels & Devils, but most importantly to me is the release of The Bug vs Earth, a project with drone pioneers Earth. Kevin Martin’s past projects, which include GOD, Techno Animal, and the more recent King Midas Sound, amongst others, have always pushed the boundaries of electronic music in a very raw and dark direction. His early group GOD featured Napalm Death front man Justin Broadrick, who was also featured on their Techno Animal collaboration, which also included Vast Aire of Anti-Pop Consortium.

His most well-known project The Bug is a combination of noise, grime, hip-hop, and dancehall music that has stayed relevant in England’s ever-expanding club culture. His side project King Midas Sound was also a popular crossover with the poet Roger Robinson and Japanese singer / artist Kiki Hitomi. Even though doom metal act Earth have lost their way these past couple years, this collaboration with the Bug which dropped last Black Friday had me on the edge of my seat. With steal-guitar drones provided by Earth and throbbing drum machines provided by The Bug in this most unnatural of combinations, I’m curious if die-hard Earth fans will abandon them if they continue to experiment with beat related music. Either way I can’t wait to see what The Bug throws down this Saturday at Shelter.

The Bug vs Earth – "Cold"

The Bug - "Poison Dart feat. Warrior Queen"

Obscure African jams, early synth punk pioneers, and dark industrial noise. Is that weird enough for you Shanghai? Are you freaked out yet? I hope so.


This column is written by DJ Sacco, who runs Uptown Records, Shanghai's dedicated vinyl shop. Ironically, they don't sell Mp3s or dabble in anything digital, instead they have 7" and 12", EPs and LPs from rock to electronic, rare pressings, DJ equipment and band merchandise. Find them in an old bomb shelter at 115 Pingwu Lu.



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  • zmann999

    At least the Lenny Kravitz show as canceled, that gig wasn't good for anyone.

  • dteeban

    If, however, you do want some rock in your life this week, there's a Shanghai metal show at Yuyintang on Saturday with The Arcbane, The Machinery of Other Skeletons and Chaos Mind! 9pm doors, 40RMB cover.

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