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[Music Monday]: China's Best Albums Of 2015 (So Far)

Christmas comes early for Sacco, as he shares the best 15 China albums of 2015 so far, including the new Round Eye 12”, releases by AM444, Yang Fan, Damacha, MadPete, and more.
By Jun 23, 2015 Nightlife
There is a chance you’ve been in China too long when around mid–June, out of nowhere, cravings appear for those damn Zongzi rice snacks. Before any signs of the impending Dragon Boat holiday, I got the urge to just kill a whole basket of 1000 year–old eggs with some sticky ass rice around them. Well I got my fill of dragons over the weekend, but during the festivities I came across a startling revelation -- no one in Shanghai knows who DJ Quik is.

During the three–day weekend I made a point of asking over 20 people if they knew DJ Quik. Not a damn one. It’s not like I was at the symphony and opera every night, either. Over the holiday I went to three separate hip hop events and a drum n bass night. I’m looking at you Damacha, Swimful Butterfly, and the entire Split–Works staff.

For the record, DJ Quik is a prolific West Coast rapper and producer that was dropping game when O.T. Genasis was in diapers. So before you get that "R.I.P. J Dilla" tramp stamp tattoo, check out this little 40 strong YouTube Playlist of DJ Quik instrumentals.

Back in the mainland we are halfway through 2015 and I just can’t wait till December for another album best of list. Here's the 2014 list for reference. Long gone are the days when quality underground albums from China were a rarity. Seems like solid local records drop nearly every week, and today I’m sharing some of my favorites. This will be a family fun adventure so let’s get her done China.

15. Round Eye's Self-Titled LP

Label: Ripping Records
Format: Vinyl / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Round Eye are back in the headlines with a fancy gatefold 12” vinyl full–length album that's being released on Friday at On Stage live house. This is the first official LP for Shanghai’s overly obvious expats, as their first 12” was a split with American band Libyan Hit Squad.

To be honest, when Round Eye got their start a few years back I didn’t think they would be as impactful in the rock scene as they’ve become. They've advanced their sound into a solid, multi–faceted garage rock band that supports local acts AND they help foreign artists set up tours across China -- these fuckers keep fighting the good fight. The self-titled album includes saxophonist Steve Mackay, originally of The Stooges with Iggy Pop. Mackay made the trip out to China for this record debut and will perform Friday at On Stage. The album is also a work of art with fold out, hand–drawn graphics provided by Gregor of Shanghai screen print collective Idle Beats.

Round Eye – "City Livin'"

14. AM444's Dark Show EP

Label: Self Released
Format: Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Also on Friday is the glorious return of AM444, who are playing a live–house style gig Friday at Yuyintang. This will be the first show in China since their new album Dark Show debuted a couple months back. So you know, in a way this could be considered an album launch. Either way, it will be nice to check out the new tracks live, as Jay.Soul has really stepped up his production levels and ChaCha’s vocals are super dark and a little scary.

My main man Pantoo is joining them along with a few bonus guests. Pantoo performed last weekend at On Stage so he should be all warmed up for the big time this Friday at Yuyintang. The cover of the album was done by Nini of -- you guessed it -- screen print collective Idle Beats. Those guys are so hot right now.

AM444 – "Dark Show"

13. Torturing Nurse's All Bastards+LP

Label: Cruel Nature Records
Format: Cassette / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

If you haven’t heard of Torturing Nurse, you've either been living under a rock, or music that sounds like rocks dancing in a blender with the cap off just isn’t your thing. Personally, I love the intensity of the whole package presented by Shanghainese musician Junky. The noise sets, confrontational performances, and just the violence. I love it all. But does that mean I throw in a Torturing Nurse mini-disc when going on my morning 5k speed walk? Not usually. When watching them play in Shanghai I’m always curious if people know that this is one of China’s most famous musical acts.

Just looking at the band's Discogs page, they have 195 CD / cassette / vinyl releases listed, mostly from international labels. Just this year alone I could have chosen from over 10 Torturing Nurse albums like the 7” vinyl split with Australian legends Primitive Calculators. Instead, I’m going with a February tape release titled All Bastards, from English label Cruel Nature Recordings. Hey what do you know -- Torturing Nurse is also playing Friday with Round Eye at On Stage. That’ll be a wild one.

Torturing Nurse – "All Bastards"

12. Yang Fan's What Happened After 1,001 Nights? LP

Label: Genjing Records
Format: Vinyl / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

If 2014 was the year of Yang Hai Song, then 2015 is most certainly the year of Yang Fan. Having known her from previous Chinese hard-rock girl bands like Ourselves Beside Me and Hang on the Box, the Yang Fan bleep on my radar has existed for a while. But what I didn’t know is how skilled she is in the background work of music production.

This album was written, recorded, and mixed all by her lonesome. She has quickly risen to the rank of respected fader slider, recording and producing the latest Chui Wan masterpiece for Maybe Mars records, among other projects. Her solo album reflects an intense emotional roller coaster that is at times maybe a bit difficult for listening. I found that after giving the vinyl 2-3 plays all the way through, it really grew on me. Now I’ve probably listened over 20 times. If you are a fan of collecting local indie albums then this is a must have.

Yang Fan – "Arabian Nights"

11. Damacha's TuHaoJin LP

Format: CD / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Speaking of smooth fader sliding hands, it don’t get more icy then Damacha’s new album on SVBKVLT record TuHaoJin. Concept albums are always fun and this time around Damacha didn’t pull any punches by coming out with an amazing 12–song CD copied by hand.

Damacha scoured the streets for cheesy Chinese club tracks from those CD vendors that ply their wares on the corner blasting that sweet bicycle sound system. Cutting up and layering footwork inspired beats, this project turned out nothing less than groundbreaking. While listening, try to imagine every solid gold paint job BMW you’ve seen in Shanghai and every bedazzled iPhone6 that went a little too far. If you weren’t lucky enough to get one of the shiny CDR’s from the opening party make sure to lay down a few dollars for the online version.

Damacha – "MingMingBai"

10. Chui Wan's Self-Titled LP

Label: Maybe Mars
Format: Vinyl / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

One of the most anticipated indie rock albums of this year is the self–titled Chui Wan piece that just dropped in China after the band finished a successful month long tour in the States. It’s been three years since the first album White Night spread across our great red land with a psych–rock fever. Since then they have dived deeper into the rabbit hole of reverbs and the new album even features a special remix from acclaimed producer Dead J. As mentioned before, our beloved Yang Fan recorded, mixed, and produced this psych masterpiece. Yang Fan didn’t stop there -- she also supported the album by providing background vocals.

Chui Wan – "On the Other Ocean"

9. Various Artists' Do Hits Vol. 1 EP

Label: Do Hits
Format: Digital
Website: Soundcloud

Do Hits is a producer crew that started over four years back from Beijing and Shanghai beatmakers Sulumi, Howie Lee, Guzz, and Billy Starman. To celebrate the anniversary, the crew put out a solid digital EP that was released just last weekend up in Beijing and two weeks ago in Shanghai.

Back when the crew started out there wasn’t many places in Beijing young producers could try out their left field productions in a live format. Then in 2012, crew leader Howie Lee moved their events to the newly opened Beijing Dada bar and have since grown into a nationally respected production crew. At last weekend’s release there was no CD and no vinyl record but instead a scratch card. Some people got a download code, others got free entrance to the next party, and some just got a nice message. The new EP showcases that Do Hits is moving away from the standard 4/4 format and are really pushing boundaries and trying to build a producer–centric scene up north.

Jason Hou – "Sheng"

8. Nahash's Old Religion New SkinLP

Label: Huashan Records
Format: Cassette / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

2015 ushered in a new release from local doom rock gods Nahash, whose tape Old Religion / New Skin brought together a perfect axis of evil that has been brewing for the past couple years. This six song opus really stepped up the production and the album flow almost tells a story.

What kind of story, you ask? The story of a nice bunch of druids gathering around an altar passing a chalice of female fluid wine before going on their annual naked fun run. Although the album is mostly performed by Rapahel Valensi, we have to give it up to Ivan Belcic for the drum assistance. Also Ivan designed that sick logo.

Nahash – "Conquer, And Let It Die"

7. Hiperson's No Need for Another History LP

Album: No Need for Another History LP
Label: Maybe Mars
Format: Vinyl / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Straight out of the mean streets of Chengdu is Hiperson with the album No Need For Another History on Maybe Mars. The post-punk quintet recorded this 11–song album with PK-14 front man Yang Hai Song, who many compare the fiery female vocals of Hiperson to. The band came through town last month with the CD release but I’m counting the days until later next month that double 12" clears customs and goes straight into my arms. This album really showcases the development of quality bands in increasingly supportive smaller scenes like Chengdu.

Hiperson – "He made up his mind to be a tourist"

6. Conrank's Dog Town Unleashed Mixtape

Label: Dog Town Records
Format: Digital
Website: Soundcloud

Earlier this year, Shanghai based British producer of all things bass Conrank dropped a six-song mix for Belgium based label Dogg Town. The electro label puts out everything from electro to techno to deep house, with artists such as Guy J and Anja Schneider. One of the highlights on the EP is a collaboration with Indonesian duo Bass Sekolah.

When not popping bottles, Conrank is hard at work remixing the likes of artists Henry Krinkle and Banganagangbangers. From the trap house to dubstep to future bass, Conrank’s tracks get thousands and thousands of downloads on a regular basis. Rankadank is very much at home in the digital world and I’m guessing there are not too many vinyl releases planned for that next chill wave remix. Never forget -- it’s all about the kids and Soundcloud.

Conrank – "Air"

5. Mad Pete's Cantonese Boombap Instrumentals LP

Label: Groove Bunny Records
Format: Vinyl (No Digital Release)
Website: Bandcamp

Hangzhou based Chinese hip hop label Groove Bunny is back with a new version of the 2013 release of Cantonese Boom Bop. MadPete is born from the mind of Pete Chen out of Guangzhou laying down beats with Madprole on vocals. Groove Bunny is releasing a new version of the just the instrumentals. What’s special about this release is that there is not digital copy available, just the 12” vinyl of atmospheric instrumental hip hop on wax.

I got an advance copy of the record last weekend and played it all the through. While I like the original Cantonese Boom Bap, the instrumental release is something you can play over and over again and hey, feel free to use it as a backing track for your own rhymes down at the social club. The construction of the instrumentals are well developed and this record could go head to head against any Stones Throw pieces out there. Don’t sleep on this one cause when the vinyl is gone it’s gone.

Mad Pete – "Henpecked"

4. Deadly Cradle Death'sTelescopes SplitEP

Label: Genjing Records
Format: Vinyl / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Experimental music has been not only growing in China, but evolving into different terms of what is even considered left–field. Deadly Cradle of Dead is a duo that features Liu Xinyu and He Fan creating sharp bass filled synth tunes. They’ve become quite infamous for having the cops called on them at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas because the loudness of bass was keeping babies up late (in the baby cradle mind you). Although this 7” is solid, there is no substitute for seeing this band live. The flip side of the 7” is the American band Telescopes that features Ricky Maymi from Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Deadly Cradle Death – "Run It"

3. thruoutin's Service (Shanghai Mixes) EP

Label: Huashan Records
Format: Cassette / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Beijing’s thruoutin has been blending classical Chinese instruments with DIY mod’ed electronics for a few years now, but this album Service really takes his project to a new level. The quality on this album just floored me, with seamless blending of subdued electronics layered with various old brass instruments like symbols and trumpets. Not to mention Brad’s singing in Chinese achieves a really solid balance that makes you feel good all over. Three of the seven tracks are remixes by local legends DJ Doggy, El’se, and Laura Ingalls himself -- the man behind the mixing boards on this one. Keep more stuff like this coming Huashan Records.

thruoutin – "Qiguai de defang"

2. Yan Yulong & Liu Xinyu's Awaking LP

Label: SubJam
Format: CD / Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Another experimental group out of Beijing making some pink noise are duo Yan Yulong & Liu Xinyu. The project consists of field recordings and improvised sets woven together in a soundscape tapestry titled "Awaking". The label, Subjam, has actually been around since the year 2000 but more recently they have focused on experimental and avant-garde music. The album comes as a single 41 minute track and is available as a nice gatefold CD that was stained by the artists manually. Look out for these two producers Yulong & Liu Xinyu -- they're on their way to becoming modular gods.

Yan Yulong & Liu Xinyu – "Awaking"

1. Nakoma's Self-Titled LP

Label: Self Released
Format: Digital
Website: Bandcamp

Nakoma claims to be China’s first post–metal band, but hey, let’s not hold that against them. Of course that genre is bullshit. Nakoma are a complex band that touches on some sludgy leanings of style but then come back into more traditional guitar based music. What strikes me most is the heavy influence of that '70s prog–rock sound. Chinese already love Post–Rock, but if more acts like Nakoma start laying down innovative and heartfelt progressive rock then I'll be a happy camper. This album was recorded at Yang Hai Song’s studio and if you listen closely, that special custom rack mounted signal processor gives it a special vibe.

Nakoma – "The Fray"

Bonus! SNH48's Xin Xiang Qian LP

Label: Ninestyle
Format: CD / Digital
Website: YouTube

As a little bonus, I'd like to give a little glimpse into what’s going on in the Chinese pop music world, or the C-Pop scene if you will. Right now the hottest shit on the block is an act called SNH48, which is a insane project licensed from a similar Japanese band that features up to 30 members. Pretty sure they ripped off the intro to this song from somewhere...

SNH48 – "Give Me Five!"

Boom. If I missed an album that either means it sucks or I just never saw it in first place. Feel free to post Bandcamp / Douban / Soundcloud links in the comments!



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  • MichaelRussam

    Can't believe you coulnd't find anyone that knows DJ Quick! What a disgrace man. His new stuff is pretty great too:

  • zmann999

    So basically in that SNH48 video at the end the Bruce Lee villain boss man Jon T. Benn sprays magic dust over the girls and turns half into lesbians that do ska covers? Alright that story checks out!

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