Looks like the wave of Sinophobia from the past two weeks had finally succumbed to a natural death… at least for now while everyone’s quite wrapped up with the upcoming election season instead of some netizens having some sort of unjustified beef with China.
What’s sure though is that there are no signs of stopping thus far for my still-ongoing coverage of bands from China that are currently making waves in the global music scene and yet has been largely ignored both here and in the States for reasons beyond my own imagining. For this installment, the focus is on indie rock band P.K. 14.
P.K. 14 had already established themselves as a driving force of the early 2000’s Chinese indie music scene with already five albums under their belt, the latest of which is “1984” released last 2013 on Maybe Mars and recorded at Chicago’s Electrical Audio studios. One could very easily imagine P.K. 14’s utter excitement as they flew from their home country to the States to record an entire album, a huge feat in itself as the band had previously expressed wanting to record with legendary music producer Steve Albini (who also owns Electrical Audio). Yep, THAT Steve Albini of Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac who also worked behind the controls for two landmark albums of the 90’s that anyone worth his/her salt should totally have as part of their record collection: Nirvana’s “In Utero” and Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa”. (Finally, an excuse to post something about Steve Albini in this blog right here, lol.)
Unlike 2008’s “City Weather Sailing” which was a bit all over the place with fleeting moments of melancholic piano and violin interspersed all over the said record to achieve a bit of lush, semi-orchestral feel somewhat reminiscent of The Cure’s mid-career records, “1984” has this brawny, muscular indie rock sound that all those much-loved equipment in Albini’s Electrical Audio studios surely must have brought to the foreground and is commonly viewed as a return to the more straightforward sound of the band’s previous records (save for their 2001 debut full-length “Upstairs, Turn Left” which felt more akin to listening to some cold, drum machine-driven record from the Neue Deutsche Welle era). Steve Albini recording a band all the way from China, who would’ve thought? A couple of musician friends I personally know who are such huge fanboys of anything to do with Steve Albini would surely be chuffed with “1984” which they and everyone else following this series can listen to below:
What makes P.K. 14 stand out though – at least, in my humble opinion – is not so much their sound but rather leader Yang Haisong’s vocals that instantly recall Pere Ubu’s David Thomas if he sang exclusively in Mandarin, a stylistic choice that has undoubtedly helped P.K. 14 maintain their Chinese identity while playing Western music at the same time. Haisong is also a sought-after producer most notable for having helmed Carsick Cars’ second album ”You Can Listen, You Can Talk” (2007, Maybe Mars) as well as several other records from up-and-coming bands in his country. Found this rather lengthy yet highly informative interview with Haisong which does a really great job at peeking into the mind of a burgeoning figurehead of the Chinese indie music scene.
Interestingly enough, P.K. 14 drummer Jonathan Leijonhufvud who first appeared in the band’s 2004 release “Whoever and Whoever” is a Swedish national but can be considered as totally Chinese in spirit. Aside from pounding the skins for P.K. 14, Leijonhufvud is also a certified architectural photographer (or basically a fancy term for someone who takes hi-res pictures of buildings and other structures) whose works can be viewed here.
This blog’s affair with Yang Haisong isn’t over just yet as next week’s featurette will be dedicated to a side project of his called Dear Eloise which I also first heard on WFMU along with Carsick Cars and had helped me regain a newfound interest in the exciting world of “The Sound of Modern China”.
Just a quick sidenote: Been receiving a few suggestions about some other records from China. Rest assured that I am listening to each suggestion presented my way and WILL feature them in this ongoing series as soon as possible since they’ve grown to become personal favorites. 😉