Modern Sky Festival: Day One
Before I get stuck into the review of the bands I saw at this year’s Modern Sky, I’d just like to say that, across the board this was a far better effort than last year. Even though Chaoyang Park was much closer to me personally, and despite the fact — or perhaps because of it — that Modern Sky has put on more festivals this year that I’m surprised anyone on their staff can still stand let alone set up stages and stalls, this one went off without a hitch. The horrendous lining up issues that we experienced at Strawberry earlier this year weren’t present at all, either, and though they’d run out of schedule booklets to hand out on the third day, everything else seemed to work out just fine. There was beer, good weather, and great atmosphere — what more could you ask for?
Well, here’s what I got:
STEELY HEART 钢铁的心
I was… tentative about seeing these guys early in the afternoon again. The last time I saw Steely Heart was at the Max Star Festival at Ditan, I was underwhelmed. I admitted, and it is true, that this band honestly shines at a dive bar when the band, crowd, and sound tech is drunk, but there were many reasons for the awkward performance that day. On this sunny Saturday afternoon, however, Steely Heart did not fail to impress. They actually got into each of the songs, and while their attitude on stage is still very much in the apathetic footsteps of The Strokes, their energy was much more palpable than at Max Star.
Unfortunately, the addition of an awful synth track to each of their songs seems to be there to stay. I hate it. I reserve full judgement until next time I see them at a dive bar, but until then… I’m not impressed.
I’d heard a lot about these guys, seeing as they were made up of some of the best of Chinese rock and punk. Unfortunately, their sound was a little too noisy and heavy for me to enjoy. Perhaps in a different mood or mindset, I might have enjoyed it; as it was, they were way off what I was expecting and not what I was interested in seeing.
BLACK HEAD 黑撒
These guys had a great sound. They reminded me a lot of Nancheng Brother, and I suppose they do very similar things. Nancheng Brother riff off of Beijing crosstalk performance and use traditional instruments to play rock music infused with that sound; Black Head uses a similar performance tradition from Shaanxi province and has come out with some great folk rock fusion music. They also do a bit of rap/hip-hop, tapping into some other interesting areas of similarity between traditional and modern music styles. I seriously suggest seeing them if they’re in this neck of the woods again, or else just listening to their Douban.
However, the most interesting part of their performance had to be their song that, for all intents and purposes, should have been called “Fuck Japan”. I couldn’t catch all the words, but between the English for “fuck Japan”, there was definitely the Chinese equivalent. In the middle of the song, the lead singer broke into speech and, after setting it up with “once, back in 2007″, quickly had his mic cut. We didn’t get to hear the political rant, but it was pretty clear what was going on. The thing that struck me most, however, was how into the song the crowd was.
HOUSSE DE RACKET
The first foreign act of the show, Housse de Rackett took the Modern Stage and showed us some of what French rock is doing. It was pretty standard Western rock music, only with singing in French. Enjoyable (seriously, Oh Yeah! is a really fun song), but pretty standard. And yes, I know I’m being biased — a lot of Chinese bands sound like standard rock music too — but after a fusion Shaanxi folk rock hip-hop band, it’s hard not to hope for a little creativity.
I had heard about Perdel a long time ago, as being one of the bands to really look out for in Beijing. The reports were not overstated, and I absolutely fell in love with them. Their style of rock is right up my alley, and the lead singer’s voice sounds like Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon. They’re such a fun band, their music is toe-tapping and energetic and they did not disappoint. Not only is their sound great, but their performance was just spot-on. The keyboardist went a little (read: completely) nuts and dove into the crowd himself at one point, surfing and then just banging around with everyone. Then later on, as their set began to wind down, the rain started; as everyone in the crowd either ran away or put up their umbrellas, the lead singer headed out from under the shade of the main stage in a show of solidarity for us getting rained on.
I’d never heard Camera Obscura before seeing them at Modern Sky, and I asked my friend who liked them to describe what they sounded like. Needless to say, it was completely impossible for her (she kept trying to tell me Lykke Li, which I can kind of hear but… but not really). I can’t really do any better. They remind me a bit of every indie rock band I’ve ever heard, but far better than any of them. There’s the quirky band members (one in a kilt), the inexplicable brass strains, the upbeat tune coupled with depressing lyrics — everything you’d expect from a cutesy Scottish indie band. But they were great fun, perfectly adorable, and the sort of band fitting for 6PM where all you’d like to do is sway around in a grassy field to a boppy tune.
QUEEN SEA BIG SHARK
I wasn’t married to seeing them this time around. It was mostly that I wasn’t familiar with any of their new stuff, which was a good 80% of what they played (and for me familiarity makes a huge difference). However, they were still amazing and put on a great show. I’m hoping to get more familiar with their new stuff before their new album launch show at Yugong Yishan at the end of this month.