I had to describe the genre of “post-rock” to someone the other day, and found it more than slightly impossible. Wikipedia just seems to say “well, it’s like rock… but not” — only in fancier words — but that’s all I could come up with, too. Once you associate a sound with post-rock — by listening to Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, etc — it’s pretty easy to tell when something is post-rock, but before that it’s impossible to imagine. So if you don’t know what I’m on about when I talk about post-rock, check out those foreign bands or some of the Chinese ones I’ll link out to in this post and make that association. Then come back and read this. Because while I’m not saying that all post-rock is made alike, all post-rock definitely sounds the same.
Which is why I mixed up photos of Wang Wen and Hua Lun when I posted them to Weibo, okay?
Anyway, this was a festival of general awesomeness. The venue, Mako Livehouse, is a great space — like a mini Tango 3rd Floor, but hidden in an art enclave — and it was well-organized and the evening ran amazingly smoothly. Not only that, but all of the bands were great. While I’ll admit that post-rock can occasionally be soporific (only the bad stuff, good stuff always builds to something), I got there on time and saw all five bands and didn’t once feel myself spacing out. The acts got progressively better as the evening went on, and while lots of people showed up for the last two acts, I’m glad I got there to see the newer, greener acts perform.
First up was Even Less, a four-piece (okay, most post-rock bands are four-piece) group on the scene since 2009. They had two vocalists, the lead guitarist but also the drummer, which was an interesting switch-up. I wondered at first where the backing vocals were coming from (a recording?) before a song began entirely with this phantom voice, and I realized that it was the drummer singing. Their songs were almost exclusively in English, but the lyrics were pretty discernible. These guys are on the soporific side, but they weren’t bad.
Next was Amber (a change from the billed Pentatonic), who were a much more instrumental band, and reminded me of a much more traditional post-rock band. I like my post-rock with a solid beat, something I can follow and nod my head along to, which this band definitely had. Occasionally it fell into the syncopated trap that I really don’t enjoy, but overall I liked these guys. They’ll fill up a post-rock playlist very nicely.
Right in the middle was Glow Curve, a solid and well-respected local act that has just released their first album. I actually went to their album launch, but wasn’t in the mood that day. At the post-rock festival, though, they stood out as a great example of how awesome the genre can be. They opened with their recognizable Song For Raying Temple and ended with probably my favorite of their songs, Flowers Of Godmother. I really like the way that song builds up to its final cacophonous crescendo — the mark of a really good post-rock band, in my opinion.
The penultimate band was Wang Wen, who made a splash in my world last year with their release of L & R at Mao Livehouse, though they’ve been around for twelve years. They’re a Dalian band, so their performances in Beijing have been few and far between. What makes Wang Wen interesting is partly the fact that the lead guitarist plays his guitar with a screwdriver (it’s no violin bow, but at least he doesn’t destroy a $100 piece of equipment every time he performs), but also the ethereal nature of their music. They create dreamscapes with their music, and that doesn’t mean they’ll put you to sleep, it means they’ll transport you somewhere you’ve only been in your dreams. Maybe one where someone’s chasing you through a forest… or maybe that’s just me.
Finally was Hua Lun, a Wuhan band who also doesn’t perform very often; however, I heard a rumor that they have moved to the capital, so hopefully there will be more Hua Lun shows in the not-too-distant future. They only played a few songs, but those songs were epic. They did a few group tracks, but also one (or two?) with the two guitarists sitting on stage, which were a little stripped-down but still good. I think I enjoyed Wang Wen more to watch — they reminded me of Sigur Ros, my first post-rock love — but I will enjoy listening to Hua Lun a lot, once I get my hands on a copy of one of their albums.
Overall, it was a solid night that I really enjoyed. I hope there’s another one next year!