If you haven’t already heard of Matthew Neiderhauser, do yourself a favor and Google him. If you have, you’ll know that he has done a great service to the Beijing independent music scene by photographing bands and gigs for more than two years now. He’s documented the growth of the scene in action, and is most famous for his band portraits shot against the bright red wall in the back of D-22. He put them into photobook form last year, publishing and releasing in New York. Sunday night was the China release party for his book, Sound Kapital.
Held in the new Beijing art collective Caochangdi, at Three Shadows Gallery, the atmosphere of the event was more like a music festival than a concert. The performances, by some of the city’s most cutting-edge performers, were held outside on the grass in the middle of the gallery’s sprawling plot of land, with patrons standing around in circles of friends with cans of beer stacked atop each other to avoid having to return to the cramped drinks table inside the gallery’s cafe. Matthew’s photos were projected haphazardly against a white sheet that hung behind the stage, and perhaps because we were in the middle of an art gallery, the fact that the performers’ faces were painted with projections seemed deliberate and artistic rather than a sign of rushed setup.
One of the great things about the event, though, is that it is taking place in the middle of Caochangdi’s PhotoSpring week, wherein participating galleries are opening some amazing photographic exhibits (I’d also recommend the Lucien Clergue “Picasso Close Up” exhibit at ArtMia, or the Han Lei or Cai Weidong exhibits at Taikang Space). Three Shadows Gallery currently has three exhibits showing at their gallery — Rimaldas Viksraitis’ “Grimaces of the Weary Village”, the Rencontres d’Arles 2009 Discovery Award Slideshow, and the gallery’s own 2010 TSPA Exhibition. So, after picking up a plastic cup of wine at the gallery cafe, audience members transformed into art appreciators, wandering the concrete halls of the gallery while still able to hear the music from outside. It changed the usually whisper-quiet experience of visual art appreciation into something richer, infused with the experimental lilts of sound art.
It was also one of those events where you showed up only knowing the person you came with, but eventually found that you knew — or had at least met — half of the crowd. I saw people I’d met when I went to the Andrew Bird concert, and others I’d met at farewell parties or birthday dinners or that random Beijing Duck excursion you get invited to when visitors come to stay. There was every language being spoken, and the crowd was largely the hipster contingent of foreigners you’d see up the back of Yugong Yishan on any given weekend. It was as much a chance for people to catch up and be seen as it was to see some music, buy a book, or see a photo exhibit.
When it comes to the experience that’s most pertinent to this blog, however, I can’t say what I enjoyed the most. I didn’t stay for too long, and as I mentioned music wasn’t the focus of the evening. But I was listening to Shou Wang’s set as I wandered through the gallery, and I have to say that it was the perfect background to the TSPA exhibit, which largely focused on Chinese contemporary life. I also bought Sound Kapital at the event, which I do not regret. I’m not sure where you can pick it up in China, but do try to get your hands on it. It’s an inspiring record of the beginnings of a very promising music scene, and an invaluable memento of any time spent immersed in it.