International (Noise) Relations 101

Posted by Pete DeMola on 9. Jul 2009

These Are Powers, a daring and progressive American outfit who combine elements of noise, experimental, post-punk and No Wave that culminates in an explosive genre-defying musical stew, have landed in Beijing for a three-week quest to learn more about this country's vibrant underground music scene, collaborate with local musicians and to forge a connection for homegrown bands to strut their stuff back in the United States.

This unprecedented residency (if a similar initiative was implemented in the past, we didn't receive the memo) was facilitated by Michael Pettis, helmsman of the Maybe Mars record label, co-owner of the Wudaokou live music venue D-22 and the city's most active force in nurturing young local musicians.

"I first saw them in late-2007 in New York when they were performing with one of my favorite bands, Ex-Models, and I was blown away by their energy and intelligence," said Pettis of the trio. "Right after the show I introduced myself to Pat (Noecker) and asked him if he wanted to come to China."

The trio, consisting of ex-Liars bassist Pat Noecker, percussionist Bill Salas and vocalist/guitarist Anna Barie, are based both in Chicago and the borough of Brooklyn in New York City; the later being the cradle of the aforementioned genres and arguably the locale that casts the longest sonic shadow over the sounds emanating from Beijing.

The threesome have a history of collaboration with like-minded, equally-provocative musicians.

Their most recent LP All Aboard Future (Dead Ocean Records, 2009) features contributions from 12 young musicians, including local golden boy Zhang Shouwang. The result is a cinematic, shape-shifting piece of work that refuses to be pushed into a single classifiable genre, darting between meandering ambient soundscapes, ass-shaking, yet ominous, dance floor anthems and even one ghostly a cappella.

The band is happy and honored to be here. "We came to China with no preconceived notions," wrote Salas in an e-mail message. "It's rare for any American band to tour China and interact with the scene the way we will."

These Are Powers, also known for their idiosyncratic live performances, injection of philosophical concepts into their craft and rejection of the conventional genre definitions that are perpetuated by writers such as this one, received a warm welcome upon their arrival to the Middle Kingdom on Tues, Jul 7, where they touched down just in time to attend a birthday celebration for the aforementioned Zhang, now 24, at D-22.

The attendees of the bash, which included a improv session with the band, read as a veritable Who's Who list of Beijing's most buzzed-about independent musicians, artists and opinion-shapers.

"I love this band -- they're so much more special than other noise rock bands and have many fashionable elements in their music," said He Fan, guitarist and vocalist for local rock trio Bird Striking, who, along with his peers, jammed out with the newly-arrived.

He hopes to learn from the Americans, citing his enthusiasm for the trio's abrupt time changes and shifts in tempo. "They're very friendly, too, he added. "I think it's easy to talk with them."

"I think that they pride themselves in getting audiences involved and excited," said Josh Frank, one-half of the Beijing-based experimental noise duo Hot & Cold. "That's something very important to [us] too, and we're really looking forward to putting on some wild, euphoric performances with them."

Frank said that finds it inspiring to see music that is often noisy and challenging accomplish such positive effects.

"I also hope that through their improvised shows, they can encourage Chinese musicians to open themselves up even more to experimentation with form and structure."

That shouldn't be a problem. "It's very much an artistic symbiotic relationship between us and the locals," said Salas. "After meeting everyone involved with the club, we know that they're in it for the right reasons and that makes all of the difference."

"We are really excited to play," he said. "And ready to accept whatever comes our way."

These Are Powers will perform on Fri, Jul 24 at Yugong Yishan. Indie rock godfathers PK-14, Wuhan disco punks AV Okubo and Ourself Beside Me, the provocative trio whose live sets of compelling waves of feedback, drugged-out guitar riffs and hypnotic rhythms echo a near-religious experience, will support.

The band's latest LP All Aboard Future was released in February on Dead Oceans Records. Listen to it here. The video for "Easy Answers" can be viewed below.

Photo courtesy of These Are Powers. From left: Anna Barie, Pat Noecker, Bill Salas.


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