Live from Beijing, It`s Saturday Night... Unplugged

Posted by Pete DeMola on 27. Jan 2010

BEIJING, Jan 27 - We were pleased when Obiwan told us last month that in addition to redesigning their drink menu with help from Q Bar, treating themselves to a cosmetic facelift and dropping the "Club" from their Indiana Jones-inspired name, that they also planned to dip a toe into the city's live music culture, bolstering their dancefloor bonafides (they've done very well thus far in hosting quality electronic music sessions, from Afrobeat to Psytrance) by offering a platform for rock and roll acts to make magic.

The new schedule kicks off this Saturday with a "Live & Acoustic" gig where Beijing-based experimental talent (including paroxysm-inducing saxophonist Li Tieqiao and inventive flautist Bruce Gremo) are slated to go head to head with their rock and roll counterparts.

While both an illuminating and a welcome addition to the increasing number of performance spaces available for scene enrichment (other recent newcomers include the One in Sihui and to a lesser extent, the Orange at the Sanlitun Village) our interests were further piqued upon learning of the lakeside venue's tentative partnership with leading independent record label Maybe Mars, home to domestic luminaries 24 Hours, AV Okubo, Carsick Cars, SMZB and about two dozen additional rock and roll, noise and experimental folk musicians.

The launch date for that series is on Sat, Feb 6 with scheduled performances by ephemeral neo-surf outfit the Molds (cross your fingers) and one of Maybe Mars' crown jewels Ourself Beside Me (pictured above), a trio who graft a polarizing stage presence to the most distortion-soaked groove rock this side of the Pacific.

Obiwan Communications Director David Mitchell and Maybe Mars Creative Team member Nevin Domer fill us in on their planned parenthood of this new partnership.

WLIB: Tell us what you envision for this "Live & Acoustic" concert series at Obiwan.

David Mitchell: It's an opportunity for Beijing's passionate rock crowd to see their Maybe Mars heroes playing unplugged. Obiwan will be acting as the facilitator while Maybe Mars will run the programming. We will make the experience as memorable as possible through good sound, a good environment and good drinks.

Nevin Domer: We are looking forward to another venue in Beijing and one with a specialized acoustic twist. Hopefully Obiwan will become a place that Maybe Mars artists can not only gain exposure to a new audience, but find an atmosphere that is different from all the other competing clubs.

WLIB: How will this concept differ from preexisting concert series?

Domer: Well this is a question more for the guys at Obiwan, but we are hoping that it will be a chance for us to present our artists in a different light where they can be appreciated by fans both old and new. We can throw big rock shows at a number of venues across town, but the hope is that an acoustic series will be able to add a sense of freshness and intimacy to the scene. A series dedicated towards that goal can hopefully build momentum with it's own atmosphere and set of fans.

Mitchell: Most concert series feature bands playing the way they sound on record: loud and electric. While this is great because you get the full power of the music -- how it was written and on the instruments it was written for -- the Live & Acoustic series will give the fans a chance to see them doing something different, making allowances for the acoustic instruments and stretching themselves to recreate the power of electric instruments without the benefits of a volume knob. It should be a blast to see and hear.

WLIB: What we can expect at next Saturday's inaugural show featuring the Molds and Ourself Beside Me?

Mitchell: That's more for Nevin to say, but I think it's great that we have two such great bands coming back to perform after a break and choosing Obiwan to do it.

Domer: I'm just excited to see both of these bands play again after such a long break, although I don't think either one of them will be doing straight-up acoustic sets.

WLIB: That's cool. And I'll be excited to see the Molds actually show up. Do you anticipate any future challenges in the successful implementation of this series?

Mitchell: Sure. We will need to keep the concept fresh, and will be in touch with Maybe Mars throughout to see what's possible and to make sure that the fans always get to hear something unexpected.

WLIB: Obiwan's Xihai location can be a deal breaker when it comes to pulling nightcrawlers away from the Sanlitun and Wudaokou poles. How do you plan on both addressing and combating this issue?

Mitchell: To be honest, we are not aiming to tear the Gongti crowd away from Mix and Bling -- or the Propaganda crowd away from Wudaokou. We will be offering top-quality music at the last unspoilt lake in Shichahai, and our bar -- which is being renovated -- is getting to look and feel really special. What's not to love? The success of Yugong Yishan, 2 Kolegas and MAO Live House also suggests that real music fans are willing to travel a little bit to get their music fix, and we are only 15 minutes from either Sanlitun or Wudaokou.

WLIB: What, if any, are some components of a music scene that are necessary for the ecology of a healthy community but are still lacking here in Beijing?

Domer: I don't think there is an identifiable set of "perfect" components. Every scene is different, and it's more about people finding creative niches and filling them in a way that rounds out the scene as a whole and not just trying to jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone else is doing. I see that as a real problem here where as soon as one person starts to see a little bit of success, everyone else tries to replicate it. Diversity and originality are always a good thing and fans will respond to that.

Mitchell: Personally, I think competition between bands is healthy: it keeps the musicians in a constant search for new sounds and stops them from resting on their laurels. Part of making that happen is giving established bands a platform to try out their ideas, and part of it is in allowing talented new bands the space to perform and get their chops together. We're aiming for the former with the collaborations we will do with record labels like Maybe Mars, and the latter by scheduling at least one Live Debut concert every month featuring bands we think have potential. I think more competition would be great for all of Beijing's musicians, whatever their genre.

WLIB: Experimental collaboration between both local and visiting artists has been an integral, if not thriving, component of Beijing's music scene for quite some time now, most notably at Zoomin' Night -- D-22's weekly platform for cross-pollination and experimentation -- and at 2 Kolegas' and Jiangjinjiu's frequent jam sessions. David, can you elaborate on what you mean by "competition?"

Mitchell: Point taken. Those nights and the general environment for experimentation are very healthy, but I also think that it's good to get bands to play as a unit (not necessarily jamming with other people) in an a way they might not do normally. Challenging musicians to do something different can lead to some really great results and builds a sense of competition, in that each band should feel under pressure to do something their contemporaries aren't doing. Add talented new musicians into the mix too, and the pressure should really be on, which I think will be great for listeners and musicians alike.

WLIB: Tell us more about this "Live Debut" concept.

Mitchell: Well, it's our intention to give one night a month over to new acts that we think have potential and don't yet have access to the bigger venues. We'll be starting on Sat, Feb 20 with a band of guys from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa who combine hip hop and funk with African-tinged Latin music. We welcome submissions from bands that haven't played a big gig yet, but with one condition - the band must be really well-rehearsed and basically ready to kick ass. If it goes well, we hope it could be an interesting recruiting ground for labels and live promoters. Bands can submit their details here. If we are convinced by their ambition and their level of professionalism, we'll give them a slot.

WLIB: We'll pass the message along. Do you have any dream collaborations that you'd like to see between the folk and noise rock communities?

Domer: Well there is already plenty going on if you count people like Xiao He, but what I would like to see is an actual audience and dedicated place for live acoustic shows. This has been done before with a hugely successful acoustic series at D-22 and in some respects by the work of MicroMu, but it would be cool to see something that crossed all sort of musical boundaries from post-punk to metal, world music to pop-punk to constantly present the best bands throughout Beijing's music scene in an acoustic format.

Mitchell: I would like to hear Carsick Cars collaborate with avant jazz and classical flute player Bruce Gremo, who'll be appearing at Obiwan this Saturday. Carsick Cars have a spacey kind of sound that would go well with the weirdness Bruce produces with the electronic flute he invented: the Cilia.

WLIB: The Cilia... sounds exotic. Is there anything else that you'd like to share?

Mitchell: Obiwan is really happy to be collaborating with Maybe Mars: I think both of us are committed to the development of the Beijing music scene and I think we're both aiming at the creation of a unique and recognizable "Beijing sound." Whatever genre Beijing's musicians are playing in, the city they live in should be a big influence on how they sound. And as all Beijingren know, there ain't nowhere quite like it. It's time that Beijing's music scene really took its place on the world stage, and Obiwan is proud to be part of that.

Obiwan launches their new event schedule on Sat, Jan 30 with performances by Lie Tieqiao, Bruce Gremo and David Mitchell himself. For the full event schedule, click here.

Image: Ourself Beside Me kick it at MAO Live House. They're scheduled to perform at Obiwan on Sat, Feb 6. Courtesy of 金与心.

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