An Afternoon of Contemporary Experimental Music

Posted by Joshua Frank on 20. Jan 2010

BEIJING, Jan 20 - Joshua Frank plays in Beijing/Montreal duo Hot & Cold. He also performs solo. The duo's upcoming EP, produced by the Offset: Spectacles, will be released in Spring 2010.

Here he is:

For this installment of Five Songs, I chose to write primarily about Canadian bands that have made an impression on Hot & Cold. Performing in Canada over the past six months (and then returning to Beijing) has had a profound impact on our aesthetic, and we've been excitedly refining our sound for our upcoming EP.

The bands in this list aren't huge stars -- they exist on a scale comparable to D-22's more out-there groups, like the Offset: Spectacles, Fat City, or Soviet Pop -- but they've found an audience at home and abroad, and are prospering in the niche they've carved for themselves.

I think it's crucial for the development of experimental music in Beijing that bands start making contact with their contemporaries elsewhere in the world. It will help them grow as artists and give them a huge credibility boost.

Of course The New York Times won't care about who played a cool set at Zoomin' Night or 2 Kolegas. But progressive, young musicians in New York, Montreal or San Francisco will. Beijing bands need to get in touch and share music!

All it takes is a few minutes on MySpace to break the isolation of the Chinese scene and get international and local bands excited about each other.

Ed. Note: While we embedded audio players in previous columns, we've decided to link the songs this week. You can listen to all five songs by clicking the band names below.

Dirty Beaches - Coast to Coast

Dirty Beaches is Montrealer Alex Zhang. He shows just how effective restraint and simplicity can be. His songs manage to combine the intensity of Suicide with an almost lullaby quality -- they're so sparse, but also have a comforting sense of melody.

Both musically and visually, Dirty Beaches' shows are minimal and refined, which I find quite appealing. Alex starts a drum loop and softly sings along, sometimes playing barebones guitar overtop. It makes any kind of crescendo or change in dynamics all the more effective.

With Hot & Cold, our tendency can often be to get faster, louder and crazier as the song goes on. Dirty Beaches proves that weird music can be just as compelling when it's quiet and subtle. I think that's a pretty important breakthrough.

Dirty Beaches actually played in Beijing a year ago. I was given Alex's CD in Montreal and passed it along to Simon (the other half of Hot & Cold). He wrote to Dirty Beaches' MySpace, and suggested that Alex come play in Beijing if he ever had a chance.

It turned out that Alex was in Shanghai seeing family, and he ended up doing a show at D-22. Now we both see him in Canada, and have been making plans to play together there and in China.

Slim Twig - Black Holster

Slim Twig (pictured above) is one of the most exciting musicians I've seen in Canada in the past few years. He's another solo performer, though he does play with other musicians at times. From -- once again -- Suicide, to Wu Tang, Tom Waits, and even rockabilly, Slim Twig takes wide-ranging influences and channels them into one seamless package, equal parts pared-down punk and cinematic flair.

Slim Twig is: one man, a story, and enough drive and panache to make your jaw drop. He's a character, and one that's exceedingly well-played.

Tonstartssbandht - 5ft7

It's impossible not to be inspired by these two brothers from Florida. They've taken Montreal (and the Internet) by storm this past year. From minimal vocal pop to distorted psychedelic metal, the White bros are brimming with musical ideas, and releasing CD-Rs and tapes at a pace to match.

That they've been able to consistently write new music (two albums in the past year, and numerous other projects) is impressive enough in itself. Add to that the fact that they self-release all their material, and that their euphoric performances rarely disappoint, and you've got something pretty cool in the making.

To reiterate: Tonstartssbandht puts out a ton of music by themselves. It doesn't matter if it's all brilliant. They're making as much music as they can, sharing it with friends, and giving it away for free. People do notice.

P.S: It's "Tawn-starts-bandit"

These Are Powers - Candyman

When Hot & Cold toured with New York-Chicagoans These Are Powers last summer, it made a big impression on us. We talked a lot about the future of ("experimental") music, and the fact that rock as medium was starting to seem increasingly played out and hopeless. Since then I've become a lot more intrigued by the possibilities of electronic music.

I still firmly believe any piece of technology you can check your email on isn't really an instrument. These Are Powers, I think, are also rooted in this attitude. Their new EP features "Candyman" and some of the other new songs which they played in Beijing, and cements their shift from no-wave provocateurs to astounding dance machines.

I wish their recordings better reflected their live show -- I feel like certain textures, especially Pat Noecker's bass playing, are absent from the EP. Still, weird, driving rhythms have always fascinated me, and These Are Powers never cease to deliver on that count.

Thee Oh Sees - Ghost in the Trees

San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees prove once and for all that guitar music can keep being exciting. They're brimming with energy, and you can hear it in every two-minute song on any of the multiple albums they've released with astonishing speed in the past couple of years. The band is incredible live too.

Taking Sixties psychedelic influences and making them their own, Thee Oh Sees are so far ahead of any of their contemporaries that there's basically no competition. This group is so infectious they can transcend the sorry vestiges of Pitchfork's lo-fi fad in the time it takes to bash out a few glorious chords.

Hot & Cold's debut LP Any Monkey is Dangerous was released last May on Maybe Mars Records. Josh Frank will perform with Liu Xinpei, Guai Li and Birdstriking on Sat, Jan 23 at D-22.

Photo: Slim Twig performs at Toronto's North York Central Library on Nov 15, 2008. Courtesy of Flickr user jade w through Creative Commons.


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