I like to rag on The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s campus newspaper, for things like publishing obvious flamebait in the editorial section on a frighteningly regular basis.1 Occasionally, though, they put out something that reminds me of why I don’t just immediately flip to the crossword and toss out the rest. Take the 10 November front-page article
Chinese underground music comes to surface. Finding out that three of Beijing’s best — Xiao He, Carsick Cars, and P.K.14 — are not only touring the United States, but also scheduled to be on campus for a free show tonight, brings a sense of exhilaration much like I’d imagine being fired out of a giant slingshot would, minus the oncoming dread of the inevitable messy landing.2 Anyway, regardless of how terrible the previous analogy was, the performance utterly and completely failed to disappoint — and really, when one of the headline acts had just come up with the brilliant title
The Great Firewall Killed Our Cat3 for one of the songs on its latest release, how could it have?
I went out of the concert intending to pick up an album by each of the performers, but Xiao He’s double CD release was out of my price range, so I picked up a copy of Snapline’s Party Is Over, Pornostar in its stead. In hindsight, I have no idea why I picked it over something like the self-titled album by fellow Beijingers White, which was literally resting six inches away — maybe it was the weird title, or the shiny gold cover, or the reporting of track lengths to the millisecond on the back. But on a day of happy accidents, like my linear algebra exam containing exactly what I had studied over the previous weekend, my arbitrary choice turned out unexpectedly well.
Snapline started as a side project of Carsick Cars’
Levis Li Weisi on bass and Li Qing (who otherwise plays drums) on guitar, picking up vocalist Chen Xi along the way. The connection between the progenitor and the progeny is difficult to make out from the music on each side, though; whereas the Cars specialize in a brand of moody noise rock that often draws comparisons to Sonic Youth, Snapline balances itself on the intersection of post-punk, industrial, and dance, backed by the insistent crashes of synthesized drums. You could be forgiven for thinking that the band is from, say, New York City, especially considering the band’s English lyrics in songs like
Yellow Cab, a disorienting late-night urban rush with Chen’s pained cries of
driver, please slicing through the cacophony. Only the slight accent of the album’s vocals and two count-offs in Mandarin give any indication of Snapline’s Beijing origin.4
The majority of Party Is Over has an unapologetically blunt sound, with a clear beat propelling almost every song and a profusion of electric guitar distortion. (The former probably has something to do with the presence of Martin Atkins, better known for his work as a drummer for bands like Public Image Ltd. and Pigface, in the producer’s seat.) While remarkably effective on stompers like
Holy Comments and the aforementioned
Yellow Cab, the tactic of opening several tracks with a basic percussion intro does get repetitive after a little while. Fortunately, the record also deviates from the pattern in some memorable moments, as on the titular
Porno Star,5 which climaxes with an immense swell of shoegaze-y feedback over sparse drums.
Chen’s lyrics speak to a conflicted sense of frustrated alienation, as the Party Is Over appellation might suggest.
S#1 perhaps sums it up best with the words
you’re going too fast to know / I’m getting too slow. Expressions of attraction are similarly volatile, ranging from the relatively benign
Jenny, with unthreatening lines like
I wanna buy you a drink, to unsettling bondage imagery in
Single Beat. Yet other songs plunge into an entirely different level of odd lyrical abstractness; Chen muses about the beginning and end of the world in
S#2 using… geometry, in the form of lines and circles, before ending the song with a sarcastic acknowledgement of
confusion in your eyes from listening to his
Even in a Beijing music scene that prides itself on being different from the prevailing sounds of mass-marketed Chinese pop, Snapline manages to stand out in a remarkable fashion, and their debut points in the direction of yet better things to come. If nothing else, they’ve strongly reaffirmed for me the value of randomly picking something to buy from the merchandise table at a concert, and that’s got to be worth something.
And, yes, I fell for said flamebait hook, line, and sinker. ↩︎
Don’t think I won’t sue you, Elbonian Airlines. I paid good money for that flight. ↩︎
Okay — technically, the title is
防火墙杀死了我们的猫, but whatever. Three footnotes in one paragraph is already pushing it anyway. ↩︎
There’s probably an opportunity for a long digression on the effects of Beijing’s rapid economic and cultural transformation over the past few years, but I’m even worse at writing something like that than I am these reviews. ↩︎
I’m not sure why the spelling changed for this one, either. ↩︎