李剑鸿, 黄锦, 积木, 李铁桥
CD, 2pi Records, 2006
In 2006 李剑鸿 (Lǐ Jiànhóng)’s 2pi Records released 南京现场 Live in Nanjing, one of the best noise albums ever to come out of China until today. Why do I dare to say this? Because despite the recent circle jerk, Weibo-fueled attitude of “fuck yeah, China is the new Japan!”, “noise is life!!” “Chinese extreme music forever~”, the names in the scene are pretty much the same of eight years ago (Torturing Nurse, 徐程 Xú Chéng & related projects, Nojiji’s crew) with some relatively new entries (梅志勇 Méi Zhìyǒng, AIDS Leader), nothing big seems to really happen and, what matters most, new records just don’t come out. Apart from the admirable Nojiji and Fuzztape, there seems to be no other active noise label in China at the moment: ShaSha Records has been asleep since ever, 2pi recently refurbished as the lofty and artsy CFI (China Free Improvisation), Doufu Records’ last release came out in 2009 and SubJam… oh yeah right, I am talking about noise. No labels means no records, and no records (sadly?) means no scene, no dialectic, no development and nothing to talk about. If the new generation of noise enthusiasts like Notrouble Records and Two Dog Temple & Chaos Student Union don’t man the fuck up and start releasing, promoting and distributing CDs and tapes, I doubt being able to say anywhere soon that something better than Live in Nanjing came out of China before the Third Impact.
So, why is the album I am talking about such a great record? Because it’s well mixed, raw and dirty, saturated by a healthy dosage of of high-volume distortion that pumps it up just enough not to sound like pretentious impro-fiddling, but not that much to transform it into a unintelligible mass of clipped noise. Live in Nanjing is quite straightforward: it is live (for real), it happened in Nanjing, and who was present at the venue must have been literally blown away – just listen to the first track 现场记录1, a deconstructed four-minute noise rock blast somewhere between MoHa! and Aufgehoben. The cover clearly states who played in this one-off live jam – no weird project names, no frills, no concepts: it was Li Jianhong, Ji Mu, Huang Jin and Li Tieqiao. Now, everybody knows Li Jianhong as the Chinese response to Keiji Haino (a total misnomer, as the only link between the two would be guitars and sporadic hairstyle coincidences), but before perfecting his image as the Adi-daoist guitar master of China, Li Jianhong was actually one of the most interesting experimenters in the Chinese noise scene, fiddling with TVs, radios, junk objects and effects in a rather concrete and direct fashion. In this record he manipulates guitar, effects and voice – yes, he sings – topping the spastic violence of the first track with a jaw-dropping noisecore growling that seems to come out of my collection of crust delicacies from BRIC countries. To throw the ball, I would say that Live in Nanjing is actually the best record Li Jianhong ever released. But who is 黄锦 Huáng Jǐn? Huang Jin is the other half of both D!O!D!O!D! and Acidzen, and his frantic drumming explains why Live in Nanjing sounds so good: the record is built upon the interaction of two musicians already familiar with this kind of bursting noisecore-inspired improvisation, and the bassy, murky electronic flourishes by 积木 Jī Mù (nom the plume of 蒋竹韵 Jiǎng Zhúyùn, an early 2pi family member and Hangzhou-based sound artist) find easily their way, enriching the empty frequency ranges and complementing Li Jiahong’s guitar, or warbling gently in the rare moments of relaxation and throwing pointy stabs in arrhythmic percussive patterns. This strength is particularly evident in the second track 现场记录2, where a slow accumulation of ominous grumbles and ruptured alto sax lines paves the way for cascading drum blasts that propel the interaction towards a gritty noise rock territory – think of Sightings at their rawest, or Phantomsmasher in a rehearsal room after some beers. 李铁桥 Lǐ Tiěqiáo’s alto sax plays an important part in the mix throughout the record, providing a flexible and stereotyped Zornesque lead when the action needs to kick in, but I like it more when he just counterpoints the guitar with monotonic, geometric, almost math patterns, as in the massive 现场记录4, the thirty-minute free-form, at times even playful behemoth that occupies more than half of the record, sporting a number of interesting moments embedded in a self-indulgent improvisation lacking the exciting immediacy of the first three tracks. Considering that two of the musicians involved have disappeared off the grid and the other two have donned their cultivated (Adidas?) impro-jazz suits and drink cocktails around art venues in Beijing, I can just enjoy the fact that at some point in time, in 2006, these guys had the chance to play together, made some good noise and decided to make a record out of it.