Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rolling deep in Huizhou City

We were riding in a late model Lexus on an eight-lane Huizhou arterial at 3am, barreling across bridges with A Tribe Called Quest on the stereo and the AC cranked to cold because it's hot in HuiZhou City in September, even at 3am. The air is heavy and smells like it's got four million humans and a bunch of ducks living in it, and the sun doesn't shine bright but it heats the smog and the smog spreads a mouldy old blanket all over and wraps you up in that sleepy greenhouse fug, until your skin starts to melt and you get to thinking that maybe skinny jeans and a blazer with steel-toed boots and a shirt with a collar add up to bad packing choices for ten days of rocking and rolling in the land of the dragon.  And every time we stopped at the lights, the two Chinese b-boys in the front would wind down the rear windows so we could lean out of the backseat and call 'one two three bye-bye' to the next car over, right when the signal went red to green and the driver pulled some heavy Gs to get us back up to our customary cruising speed, which was this: quite fast.

The view from the hotel. Not to be used for navigation.

All the time, because I'm a nerd like that, I was wondering what the cops are like in China, and thinking that if they're as enthusiastic as I had been led to believe then driving around the place in a late-model Lexus with a memorable number plate may not be the best strategy going forward. Right then it was working for me though, for the primary reason that there was no earthly other plan I could think of to get us back to the hotel, becasue not only did I not know where the hotel was, I didn't even know what it was called, and even if I knew the address I had no idea what part of the city it was in or how I would get there from the side of a Huizhou arterial at 3am, so I just sang along and let the ride happen.

I have no idea how much a set of personalised plates will set you back in China but ours said LSD420 and I bet that plus the heat it may draw doesn't come cheap.  

We'd been at a pool party by the river, and I would tell you what the river in Huizhou is called and other such details if any of my maps worked in China. But of course they do not, because the government they have here has done a serious job of breaking the Internet and making sure things like maps and pictures of other peoples children and pets are really hard to get to. The upshot of this is that a big chunk of the band's time here has been spent trying to figure out who has access to what social networks, and how and when, and it's pretty much all in the service of trying to check how many likes this one photo Dale put on Facebook of him eating meat on a stick has got. If you think that's some kind of indictment of technology or our inability to be present in the moment and stuff like that then you get a prize because congratulations, you're probably right, but I will submit that being on tour in China is sufficiently packed with moments and sensory overload of all kinds that sometimes you just want to zone out and scroll through your news feed for a while, breathing through your mouth and sighing.

The pool party by the river was hosted by a couple who are easily, hands down, the coolest people I've met this year.  When I've toured around in New Zealand, or in Europe or Australia, a lot of the places I've played at have been these human-sized grassroots sorts of venues run by people who have a passion for a particular kind of music and for building a community around it in their town, and not necessarily for making a huge amount of money - or if they do make money it comes second to doing their main project, which is putting on great shows for their neighbours.  Places like the Mussell Inn in Takaka, The Dharma Bum's Club in Wairau Valley, The Wine Cellar in Auckland, Cafe Kairo in Berne, Galao in Stuttgart, the Open Studio in Melbourne - they're everywhere but I had no idea whether we could hope to find them in China, and up until last week I hadn't really thought about it all that much.

The Percussion Club - there is a lot to explain in this picture. Next time.

But I can now reveal to you that yes - there are venues like that in China. And one of them - the Lotus Percussion Club in HuiZhou City, population 4 million, is run by SayChen and Sabrina, a musician couple who have taken upon themselves a Holy Mission: to bring Hip Hop culture to China.  It turns out that this is about as difficult a task as you probably think it is, but it does mean that they have put together a sweet crew of Chinese rappers, DJs, b-boys and beatboxers, which makes for quite a banging pool party next to a river on a night off on a very improbable tour in China.

Our show at their club the night before had been packed out, standing room only on a concrete floor down the river a ways, as far as I could tell.  Sabrina's band opened with a sort of funk-jazz hybrid which had made me extremely curious to ask her what music she had been listening to that led to that particular sound. At the party we talked about how she loves James Brown and The Clash and Public Enemy and Michael Jackson, and how her and SayChen are Hakka and Hakka don't have such a great time in China so they have a fairly strong identification with narratives of racial oppression and so on, although of course this conversation was held in a combination of English, fake Mandarin, Charades, and a lot of hollering of song lyrics and the tops of our lungs next to a smoky barbeque by a pool somewhere near a river in Huizhou, so it took some time and quite a lot of beers before we reached true understanding. When we reached it though it was solid, and  the understanding we reached was that no matter where you are and what you're trying to do, if you don't have the hustle you ain't got a hope.

SayChen and Sabrina have the hustle in spades, and a couple of months back they put on a hip hop festival in Huizhou that pulled 1500 payers, so they are clearly taking care of business in a lot of good ways.  Pool parties in Huizhou city with visiting musicians from far parts of the world are one way they get things done, and it felt good to give them a list of bands from our part of the planet who would fit right in at the Percussion Club if they get the chance to chase the rock'n'roll to China any time soon.  Rolling back to the hotel in the Lexus across a dirty river with LEDs and neon reflecting in the clouds and on the soupy water, Buggin Out rattling the speakers and a beer buzz running, I felt like I had landed in just the right place by so many quirks and turns it isn't even worth thinking about how it happened, but by Thor I am getting some good stuff out here.