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Utility Fog

Your weekly fix of postfolkrocktronica, dronenoise, power ambient, post-everything improv... and more?
Sunday nights from 9 to 11pm on FBi Radio, 94.5 FM in Sydney, Australia.

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Sunday, 8th of November, 2015

Playlist 08.11.15 (8:07 pm)

Back from Tokyo, China and Hong Kong bearing much musical fruit! Thanks to Heli Newton for his excellent fill-in shows the last three weeks.

LISTEN AGAIN through the usual channels - the stream on demand on the FBi website is a better audio experience, but the podcast here may be more convenient.

While in Beijing I visited a few pretty cool boutique record stores - it's kind of extraordinary that these still exist. In Shanghai, perhaps because it's actually more cosmopolitan and westernised, there's more interest in vinyl (and still only one or two stores!) and pretty much nowhere I found where you could get even local artists on CD. Even so, basically all international music on CD was imported, and basically all the Chinese music was explicitly only for the Chinese market, which compounds with the obvious language barrier (even being able to type Chinese characters into search engines is essentially impossible for non-Chinese speakers, not to mention the fact that Google is blocked in China if you don't have a VPN or international SIM card!) to make it almost impossible to find out about Chinese music outside of China.
These days a number of Chinese artists have Bandcamps as well as presences on Douban or other local Chinese social networks/websites - and some are on Facebook despite Facebook being blocked too.
Nevertheless, I only found out about our first artist Dou Wei (窦唯) (who we have a substantial special on, as he's kind of important and also amazing) because I heard his latest album being played in both of the first record stores I stepped into. And it's fantastic - a mix of ambient electronics, downtempo beats, and a clear postpunk/postrock sensibility, along with whispered / spoken / sung vocals. All performed by him. The people in the stores were also impressed by the fact that more recently Dou Wei has been incorporating Chinese traditional instruments into his music - I guess there's not a lot of adventurous, contemporary music that does this. The interesting thing about travelling in China is that all of your cultural barometers and compasses are off - it's very hard to tell what's traditional, "authentic" (there's literally no concept of such a thing, it feels like), or transgressive and inventive, what's individualistic and sui generis or part of some cultural trend or imposed by the government. And sometimes it's hard to tell what's bullshit being peddled to you by people or authorities too, it has to be said!
Anyway. Dou Wei has been around for yonks and warrants his own Wikipedia page in English, so you can read about his background in the hard rock (like, hair rock) band Black Panther in the 1980s, after which he drew on influences from postpunk bands like The Cure and so on, and in the mid-'90s became interested in the early postrock sound of Bark Psychosis, as found in his collaborations with E Band. He's also famous for having been married to the Chinese diva Faye Wong, for whom he produced a number of albums. In the last decade or two he's been more interested in experimental, less-structured music and in improvisation, incorporating electronics, and even more recently the acoustic sounds of traditional Chinese instruments into his music. And he's collaborated quite a bit with Chinese electronic music pioneers FM3 (famous for the Buddha Machine).

A while ago (a year? longer?), Evelyn Morris of Pikelet was responsible for starting some fantastic and illuminating discussions on Facebook around gender in the music industry - the omnipresent male privilege, the often appalling treatment of women as artists, DJs, sound engineers or punters, the suppression of female voices from conversations about music, the inequalities that continue to exist, all of which continues despite everyone being convinced that they're oh-so-reasonable and modern and conscious. Out of this came a project/organisation called Listen focused on provoking further conversations around women's and LGBTQIA+ experiences in the Australian music industry, through publications, events and recently an excellent musical compilation, the first release from Listen Records. I thought it was appropriate to play the Pikelet track from the compilation, one of her wonderful lo-fi pieces of improvised piano music.

Sydney artist Astrid Zeman has a track on the Listen compilation, and is releasing her debut EP this Friday night (Nov 13th) at the Glebe Justice Centre (previously known as Cafe Church). I'll also be there playing looped cello in my raven guise, but Astrid's beautiful music should be drawcard enough. She uses loop pedals to create her songs with vocals along with guitar, trombone and keyboards, but frequently the pieces are entirely looped vocals. There's an abstract drone kind of piece on the EP, with some freaky overtone singing, and also some lovely layered songwriting.

Alon Ilsar's trio The Sticks, with keyboardist Daniel Pliner and bass player Josh Ahearn, is named after Alon's incredible gestural instrument The AirSticks. It's been over a decade in the making, fruits of his long-held desire to extend his percussion technique into triggering samples and live effects. Among Alon's various bands over the years was UFog fave Gauche, an indie/jazz/electronic group featuring opera singer Jane Seymour, Julian Curwin of The Tango Saloon and Luke Dubber of Hermitude. The Sticks make live electronica, and do it beautifully, so even without seeing the crazy gestural interface of the AirSticks themselves, it's just very cool music.

Melbourne artist Robin Fox is at least as well known for his amazing audiovisual work with laser lights in shows for the Chunky Move dance company as for his music. In audio, he's collaborated with Oren Ambarchi and Atom™ recently, among others, but it's been a while since a solo release so it's extra-nice to see it appearing on the legendary Editions Mego. And it's very suited to the label too - despite their expanding into other areas of noise and experimental music of late, this is just great glitchy electronics (the digital bonus tracks move into slightly more regular beat territory).

It's been a long time since the last album from Stephanie Böhm and The Notwist's Micha Acher aka Ms. John Soda. With the new album it's like they never went away. It's classic German indietronica, drawing on indie rock, idm, dub and krautrock. The Notwist's album of last year was a huge return to form, and this too is a solid album through and through.

Dou Wei (窦唯) - 弥疑第二 [self-released(?) album 天真君公 (Tiān zhēn jūn gōng)]
Dou Wei - How the Empty Language Gives Knowledge (语虚何以言知) [Shanghai Audiovisual Company (上海音像公司)]
Dou Wei & FM3 - 赶路 (Hurry On The Road) [Shanghai Audiovisual Company (上海音像公司)]
Dou Wei & FM3 - 九吾 [Lona Records]
Dou Wei - 和无题 (He Wu Ti) [FM3 Productions Ltd]
Dou Wei - 殃金咒 (Yang Jin Mantra) (excerpts) [self-released(?)]
Dou Wei & 不一样 (Indefinite) - track 1 from 束河乐记 (Shuhe music note) [self-released(?)]
Dou Wei - 寻常第三 [self-released(?) album 天真君公 (Tiān zhēn jūn gōng)]
FM3 - Ting Shuo 听说 [self-released, available from FM3 Bandcamp]
Pikelet - Darwin Heat [Listen Records]
Astrid Zeman - Imagination [Astrid Zeman Bandcamp]
The Sticks - Receive Your Host [The Sticks Bandcamp]
Foley (aka Alon Ilsar of The Sticks) - willow [from self-released 2005 EP ideophone]
The Sticks - Sidestep [The Sticks Bandcamp]
Robin Fox - Through Sky [Editions Mego]
Ms. John Soda - Millions [Morr Music]
Ms. John Soda - no. one [Morr Music]
Ms. John Soda - The Light [Morr Music]

Listen again — ~105MB

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