Aug 17

Louis Yu’s Indie Podcasts

Written by Steve on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 9:09 pm
Filed under:culture, General, media, music | Tags:, , , ,
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Louis Yu It’s not often a guy working on his PhD in theoretical computer science is also one of the hottest Chinese DJs in North America, but there’s always an exception and Louis Yu (余雷) fits that role. Originally from Guilin, China,  he’s currently in Vancouver, Canada studying at the University of Victoria while also doing a weekly podcast featuring world indie music.

And where can you find his 30 minute weekly podcast? It’s right here on  www.wooozy.cn where you can catch this week’s show plus access the archive for all previous editions once you’re hooked. The difference with Louis’ show is that all the introductions are in Mandarin rather than English. It’s his way to bring a new style of music to an audience more familiar with Asian pop in a easy to digest manner. Starting in September, he’ll be switching to a show highlighting an equal balance of both Western & Chinese music.

Lou was kind enough to share his thoughts on China’s current music scene. As he is a Chinese expat very familiar with indie music throughout the world, I felt his opinions would be a nice contrast to the western voices we’ve heard reporting from China.

“I wouldn’t say that Chinese indie right now is up to the standard of the indie bands in Sweden, Canada, US, England, Australia, Japan, or even Iceland. Mainly, each of these countries has a brand of indie music that is “unique”; Sweden has Swedish pop, England has Brit pop, Japan has Shibuya Kei (you get the idea).  Chinese indie bands right now are very much motivated by a sense of “fashion” (as in, it is “hip” to do indie music right now, so we’re “cool” for doing it, we’re “fashionable”), you know, the way I felt when I was a indie snob in high school.

As a result, they’re not fully developed in term of style and composition (“oh, Yeah Yeah Yeahs is cool right now, let’s do a version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs”, thus you get the Chinese band “Queen Sea Big Shark”. Or, “oh, we love Sonic Youth, they’re so cool, let’s do our version of Sonic Youth”, thus you get Carsick Cars, which is Sonic Youth’s guitar noise babble, but without the sense of humor, melody, craft and composition, you just get the 2 chord, 3 chord guitar babble) Most bands are just copying random Western indie bands, they don’t know WHY they’re making indie music, or rather, what indie music is. It should be craft on songs, melody, and lyrics the foremost, not styles you pick and choose from swatches because they happen to be “hip” at the moment.

Obviously you can’t be too hard on these bands as 1) the media control limits these band’s influences, 2) it is brave of them in the first place to make music, to express themselves and 3) they got a late start on everyone else and are operating mostly underground…

That being said, like most things in China, Chinese indie has the ability to surprise the hell out of everybody. For one, it’s growing and progressing in such an alarming speed. I mean, the quality of the music got so much better just within the last 4-5 months, I personally can see the progress from when I first really paid attention to the Chinese indie scene a year ago, till now.

Sure on the surface, there are the “major” Chinese indie bands like Carsick Cars, Snapline, Ourselves Beside Me, PK14, Hang On The Box, Demerit and White (maybe Mars Bands), or New Pants, Convenient Store, Queen Sea Big Shark, Boojii (Modern Sky bands).  Here are another two labels you should pay attention to:

1) Miniless Records – founded by a friend of mine, Hanhan (the guy knows his indie rock, very knowledgeable), who is in a band called Lava/Ox/Sea. They’re this really cool post-rock, guitar jam band. The new album is really cool, very “OK Computer era Radiohead” style. Other bands signed to Miniless include Fading Horizon and Muscle Snog; both are excellent bands as well.

2) Tag Team Records – who’s in Beijing, founded by Matt Kragler who used to work for sub-pop; bands in the roster includes Lonely China Day & Arrow Made Of Desire:

3) Shan Shui Records – which is a electronic record mainly, they own the distribution in China for Kid606, electronic artists sign to it such as Sulumi (who founded the label), AMU (8-bit, video game music), Dead-J (ambient stuff) are all pretty good.

Other than that, those would be the 5 labels I mainly pay attention to, the rest scatters around, like Top Floor Circus, with their jokester antics, are very very amusing.

or 21 Grams, with their movie soundtrack; slow, drone rock (can you say Mogwai?), can be some people’s cup of tea:

or the Brit-pop of Shanghai band Yu Guo (Brit pop seems to be big in China, a similar style can be found in the Modern Sky bands – Super VC, Convinient Store or Sober):

I-Go, or B6, electro clash stuff from Shanghai:

The Bigger Bang; movie inspired drone rock:

Oh, one last thing; there is one last label, Indie Top, now this label is really poorly funded and the direction is all wrong. They released two compilations, with the attempt at introducing indie music to more of a college crowd. The artists signed to this label are pretty good, but the label’s direction is all wrong thus they pile on the production and made all their artists sounds like Jack Johnson. Pretty bad. But some talented artists signed to this label as well, like the ultra cute Momo, or the teenage angst of The Mushrooms.

Anyway, sorry for the long rant, I got carried away, and there are a lot more artists I didn’t mention. Overall I think indie in China is hopeful, they just need to 1) get out of this gloom and doom mind set, write some songs that are not focused on “weird”, but you know, cute, happy pop songs and 2) get out of this mind set of making indie music because it’s “fashionable”.

Also, if you read Chinese, www.wooozy.cn (yes, the website I post my Chinese podcast on), is a great source to keep up with all the latest in the Chinese indie scene featuring album reviews, concert reviews, concert info and all the latest info on CD releases. If there’s anything happening, you can pretty much find it on wooozy.

Good news! Louis is starting a new one hour show in September called “Sound Unlimited”. It’s going to feature Chinese indie as well as Western indie (50%/50%), plus interviews (he’s working on interviews with Carsick Cars, Ourself Beside Us, and Mushroom Red, also with Western artists such as the Handsome Furs, Emily Haines of Metric (one of my favorite bands) and hopefully a lot more. Once the show is running, we’ll give you the link so you can check him out!

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8 Responses to “Louis Yu’s Indie Podcasts”

  1. Hamster Says:

    Louis is a standup guy. Opinionated, sure. But we need people with opinions if we are going to move this scene forward.

    The Noise Unlimited podcast is a great addition to the increasing amount of information out there for Chinese kids to get to know their music. Let’s hope he’s nicer interviewing the bands than being interviewed about them.

    Keep fighting the fight, Mr. Yu

  2. Seabass Says:

    Awesome, article. I agree with a ton of what Mr. Yu is saying. I went back to Seattle for 2 weeks this summer and checked out some local unsigned bands and they were as good or better than most of the bands I have seen in China (This does not apply to the Swamp “ZhaoZe”, whom are from Guangzhou and are incredible live oh! and Ziyou from Beijing). But China is just starting to get into the whole live rock music scene anyway where in England and the U.S. we have had it for the last 60+ years. I agree the bands are trying to find themselves by mimicing other bands but I don’t know any bands out there who have not been influenced by previous bands that they liked. I would never have touched a guitar much less wrote my own songs if it wasn’t for Pearl Jam, Clapton, The Beatles, Snoop Dogg etc.. Yeah, so the Carsick Cars sound a lot like Sonic Youth and Snapline kinda has a little bit of Talking Heads. At least what they are doing is original music, from the heart. I’m just glad the are starting to make the youth of China realize they can make their own music. I’m glad the youth of China is realizing playing an original song that sounds like another band is way better than covering Hotel California and My Humps.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Louis Yu Says:

    Hey everyone, thanks for checking this article out, and thank you so much Steve for profiling my podcast and to allow me to voice my opinion in your blog. I realize maybe the first part of this article/interview is a little harsh. It’s like this, being a kid grew up in China and later moved to Canada I realized how important music/art is, we need art/music to open our minds, and to express ourselves, and I think expression is much needed in China today, especially for the younger generation
    I want China’s art scene/music scene to grow into something great, I want it so much, and I guess that translated into some bitterness in describing the current state of Chinese indie scene, because I think it can do much better.
    When I was young, whenever my mother wanted me to do better in school, the method she uses is to knock me down “no you’re horrible right now, you can do much better…” While I didn’t mean to use this method here, I guess that was what the first part of this article projected.
    However, I like to say how full of hope I am in the development of the Chinese indie scene. This particular interview was done a month or so ago, and since then there are wonderful bands such as the gar and Ziyo coming out with new work that just blew my mind. I hope that this article doesn’t project that I am disappointed or am losing hope in the development of the Chinese indie scene. It’s quite the opposite, I think it’s going to be great.
    In the mean time, I just wanted to be straight forward when talking about the indie scene in China

  4. Louis Yu Says:

    Also, regarding what I said about indie bands in China following “fashion” and “trends”, I like to clarify. There’s a difference in being influenced by bands, and being influenced by bands that are “trendy” or “hip”, or being influenced by bands because it’s “trendy” or “hip”
    Like SeaBass said, every band will have their influences….
    I am saying however, that the influence doesn’t have to due to “trends” or “fashion”, I think some Chinese bands are making music because it’s “hip”
    In another word, I would much rather see Chinese bands being influenced by the go-betweens, the free designs, beach boys,Denis Wilson, big star…… dig deeper, find bands that really inspires them, what made them so great, find out the culture around it….you really have to love music….. rather than “yeah yeah yeahs is so hip and trendy right now, let’s do ‘it'”, because what comes out will be uninpsired, picking from swatches (what happen next year when Electro-clash is no longer hip), and, well, an empty shell.
    Remember that song, that album that changed your life? that’s what I meant by good, inspired music. I can honestly say that I have not encountered an album by a Chinese artist/band that “changed my life” yet, and I think it’s about time …
    Hope that make sense 🙂

  5. Nada Says:

    I think Louis the 1st has a good point – I get the feeling a lot of the bands are in it first and foremost because it is hip or cool, secondarily for the music. A lot seem to have very little actual interest in music – I think demonstrated by the fact that you seldom see band members actually out WATCHING gigs. They are more likely to be found sitting outside the venues, chatting, smoking cigarettes and looking cool. Interestingly, the godfather of Chinese rock Cui Jian is always seen out at gigs, really taking in the music and supporting the scene.

    That said, probably 99% of all people in bands initially want to be in a band for the glamour, the girls, the whatever….music might just be the general catalyst. However, the limited or narrow knowledge of music and music history among Chinese bands is a current restraint on the musical development of the scene. Hopefully it will be a short term issue.

  6. James McIntosh Says:

    In my expert opinion, this is a very good post.

  7. Capt. NULLZ Says:

    People should smoke more weed and do more drugs.

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    i am interesteing your blog posts i was search like this website lots of time but now i think i found my lovely website 🙂 i added your website to google reader i will revisit your site in my free times

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