Mezmerizing sounds from the southern Swamp: Guangzhou’s Zhaoze captivate at Mao

On Friday night BD and I were enjoying WuFei’s performance at the Ephemerals show when he made the comment that he’s still getting his head around the guqin, still learning how it sounds and understanding to expect from it. I had to agree with him. I’ve seen WuFei perform 3 times now, by herself, with Abigail Washburn and with Hanggai, each time I find myself amazed by the sounds and tones that she brings out of this instrument. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch Buyi at JiangJinJiu on ones of the rare occasions that Zhang Wei had his Guqin on stage. None of these shows could prepare me for what I experienced at Mao last night – it completely blew away anything I thought I knew about how this instrument could sound.

Zhaoze (沼泽, The Swamp) are a 4 piece from Guangzhou, who have been performing together since 1993. I thought they said during the show it was only their second visit to Beijing – but I’ve since been corrected (yes, my Chinese is not great!) that they have ventured up to the Capital a few times for shows and also festivals including last year’s Midi and also Modern Sky where my buddy Froog happened to catch them and was very impressed. Rock in China Wiki describes their sound as ‘electronic and psychedelic, combined with progressive rock, post rock, and avant-garde electronic music to produce detail, touching, passionate, and boundless tension in the everlasting sadness.” But the thing that made me want to see them was that they include an electric guqin. A listen to a couple of their songs on douban was enough to peak my interest and have me heading of to Mao alone, unable to convince any of my gig buddies to come out on a sandstormy Sunday night.

I don’t think I’ve ever made it to Mao before the show started, I usually miss most of the opening act, simply because Mao shows start so damn early and almost always on time, something that’s very rare in this city! There was no opening act listed, so I made the effort to actually get there early, and was surprised to have to wait half an hour after the scheduled start time for the band to take the stage.

Right from the first note I knew I was in for something special, Hai Liang plays both the guqin and guitar with such passion he totally draws you into the music and you forget everything around you. The sounds Xi Hui was able to make on his guitar were so beautiful and almost eerie, combined with the guqin and A La on bass, it was mezmerizing, like being transported to some dark underwater world. Hai Xun was able to take the drums from the faintest barely audible feathering on the cymbals to the full force of a metal drummer and back again all within the same song. At the peak of one song in particular if felt like a wall of sound extended out from the stage enveloping the whole crowd, then as quickly as the sound had built up, it faded away until just the soulful pluckng of the guqin was left.

Zhaoze played for almost 90 minutes to a half full Mao Livehouse – not a bad turn out for a one band show on a stormy Sunday night. I’ve seen a lot of shows already this year, but I think this could be a contender for my show of the year already. I tried to capture a couple of songs on video, but my old camera just wasn’t up to it and what I caught just doesn’t do justice to the amazing experience.

I want to give some praise to Mao Livehouse as well, for their consistently great sound and lighting which adds a lot to my enjoyment of any show. And also a message not only to Zhaoze, but to all musicians – Please, please, please bring your merch to shows! After watching you play for over an hour I really want to take home your music! I’m going to have to make another trip to C Rock this week to see if I can find some of Zhaoze’s albums.

You can find more about Zhaoze here:
Douban – http://site.douban.com/zhaoze/
Rock in China Wiki – http://www.rockinchina.com/w/The_Swamp
Myspace – http://www.myspace.cn/theswamp

ruby

a kiwi, a music lover, a traveller & an IT geek hanging around in the 'jing planning her next adventure.

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7 Responses

  1. Froog says:

    Thanks for the mention, Ruby – although I notice I was mistaken about it being MIDI they played last year; it was actually the similar Modern Sky Festival they had in Haidian Park last October. Amazing that that seems so long ago now!

    Also, I think Wu Fei mostly plays the guzheng, which is similar-but-different, same ‘zither’ family but quite a bit bigger than the guqin.

    Glad you enjoyed the show. Sorry I couldn’t join you for this one.

  2. Ruby says:

    Ok, seems we are both right, checking the old schedules – they played Midi in May and Modern Sky in Oct – I’m sure he said it was only their second time to play in Beijing and mentioned Midi, maybe my Chinese is worse than I thought?

    And thank you for correcting me on lumping all zithers together!

  3. These guys really are amazing. I was unfortunately in Wuhan this past weekend so missed out on one of their rare appearances up here. Also, they have have been playing shows in Beijing for some time. I shot a portrait of them in October of 2008 that is in Sound Kapital. Cheers…

  4. Froog says:

    I think I must have missed them at MIDI. They blew me away at Modern Sky, and I think I would have remembered seeing them before – especially only 5 months earlier!

    Now that I know what they’re called, I’ll be watching out for their next Beijing appearance. Are they doing any of the festivals next month?

  5. Ruby says:

    Matthew, Thanks for correcting me as well – I really don’t know how I missed these guys before!

    Froog, According to their douban page they’re on tour now, but I don’t see any shows listed over the May holiday weekend :( I’m going to pop into C Rock this week and see if they have any CDs – will pass them on!

  6. Beijing Daze says:

    cool beans Ruby!
    I’m pleasantly surprised by the tunes on their douban and gonna keep an eye out for them

  7. Ruby says:

    Update – No Zhaoze at C Rock, but Xiao Wei is ordering it in for me!