Sally Can’t Dance: experimental noise makers gather in their new hutong home

D22’s zooming nights may have been put on hiatus with the venue’s closure earlier this year, but the city’s experimental musicians came out of hibernation last weekend, joined by fellow noise makers from around China for the 4th (semi-) annual Sally Can’t Dance festival. Though not a huge fan of this style of music, I decided to swing past the venue and see what was on offer, after all the as yet ‘un-named venue’ of the former D22 team is literally across the road from my house, it would be rude not to have dropped in!

To find out more about the history of this festival and those organising it this year head over to Pangbianr’s post here.

My fellow hutong dwellers probably don’t yet realise who’s moved into our hood judging by the strange looks as they passed the mix of laowai and locals loitering around the venue’s doorway. As the venue itself isn’t due to open officially until May, the festival preparations in the new space were minimal and didn’t include a bar as yet, so it was a BYO affair, the local 7-11’s fridge looking very bare by the end of the weekend.

Yan Yulong & Zhang Shouwang

Saturday afternoon saw the small dimly lit downstairs performance space filled with eager listeners come to here the best experimental musicians in the country had to offer. I made it just as Zhang Shouwang and Yan Yulong were setting up their electric guitar and violin on a table in the centre of the room surrounded by a mass of cords and power plugs, listeners sitting and standing around in anticipation. This was the set I really wanted to see and it was my favourite of the day, the combination of violin and guitar much easier on the ears than the later louder acts. such as Yu Yiyi, who built a wall of distortion, then began epileptic dancing and screaming, which I took as a chance to get some fresh air outside.

I left to go to another show before headliner Torturing Nurse came on, but from what I heard their 15min set was more a piece of performance art than music, with the band being attacked by 4 members of the crowd (supposedly this was planned!) and the noise they created being made up of their screams.

Olaf Hochherz

The faithful fans returned to Di’anmen Sunday afternoon for day two, which promised to be a more softer sound than Saturday’s harsh distortion and feedback styles. It certainly started that way with Yan Jun’s Improv Committee producing something I can only describe as what it sounds like in the nocturnal animal enclosure of the zoo. 8 musicians combining to produced the most barely there noises from keyboard, violin, guitar, various wind instruments, pre-programmed boxes lit up like computer games and at one point a metal measuring tape being snapped. International guest Olaf Hochherz’s set was minimalist static-y sounds pre-recorded and played back. It was all a little too quiet for me, and also one musician I saw drifting off to sleep in the corner.

Li Daiguo

Some great free jazz livened things up for the evening session where the crowd swelled for Dali based Li Daigou and Beijinger Xiao He’s sets. Alex & I were in agreement at this point: you have to really know how to play your instrument well before you can start messing with it; and these two musicians embodied that theory. Li Daiguo had the crowd mesmerized combining pipa and viola with some vocal interpretation, a little like beat-boxing to my untrained ear. Xiao He followed him, this time sans laptop, and showed off his amazing talent to perch right on that line between genius and crazy, with intricate guitar picking lulling the crowd into a rocking trance, then ending the set singing in what sounded like some strange made-up language.

The crowd drifted out around midnight, taking with them posters from the walls to remember their weekend, and leaving behind empty cans and bottles of their road beers. The quiet hutong returned to normality again, at least for a couple of months until the venue opens officially and these experimental musicians have a new home.

Xiao He


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

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