Let me set the scene. In one corner you have a guy sitting on a stool, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, shoulder wavy length hair sticking out of a black cap pulled down to hide his eyes, emotionless face looking down at the black bass sitting on his lap. In the other, another guy, sitting cross-legged on the floor, in comfy baggy pants, white shirt, long hair pulled up in high ninja bun, large toothy smile and glistening eyes, surrounded by a plethora of traditional instruments. Walking into Jianghu on Monday night, this is the scene that confronted me. For anyone who doesn’t know the two guys I’ve just described, this vision would have been enough to make you walk straight back out the door again, but I knew what I was getting myself into and was excited to hear what was going to come out of this strange but beautiful combination.
The ‘rock’ guy, was Mamer, known for his unusual combinations of experimental bass, industrial music and traditional Kazakh songs with his band IZ. But he also does solo work, last year he put out 5, yes 5, solo records, each completely different, self-recorded experimental compositions and traditional Kazakh songs using various instruments. I found a copy of Elim, with features dombra, guitar and violin, in C Rock last year, but hadn’t managed to track down any of the others around town.
The ‘folk” guy, was Song Yuzhe, veteran of many experimental folk projects, including most recently Dawanggang, another long timer in the music scene. I’m not sure of the names of the instruments he had on hand, but they included stringed, wind and drums, and he was able to evoke the most magical sounds out of them.
Put these two together and what do you get? Well, it was not something I think anyone in the audience expected. They played for over an hour, seemingly just jamming together, layering their sounds to make something quite surreal and beautiful, sometimes barely audible, others with amazing force I wondered if they were trying to get the place shut down by the neighbours. Mamer is a master of getting the most amazing sounds out of his bass. I’ve seen people use a computer to create music that sounds like live instruments, but this was a bass creating almost electronic, computer sounds. If Mamer doesn’t already create soundtracks for horror movies, he should start, I swear if I’d closed my eyes at some points I would have felt like I was in a haunted house. Add his deep, almost demonic, vocals and it was like taking part in a séance, evoking some Kazakhi god. Song Yuzhe, listed on the promo as the opening act, sat Buddha-like on the stage watching him closely, knowing exactly which instrument to select to complement the sounds coming from the other side of the stage. At no point at all did it seem like they were competing for the audiences attention, everything just worked together so well.
Unexpectedly a mystery sax player appeared, (update: thanks @江湖酒吧 for telling me it was actually Li Tieqiao!) joining the two onstage, much to their surprise as well, Mamer calling for the boss and pointing at the new guy with a look of ‘wtf, who is the is guy? this is my show’. Tianxiao quickly came to the rescue taking his sax back and joining the two on stage himself, sax tones mixing seamlessly with the droning bass and Jews harp.
It’s easy to get jaded going to shows in this city, I walk out of many shows feeling like I’ve seen/heard that a million times before, or disappointed when a live show doesn’t live up to the recorded version, but it’s shows like this that remind me that we have such great musical talents here. They’re not filling the house at Yugong or Mao, they’re not playing every other weekend, but when they do, it’s magic. The show was billed under the name Kunakara乐队, which I believe is what Mamer is calling his solo project, although I’m not sure if Song Yuzhe is also part of this, or just joined in for this show. With the crowd split between fans of the two, completely different musicians, I’m not sure they all expected or understood what they were hearing, but I left with a deeper appreciation of both. And an elusive copy of Alika, the experimental bass solo album that I’ve been looking for since last year, tucked in my bag.