When I heard that Beijing’s Second Annual Post-Rock Festival would be hitting Mako Livehouse this Saturday, just a day after another post-rock heavyweight plays at Mao Livehouse, it put me in a contemplative mood about a genre that, goddammit, I really want to like.
I’ve always enjoyed post-rock the way I enjoy, say, eating sweet, sweet misandao – you (I) start out loving the greasy, sugary rush, but soon it becomes almost overwhelmingly intense until, before you (I) know it, you (I)’ve collapsed into a sugar-carb trance and are left drooling in a nauseated puddle of honey-flavored oil… wait, what were we talking about? The point is, postrock is great, but with its sweeping cinematic lines and crashing crescendos, it’s not for everyone. Which is why I was surprised when I found out that post-rock is wildly popular in China.
When I thought more about it, however, it made sense that houyao (后摇), as it’s sometimes called here, should have taken off in a way that some of rock’s more conventional spawn haven’t. After all, while genres ranging from garage to post-punk require some sense of history and cultural context (not to mention language skills) to really get, post-rock is as universal as classical music: it’s symphonic, it’s dramatic and (best of all) it’s almost entirely instrumental, which means you don’t need any language skills to understand what it’s about.
I found this out last year when I attended last year’s post-rock festival, which was also held at Mako, a wonderful but generally forsaken venue in Beijing’s far-flung Shuangjing neighborhood. To my surprise, the house was packed, and with an almost entirely Chinese audience, all of whom seemed to know the setlist backward and forwards. Among the most popular acts of the night was a Dalian band called Wangwen (惘闻) – who, a savvy friend would later tell me, are widely regarded as China’s best post-rock band.
A year later, they’re back to release their newest album, on a countrywide tour that hits Beijing Friday, June 8 and Shanghai on June 15 (see their Douban for full tour schedule). So from whence did these mysterious post-rock wizards emerge?
Started in 1999, Wangwen (whose name means something akin to “unknown” or “off the beaten path”) hails from the northeastern coastal city of Dalian, which is unofficially known as the post-rock capital of China. In the 90s, however, grunge reigned supreme, and Wangwen was no exception. The group reportedly started as a threesome with “two guitarists who liked the Smashing Pumpkins.”
In a few short years, however, the trio had become a quintet, and begun evolving from grunge and 90s college rock to an all-instrumental group, in the process becoming one of China’s first postrock bands. In the early 00s, the band became increasingly influenced by such post-rock giants as Mogwai, Polvo, Explosions in the Sky, and Gospeed You! Black Emperor, and soon became known as China’s premiere postrock band. In their nearly 15-year career, the band has released seven full-lengths, with the most recent one being this year’s “0.7,” which Wangwen are putting out on CD and vinyl.
If you want to check them out before they land in your city, try out their 2009 release, “L&R” or listen to some of their tunes at Xiami. Beijingers who are interested in more post-rock can catch bands like Glow Curve and Pentatonic at Beijing’s second annual Post-Rock Festival, Saturday June 9, at Mako Livehouse, or catch Wangwen at Mao this Friday.
What came before post-rock? Well…rock, so for more, try our articles on XTX, the new godfather of Chinese rock music, and Top Floor Circus, Chinese rock’s jesters.