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Re-TROS- Before the Applause

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A peek over the wall and into the flourishing Chinese underground.

Image of Re-TROS- Before the Applause

(Modern Sky Entertainment, released Fri 15 September)

Beijing-based post punks Re-TROS (short for Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues) offer up their latest full-length album entitled Before the Applause through Modern Sky Entertainment. They are being tipped for big things and it is easy to see why.

Chinese mainstream culture is so heavily filtered and controlled by the government that very few Chinese musicians make it over the wall and into the consciousness of international audiences. 80% of Chinese popular music falls into one of two categories: dull ballads or shameless aping of Western megastars. Imagine your granddad (the grumpy one, not the cool one) having the power to suppress what he doesn’t like and influence what is ultimately released. This not only curtails the freedom of artists to express themselves but arguably holds China back culturally.

This is not to say there is no good Chinese music; in fact, there has been a burgeoning underground music scene in China for longer than any of us living have been on Earth. It is just unfortunate that few people outside of the country know about bands like SMZB (English interview here), Duck Fight Goose or Wang Wen.

Re-TROS have been around since 2003 and have worked with Brian Eno and toured the US and Australia. Their album is a stylistically diverse offering which at times has you banging your head to a grunge-fused dissonance and other times spitting out your green tea leaves in confusion. Croaking over a low-fi handclap is given far too much space (almost seven minutes on two tracks) before it evolves into a vibrating wall of electronica. However, shamanistic hand clapping rituals are probably best left in the rainforest.

On first impressions, it sounds like a soundtrack to an intense session at Laser Quest: very nineties, dark, industrial and lots of fun. As you listen more, you begin to hear the nuances of the album. Track lengths range from five to twelve minutes which clearly poses problems for someone with a short attention span, yet rewards those who give it time and repeat listens. There is probably enough depth, edgy coolness and variety to fill at least twenty Hyundai adverts.

Pigs in the River is Coral-esque and probably the standout track on the album. It is inspired by the 16,000 diseased pigs that floated down Shanghai’s Huangpu river and made global headlines in 2013. Other highlights include the frantic Red Rum Aviv which runs at a frightening pace yet remains melodic, infectious and gives a good impression of what their legendary (in China anyway) live shows are like. They tour the US and Canada in September but, who knows, if enough of us listen to them, we might be able to see them live in Scotland at some point and not just hear imitations at our nearest laser quest.

 


Former funk musician turned polyglot primary teacher from the moribund coalfields of post-industrial Scotland, Luke has travelled the world and decided that Fife is the best place on Earth. He has a BA (hons) in Journalism and Spanish and chairs the board of Intergalactic Conflict Management.

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