We board line 2, the circular one. Convenience has bestowed upon us the Dongsishitiao station on our doorstep and at what equates to 20 pence per journey no matter how far you take the subway. We go round to the second meeting with line 13 where we can take the three stops to Wudaukou station in the universities district. I am looking to find a place where we can feed ourselves before heading to the concert. And the station is sufficiently supplied with neighbouring department stores housing restaurants. We locate a hot-pot place to dip vegetables in boiling water and rub in a subsequent bath of garlic or chilli sauce before inserting into our mouths for mastication.
We have no idea where along this road the venue is situated. I spot some foreigners, they all seem to be Europeans studying Chinese at the University, they don’t really know what I’m talking about, they all must be squares. I eventually do find a continental European who knows the venue and directs us accordingly. We walk past a street market full of tat, some other restaurants and series of foul smells until we find the place. And it is comforting to find what we would all recognise as a scruffy gig venue of a bar.
It is set up with black walls adorned with student artwork, and displaying a great deal of self expression in content, in mind of the fact we are in China, where taking drugs can carry a death sentence and the media is still censored. It is great to see the explosion of contemporary arts, we saw some interesting performance and installation in the 798 art district earlier in the week, having not kept up with the progress in China it still surprises. It turns out, as a visitor to Beijing how was I to know, that D-22 has been here for years and that the music we are about to see has been developing for a long time.
We wait, it is not quite nine and the place is empty. There is an antique Chinese table football behind us and a mezzanine area above. The dingy light slowly reveals itself as we sit. Photographs of prominent Beijing bands are illuminated along the balcony, Joyside, Carsick Cars, Hedghog… of course I know none of them this is my first foray into the scene.
The first act shuffle about and check the sound passing out of their processor from two keyboards, a guitar and the mic on the drum. Two young guys in shirt and oversized jumper, one taller than the other. As a loop of arpeggiated high notes is set by the tall one in oversized jumper the shorter stabs at his low notes and so ensues the textured and pulsating semi improv music. They make a pretty engaging sound, the smaller one accompanying his keyed bass line loop with some disjointed electric guitar. When loops are safely standing on their own the taller one slides across to beat a floor tom and crash a cymbal.
I have no idea what they are called. The majority of the audience is known to each other, we are two of about 30 or so people in this room. A recognisable art school clique forms the most part with a good helping of expat music geeks and likely friends of the Americans who own the venue.
The short interlude sees many slunk outside although smoking is most definitely not banned inside. The squat Chinese girlfriend of the French boy sits right next to us coating us in the blue-grey smoke from her cigarillo.
Now a more serious looking couple slouch onto the stage arranging their analogue synthesisers on the floor facing each other. Two more tentative chaps with Beatles haircuts and glasses set themselves up at the drums and sat down with electric guitar. Sheng sits with her back to the crowd, Shou Wang facing her side on. This is WHITE, the main attraction for tonight. And honing their reputation since the mid 2000’s, they have variously played with many prominent names in the sphere of music exploratory and studied in London. Their sound tonight is fairly rhythmic and progressive but nevertheless relatively organic as a result of the tones. The duelling oscillations snake along to the regulating patter of the drums, a line of texture added by guitar. As the intensity heightens Shou Wang picks up his guitar and spits in a bit of discordant stabbing. The sound is very immersive with the warmth of the synth drones and a very attentive audience. After what seems like a respectable amount of time the sound stops and the crowd disperses again.
The final act is cut short for us as we tire and jump in a taxi, it is around 11:30 when we go but that was not too late to see half, which was a much more masculine and energised performance. A series of pedals and knobs are set up on a table and a guitar is slung on shoulder. a leather jacket and skinny jeans. Drummer is sound-checked. A more rapid and rhythm driven sound is created reminiscent of where animal collective went and the drumming is straight and tight. A quintessential rocking back and forth while hunched over the switches and knobs. Accompany with strobing coloured lights and you have the headline slot, A4 Destroyer.
Tonight took me back to the Cardigan Arms/Packhorse/Brudenell in 2003-2005 and a pleasant haze of comfort. Freedom to do what what you want, even if it isn’t new, really engages an audience. Some things are new to some people and some things are reminders to people who may have lost the focus. There is still a positive reaction to decent rhythm, there is still a positive reaction to harmonising tones, there is still space for progression. Makes me think about the fact that I remain pressing the same pedal for the same effect after this seven years.