Modern Sky Festival Steps out of China and Goes to New York, to Great Acclaim

The Blood Brothers

Article by Eder Guzman
Photo credit Jialing Shen

October 4, 2014 was the day Central park Rumsey Playfield would be the host of the 7th annual Modern Sky Festival. It is an intimate venue for an excellent lineup of musicians, most flown in from China to New York exclusively for the festival. The Modern Sky record label had its first concert on October, 2007 at Haidan Park in Beijing, China. They continued the tradition until now, where New York will host the first Modern Sky Festival outside of China. Doors opened at 5, and it was slowly filling up with booths being set up, offering beer, wine and pizza. It was a 2 day event, and each day had a different line up of artists.

Deserts Zhang Xuan (also known as Deserts Anpu)

The first act was Deserts Zhang Xuan (also known as Deserts Anpu), a band started by the crowd favorite Chiao An Pu. She is an alternative singer songwriter who gained a large following in China, and she filled the arena as soon as she came out. Her acoustic guitar, along with her two bass players strumming softly, and drummer’s soft taps create a relaxed atmosphere. She likes to talk to the crowd and make them laugh, as they are always appreciative of her musings on music and life. Her Bass player, wearing a snow hat and blue shirt, loves ending songs on a solo the longer they play, as does the drummer. She ends her set with a soft Xie-xie, and received raucous applause by the crowd.

Re-TROS

Zhang Xuan  is followed by Re-TROS, who began playing in 2003, in Beijing. Founded by Hua Dong, Liu Min, and Ma Hui, Re-TROS (short for Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues) plays more punk and catchy music. Singer Liu Min, with her pink hair, is the most energetic on stage and plays the tambourine, bass, and keyboard all in one song, as does frontman Hua Dong. The band all contributes to the distinct sounds, with Drummer Ma Hui playing the xylophone during the set. They end by playing an 8 minute song that’s mostly electronic sounds, a great ending to an experimental set.

Next up was The Blood Brothers, a punk band that formed in 1997 in Seattle, Washington. They split up in June 2007, at least until August 24, 2014, when they reunited for the YFY Fest. More than half of the crowed was here to see them, as they began to develop an even larger following after they split. They announced that they were glad to be back together, that it has been about a decade since they’ve been in New York. Right off the bat, they began with loud, high-pitched screams, fast drums, and the great all around punk rock aesthetics of dancing/jumping around by vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney. Since their songs are shorter, they played at least 6 songs on stage and included many of their greatest hits, like “Set Fire to the Face on Fire”, “Laser Life” and “Trash Flavored Trash”.

Liars,

The last two on the set list was Liars, an experimental/electronic band that was promoting their new album Mess, fronted by vocalist Angus Andrew, with Aaron Hemphill on percussion and synthesizer, and Julian Gross on the drums. The other band was Atomic Bomb! Band, headed by Nigerian synthesizer pioneer William Onyeabor, featuring well known artists like Jamie Lidell, Pharoah Sanders, Alexis Raylor (Hot Chip), Dead Prez, Peaking Lights, Sinkane, Money Mark (of Beastie Boys), the Mahotella Queens, and special guests.

Omnipotent Youth Society

Doors opened at 2 on the second day of Modern Sky Festival. Omnipotent Youth Society was the first band of the day to take the stage. They are from Shijiazhuang, an industrial city in the southwest of Beijing. They are a prime example of an indie band that made it big, winning “Band of the year” at the Chinese Music Media Awards in 2011. Created by guitarist/vocalist Dong Yaqian, drummer Yang Yougeng, trumpeter and flautist Shi Li, and lyricist/bassist Ji Geng. The band has plenty of folk music and grunge influences in their work, with stings and the trumpet making casual appearances.

Lenka

After their performances, it was Lenka. She is famous for her song “Everything at Once”, which appeared on everything from the Windows 8 commercial, to Grey’s Anatomy. She has perfected easy to follow pop with emotion that, along with her cute charm, makes her music easily exploitable.

Queen Sea Big Shark

Next up was Queen Sea Big Shark, a Beijing based indie band which was dounded by singer and keyboard player Fu Han, guitarist Cao Pu, Bassist Wang Jianhan, and drummer Xiao Wu. Their rock/electronic music as easily digestible, opening for act like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and traveling all over the US and Europe.

Shuh Tou

Next up was another recently reunited Band Shuh Tou. From Urumqi, China, they began as a cover band for hard rock and metal bands, and sldified their lineup in 997. After a number of failed attempts, they finally reunited in 2013, and made full use of the stage and screen. Their sound is a mish-mash of influences, from Metallica to Primus, all while including political and social themes via the screen. “It’s the law, its rationality, its openness, its restricted”, these juxtaposed phrases appear and make their set more poetic and philosophical than the other bands.

Second Hand Rose

Afterwards was the great and always theatrical Second Hand Rose. They came out in colorful dresses, all in green and red like Christmas wrapping. The lead singer, Liang Long, comes out with lipstick, blush and eyeliner, complete with a band leader ensemble. Second Hnd Rose began formed in the late 90’s, with Yao Lan on the guitar, Li Ziqiang on the bass, Sun Quan on the drums, Wu Zekun on the Suona (a type of Chinese wind instrument), and Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau on the percussion. They mix rock with traditional Chinese sounds, like some high pitched Chinese chanting. Their performances and costumes is what distinguishes them from the metal and cover bands who dominate the Beijing music scene.

The Both

The Both, a collaboration of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo is a unique band, if one can even call them as such. Ted Leo is a punk rock/indie rock singer and songwriter who has been around since the 90’s, doing various solo projects until February, 2012, when he began to work with Aimee Mann. She began her career with ‘Til Tuesday, a band famous in the 80’s, and like Leo she continued with a solo career. They were promoting their new album, The Both, released on April, 2014. They both switch up the verses when singing then harmonize near the end, with clear and masterful voices heard due to years of experience. Ted Leo tried his best to speak Chinese, and he even had notes prepared, and the crowd appreciated him for it. Many in the crowd are fans of Aimee Mann, and they were the most attentive during the set.

Next up was Stars, the first Canadian band at the festival. They got together in 2000, and have had their music promoted in all sorts of shows, like The O.C, and Grey’s Anatomy. They are reminiscent of the band fun., yet are more nuanced in their vocals, and more incisive and in their blending of instrumentals. All their 6 members are talented in many instruments, like the synthesizer guitar, and bass. Singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan (of Broken Social Scene) employ narrative lyrics and pop vocals, and get the audience involved to get them going. At one point during the set, Torquil says that the weed from Vancouver is the same as the one from New York, and he calls Rudy Guliani “A motherfucking cocksucker”, as he has been in New York before and had been arrested on that day.

Last show of the night is Cat Power, headed by Chan Marshall. She began her musical career in 1992 and released her last album The Covers Record (2000), and after a brief hiatus, she returned in 2003. Her musical style is some soul, some jazz oriented songs with slow guitar rhythm, and her pondering narrative vocals provide a mellow focus throughout the set. Overall, it was a successful festival, with a great ending that was tragically shortened due to time. But the crowd did sing happy birthday to Chan Marshall’s brother, the piano player, and in that way the crowd gave something back in appreciation of two great days of music.

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