New Music: Howie Lee goes Buddhist, Schoolgirl Byebye, and Post-Emo Weirdness

Psych rock, shoegaze, and working class rap share space with an intriguing new trend in home recording

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5:04 PM HKT, Wed May 29, 2024 4 mins read

If you’ve read much RADII music coverage, you may have noticed we’re big fans of China’s post-everything, permanently-online club music. And while there’s plenty of variety to the music on offer this month — regional rap, psych rock, slick indie pop, and more — one interesting current to observe this time around is the emergence of guitar music solo projects that are as Internet-native, deterritorialized, and eclectic as anything China’s electronic producers are cooking up. Changsha’s PostModernHippie and Shenzhen/Hong Kong’s thetearsofaether are rooted in the emo scene, but bring different styles and even languages to the table in a way that feels more like the product of some serious online research than interactions with an IRL community. Their intense, idiosyncratic music may not be for everyone, but it will be interesting to see if they can directly connect with fans of esoteric indie subgenres overseas, and if more musicians in China start working in a similar way — Editor.

God of Henan Rap 河南说唱之神 – Factory 工厂

This is blue-collar emo rap that cuts deep. You may not be a fan of the rap stylings of Henan rapper Zhang Fangzhao, aka God of Henan Rap, but there’s no denying its potent message. “I don’t love this place. I was just born here.” Set against the backdrop of rural China (Jiaozuo in central Henan, a major coal-producer) and the communities built around factories, it tackles many young people’s desperate pleas to escape the lower classes and avoid following the footsteps left by their families. Offering much-welcomed relief from the glossier, more vapid rappers that currently crowd the Chinese scene, it’s clear The God of Henan Rap — who debuted this song on iQiyi's The Rap of China 2024 talent show — has struck a chord.

Backspace 退格 – Outside of Change 变化之外

Known for their intrepid psych-laced indie rock, Backspace return with their third full-length album, Outside of Change, which finds the band further expanding their sound whilst they give credence to the changes that have occured within themselves and in the world around them. Allowing their krautrock stylings to take flight as synthesizers waltz amongst one another, and giving singer Zheng Dong free range, their groove-filled melodies have a way of enrapturing your senses. The album may get lost in the weeds at times, but that’s just part of the primal pleasures found in the bedrock of Backspace’s sound as they beckon listeners to throw off the “soles of gravity” on the dance floor.

Howie Lee – At The Drolma Wesel-Ling Monastery

One of the electronic scene’s most renowned producers, Beijing-based artist Howie Lee has always had a knack for fusing traditional Asian sounds into his left-field club sensibilities, from the graceful Birdy Island to the more futuristic Tiān Dì Bù Rén. but never has it been done as immaculately or harmoniously as on his latest. Recorded over two weeks at Drolma Wesel-Ling Monastery in the mountains of northeastern Tibet, where the producer had access to chant recordings from the archive of monastery founder Tuga Rinpoche’s studio, it’s a grand, gripping, and enlightening journey, one that finds serendipitous nirvana at the intersection between Buddhist mantras and contemporary club music.

PostModernHippie – One life dominated by the Past 過去主義生活

Drawing on influences sourced from all corners of the internet and its magnitude of niche music circles, then crystallized into pure uncut post-emo music, PostModernHippie — a one-person project based out of Changsha — is a force to be reckoned with. A combustible swirl of breakcore, Midwest emo, screaming, chiptune, shoegaze, bossa nova, Japanese virtual singers, and then some, his glitch-filled wonders are quite literally busting at the seams technically and emotionally. An eclectic music and sound collage that’s unconventional in its framework yet emotionally affecting on an almost instinctual level, PostModernHippie might just be one of emo’s most fascinating offshoots.

一天世界 eitisga – 沙丘脉搏 Dune Pulse

Beijing instrumental groove stirrers eitisga — made up of an electric group of artists working in various other fields (a director, a photographer, a beamaker) — join the ranks of acts like Sleeping Dogs, Pu Poo Platter, and others finding refuge in the vast sonic worlds found across the globe. Taking inspiration from both “desert and urban life,” eitisga’s special touch lies in their ability to turn their auditory landscapes into a narrative, injecting their melodies and rhythm with a deft cinematic fervor that’s above all else fun.

Mimik Banka 表情银行 – Seahorse Forest 海马森林

Mimik Banka has never been bound by style but the long-standing Beijing band seems to have only become more emboldened as they’ve grown, breaking free of whatever constraints have held them back before. Which makes their latest LP Seahorse Forest feel particularly significant. Essentially a retrospective, the release finds the indie act revisiting some of their former tracks and painting them in a new light. And while the band’s ability to embrace a more orchestral and cerebral sound is ever-present, it’s the chamber pop aesthetic that breathes new life into their music here.

Nature Taste 天然味道 – 少女终末旅行

Offering up wistful dissonance that’s achingly romantic and raw, Nature Taste, the latest bedroom project from Shenzhen imprint Small Animals, find solace in the simmering afterglow of watershed summer vacation. Inspired by acts whose embers still burn long after their demise (they namecheck Pasteboard, Yuck, Supercar, and Shenzhen’s own AttaGirl), this EP captures the highly-saturated emotions of being caught in a never-ending moment. Nostalgic, melancholic, and made with rugged lo-fi affection, the Guangzhou band are a fresh new addition to China’s shoegaze and dream pop scene.

Life Awaits – Butterflies

Beijing melodic hardcore band Life Awaits — known for delivering one sonic catharsis after another via earnest, gut-wrenching vocals, guitar-darting breakdowns, and tranquil, synth-laden waves of ambience — return with a new music video for their single “Butterflies.” The video connects the anatomy of butterflies and humans, and explores the perverse ways in which we try to shape those around us. It’s that latter idea that leads the video into Silence of the Lambs territory — think darkened laboratories, dreamlike visions of horror, and nefarious surgeries being conducted.

thetearsofaether – Tell me the Story before we Sleep

A side project of Shenzhen/Hong Kong musician C0LDWINE (who sings English, Cantonese and Japanese here) thetearsofaether breathes new life into the emogaze genre with Tell me the Story before we Sleep, released with trailblazing Guangzhou DIY label Qiii Snacks Records. Part of a new wave of young indie acts who spill forth their raw emotions via sonic catharsis, there’s a violent, unruly and chaotic veneer to the emo and shoegaze stylings of thetearsofaether, one that feels desperate, dangerous, and visceral. It cuts deep.

Schoolgirl Byebye – Lunch Poem

Nanjing band Schoolgirl Byebye’s knack for crafting tight indie pop songs that buzz with sun-baked jangly city pop allure has made them staples of the scene for years. And while they’ve grown almost too comfortable with their unbuttoned brand of lo-fi pop, their latest EP, Lunch Poem, is a great reminder of the band’s deft melodic craft. Inspired by their recent travels across America, as well as Frank O'Hara's 1964 poetry collection with a similar title, it finds the romantics leaning into their toy bag of moody synths and yearning lyricism to woozy effect.

Banner image by Haedi Yue.

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