For all their nuanced and hyphenated variants, punk and metal are easily distinguishable styles, with defining sounds, song structures and themes – think punk’s disaffection or criticising the status quo, or things that are the colour black, dragons and Greater Scandinavia, in metal’s case. Each also has a unique culture in band emblems and fashion. In this case, genres are handy tools.
But for the enigmatic genre of post-rock, identifiable external features aren’t so easy to pin down. For bands in Beijing’s thriving post-rock scene, the single unifying trait seems to be an internal creative drive towards musical complexity.
As a by-and-large rule, heavily instrumental post-rockers eschew vocals (or only use them to add to the ambient, ethereal vibes), relegate hooks in favour of dynamics, forego traditional verse-chorus structures, and know how to go on – songs can be long, with musical themes introduced and developed slowly. But, of course, rules are there to be broken.
The capital has had a huge stable of post-rock bands for nearly a decade: acts like Whai, Rhonda, Nakoma, Swarrm, By Dream, Acid Accident, Glow Curve and Macondo pull big crowds here, and across the country. In recent years, Beijing has also been a popular destination for some of the genre’s biggest international acts, including the noisy, experimental poster-boys, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
So why is a genre of music that promises a complex and even difficult listening experience so successful among local musicians and casual music fans? Here’s what a few of the bands had to say about their craft.
Acid Accident (post-)rocking out.
So what is post-rock?
Macondo: Music where you have more freedom with instrumentation. Think of the theme song from the original Terminator and how awesome it is. Now imagine if someone was wailing some vocals over that. Gross right? Post-rock is something where the music speaks for itself. People can find their own meaning from it. Fans and promoters know they are going to get something where the music is the focus, whether it be atmospheric, intricate or bombastic.
Do you think it’s correct to peg your band as a 'post-rock' band?
Acid Accident: I’m not sure that we’re post-rock, in the traditional sense. We are more groovy, we draw in unique elements and have more call and response between our instruments. We do have post-rock’s temperament and ambience though. So maybe you could call us an alternative post-rock band.
By Dream: Everyone seems to say our band is post-rock but, we don’t really mind – genres aren’t very important. The important thing is that we find meaning in our work. Some people call us post-punk or even just self-appreciation music. We just feel happy to have people come see us play. I can’t say what post-rock is really, styles are blending, and it’s difficult to define exactly what belongs to Britpop, to metal, to electronic and other styles.
How did your band form? Would you say you’ve contributed to the development of a post-rock scene here?
There already were a good amount of post-rock bands developing their sound in Beijing when we started playing, which was great to get into. Originally, we gigged a lot with our homeboys Rhonda, who are sans-vocals and with a much more raw, edgier sound. Glow Curve and SNSOS (She Never Sings Our Songs) are just a few good bands in the scene that have really come into their own. As we have played over the past few years, the popularity of post-rock itself has also been growing. We will actually be playing with This Will Destroy You
this coming December – their show back in 2015 was packed out to the max.
Acid Accident: Our bassist and guitarist had the idea for the band for years. We did some demos by ourselves early on and, one day, we just thought it was time to find a drummer. Then we found our first drummer Lukas and started to rearrange our songs into trio versions. Among Beijing bands we’ve played with or watched live, we like Swarrm, Xiao Wang, No Trace and Dreaming Julie best.
What makes post-rock so popular in Beijing?
Acid Accident: I (Xiaozi, bass) think one reason is that many people in Beijing have already gone through the traditional rock stage and are looking for other artistic ways to express themselves, something more inclusive. Also life in a kind of super-metropolis like Beijing is depressing and a constant stressor. Post-rock can bring you to another place, and give you a break that you can experience privately.
Macondo: With post-rock, it's universal. Anybody can listen to it and interpret whatever meaning they want from it. Whether it's shoegaze, math rock, post-metal or whatever else you call post-rock, it’s an auditory treat. With Macondo, we think that we put on a very energetic live show. If you look at Matt, our drummer, and our bassist Fred after a show, it’s like they just took a shower. When people in the audience see us having fun, we feel they are more inclined to have fun themselves with our music.
By Michael Marshall