As year-end lists are compiled, yaogun gets its own list, thanks to China’s newest and rockiest awards to be handed out. From the people that brought us the Midi School of Music and then festivals across the country, the folks at Midi Productions have, three times, issued awards for the best yaogun in the country. The shortlist for the Fourth Annual China Rock Midi Awards (中国摇滚迷笛奖) has just been announced, yet again inspiring, erm, feelings across a wide spectrum…
I’ve complained in the past, on the internets and in person to whomever would listen (and some who wouldn’t), about Midi’s (and, I should add, others’) shortcomings on the festival front. I moaned over last year’s award. But, as is often the case when dealing with yaogun, where baby steps are giant leaps, where recognition seems a long time in coming, and where small victories matter in large ways, there is reason for optimism. Not just when the List includes bands that I think are worthy (though, as awards-watchers of any and all stripes are well aware, there is something that happens when you see your faves on others’ lists). But in that Midi, on its festival, awards and educational fronts – despite not insubstantial warts, lesions and attacks, marches on. And folks are paying attention, even if only by republishing the Midi Awards press release on a sponsor’s news site; that’s big news when the sponsor is Sina, the home of Weibo (aka ‘China’s Twitter). Also, the philosophy behind the awards, to show the non-yaogun world that there was art worthy of recognition, is one that I, for one, think laudable. In the same way the Oscars took movies, the idea goes, so, too, can yaogun at least plant in the larger world’s mind the idea that it’s not all trash; that yaogun, like film and pop music, is worth honouring.
Alas. The nominees are in. Others have weighed in, like the always-on-it Beijing Daze, and before I comment on the nominees, I wanted to share my own picks, which I made not as a mere exercise, but as part of my responsibilities as a one of the 119-member “Appraisal Committee”. We were tasked with narrowing down the year’s releases to a list of nominees that the seven-member Standing Committee would present and choose winners from.
It’s a tough gig, appraising, particularly when it’s long-distance, especially when the list that gets passed around of the year’s releases isn’t always exhaustive. Also, there are some categorical confusions – I mean that literally: the categories are confusing. Like: Is “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” the best song without lyrics of the year? No, it’s the best player of an instrument. On a record that came out this past year? Unclear. Does it make sense to compare an awesome guitarist to an awesome drummer? Not to me. Is the Best Rock Performance by a Group with Vocals limited to those who released an album? Again, unclear. And how do you tell the Best Hard Rock Performance from the Best Metal Performance? I’m stumped.
Alas, my picks:
Album of the Year: Baishui 白水 (right) Some Other Place 另一些地方
This is an artist I discovered by perusing the list of bands performing at the 2013 edition of SXSW, that massive Austin, Texas gathering of the music industry (and more). Baishui lives in Yibin, Sichuan, and, in my mind, has one of the strongest catalogues in yaogun.
Song of the Year: The Gar 嘎调 “Black Hole” 空洞
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect their EP, Lights, to be able to compare to their excellent 2009 self-titled debut, but it does.
Best Rock Performance By Group With Vocals: The Gar 嘎调
You just heard why.
Best Male Rock Vocal Performance: Mao Chuan 毛川 of Perdel 逃跑计划 (aka Escape Plan)
Yaogun isn’t always a serious, down-and-dirty affair. This band (they’ll always be Perdel to me!) produces singalongable pop-rock with a genuine love of the game that shows through.
Best Female Rock Vocal Performance: Kang Mao 抗猫 of Subs (right)
You can compare drummers and guitarists to produce ‘best instrumental performance’ but you have to separate the boys and girls in the vocal category? Anyway, it’s always pretty much the same couple of folks, and having just watched, again, Rock Heart Beijing, I can’t gush about Kang Mao enough.
Best Hard Rock Performance: Wang Wen 惘闻
My dislike of the nomenclature meant that I probably picked a band that didn’t qualify. But for me, post-rock can be the hardest of rock, and Wang Wen rocks the post-rock HARD. And: They put Dalian on the yaogun map, and are working to ensure it stays there.
Best Metal Performance: (I abstained from this category; partly a political statement of disagreement with the state of the categories, but really my excuse is a lame one, and it’s that I don’t feel like I’m able to give this category the attention it deserves)
Best Rock Instrumental Performance: Baishui
Whether it’s keyboards, guitars, dizi (Chinese flute) or any of the other sounds he makes, this guy, in my book, is miles ahead.
Best Live Performance: DUCK FIGHT GOOSE (left)
For me, the best thing about a DFG live performance is you never know what’s coming. Or, sometimes, what just came. In a good way.
Best New Artist: Paowang 炮王
I heard about these guys via news of Converse’s search for “New Noise” which whittled down a traveling list of young bands to two that won the chance to record in NYC. As it turns out, they were one of two winners; the other band, Tree, who hail from Hangzhou, I’ve come to also like a lot – possibly even more, but not as of my ballot’s deadline.
Best Album Art: Baishui
I only saw tell of his extensive packaging online, but that was enough for me. Did I mention I dig this guy’s music?
Best Folk Music: Hanggai 杭盖
I’ve seen them transfix audiences in North America and China, work with international artists and rise to a level unequaled in yaogun in terms of international recognition and opportunities.
Contribution to China Rock: VOX Club, Wuhan
The guys in this central Chinese city have created an amazing venue and scene that has made it a must-visit spot on the yaogun map. They’ve also gone out of their way to create similar communities in other cities nearby, so that Wuhan won’t be the furthest inland bands get.
The nominees, and my thoughts thereupon, coming soon…