|Label:||Squirky Music Ltd|
I should have learned by now to stay the fuck away from anything that uses a rainmaker as a serious instrument. But some rogue hippy gene I harbour makes me think that maybe this time it will be OK. It isn’t, never has been, and never will be OK. Precedents for my liking of world music come largely from eating in Indian restaurants, watching Japanese anime, and making a concerted effort to “expand my consciousness” as a youth. Oh, and 1 Giant Leap, which I haven’t listened to again recently, but I remember it being awesome. I hope it still is, but I don’t want to check just now because if it isn’t, my entire case for this review would dissolve.
The Beijing Gang is a producer from London called Chris Bemand, and a handful of talented and authentic Chinese musicians and vocalists. The project is described as "electronic dubby goodness with live classical chinese instruments". The word “fusion” is also used, along with “quirky”. As is often the case, when you hear the word “fusion” alarm bells [or in this case prayer bells] should probably start to ring. The resultant album, Tan Qi, is I’m afraid to say a bit of a multicultural mess. I don’t think that crossover music such as this is a bad idea in itself; I think it’s great - but it really has to be done right or it’s going to sound cheesy as fuck. It becomes “afternoon festival chillout and eat space cakes while laughing at dancing hippies” music.
Track 1 starts off with aforementioned rainmaker, and it’s actually going OK until someone sounding disconcertingly like Jean Claude Van Damme in that Coors advert starts seriously intoning about loving mountains and the world and shit over it. Track 2 is much better, except for some gratuitous record scratching. Apart from that, it is great - in a sort of meditational way. Track 3 also starts off good. Lots of harps - I’m picturing Link getting healed in a cave here. But then a rather suspect four-to-the-floor western-style beat spoils this reverie. Track 4 is the opposite – a tasty beat and reggae bassline starts off, and then is fatally marred by some needless bouncy synth and a comical Chinese vocal. There’s an explanation from Chris about all this on the Facebook page: “I was in Beijing and found the most vibrant club scene, but they were playing generic Western music. I couldn’t understand why no home-grown music was being played in the clubs and bars so I decided to experiment.”
The ethnic instruments sound great, and I’d go as far as saying the crossover works fine in theory – it’s just that the finished product is pretty bad. Maybe people in Beijing listen to generic Western music because they like it, because to their ears it is exotic. By this point in the album I’m slightly mentally exhausted but determined to see it through to the end. Track 5 rewards me by not being that bad, comparatively. I get this niggling suspicion that if my mum was to start going clubbing, this is probably the music she’d have playing in the car on the way home. Track 6, Zizhu, is great. I can hear the St Germain influence they cite in this one. But throughout, I just can’t help feeling that some of the western sounds the producer has chosen to complement the beautiful Chinese instruments with are a bit naff. For example, the really bad choral patches as heard in the next track Xishan, which would have been really nice if it hadn’t tripped over Enigma on the way in. Track 8 Hutongs is lovely, but it cannot in any sense of the concept be described as a dancefloor filler - unless maybe that floor was in a village hall, and covered in yoga mats. However, I’m really feeling at this point like it was worth sitting through the previous 35 minutes of fromage to get to this absolute gem of a track. Again, track 9 would have been great if it hadn’t been for the bad western drum and synth sounds used, which seem to get more annoying with further exposure to them.
Fortunately though, it did round off the album. I was left feeling a bit disappointed, both in the music for not being what I wanted it to be, and in myself for being such a hippy in the first place that I thought that it might be. I’ve been wanting to use the phrase “Big Trouble in Little China” all the way through this review, but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. We’ll find out when it gets to the editor.
Posted: Wed 1 August 2012