The Yaogun Diaries, part 4

Part of a series dealing with rock music in China, mostly Beijing because that's what I know. 摇滚 (yáogǔn) is the Chinese word for rock music, the two characters literally meaning "shake" and "roll".

Supermarket (超级市场, chāojíshìchǎng)

In the interests of variety, this time I’ll talk about Supermarket. Unlike the previous bands I’ve talked about, this one has very little relation with punk music – probably the closest comparison I can make would be Depeche Mode. I came to this band rather late – in fact, it was only as I was planning my departure from China and making a list of CDs to buy before leaving that I discovered them. The band was founded in 1996, and the following year signed up with Modern Sky Records.

Their first album came out in 1998, called in Chinese 模样 (múyàng), and in English usually The Look (that’s “look” as in “appearance” or “style”).
Their sound is high-tech and heavy on keyboards, with dreamy vocals and atmospheric guitar; drums are both real and electronic, programmed and played by human hands. In general, they aim more towards middle tempos and simple tunes lushly produced rather than energy and aggression.

Sad Hallucination

That’s a tune called 悲伤的幻觉 (bēishāng de huànjué) which should give you a good idea of what they’re about. They also tend to take their time about things, with most of the tracks in the six to seven minute range, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your mood. At times, the music gets quite abstract, leaning towards experimental electronic music.

On their second album, the slight experimental tendencies of the debut are brought to the forefront. It’s called 七种武器 (qī zhǒng wǔqì – Seven Kinds of Weapon), and the ten tracks are named simply “S1” through “S10.”
I really commend Modern Sky for sticking with them with such a non-commercial effort.

It’s a little on the long side, but here’s the opening track, which is a good example of what they’re up to.


It starts off with odd percussive noises and bass notes from a synthesizer, building in intensity for a minute or so before an IDM style programmed drum part comes in. Then it suddenly cuts the tempo in half with a hypnotic guitar part, which is eventually combines with the double-time drums. Then you get voices, electronic ones and seriously distorted human ones. Well, listen for yourself.

To be fair, this is not obnoxious experimentation, and is often tuneful, though even in melodic moments there are distorted sounds in the background and unusual touches that set it apart from stock electronic pop. Many tracks feature oddly treated vocals, sometimes sounding very childlike (maybe actually a child singing). Two tracks stretch to over ten minutes. In one case a five minute techno song drifts off into outer space for a couple minutes, then is reborn with a harder edged guitar part for a while, then, after a brief break filled with vocal samples, builds slowly up to a big finish.

The Rock in China entry mentions a 2002 release called Laser Age – Laser Time, but I’ve found no information about it. It’s not listed on the Modern Sky site, and my searches have turned up nothing about it.

Modern Sky lists 繁荣的 (fánróngde – Prosperous) as their third album. It came out in 2004. It does include a song called 激光时代, which translates as “Laser Age,” so maybe the mystery release is a single.
While still quite experimental in places, in general this album is catchier, and in fact I’ve chosen its poppiest track as a sample.

Beautiful Girl

It’s maybe not completely representative of the album, but it just makes me smile every time I hear it.

There are still some weird touches, with sound effects, spoken voice samples, manipulated sounds, and so on, often combined with dancy beats.

Their fourth album is 音乐会 (yīnyuèhuì – Concert), though honestly I can’t tell if it’s a live recording or that’s just the title – I can’t hear any crowd noise. I don’t have a physical copy of the CD to check the credits. If anyone knows for sure, let me know and I’ll update this entry.
This one continues the basic trend of the previous albums, with catchy electronic pop songs interspersed with experimental sounds. Female vocals appear on several tracks, including this one:

TV 84

That’s 电视八十四 (diànshì bāshísì). The female vocalist is apparently a guest performer, since the band is still a trio. All of the tracks are original, no versions of previously released music.

This band doesn’t seem to play live very often (though if Concert is an example, they do it well), and I never saw them perform, so these four CDs are all I have to go on. They’re an example of a different facet of Chinese music, a far cry from the loud guitars of The P.K 14 or Hedgehog (see my previous posts if you missed those).

Rock in China: http://wiki.rockinchina.com/index.php?title=Supermarket
MySpace (Chinese): http://www.myspace.cn/chaojishichang
Modern Sky: http://www.modernsky.com/

Note: All images and audio files presented here are in the interest of increasing awareness of Chinese rock in the English-speaking world. If you are the owner of the copyright in any of them and object to this free promotion, let me know and I'll remove the offending media.

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