Since the first RESO (Reconstruct the Experimental Soundscapes of Ourselves) concert in April of last year, this collective has managed to bring in a number of experimental artists from around China and the globe to educate the relatively naive ears of Shanghai denizens on non-conventional music. The most recent gathering was at YuYinTang on Sunday night and it opened with Montreal-based Dirty Beaches, a lo-fi ‘call-it-pop’ project of Alex Zhang Hungtai.
The space at YuYinTang was relatively empty when I pulled in and took a seat at the bar. Hungtai slipped the strap of his guitar around his neck and slapped the strings a few times, clicking at his pedals. He laid out a little riff over the drone of his guitar and let it loop, setting down his guitar and picking up the microphone. He unwound the cord. His step seemed light, relaxed, even bouncy, as if the stage were actually a hard mattress. The loop that he had thrown together was simple, a few slaps of the guitar and a quick riff, but it was enough of a backdrop. When Hungtai put the microphone close to his lips and began to croon, the sad turnout for the show seemed a good thing: it gave Dirty Beaches the intimate space that Hungtai’s sultry baritone and swaying, Lou Reed hips needed.
“I prefer to play alone. It’s easier,” says Hungtai. “ I only have to deal with myself.”
Hungtai began playing a few years ago and has released a string of EPs and LPs with Fixture Records. A number of his albums are available online.
“My music is pretty straightforward,” Hungtai tells me. “It’s pop. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus.”
That may be so, but, unlike pop, Dirty Beaches’ sound has a roughness to it, a reality that some of us—ye music elitists—have come to love and can only find in the scratchy records of Skip James and Pink Anderson (etcetera), but nowhere else. Dirty Beaches is a reminder that music is an attempt at communication—an imperfect attempt perhaps, but a heartfelt one. As I see it, the current trend of mass-produced, choreographed and contrived art is an assault on the creative impulse that stands as the last—and perhaps the only—distinction between us and them.
Dirty Beaches’ melodies are sparse and the lyrics unintelligible, but they are moving and pulsate with sex and longing and saltwater (Hungtai is a self-proclaimed ‘sailor at heart’). I found myself applauding a bit too loudly. I tried to whistle. If the goal of RESO is to spread the word about experimental music to the masses, then their invitation to Dirty Beaches was another step in the right direction.
Dirty Beaches will be playing in Beijing at D-22 with John Myers, Mafeisan and Speak Chinese or Die on February 27th.
In the meantime, you can find more information on Dirty Beaches on myspace or sample or purchase their albums online at Fixture Records.
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