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Cold Fairyland Tunes Up at Yuyintang

How to describe the music of Cold Fairyland?  It’s eerie folk music, progressive rock, traditional Chinese, Central Asian singing, orchestral, funk, and pop blended to create a perfect shape-shifting beast of Shanghai rock.

Cold Fairyland came to YuTinTang on Tuesday night (May 4th), the last night after Shanghai’s special extended Expo celebration weekend. Their intense and complex music was the perfect antidote to a weekend filled with that smiling, smug-faced, blue bastard, Haibao. A decent sized crowd showed up, but this being the kind of folks who listen to prog-folk, most people crowded the back bar, listening with their eyes closed.

Cold Fairyland (冷酷仙境) is an old timer on the Chinese rock scene. Shanghai-based, the band was established in 2001 by pipa player/pianist/singer Lin Di and bassist Su Yong (although now the low end is covered by bassist Seppo M. Leto). They truly have Shanghai roots; Lin Di is a graduate of the Shanghai music conservatory and the band played their first gig at a club in XinTianDi. The band has released four full length albums and band leader Lin Di has also released three solo albums on a Taiwanese label.

The music ranges tremendously in styles, going from classical Chinese to funk to acid-rock to more gothic-metal, complete with caterwauling vocals and blistering guitar riffs. It helps to have such a range of instruments at the band’s disposal: The pipa provides manic staccato riffs, while the cello brings a warm drone and the electric guitar and rock drumming add in a modern feel to link them to the contemporary scene. The band brought out the synthesizer to wrench some extra emotions out of a few songs, which I don’t think they need: Lin Di’s wild vocal style is thrilling enough.

Cold Fairyland is a pleasure to see live. Lin Di alone could hold my attention for hours.  She’s a virtuoso on the pipa, having started at age 4, and it’s great to hear her shred during a rock song, and wrench emotion during a ballad.  Drummer Li Jia is also great fun; aside from being a fantastic musician I also imagine he could have a successful acting or modeling career based on his fantastic facial expressions. Apparently he’s a dishwasher by day though, so I say: Get some head-shots and start thinking about a new day job.

I have to say I was a little disappointed in the tag-teaming of drummers. The band’s drummer Li Jia can’t make it for the rest of the tour so he spent the night switching off with a new guy, a trainee. Li Jia’s an incredibly versatile and emotional drummer.  Some drummers disappear into the background in rock music; they are competent but not really noticeable. Li Jia’s drumming style modifies with each song so that he emphases the mood well, creating a pounding rock vibe for some songs while maintaining a more delicate sound for the softer folk tunes. The new guy just pounded the life outta that drum kit and it was a little distracting.

Shanghai’s music scene is  still growing, and let’s face it, is a bit behind the creative powerhouse that is Beijing. We produce a lot of music that’s thrashy and loud and angsty. Cold Fairyland, with their precise, textured, lovely melodies provides a welcome change. I’m so glad we’ve got them.

Find more about Cold Fairyland on their MySpace Page and their Douban Page.

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