Alright! Time to hand out some accolades to the bands that made the past year of gig going a treat. Not the esteemed bands who plowed through another year or in some cases proved themselves worthy again – but the bands who hit the floor running and found their voices this year; the bands who cut their teeth on the circuit and came out on top in 2017; the bands who we’ll surely be keeping an eye out for come the Year of the Dog. Here are the best bands of 2017.
Best New Bands
Humble, hungry, and highly skilled – Backspace was a band I knew was gonna be big late December last year and they did not disappoint in 2017. While sharpening their edges, they have expanded and equipped their sound with more bluster, finesse, and grit and it paid off in spades. Indie rock with bite that pays tribute to the past and future, we’ll be keeping an ear out for their debut release this year.
Not so much an evolution but a complete renovation – Boiled Hippo has ditched the Slowdive burn of their first incarnation and instead jumped down the Middle-Eastern psychedelic rock hole – full of erotic riffs, offbeat guitar rhythms, and some surprisingly beautiful intonation from lead singer Abing. This is psychedelic music that wears its heart on its sleeve and puts out some great vibes.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about Underdog’s sound but good lord do they do it well. I’ve been itching for some ska punk this year and Underdog delivered wholesale with a catalog of songs that hit all the right notes. Lyrically-driven with a keen sense of structure, chops, and fun, they’re a band that knows it needs to make it on its own accord (rather than their other rock ‘n’ roll credentials) and they are proving themselves worthy. And with the addition of a trombone now these guys are gonna be around for some time.
Bands to Listen out for in 2018
Born from the ashes of another Baoding band I had the pleasure of hosting this year – Briefs Dryer – The Playcat have in three months time already made their mark on the Beijing scene with their intoxicating mix of indie rock melodic charm and noise pop swagger. Trust me when I say we’ll be hearing from these cats a lot more this year.
This is a band that we need more of right now – melodic indie rock that wears its adolescent heart on its sleeve all the while keeping the energy tight and poised. They haven’t been playing much these days, and they haven’t quite caught the attention they deserve yet, but something tells me they’ll be cooking up something good for 2018.
Goodbye Honey Boy/Xiao Wang
Two bands that stormed the music scene in 2017 only to immediately disappear due to members leaving Beijing to hone their skills and expand their creative minds abroad. Goodbye Honey Boy put together their wonderful LP Daydreaming Days before performing live a few times and then, just like that, went on hiatus. Nevertheless, the reception of their record was so strong that the band reunited for a short winter tour recently and will be back in fighting form by the end of spring. Meanwhile, riot grrrl outfit Xiao Wang busted onto the scene with bombastic appeal, essentially honing their stage presence and chops on stage with reckless glorious abandon – lightning in a bottle indeed. While Xiao Wang’s lead singer Anlin has temporarily moved to Montreal to study, the band recently remerged with its former bassist on vocals, tightening their sound, and getting down and dirty.
Best Electronic Musician
While I got a kick out of a lot of electronic musicians this year – specifically the incredibly ambitious Howie Lee, whose live sets are pushing the genre to new heights – I found myself hypnotized by some lesser-known artists such as L+R (aka Wang Lu) whose mix of modern electronic music with traditional forms of Chinese music (such as having a guzheng on stage) were a treat, as well as the experimental noises of the Liquid Palace crew featuring Meng Qi, Zpax, and more getting their freak on.
The Prajnasonic label also put out some stellar work and live sets as did the Do Hits!, Ran Music, and Babel Records crews who moved their showcases away from places like Dada and into the bigger venues.
Bands of 2016 Who Only Got Better
Lonely Leary, Last Goodbye, SNSOS – I’ve written plenty about these three bands so don’t want to indulge too much in proclaiming my love for them again. SNSOS just released their debut last month and all signs point to a killer 2018 for them. Meanwhile, Lonely Leary (pictured above) kicked it up a notch last year with some seriously killer showcases and will be dropping their debut early this year. Finally, shoegaze groovers Last Goodbye took a little break this fall to replace their drummer and finish off some recordings – they’re probably the band I’m most excited to have back this year.
Out of Town Bands
Once again, some of the best performances I saw this year were by bands from outside of Beijing. Dirty Fingers became a fixture of the punk scene here despite residing in Shanghai; Chengdu’s Hiperson continue to run circles around most Beijing indie rockers; and Mirrors, also out of Shanghai, put on the best debut performance of a band I’ve witnessed all year. Also, musical excursions to Ningbo and Wuhan proved quite fruitful – with The ROMP and der Berliner Nebel standing out the most. If you have the time, check out the music scenes outside of Beijing where the crowds and bands are hungrier and inclusive – I can’t recommend it enough.