Friends can be a bitch sometimes, just as well as you yourself can. So when I woke up bright and early, I was expecting to cook a warm breakfast, freshen up, prepare my equipment, and be on my merry way to Tongzhou in time to catch some of the first acts. Well, my clock doesn’t run at the same speed as my friends’. But hey that’s what friends are for. So cut to half past two, we find ourselves at the entrance to Strawberry and after stuffing a wine bottle into my pants as well as some other goodies we made our way over to the main stage where Xi Ban was just getting started.
Based out Shanghai, but composed of band members from China, France, India, and Mauritius , this group play some downright groovy world music full of reggae, Australian, and afro stylings shaped around traditional ethnic Chinese tunes. It’s pretty righteous – take a look for yourself
And when the main vocalist got up and started groovin in his PJs – just about the most badass thing ever.
Next up were Hanggai, who did their thing. There really is nothing more satisfying then seeing Hanggai on a grassy hill, with the wind blowing, and those god damn white cotton balls flying around – add in some red wine and you have a miniature version of what Hanggai’s music is all about – pristine landscapes, harsh winds, booze-filled bellies, and good company. Their song “Brothers” pretty much sums it up for me –
Really one of the more beautiful songs I’ve heard in some time. Of course though, this was just their opening song and before we knew it, they had the whole place packed and gleefully jumping in and down by the time they closed with “Xiger Xiger” – easily their most blood-pumping song –
the place are on cloud nine. Seriously, makes you wanna jump onto horse and race across a vast landscape. And yes, that’s my buddy, yelling Dueling Bangos in the opening seconds – and if you think about, that’s not a bad comparison. Love how it kicks into high gear at the two minute mark. Really at this point in point, could you ever doubt Hanggai. Short answer: No.
OK, at this point I was starting to get a little goofy – and no one better to take that ride with than Re-Tros (Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues from those who don’t know) who successfully raised the eyebrows of more than a couple of my buddies. I love their sound – it’s so menacing, strange, and yet funkadelic at once. Remember that part of Fantasia – where Chernabog summons up all these pesky demons – well this is like a rave party for all little shit goblins lurking in the shadows.
Hua Dong’s voice is just so mischievous (screw all the Ian Curtis comparisons, he never sounded like he was having this much fun) and schizoid your eyes are always drawn to him – the man is a true performer. Not too over shadow Liu Min though, her on the bass is a stroke of genius, as she provides much of the dark edge to the songs oh so much needed. One minor issue – their set was way too short and they wasted fifteen minutes or so with an electronic bit (hopefully their don’t dive into that pool too much like so many other talented artists have done here). Luckily, they won me back when they played Viva Murder, which is simply my freaking jam at this point and time (and as I mentioned earlier it’s closest a band can get to Talking Heads status).
All right so after this, my camera (and brain waves) took a snooze – and I ended up wondering the sweeping landscape (give me a break) of Tongzhou Park. Well, this could be summed up pretty quickly – I did exactly what I warned others not to do if they were to go to see Voodoo Kungfu and I paid the hefty price – dressed in ancient garments, and smeared with blood – I simply could not handle their set this time around. I literally fell to the floor and found myself crawling through the legs of people to escape out the back end. Yup, chickened out in true fashion. From what I heard from my friends who were in the mosh, they were pretty electrifying. Alas, maybe next time.
— Insert Picture Of Me Being A Bitch —-
In order to bring back the happy thoughts I rushed over back to the main stage to see the dreamy pop group Blonde Redhead who I hadn’t seen since 2007 in
New York City opening for LCD Soundsytem and Arcade Fire. I remember being oddly moved by Kazu Makino siren-like voice and tonight was no different. A mix of nostalgic and genuine rocking out really set the mood here, and they were as good as ever. Again, sorry no pictures – kinda fell into a time-shifting wormhole there for a while.
After riding off the dreamy high that was Blonde Redhead, New Pants came in and started the disco party. I’d almost forgotten how freakin fun these guys are. It’s shamelessly retro, pumped-full of fluffy colors and neon lights, synths, lovely ballads that New Order would be proud of, and just straight up strangeness.
It’s like the 1985 prom night I never had. And surrounded by my friends, dancing, swinging each other around, it felt exactly like that – a John Hughes movie playing out before my very eyes. There’s a sense of wonder and youthful ambition to their music that’s puts a smile on your face.
I must also comment on the band’s performance – they know how to put on a show and made every second of filming them a treat. I swear these guys must choreograph everything; they look serious rock stars up, with hand motions, sidestepping, and when they finally let Millionaire Peng out of his cage (and shirt) it’s a sight to see.
Like a deranged Chinese game host, Pang Kuan simply demands your attention as he screeches “I’m Not Gay” (not too sure what the context of this song is) or “Everybody’s here now”. I especially like his too-on-the-nose depiction of how Chinese actresses get work in the film industry (take a guess) –
Alas, the dance party can’t go on forever we learned quite literally and harshly for as soon as the music ended, mid-levels security and street sweepers (I guess field sweepers in this case) combed the field instantly, chasing us up the hill and out toward the exit. Seriously, you’ve never seen such a through and speedy clean-up before.
A successful first day at the races, as the high spirits continued onto the buses, subways, and even living room later that night. Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3 of the Strawberry Festival and check out more videos below. Thanks to my friends as well – you goofy fucks made it all worthwhile.