IN MY EARS #5: After 1,001 Nights
Yangfan-douban music station | Listen to the track 《AutumnIn Your Town》
In My Ears is a weekly music column by Josh Feola 赵识, Beijing-based writer and musician and founder of pangbianr.com
The weather’s turning cold and the leaves are turning orange, so I thought it would be appropriate to feature my favorite autumn album in this week’s column: Yang Fan’s What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
This is a new favorite — it was only released last year — and is also my favorite release to come out of China in the over seven years I’ve lived here. Yang Fan is a brilliant and multi-talented artist, skilled not only as a musician, but also as a producer, composer, and illustrator. Her music career began in the late 1990s when, as the story goes, she approached Gia Wang (Wang Yue) at a bootleg dakou CD store asking for a cigarette. She was only 15 at the time, but was already adept enough with a guitar to join up with her newly made record store buddies and write many of the early songs for Hang On The Box, China’s first all-female punk band.
Later Yang Fan formed Ourself Beside Me, which played out for a few years — mostly at D-22 — and released what remains, in my opinion, the best record ever put out by Maybe Mars. More recently Yang Fan has been somewhat of a recluse. She’s composed and performed for theatrical stage productions, and has provided live scores for screenings of silent film classics. It was at one of the latter events that Nevin Domer got the idea to ask Yang Fan to record a solo album for his label, Genjing Records. What Happened After 1,001 Nights? is the stunning, bewildering and bewitching result.
I’ve probably listened to the album more than 1,001 times by now, but I still struggle to describe it. Here’s how I’ve attempted to do so in the past:
Yang Fan presents these bold death waltzes, a sonic statement skirting the line between consciousness and whatever else there might be beyond. An instrumental whirl, What Happened After 1,001 Nights? is a masterwork of the uncanny. Glockenspiel, harmonium, brass bell, the falling rain, a cat’s humanlike wail, ethereal solos on her guitar’s harmonic ghost notes: Yang Fan has soundtracked your subliminal anxieties, placing familiar sounds in an unreal scene as only the unconscious mind can. On the rare occasions when a discernible human voice does break, as on the album’s standout track, “Autumn In Your Town”, it speaks to lost love, an intangible longing. It breathes wormholes into the smoke-choked air filling, surrounding, hovering over the entire record.
Earlier this year, Beijing’s best underground music venue, fRUITYSPACE, held a solo exhibition of Yang Fan’s visual work, which seems to come from the same place in her brain. I interviewed her earlier this year, and when asked about the connection between her music and her illustrations, she said: “My music and my art are created with the same set of emotions. They’re like my diaries. I think that when you document life through non-verbal forms, such as music and visual art, it’s closer to its essence. Every image in a film has its own internal emotion and external rhythms, and these are both things that I can express through music.”
Maybe better for you to see/hear for yourself, though. If you’re in Beijing, you can pick up What Happened After 1,001 Nights? on vinyl at fRUITYSPACE, which also recently published two small books of Yang Fan’s visual art. Also keep an eye out for T.O.W., Yang Fan’s new band with Liu Ge of The Molds, which is known to pop up at fRUITYSPACE on occasion.
If you’re elsewhere, head to genjingrecords.bandcamp.com for a digital copy of the record. Recommended for pre-bedtime listening; the entire album lives in that strange space between sleep and waking, and pairs well with the slow march into winter.
Associated Douban Pages:
What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
Ourself Beside Me
About the author
Josh Feola is a writer and musician based in Beijing. He’s organized music, art, and film events in the city since 2010, via his label pangbianr and as booking manager of live music venues D-22 and XP. His ongoing event series include the Sally Can’t Dance experimental music festival and the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter (BEME). He has written about music and art for publications including The Wire, LEAP, Sixth Tone, and Tiny Mix Tapes. He also co-authors the Gulou View opinion column for the New York Observer. As a musician, he formerly played drums in Beijing band Chui Wan, recording on and touring behind their debut album, White Night. He currently plays drums in SUBS and Vagus Nerve, and also records and performs under the name Charm.