IN MY EARS #9：White Shirt
White Shirt came together after Xie, the leader of Dalian post-rock band Wang Wen, played an improvised solo set at XP in Beijing in late 2014. Yang liked the set, and the two planned to meet in Dalian after Spring Festival to jam together. This album is the result, a spontaneous studio meeting between two of China’s busiest and best-known indie rock icons.
White Shirt is an eerie, ambient sound collage punctuated at key moments with jagged noise bursts. Both Xie and Yang add to the background sound, manipulating guitars and effects to produce foggy, otherworldly drones and rougher, more industrial sounds. One of the album’s harsher bursts happens about two minutes into the track selected here, “Night Dancing”, in which Xie screams and a guitar is tortured in the background, wave after wave of layered distortion falling like sheets of metal.
Xie Yugang in the Stadio
I prefer the heavier tracks on the album — “Remember Us” is another jagged noise killer. But its quieter moments deliver as well, with more vocal and lyrical experimentation by Yang Haisong (who reads/screams lyrics inspired by the Sylvia Plath poem “Ariel”) and more delicate instrumental arrangements by Xie coming through in the mix.
In an interview I did with Xie Yugang for Douban Music earlier this year, he said of the recording: “I was in charge of the ambient stuff, I made the background sound sweet and nice, and Yang Haisong was in charge of making the harsh noise, the guitar feedback. And Yang is a good writer, he read his poems on the recording.” The words are sparse, though, and I think the real power of this record is in its rich, organic sound design and slow, deliberate pacing. It moves like a glacier and erupts like a volcano.
White Shirt was released in July of last year, and it feels appropriate to revisit now, as its ethereal timbres somehow,for me, evoke the cold march of incoming winter. For now, it remains a one-off studio project, with a few scattered duo performances by Xie and Yang when they can meet. If you’re in Beijing, you can experience part of the White Shirt vibe live when Xie Yugang performs solo at Yue Space tonight (Saturday, December 3),opening for Xiao He and French experimental guitarist Serge Teyssot Gay.
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.