Damon & Naomi and Dear Eloise

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It was pretty cool to find out that my friends Damon & Naomi were going to tour China last year. Are there nicer people who play more gorgeous music? And at this moment is there a more interesting scene for underground music than China? Carsick Cars, Birdstriking, Chui Wan, P.K.14–there are so many awesome bands I love out there.

And how great was it to hear that Naomi went on  make a video for Dear Eloise, a  P.K. 14 offshoot with Yang Haisong and his wife Sun Xia playing dreamy and fuzzed-out shoegaze. How could I not ask Naomi about the trip and the video?

How did the China trip/tour happen and where did you go?
We were invited to China last September by a Chinese tour promoter. We were so excited as we had never played China before (although we have played in Hong Kong and Taiwan) and had no idea what to expect but we were eager to see what it was like and to see the country. We played in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hubei, and Beijing. We had an amazing time — we were surprised and delighted to find we had long-time fans in China even though sometimes our music has been hard to find there. The fact that people really had to work to have access to it was very moving to us. We were told that in the early ’90s people had to buy black-market indie rock cassettes — discarded from factories where the tape had been cut up to prevent resale — and splice them back together by hand in order to hear the music. Having to do so much to have access to music floored us.

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Were you more excited about playing or traveling there?
I was excited about both — and about eating there! Although I admit I was more than a bit nervous before we went. My father was Chinese and he left as a child in 1937 during the war with Japan and never went back. So China has always been meaningful to me — a sort of strong identification with something I didn’t have any personal experience of at all except second or third-hand. The idea of actually playing there was intimidating just from the weight of family history. To add to that, our first show was in Shanghai, where my father’s family was from (though he was born and grew up in Suzhou, about 45 minutes away) so it really was making a return trip in place of my father. But the show in Shanghai was wonderful, a beautiful and unforgettable evening for me. Really, I couldn’t have been happier.

What setup did you and Damon bring?
We had our basic duo set-up: I was playing keyboard, Damon was playing acoustic guitar and we were both singing.

Did you play with any cool bands?
The only place that any other bands played with us was at the Festival in Hubei — we were the only band on the bill at our club shows — and unfortunately, typical for a festival, we didn’t really get to see any of them. But the location of the Festival was incredible, way way out in the countryside, 4 hours from the nearest airport — the stage was literally built about a half a mile into Tenlong Cave — which is about 20 stories high so just a huge place. When they had told us we were going to play a cave I kind of imagined some random rock wall/small cave but this was just an enormous scale. The reverb was crazy — and it was damp and cold! It was a cave!

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How did you meet Haisong? Were you already fan of his?
We were already fans of P.K. 14 and the Maybe Mars label. Damon had done a lot of looking into Chinese music before we left and had found a lot of music online. So when we heard we were going to Beijing we invited Haisong to our show and asked to meet him. We hit it off right away and the next thing I knew I was delighted to be making a music video for Dear Eloise. Damon also scoured all the record stores in China and quizzed everyone and came home with a lot of interesting Chinese music both new and older.

Tell me about the Dear Eloise video.
Dear Eloise never performs live and it wasn’t feasible to have them come to the US for a video shoot, so I decided I would have to make the video without them in it. I found the lyrics very moving (translation below!) — sort of about isolation in a city, and some kind of nostalgia for a different place or time. So I started with these ideas and worked with a friend, Laura Kenner, who was a fashion model and now is at Harvard in graduate school. We were lucky enough to be shooting the day of the Harvard/Yale game and we spontaneously decided to go shoot amid the debris of the pre-game tailgating parties. The melancholy of the after-party destruction was pretty great. I also incorporated footage of two lovely young girls I know who are best friends, their sweetness and innocence evoke a sense of nostalgia for me.

How are we going to get Dear Eloise to tour the US with D&N and play a Chinatown show?
Well, no problem with the D&N appearance! But you have to convince Haisong to play live with Dear Eloise!

“Something Beautiful to Share”

I wish there is something beautiful to share with you
But everything changes so quickly, is anything speaked out worth to be trusted
Maybe every city is doomed in a kind of mood, you and I are a part of it
So where can I find you something beautiful to share

Then write it down on a notebook and take it as the future direction
Elephants will come back to the plain again and you will be peaceful as a new born baby
But still I wish there is something beautiful to share with you
But still I wish there is something beautiful to share with you

But everything will be lost you don’t understand so you flow away just like a boat
But still I wish there is something beautiful to share with you

You can wear your flowers and walk around in city streets
You can listen to people talking about things they are interesting in on buses
You said yes, yes I want a life like this and that
But still I wish there is something beautiful to share with you

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 recap with SISU, Carsick Cars, Chui Wan, and Alpine Decline

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I was even more stressed out than usual about our tenth Save Music in Chinatown show. Was the previous evening’s Long Beach gig, which I also helped set up, going to turn out alright for the bands that were coming all the way from Beijing? Wasn’t it going to be extra difficult for the musicians, helpers, and attendees to make it to the Grand Star with Ciclavia happening on the same date that we set way back in the spring?

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It was less convenient getting to the Grand Star and parking cost twice as much, but everything turned out fine. Actually, excellent.

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Really, how could those who made it to the show not be blown away by the raw chemistry of the Alpine Decline duo, soaring and psychedelic musicianship of Chui Wan, or buzzsaw riffs of the power trio Carsick Cars? The urgency and excitement of a new generation of artists who are out of their minds and inspired by the entire history of rock being unloaded on China all at once?

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I was first introduced to Carsick Cars along with P.K.14 way back in 2007 when I stalked them for a magazine article and have been obsessed with Beijing’s underground music scene ever since. How amazing to see them in Chinatown.

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And then there were the dark, swirling sounds of SISU. I became familiar with the band when I interviewed Sandy as one of the Dum Dum Girls and became a fan of her main musical outlet as well as a friend.

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At first, SISU agreed to come out of seclusion to play as a stripped-down version for the cause but it wound up being a full-on headlining set with all four members along with a projector and fog machine!

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And then they played a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl,” arranging for a handful of kids including Eloise and her cousins to go onstage and sing backup. Wow.

For my favorite bands to play all-ages matinee fund raisers to support the unfunded music program at my daughter’s public elementary school in Chinatown is surreal. And for us to be embarking on our fourth year of shows is really incredible. We had no experience when we started this project and have gotten by only with the help of so many supporters.

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There are awesome bands, old friends and new friends, all of my family and so many community members, killer bake sale, and super cool raffle to make it a completely unique and excellent afternoon. But even better is the community that has grown over the years. To not only raise money and awareness to help kids but also create a scene in Chinatown is something we never anticipated and are always humbled by.

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Thanks to everyone who makes our shows possible, building on the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, and helping the largely underserved kids who live in Chinatown today. It not only gives them access to music education and a creative outlet, but empowers them with the DIY aesthetic.

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The next Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinee will take place in January or February. Follow this blog or like facebook.com/SaveMusicInChinatown for news.

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See you there!