Avant-Garde Label Maybe Noise Pushes Boundaries in Beijing

By Erica Martin, August 9, 2018

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As a project years in the making by three of Beijing’s foremost underground artists, new record label Maybe Noise has already injected the city’s music scene with a healthy dose of controlled chaos.

Maybe Noise began life in a different form nearly a decade ago, as an offshoot of major label Maybe Mars. This new version is an independent project run by Yan Yulong, the multi-instrumentalist frontman of Beijing psych-rock band Chui Wan, Zhang Shouwang, a composer and founding member of seminal Beijing rock band Carsick Cars, and Shengjie, a composer, audio/visual artist and founder of SHAN Studio.

The trio is pooling their formidable talent to showcase “the best, most interesting, and most challenging compositions from Beijing’s avant-garde contemporary music scene,” according to their official announcement, with a focus on boundary-blurring and experimental endeavors. 

201808/ping-ze.JPGMaybe Noise launch in Beijing, photo by Edward Sanderson.

“Maybe Noise is not confined to any particular, fixed style of music,” explains Yan, whose ambitious Chui Wan album, The Landscape the Tropics Never Had, was one of last year’s best releases. “I think 'experimental' refers to the attitude of making music, while 'avant-garde' is about the theory and research behind it.”

Further evidence toward Yan and Zhang’s essential role in music on a national scale is that they both performed last month with Welsh icon John Cale during his Shanghai concert for the Velvet Underground’s 50th anniversary. Their electrifying renditions of ‘White Light / White Heat’ and the night’s closing song ‘Sister Ray’ almost literally brought down the house, as audience members in the usually somber Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Hall streamed down from the balcony seats and rushed the stage to dance along.

Photo by Edward Sanderson.

Amidst all these other projects, Maybe Noise launched in an official capacity back in May, with a performance of their debut vinyl release, Ping Ze (平仄) at the Magnet Theatre in Beijing. Performed by Zhang Shouwang on synthesizer and guitar and Yan Yulong on violin and guitar, the concert showcased the slippery, unsettling intensity of the label’s first output.

“We actually worked on it for a long time," says Yan of Ping Ze, which he and Zhang first performed in an earlier form back in 2012. "But the core elements were identified from the very beginning, such as long notes, randomness, and switching between harmonic and abrasive tones."

Shengjie, who creates much of the group’s visual and multimedia material and directs of Yan and Zhang in their related performance group Maybe Ensemble, was behind the imagery and stage direction for the debut show.

Photo by Edward Sanderson.

Her background in boundary-crossing art informs much of the trio’s most innovative goals for their first year of releases, with a special focus on collaboration with other underground artists. “In addition to our friends in Beijing, we also hope to be able to open the boundaries of performance through modern technology,” says Shengjie.

“For example, a friend who is not in Beijing can send us one of his compositions, and we can play his works here. Or, if the time is right, we can even make the composer virtual present by streaming an online video.”

At the end of June, Maybe Noise dropped their second release, Chui Wan at the Museum, a recorded live performance at Beijing’s Minsheng Art Museum (photo at top). It’s a far cry from Chui Wan’s usual psych-rock but retains what the album info calls “the slow-flowing underground river that informs the band’s sound from the bottom up.”

Tense and spare, with a somber drone and ritualistic drumming, the music’s paranoia factor was apparently heightened at the live show by a bat that had gotten trapped in the building and was flying about nervously as Chui Wan played.

Next on their release list later this month is the first of a Maybe Noise Live series of collaborations featuring musicians Kid Millions, Josh Feola and Wang Xu, the co-creator with Zhang of electronic project White+.

What’s most impressive about Maybe Noise is that the three artists, each of whom are already waist-deep in multiple projects, have committed to pushing the city’s music scene toward further uncharted audio/visual territory. The works so far toe the line between instrumental and electronic music, testing the boundaries of organic instruments and their ability to create an array of unconventional sounds.

“Perhaps Beijing needs an experimental label like Maybe Noise that leans toward composition,” says Yan. “It’s a supplement [to other labels]. It brings new energy.”

maybenoise.bandcamp.com, WeChat ID: MaybeNoise

Photo at top: Chui Wan at the Museum, courtesy of label.

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