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I wish I could say that I was the one to break some obscure Beijing folk sensation to the indie blogosphere, but Beijing’s most interesting band already hit Pitchfork over the summer, so you may already know about them. Regardless, I saw them live for the second time last night, and I can safely affirm that you should know about this band.

Chinese folk music is rarely seen as being a particularly forward genre, and Mongolian folk music is even more obscure, but the sounds of Hanggai’s music, which incorporates a drum set and electric bass, not only is timeless, but is actually quite avant-garde in a society that is hurtling towards Westernization as fast as it can. Listening to Hanggai really does conjure images of Mongolian steppes, with its expansive, nostalgic sound. The otherworldly drone of the Mongolian-style throat-singing, which provides an interesting bassline for much of the vocals, is also indescribably cool. And for every song that bleakly echoes lone string instruments and plaintive singing there is also one with infectious camaraderie, particularly the frantic “Drinking Song,” which actually strikes me as a pretty great drinking song. The first time I saw Hanggai, the whole crowd rowdily joined in on this one, although last night’s show was more subdued. Accompanied by an older singer dressed in classical imperial clothes and missing their charismatic lead singer, the band stuck to the ethereal sounds that characterize the bleaker half of their music, creating a soundtrack for introspection or long train rides through the Mongolian steppes.

To summarize, you should listen to Hanggai.

Hanggai – “My Banjo And I”

Hanggai’s Web Site

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When I tell Chinese people that Kanye West is one of my favorite musicians, they consistently have no idea whom I’m talking about. Considering that one of my preconceived notions about most conversations I have is that people know and ostensibly love Kanye, and therefore he is a safe subject to discuss (which I do, often), it’s always a blow to have this common ground taken away from me. Nonetheless, in addition to the swarms of ex-pats who rolled up to the biggest musical event in Beijing hip hop history last night (including a bunch of mysterious high-school age Americans – are there really that many embassy kids?), there were enough Chinese people to pack the Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium, which was conveniently small enough that my nosebleed seats were a lot better than my nosebleed seats from when I saw Kanye at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

In fact, the whole affair was decidedly Chinese. To get into the stadium we had to walk down an aisle lined on either side by soldiers, and the show itself had a bunch of weird regulations. By all appearances, they didn’t let the extremely limited number of people on the floor stand or dance at all until the last two songs, which both must have made those seats a ripoff and kind of killed the energy for everybody else. The most glaring issue, though, was that the sound was absurdly low. I could barely hear Kanye on many of the songs, and it often took me 20 or 30 seconds to even figure out what he was performing because the only audible part was the bass drums. Presumably there was some kind of government presence stepping in and making sure that it wasn’t too loud, since Glow In The Dark was one of the best-mixed concerts I’ve ever seen.

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As a white guy who started listening to hip hop about three years ago, I can safely say that I’ve never felt like the most legit person at a hip hop show. There have even been a few shows where I’ve felt like I probably shouldn’t be there. But if there’s anywhere on the planet where I can pretty safely flex my hip hop knowledge, it’s in Beijing.

When I saw that Skyzoo was coming to Beijing on my birthday, my first reaction was confusion as to why, and my second was to tell everybody I knew how much we needed to go. The (presumably predictable) response was that nobody had ever heard of Skyzoo. Call me an elitist, but it’s easy to forget that Nahright isn’t on most peoples’ bookmarks. Considering that in my personal experience most Chinese people respond to rapping by clapping their hands, I figured that I was probably going to enjoy this concert more than just about anyone else there.

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