My adventure into record production in China all started in July with a trip to Wal-Mart. My brother Josh felt he needed some extra digestion time after eating his lürou
shaobing (donkey sandwich) before heading back to his internship. Before we knew it, we were walking out of the basement of Wanda Plaza holding 16 disposable raincoats and one electronic keyboard. All for less than RMB 200. The “equipment” was for a show that our band, Hot & Cold, would perform the next week at Sugar Jar, a tiny CD store and occasional performance space in Dashanzi.
Hot & Cold started in 2005 when I was 14 and living in New Delhi. Despite having previously never sung before, my bass-playing brother and I decided to start making sounds after I picked up a faulty megaphone. The only souvenirs of this phase are a few extremely fuzzy recordings and memories of our only performance, when we set up on our balcony and attempted to freak out kids during Halloween.
Such golden days came to an end when Josh headed back to Montreal to attend McGill University. But thanks to heavy encouragement from our friends Zhang Shouwang and Shen Jing, who play in the brilliant band White, my brother and I began playing together over school holidays. By the summer of 2008, we had settled on a denser sound, my brother’s bass and my keyboard abetted by chains of effects pedals and electronic interventions.
This summer’s show at Sugar Jar was something different though. We played one 20-minute piece, both on keyboards, building up a slow mass of Peking Opera samples and F-notes in different octaves before breaking out into electronic percussion and general mayhem. To add to the multimedia spectacle, we distributed red and blue raincoats (our band color scheme, of course). Perhaps not the most accessible stuff, but the sound had its fans.
After the show, Liu Kai, Sugar Jar’s friendly and well-connected clerk, wondered aloud, “Maybe I should recommend you guys to Miniless.” I did a double take. Miniless Recordings is a Shanghai-based independent label that I had avidly followed ever since one of their bands caused me irrevocable hearing damage during a show in 2007.
Within a week, the head of Miniless, Han Han (also known by his excellent English name Hans) began talking to me on MSN. Soon we reached a deal that my brother would later describe as “You do what you want, and we’ll release it!” Thanks to a gracious gift of software and a microphone from our parents, we began recording at home. Three days later, we had half an hour of music recorded. Four days later Josh returned to Canada, and I began the long task of getting the music released in CD form.
That was in August. As I write, it’s December and things are still slowly moving along. Releasing the album has almost become an analogy for finishing the school year – I hope the CD is out before I graduate. Along the way, I’ve had to mix the album, stressing over the levels and emphasis of different sounds, just like the editing and reconstruction of countless essays. I had to send the recordings to the label for mastering, which felt an awful lot like handing in an assignment for grading. I even got to bond over the difficulties of university applications with Hans, the two of us comparing our undergraduate and graduate plans, respectively.
I still have to work out a few mastering kinks, not to mention design the cover art, so the album is not in the clear yet, much like how my high school diploma will still require continued effort. Luckily a new sub-label of Beijing’s Maybe Mars Records (home of local alternative bands like Carsick Cars and PK14) has agreed to help us out. It’s an ongoing learning experience that’s teaching me perseverance, time management, and not to be so disappointed when my favorite bands take time to release a new album.
Simon Frank, 17, is in his final year at the International School of Beijing and plans to move back to Canada for university.