3 cool music-art hybrid shows to see in Beijing this month

These innovative events re-stage music as theatre, animation and sound art

Perpetual Chimes by Noah Sheldon

Dawei: Through You, I Conquer Time

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Beijing rapper and poet Dawei is used to switching fields. At 16 he was competing in kung fu tournaments at a national level, but after torn ligaments in a blown fight took him out of that racket, he set on a new passion: battle rapping. He’s since made a name for himself as one the most outspoken rappers on the Beijing hip-hop scene, and self-released his debut album – Lust, Scars, The Insulted Man – at the end of 2015, largely because his harsh words for PRC politicians and all aspects of the music industry calibrated for profit or fame meant that no label in China would touch him.

In 2016, Dawei decided to try his hand as an auteur. Previously, he’d conceptualised, written, and directed a few music videos to accompany the release of his album. 'My music videos are like an instruction book for my music,' he explains. His 2016 short film, which shares the name of his album, came out of a desire to move beyond the narrative structures of hip-hop (he raps in rapid fire, a dense and literary nest of rhymes) and music video tropes. 'I woke up one day to find my poetry stirring inside of me, no longer satisfied with only [the] abstract puzzles and imagery' of the music work, he says. 'It was demanding stories from me.'

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Dawei says that his film is about 'how revolution is a crime and rebellion is not justified', and he plans to expand these themes to yet other formats with a standalone event this month. Through You, I Conquer Time lies somewhere between installation, theatrical performance, and live music, but Dawei is hesitant to label it. 'It’s not a play, not a musical performance, not performance art... but maybe it’s all of them. I will steal the familiar context of [Yue Space], and replace it with a maze, one that blurs the line between an individual’s fate and a macro-history narrative.'

Beyond that vague teaser, he gives only provocative, imagistic hints at what one might expect from the spectacle: 'Venus with a broken arm in the grocery store, Jesus in an erotic massage parlour,’ and Dawei, the madcap rapper, as MC and tour guide.


Kode9 and Lawrence Lek: The Nøtel

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One highlight of the live music calendar this month is Douban’s Wetware festival, and one of the festival’s most interesting components is The Nøtel, a collaborative performance by UK electronic music producer Kode9 and video artist Lawrence Lek. The Nøtel is a live audiovisual performance that sets Kode9's 2015 album Nothing within a post-human, first-person video game, and its somewhat of an aberration for the sonic agitator, who typically prefers to perform in pitch-black to keep the focus on the rhythmic propulsion of his music.



The Nøtel (Lobby Trailer)- Kode9 x Lek [VPNs on].


Lek describes the concept as a 'Sinofuturist post-luxury automated hotel', and says that it grew out of a novel idea he’d had for collaborating with artists from Kode9’s record label, Hyperdub. 'I don’t like doing music videos, because it’s just images following music that already exists,' Lek says. 'I had this idea that if there was ever a project worth collaborating [on] with someone, I would basically design them a building. I’d make architecture as opposed to just a video.' Serendipitously, Kode9’s album included a track called 'Notel’, which was conceptually based on a ‘Philip Glass-like, neoliberal hotel’, according to Lek. The idea for The Nøtel came soon after the first meeting of the two artists.


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Lek, who has a background in experimental electronic music production himself, said he’d grown tired of the visual accompaniments he’d see in his local London scene, which usually consisted of beat-matched lasers and projections. He wanted to do something cinematic. In the end, he created an entire virtual world as a visual prosthesis for the album, populated by drones and holograms of Kode9 and his longtime collaborator, British MC The Spaceape. The Nøtel is based on Nothing, but it is also an organic work in its own right, changing with each performance. 'For all intents and purposes, I basically made a video game and I’m just playing it live,' Lek says. 'It’s a fluid relationship between sound and image, in which it’s ambiguous whether the music Kode9’s doing is the soundtrack to The Nøtel, or if The Nøtel is the concert hall for his music.'


Noah Sheldon: Perpetual Chimes

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The street-facing Arrow Factory storefront gallery is currently hosting an installation by American artist Noah Sheldon, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music for one year before splitting to pursue an interest in visual art and photography. Though his earlier creative interest was music, the passing of his mother when he was in high school led Sheldon towards more fixed, less ephemeral forms. 'Photography seemed incredibly powerful in its ability to preserve time,' he says. 'A lot of the artwork that I make now that uses sound deals with the idea of trying to create music that doesn’t stop.'


Perpetual Chimes is just that: a continuous ebbing and cresting of gentle harmonics, tuned by Sheldon’s selection of chimes sourced off Taobao and composed according to his programming of a disco-ball motor that spins them at specific intervals. He designed the installation, which bathes the slowly spinning chimes in a psychedelic wash of fluorescent pink light, to attract curious passers-by with both sonic and visual elements. ‘Perpetual Chimes’ is site-specific in the sense that it responds to Arrow Factory's location in the hutongs, a setting that naturally 'hushes the sounds of the city.'


Though it might more accurately be categorised as sound art, Sheldon intends for his work to be perceived and enjoyed as music, citing early-20th-century French composer Edgard Varèse’s concept of 'organised sound' as an influence and precedent. 'Even the “organised” part of the definition could be a little narrow, but I think it holds. In that sense I think Perpetual Chimes could be considered music. '

Venue details

Arrow Factory (箭厂空间)

Critics' pick

An independently run alternative art space located in a small hutong in the city centre.

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38 Jianchang Hutong (Dongcheng, Dongcheng)Free

Tango

Huge multipurpose venue and solid live music destination

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79 Hepingli Xijie (Yonghegong/Lama Temple, Dongcheng)

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