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WHITE is the self-titled debut album from one of the most talked about bands to emerge from the Beijing underground in recent years. Produced by Blixa Bargeld at Einstürzende Neubauten studios in Berlin, White is the starting point for a more widespread recognition of new music from China, and sets the benchmark for all others who follow. White is being released on the OpenNote label.

Together, Shenggy (KORG MS-20, drums, percussion, sampler, vocals) and Shou Wang (guitar, organ, pedals, dome theremin, vocals) have conjured a sound – part electronic shimmer, part cosmic industrialism – that arrives like a nocturnal transmission, complete with advertisements and radio static, through a neon rain.

The heartbeat of the band, beneath Shou Wang's delicately bowed loops and slashing atonal freak-outs, is Shenggy's KORG MS-20, generating everything from a seismic, murky techno pulse to Throbbing Gristle-esque waves of distortion, making for an album of contour and contrast, one moment gripped by suffocating paranoia, the next carefree and gloriously ebullient: witness the giddying theremin assault that opens that album, the warm washes of kosmiche organ and, crucially, Shenggy's rich, bright vocals that unify and personalise these trips into the Asian ether. This is the sound of Beijing in 2009 – hypermodern, Chinese yet defiantly aware of the world beyond, operating within a twilight space that finds its rhythms in the silent accumulations of CCTV cameras and the jangle of omnipresent consumerism.

As would be expected of an album produced by Blixa Bargeld, beneath the heart-stung melodies and urban anxiety, there are oblique percussive flourishes and an attention to textural detail that gives the album its satisfying weight and density. During recording, the band had full access to Neubauten's unique collection of rhythmic tools, as well the engineering team that went into making the Berliners' last album. Whilst the subtle yet unmistakable influence of Bargeld gives the record focus and power, the finished product very much matches the vision White had in mind when performing in Beijing.

"Blixa was very good to us," says Shenggy. "He let our ideas breathe. We played our songs and he helped shape them, to get the most out of them, but it was all about what we could do. The important thing was to get us thinking about our material on a different level. For one song, he asked me questions from the control room and had me answer automatically, to get my subconscious working. In another, I had to think of a phrase and then Shou Wang had to respond with his guitar. Everything was recorded. In the end, the pieces fitted together with a kind of dream logic."


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The journey from Beijing to Berlin and beyond has been an exhilarating one. White began life in the winter of 2005 at Dos Kolegas, a small independently-minded club crouched on the outskirts of Beijing, in the shadow of the city's financial district. At that time, with China's race toward Olympian perfection already underway, the panorama was comprised as much of construction sites as gleaming towers – perhaps a fitting backdrop in hindsight, as from the first squall that shivered through the amps that night, White have been hurtling toward their own fixed point of destiny with equally relentless verve and assurance.

At 26, Shenggy is something of a veteran in the speed-of-light world of Beijing's underground. She spent seven years as the mainstay of combustible all-girl punkniks Hang on the Box, helping to steer them from their Oi! roots to the multi-layered urbane glamour of 2006's Shanghai. Shou Wang, three years Shenggy's junior, is the leader of Beijing power-trio Carsick Cars, rising stars in their own right after performances at All Tomorrow's Parties and support slots with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. As White, they have collaborated with the likes of FM3, Elliott Sharp, Alvin Curran and Manuel Göttsching.

For both, White began as a place to escape the strictures of conventional form, yet having initially rejected conventional song structure in favour of skittering rhythms and loops, they began the process of re-assimilating what they learned into more recognisable shapes – both have a natural gift for melody, the hook that sinks hard and deep, and believe that having a foundation of memorable – if unconventional – songs only adds power to the darker textural waves upon which the they surf. "I've never been convinced by albums that just contain relentless noise," says Shenggy. "I mean, I like the idea of them, but after five minutes, I want something to grab my attention. I think that if a meltdown erupts from a catchy song, they both gain power."

Live, the band erupts in just this way, but in recording their debut the challenge was to remain within the boundaries of song. "We wanted this to be a tight, sharp album," says Shou Wang. "Blixa wouldn’t let us be indulgent anyway! If we started to repeat ourselves or left an idea running too long it got cut. We learned how to discipline ourselves in Berlin. Something interesting had to be happening at all times, no slack. That was really important."

Bargeld, living in Beijing at the time, was at Dos Kolegas that first night and remembers a duo almost bursting with invention and enthusiasm. Since then, he has championed White with a support slot on Neubauten's 2008 European tour, and most of all with the recording and release of this album. It is surely time that China becomes fully integrated with the wider post-alternative music scene, its bands feted not as Chinese, but as great musicians who happen to come from China. Mediation starts here.



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