Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another strikeout for 2K

I used to love Dos Kolegas to death, but this year, alas, it's been in something of a nosedive - a  succession of bad experiences: erratic programming (no bands at all in August?!), lack of honest disclosure about the scheduled lineups (so, all the advertised bands have cancelled, huh??), wildly unpredictable start times (either unexpectedly early or stupidly LATE, but never anywhere near the advertised time), and then that overambitious 5th birthday extravaganza which ended up being a bit of a chaotic and disappointing shambles (at least on the Saturday; still quite a fun night out for those who were happy with a DJ on the lawn, but the live show was a HUGE letdown).  And still no air-conditioning??!!  (OK, the weather's getting cooler.  Doufu donning a t-shirt is an early sign of winter.  But it was uncomfortably muggy last night, enough to require a little bit of kong tiao.)  And THOSE BLOODY OVERSIZE SPEAKER STACKS - that obscure half the stage and drive half the punters to cower by the doorway!!

Last week, I went over there hoping to catch well spoken of Danish 'experimental percussionist' Emil de Waal supported by local maverick Xiao He.  At 10.30pm or so, there was no sign of either of them arriving, and no word as to when they were expected.  A skinny Chinese kid was on stage teasing excruciating electro-bloops out of a laptop - at the ear-shredding, brain-pulverising noise level which seems to be the only volume setting of which the new sound system there is capable.  Having forgotten to bring earplugs, I had to quit the room in a hurry and join the thin band of punters twitching in pain on the far side of the lawn outside.  It was pretty obvious that nothing was going to happen for at least another hour, so I left.  I probably should have asked for a refund, but I don't like to make trouble.  And I am sort of resigned now to the fact that going to a Kolegas show is a bit like playing Russian Roulette - only with the good outcome being the 1-in-6 chance; more likely there'll be no show, or a crap show, or a show starting way too late to be worth staying around for.  So, this time was a dud; but my chances of the next show being worthwhile should be increasing....

Well, no, not really.  I tried again last night, for a heat of the new 'Global Battle of the Bands' competition.  I'd been wary of the fact that this didn't appear to have been advertised anywhere in the usual listings, was just a word-of-mouth kind of thing; and of the fact that the 'main' Beijing heat is scheduled for D-22 tonight.  I was right to have been suspicious: only three bands had opted for the 2K heat, which made it a bit of a pointless exercise.  And it was all over by 10.30pm - which, given the venue's recent history of rarely getting a show started before 11pm or midnight, was probably about the time that most punters were setting out to try to get there.  The sound engineer did seem to have rediscovered the '9' or '10' setting on the dials rather than the usual '11', but it was still uncomfortably, dangerously LOUD for prolonged exposure without earplugs.

The first band up were actually pretty good.  They had a frontman who just handled vocals (a rarity in the Beijing scene) and did a fairly decent job of it.  And they'd learned a lesson about stage presence from last year's unlikely champs (not just Beijing champs, but China champs and world champs!) Rustic.  They even managed to sing in just about recognisable English.  Unfortunately, I have no idea who they were, because no-one was announcing the competitors' names.  I suppose we were just supposed to write 'Band 1' on our voting slips.

I figured the chances that more than one of the bands would not suck was pretty low, and.... sure enough, the next act up were dweeby and charisma-less, with droning vocals.  Things seemed to pick up a bit during the instrumental break, but by then I was outside on my way to search for a cab.  My ears were already starting to bleed and I couldn't summon the enthusiasm to take a chance on 'Band 3'. (The bands were only allocated 8 minutes each, and didn't seem to be exploiting that to the max - just playing one or two songs, and wrapping up after 6 or 7 minutes.  The whole competition would have been done and dusted in well under an hour.)

Another fairly dismal night at Kolegas, then.  There have been far too many of those this year.  In fact, the last really good show I went to there was back in September or October of last year.


[On a more positive note, it appears that they have just been able to take over the small space adjoining the rear of the club (god knows what it's been used for all these years!), enabling them to extend the length of the main room back a few yards and to put in some - long overdue! - extra ladies' loos.  A promising development.  If they can get a little better at advertising (and updating!) the lineups for their shows, holding bands to their bookings, and getting things under way at a more sensible and consistent time; and if they can slash the VOLUME levels by about 25%-30%, and cut the height of the speaker stacks down by a couple of feet or so, so that people can see the stage again.... well, they could easily regain their place as the city's favourite music venue.  As it is, with the arrival of the very promising - and rather larger - Mako Live within striking distance of the Line 10 subway, the resurgence of MAO, and the opening of great smaller venues, VA Bar and Hot Cat Club, right in the heart of the city... I think they're going to struggle to survive.  They need to start getting their act together, and fast.  The loyalty and affection I've built up for the place over 4 years of great times there has been very nearly used up.]


Froog said...

Hey, what do I know?!

Apparently the band I quite liked in the 'Battle' heat call themselves Velvet Highway, but they were let down by only playing one extended song - which was ajudged to have been too 'derivative' of a Motley Crue number, and heavily marked down. I hadn't noticed! I don't think it was a straight cover. And derivative?! Hey, come on - this is China!

Apparently, the second band were Exit A, who perked up quite a lot after their unpromising opening, played two songs that weren't too obviously copies of anyone, and already had quite a following amongst the official judges - and so won the heat. Third up was the newly-formed Kick Ass, who are actually a very promising band, but... have only played together a few times, and were plagued by equipment problems during their set on this night, and so got bumped down into second place. The top two both go through to a 'grand final' stage, so they still have a chance to emerge as the Beijing champs.

Froog said...

Not so much interest in 'Battle of the Bands' this year, it seems. The follow-up heat at D-22 was cancelled due to a total lack of interest, and the final session at Yugong Yishan tonight has attracted only 5 entrants.

My French mate Jean-Sebastien's Cream-wannabes The Amazing Insurance Salesmen are taking part in that. They will almost certainly be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field in terms of musicianship, but their music maybe lacks the universal accessibility that this competitions is probably seeking... and there may be a certain amount of anti-laowai bias working against them too. Still, I wish them all the best.