Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Becoming ScandinAsian: Visionary band tours imaginary continent

It’s been a long time since our last blog post but we’ve been keeping quiet for good reason. Rather than surfing the web for more e-pap to offer you, we thought that 2014 would be the year that we travel the world with our wares and show people what it really means to live your life for leisure. We ended up hitting five Asian cities in six short days. This is what we remember (and the footage we managed to capture).


Ideas can enslave people. The nation is one such idea. Bands can liberate people. Scandinavia is one such band. That’s why we invented a new continent, big enough to hold all our dreams (and yours too). We call it: ‘ScandinAsia’. 

Creating a new continent is not easy. We wouldn’t have succeeded without Art Urquiola, founder of Artefracture Records. He brought South East Asian flair and a wealth of contacts with bands and venues in China and beyond; we brought Scandinavian sensibility and a taste for all things leisure. Together we booked a string of shows in Hong Kong, Manila, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing. ScandinAsia was born.


Warrick is normally the businessman in the band, but for ScandinAsia he found a foil in Art the DIY impresario. After some discussion we decided on a number of stunts to pull in advance of our looming tour. The first of these was a tour poster that conveyed the merging of two worlds. With the help of Ali Reid from Turtlemedia, we created a silhouetted mountain-scape that echoed the hills of both Lillehammer and Fuji.

Our second big stunt was a new release on Artefracture. It was Art who initially suggested a teaser album, but after a brief discussion with the band it became clear that this was the perfect occasion to release our first greatest hits collection. We decided to call it IDEOLOGY: A Beginner’s Guide to ScandinaviaWarrick tried his best to derail the track-selection process by tampering with the Excel spreadsheets, but in the end we agreed on a track-listing that covered most of the highs from our three studio albums. The idea was to pump as much Scandinavia as possible into Asia before our arrival.

The third prong in our marketing meat-fork was a t-shirt to turn IDEOLOGY into legend. We left this to the last minute, but luckily our friend Vickie from Chantown Creative was able to put something together for us while lounging by a pool in Bali.

We decided to go with a classic Swedish colour scheme, and a xerox-like rendering of Bill Clinton playing sax on the Arsenio Hall show. The image of ideology, we thought.


Our first stop was a homecoming of sorts for Warrick, A Mean, and Miriam, all of whom grew up in Hong Kong. With Art's help we managed to book a gig at The Warehouse, a historic youth club in an old police station where the expat punk scene first emerged in the late 90s. Warrick's first band, Tokyo Sex Wale, were pioneers of the early Warehouse scene, and A Mean's old sci-fi hardcore outfit, The Fascist Giraffe, also used to practice and perform there.

For some reason the Warehouse stopped taking gig bookings during the mid-2000s, and Art had to work hard to convince the new managers that we were the right ones to reopen the Warehouse band room. Luckily, what Art lacks in charm he makes up for in guile. He even got us an interview on RTHK, Hong Kong's government radio station. The show we were on was called 'Morning Brew', and was hosted by a laid back cat called Phil Whelan. You can stream the interview from here.

Despite a typhoon blowing through town we had a good turnout for the show. We can probably thank Art's carefully selected roster of opening bands for this. Every single one of them had erased all the spaces between the words in their band names. Emptybottles sounded like Stephen Malkmus fronting a Toe cover band. Onedaymore were like Osker except younger and with even worse manners. PONYBOY were the best minor-melodic emo band we've heard since 1995. 

We suspect that most of the audience came to see PONYBOY, but that worked out for us just fine. I think this was the only show where we played an encore. And it wasn't even our idea.


We spent our first hangover of the tour on a plane to Manila with our new touring partners, The David Bowie Knives. We didn't know it then but this was the beginning of a truly beautiful inter-band romance. Manila itself was full of hand-customised commuter buses, homegrown US-style fast food joints, and LOTS of traffic. Apparently we got off lightly; we used the time saved to watch As Good As It Gets in our hostel. Now that is a good movie!

The gig itself was at a place called B-Side, a bar tucked away inside an outdoor mall somewhere in Makati. We played with a great local band called The Strangeness, who used the triple-guitar technique to great effect. The bouncer there, a guy called Jo Jo, told us they normally hold rap battles there. Jo Jo was without a doubt the toughest guy we met in Manila. 

He was also a really great guy and introduced us to a beer called Red Horse. Red Horse is so strong that some people say it is a combination of beer and gin. Others say this is horse shit. Others still say that Red Horse is just shit. Either way, it is a very strong beer that produces a rush not unlike drinking beer with gin in it. 

We all began riding the Red Horse before our set, and then headed off afterwards to an unusual bar with Jo Jo and the Bowie Knives. It was like something out of a David Lynch movie. The last we remember was eating tacos and then piling into an airport bus at about 5am. Oh yea, and immigration officers taking all our money, leaving us with nothing to buy water with. Real nice.


When you think of Shenzhen, what comes to mind is a grittier, shittier version of Hong Kong. Or at least that is what we were expecting. It probably exists, but the Shenzhen we saw was more like a really polluted version of LA. After lugging our obscenely impractical merch bag across the border by foot, we were whisked away by taxi to a government-funded cultural district that felt like a hip university campus, all full of concept eateries and book shops with Leonard Cohen LPs in the window. The venue itself (b10) had a capacity of 700 and what is reputed to be the best sound system in all of China. Needless to say we were excited to play on such a rig, but we were also worried because the promoters had told us they were going to make us pay-to-play if the turnout was too low. In the end they actually paid us, which was a pleasant twist.

We were on fire in Shenzhen. The sound was great, and our tour teeth were cut sharp from two days of rough pwnage. This is probably where we first played our Ramones-style cover of Lionel Ritchie's 'Dancing on the Ceiling' - a new party number prepared just for ScandinAsia. At one point in the song a drunk man in a shirt and tie jumped on stage and forced Miriam to nail cans of beer as the rest of us guitar humped him. What a swell guy. It was also in Shenzhen that A Mean really began to perfect his 'deep lunge' manoeuvre. 

The deep lunge is a unique thrust posture involving a minimal groin-floor gap and a sassy bass grip. A Mean was already deep lunging in Hong Kong, but with each gig it became more and more integral to our live rendition of 'Dumb Tunes'. During our new extended intro to the song, A Mean would wade out to the crowd's edge and deep lunge into the audiences' arms, allowing Miriam to take a heartwarming group portrait. We've used some of the these photos to make a short instructional video - our first foray into the genre, but probably not our last.


It was on the journey to Shanghai that Fortuna began to stretch us over her wheel. We were all giddy when we arrived at the spectacular Shenzhen airport (see below), but by the time we boarded the plane some of us were beginning to hallucinate from sheer lack of sleep. 

After a long taxi ride we eventually arrived at our hotel, which was a gargantuan cylindrical structure that reeked of the 1980s. The venue we played was much cooler - a scuzzy rock bar squeezed between a road and some kind of park.

This was the first of our weekend shows, and the place was packed full of rockers dressed in various shades of black. This probably had very little to do with the last minute 'interview' we did with the Shanghaiist MagazineIt was also here that we and the David Bowie Knives began singing each others' songs backstage over a bottle of duty-free Glenfiddich. The show itself was probably the best of the tour, with plenty of good-time characters in the crowd strumming away on their air guitars. Afterwards we all headed back to the hotel for some late night snacks and a failed attempt at karaoke. Some members of the band refused to turn in and instead played Hall & Oates songs on their computer until it was time to head back to the airport.


By Beijing we were really hurting, and could think of nothing we'd rather do than watch Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore star in Music and Lyrics. Alas, it was not to be. After checking in at our next hotel we headed more or less straight to Temple Bar, another Chinese rock and roll institution. Upon arrival we learned that we were to be paid in watered down beer. We drank the first of these with our new tour partners, Natalie of Shatalene and a self styled gonzo journalist from the South China Morning Post called Charley Lanyon. Charley was determined to join our rock circus but ended up writing an article mostly about himself. Still, he was a real blast to hang out with, and his piece does do a good job of capturing the mixture of fatigue and elation that characterised our final show of the tour.

We were a tight and well-oiled machine by this point, and banged out our songs with one last buckshot of vim. The crowd took a while to warm to us, but by the end of the set we had a bunch of them onstage with us to sing out the final choruses of 'Dancing on the Ceiling'. Things got a bit blurry after that, but basically we roamed around the venue until the wee hours of the morning, and then headed out to a nearby noodle joint where we drank bowls of pig's blood soup with The David Bowie Knives.

When we awoke the next day we immediately went in search of ice cream sticks and a travelling hospital that could salve our wounded psyches. We found both of these by the Forbidden City, and then crossed over to enjoy the open space of Tiananmen Square. We ended our one day off at a vegetarian restaurant with Jonathan Leijonhufvud, ex-Warehouse rocker and now drummer for Beijing post-punk kingpins PK-14. Jonney and his partner were excellent hosts and taught us a great deal about the art and rock scenes in Beijing. Thanks guys!


We almost didn't make it back to Hong Kong after a needless conflagration at Beijing airport. This would have been a pity because Art had a organised one last hurrah for us - a secret show at 
The Wanch in Hong Kong's red light district Wan Chai. This was a real family affair, with a lot of old friends coming out of the woodwork. We played a suitably sloppy set, and washed it all down with roasted and barbecued meats at a nearby cha chaan teng. We don't have many photos from the night but this one pretty much says it all. Look how happy we all are!

After another day in Hong Kong we all headed our separate ways, back to our places of work and various states of post-tour depression. It wasn't long before we began sending each other emails about getting back into the rehearsal room.


What next for the band that knows no limits? With our newfound passion for live performance and international travel, discussion has already turned to a potential Benelux tour in summer 2015. We are also toying with the idea of visiting key cities of the former Habsburg empire. Only time will tell where fate and ambition lead us next.

Before we hit the road we will definitely be writing and recording a fourth album, tentatively entitled 'Leisure Rules'. This is the name of a new song that we took on tour, and which proved a favourite among the bands and audiences alike. We envisage the album as a return to the questions raised in our debut 'Good Living'. Expect upbeat and catchy numbers, with cameos from Ferris Bueller, Chandler Bing, and some of our other pop culture obsessions.

Finally, we have booked the Stag's Head in Hoxton for our annual soiree. This year's event will be a '90s flatshare' themed party, complete with pizza and some of our more dubious, musically-inclined friends and hangers-on. You are all invited, and we hope to see you there on December 13th! In the meantime, you can just enjoy our tour video again. Noice.

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