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Tourdiary: A Cat in China

2017.01.01 \\ Live Shows

October 23th 2016

It’s Sunday evening, almost midnight, and it’s finally starting to dawn on me: tomorrow we’re going to China. We’ve been preparing this tour since May, but it still feels unreal to me. I guess I’ll only believe it when we set foot on Chinese soil. I’m ready, the band’s ready, bring it on.

Try to get some sleep? Nah, probably not worth it, I have to wake up in a few hours anyway. Sleep is for the weak

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October 24th 2016

The alarm goes off at 5am. Despite the lack of sleep, I’m immediately wide awake. Let’s do this! The trip starts with a plane from Brussels to Amsterdam. From there we’ll fly to Beijing. We have to wait several hours for the connection flight in Amsterdam. This is going to be a long day.

Fun fact: the girl at the airport food counter in Amsterdam looked like Arya Stark from Game of Thrones.

On the plane to Beijing I finally started to feel tired. The watery Chinese beer on board wasn’t helping either. We’re were almost there

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October 25th 2016

Hello China! It’s around 7 in the morning when we arrive in Beijing. Our booker Phoebe is waiting for us at the airport and two Buick GL8’s take us to our hotel. Not too shabby.

At 3pm, we meet with Wouter’s Chinese friend Bella. She was in Ghent a few months ago and immediately offered to guide us in Beijing. An offer we couldn’t refuse (and she wouldn’t take no for an answer anyway.) Bella takes us to the Lama Temple. The colourful buildings in this famous monastery are absolutely breath-taking. The highlight of the temple is a 26 meter tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha, made out of a single white sandalwood tree. If it’s good enough for the Guinness Book of Records, it’s definitely good enough for me.

One of the things I had been looking forward to, was to have Peking Duck in Beijing. I wondered if the people in Beijing call it Peking duck as well. Wouldn’t they just call it duck? Bella laughs at me when I ask her. “It’s all about the way of preparing the duck, you’ll see”, she says.

Before heading to the restaurant Bella chose, we go for a walk in the small streets of the Dongcheng District. I’m surprised about how nice this area of Beijing is. We stroll through small streets with ancient buildings. There’s bikes and scooters everywhere, small vegetable stalls and people playing ping pong in the park. The car free streets and cosy bars wouldn’t suggest you’re in a city with 20 million people. At a food stall, Bella buys us squid on a stick. It looks gross, but it’s pretty good actually. It’s only the start of a Burgundian evening of eating and drinking. It’s impossible to be hungry when Chinese people are taking care of you.

A taxi takes us to a nice restaurant. I’m completely disoriented, but hey, what would you expect in a city like this? We ask Bella to choose from the menu for us. A chef cuts the duck at our table. I’ve never seen somebody use knifes as fast as this guy. Go home Gordon Ramsay, this guy’s the real Masterchef. The Peking Duck was exceptional. That’s one less thing to do on my bucketlist. An endless quantity of food is brought to the table. I have no idea what’s in some of them, but it’s all delicious.

We round up the day by walking through a modern part of the city. The beautifully lit skyscrapers are mesmerising. A few beers later, it’s time to say goodbye to Bella. Tomorrow is a big day.

 

October 26th 2016

We get up at a reasonable hour, so we can visit the Forbidden City before our sound check. Bella explained us how to get there by subway. Seemed easy, until we got to the subway station and the vending machine brakes down while we’re buying tickets. We’re lost in translation, but the girl at the counter is nice enough to let the poor white guys on the train.

The Forbidden City is a huge complex consisting of almost a thousand buildings. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed in the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty and served as a home to the Chinese emperors until the beginning of the 20th century. We get in through the famous Tiananmen Square at the south side of the Forbidden City and start a walk of more than one kilometre from one palace to the next. The palaces are divided by huge squares and protected by gilded lions, dragon’s and other mythical creatures. Imagine playing hide and seek here!

When we reach the Gate of Devine Might, the exit at the north side of the Forbidden City, a group of Chinese teenagers ask if they can take pictures with us. We don’t realise it yet at that point, but we better get used to this. About 50 selfies later, I try to explain them we’re a band and invite them to the concert that evening. I don’t think they understood. We just look funny I guess.

We’re a bit late, so we rush back to the hotel to get our instruments and head to the venue. We’re playing at the legendary YuGong YiShan tonight, which is also housed in an old palace.

The name of the venue, YuGong YiShan, actually means ‘Foolish old men’, Bella told me the night before. The myth goes that in ancient times, an old man called Yugong tried to remove two mountains who were in front of his house and made it difficult for him to get around. When people called him foolish, he replied that he has sons, and his sons have sons. He would have endless progeny to finish the task, while the mountains wouldn’t grow any higher. Impressed by his perseverance, the emperor in Heaven sent two mighty gods to carry the mountains away.

We were quite worried about the soundchecks in China. Would the amps and drums from the venues be decent? Would the sound guys speak English and understand what we need? We even translated our technical rider to Chinese. We had heard some horror stories and having three guitars, synths and backing tracks, we’re not the easiest band to set up. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The crew at YuGong YiShan was extremely professional and setting up was a breeze.

After having some delicious dumplings with our booker Phoebe and her friend, it was showtime! A local band called 16 Floors opened the evening and I quite enjoyed them. They had a very Mono-like vibe going on. Not bad, not bad at all.

Our show went great and the crowd seemed to enjoy our music. I was very surprised people actually knew all the songs from our first album ‘Sun Drunk Moon’. We even had a little sing and clap along moment during ‘Khaleesi’. Phoebe asked us not to stay backstage after the show. It quickly became clear why. People were waiting for us at the merch table to have a chat and take selfies with us. We had a lot of fun and it was a nice variation compared to the musicnerds coming to ask about what pedals we use after Belgian shows.

The night ended with some cheap Chinese and Japanese beers from the 24-hour supermarket on the roof terrace of the hotel. What a great way to start the tour.

 

October 27th 2016

After another way too short night, we took a plane from Beijing to Chengdu. The local airport was crowdy and chaotic. Thank god Phoebe travelled with us or we would have been completely lost.

Chengu is known as panda-city. Actually Hao Hao and Xing Hui, the two famous Belgian panda’s at Pairi Daiza, are from Chengdu. Chengdu airport is filled with fake panda’s and there’s a huge panda-statue in front of it. Two Buick’s were waiting for us next to it.

We took a short power nap in the hotel and went to the venue. The place, ironically called ‘Little Bar’, was huge and again the crew was very professional and helpful during soundcheck. I wish we could play places like this every show.

We had some spare time before the show and decided to discover the area around the venue a bit. We were in a very modern part of the city, at the foot of a small hill. We climbed up the stairs and had a great view over the city skyline.

Again, the show went pretty well. We had some small technical issues, but Wouter broke the record of the fastest broken string change ever. The soundguy told us he liked our show better than Pg.Lost a few weeks before. That’s too much honour really. When the show finished, a Chinese football fan came up to me with a picture of Eden Hazard, asking if I knew him. It’s funny how football connects people and puts a small country like Belgium on the international map.

After another round of selfies, we went back to the hotel. As good Belgian practice prescribes, we found ourselves a night shop and bought a few cheap Chinese beers. Five Belgian guys, drinking watery beers on the edge of the curb in a random street in Chengdu at 2am in the morning.

 

October 28th 2016

A nine-hour train ride through the beautiful countryside of China took us from Chengdu to Wuhan. For the first time since we arrived in China, the weather was horrible. Luckily, the hotel was located right next to the venue, so we didn’t have to carry all our stuff through the rain.

I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the venue, called Vox, and saw their barmenu. They had a great selection of Belgian beers, including Ghent-based Delirium Tremens. I ordered a La Chouffe (from the tap!) and the bartender told me he loved Belgian beers. We discussed our personal favourites and I felt immediately at home. This guy has good taste. It was Friday evening, I was feeling young and alive and the venue was great. I had a feeling this was going to be a great night.

And I wasn’t wrong. The show was probably my favourite of the tour. The lights on stage were great and our show was wild. Jasper was really feeling it and climbed upon the balcony during the scream part of ‘Take nothing but pictures, take nothing but footprints’. Shout out to the soundguy, who made sure he got back down safely by letting him stand on his shoulders. I don’t think he would have made it otherwise.

A well-dressed Chinese young man came up to us after the show and told us to follow him. At his table, in the back of the venue, a 5-litre barrel of Vedett, another Belgian beer, was waiting for us. We gladly accepted his invitation and he quickly needed to order a second barrel. Meanwhile, a DJ started his set and Pieter and Bram teached the Chinese some signature cat-dancemoves.

Phoebe and her friend Bobo ordered some food for us from a small foodstall in front of the venue. I have no idea what it was exactly, but again, it was delicious. God, I love Chinese food.

Earlier that evening, an Australian dude told us to come to the ‘Prison Bar’. A guy dressed up like Deadpool was in the middle of a dance battle with a girl in skeleton costume, while the DJ, dressed as Bob Marley, played hardcore techno music. It took me a while to realise it was actually a Halloween-party.

The sun was already coming up when we got back to the hotel. The alarm rang 2 hours later

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October 29th 2016

The train took us from Wuhan to Hefei. According to Phoebe, Hefei is a “very small city”. If the numbers on Wikipedia are right, it’s still six or seven times bigger than Brussels though. We arrived around noon and were in deperate need of sleep, so the rest of the day was spent at the hotel.

The venue, On The Way, was located in a shopping mall across the street. We had some unexpected visitors during our soundcheck. A group of about 15 students from the local music school followed how we set everything up with a lot of interest. They seemed pretty impressed when we showed them some tricks with our reverb and delay pedals and were eager to take selfies with us. The whole picture thing almost felt normal by now.

We had dinner at a fast-food restaurant in the shopping mall. While we were eating a Chinese woman put her five year old daughter on a chair next to Bram and started taking pictures. The child didn’t seem very amused and was rather scared of us, but her mother cheered from happiness.

A local band called RC4Y started the evening. They were pretty good and especially the bassplayer had some impressive skills. One thing I noticed in China, is how people show up on time for shows and the shows start punctually. The guys from RC4Y told us the outcome was pretty good that night for this venue, even though there were less people than the nights before.

After our show, an Australian man named Mike invited us over to his place for food and drinks. We were too tired though. We politely declined his offer and had some beers together in the bar of the venue instead. Sorry Mike, maybe next time?!

For the first time in a week, we actually went to bed at a reasonable hour. Sleep, finally.

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October 30th 2016

The last day of the tour, a train brought us to Shanghai. The weather was lovely again. We were actually very lucky and didn’t see any smog in China. The masks we took remained unused and according to an app Pieter installed, the air while we were there was as good or even better than in Belgium. What’s the chance?

We arrived in Shanghai around noon and had a few hours to kill before soundcheck, so we took a taxi to the old city. The small streets and shops were incredibly busy, but we managed to buy some souvenirs without losing each other. From there we walked to the Bund, the famous waterfront area next to the Huangpu River. We enjoyed the amazing view over the skyline of Shanghai for a while, before it was time to head to the venue.

I had heard good things about the venue Yuyintang and I must admit it was smaller than I expected, especially compared to the other venues. The atmosphere and the sound however were pretty great and again, the crew was very professional.

Our opening act this night was a local post-rock band called 21 Grams. Chinese bands do like numbers in their names! The guys from 21 Grams were pretty cool and we had a great talk about guitars and post-rock bands from China and Europe. Their guitar player was like a walking encyclopaedia of European bands.

Phoebe got us a sweet little surprise before the show. We shared a lovely cake saying ‘Best IAHTTC’ and she got each of us a Chinese fortune cat. Thank you so much for everything Phoebe!

During our show I got a bittersweet feeling. The show was awesome, but I also realised it was the last one before going home. A Chinese fan went crazy because we didn’t play ‘An Unexplainable Explosion of Data’ during our regular set. Luckily for him, we had this prepared as an encore. I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody head-bang to our music as hard as this guy did. We definitely made his evening. It’s still so surprising to me that people on the other side of the world actually know our songs.

 

October 31st 2016

At the international airport of Shanghai we said goodbye to Phoebe and Wouter, who was going to stay in China for a few more weeks to travel.

The rest of us ordered a straight whisky on the airplane to toast to a great experience. We couldn’t believe what had just happened to us. We were still a long way from home, but what a week it had been.

 

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2017.01.01 \\ Live Shows

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