Category Archives: top stories

The All-Metal Merch Table: May 2017


Illustration by Paul Grelet

Every month, The Merch Table brings you the best and most bonkers merchandise you can find on Bandcamp. We commend bands and labels that get a little creative and think outside the tote bag. Whether it’s a fashion accessory, a piece of art, or something entirely unique, The Merch Table showcases inventive, original—and, occasionally, downright strange—stuff that you might want to get your hands on. But, sorry: the ukulele is sold out.

You can’t spell merch table without m-e-t-a-l, and we thought it was high time to dedicate an entire month of merch findings to the genre. Gothic fonts, images of death, destruction, and gore, and monochromatic color schemes are just a few of the elements that make up the very distinct metal aesthetic. And hey, it’s even made it to the mainstream thanks to the talents of Mark Riddick. Here are the darkest merch items on Bandcamp.

Continue reading

Yang Haisong Is Producing a New Generation of Underground Chinese Rock

Yang Haisong

Photo by Nevin Domer.

Ask any Chinese indie band formed in the last decade about their influences, odds are they’ll mention P.K.14. Originally from Nanjing, P.K.14 set root in Beijing in 2001, at a time when its underground rock scene was strictly defined by punk and metal bands. Drawing influence from ’80s post-punk, and artistic energy from vocalist Yang Haisong’s poetic lyricism and passionate delivery, P.K.14 founded a new tributary of art rock in Beijing that continues to influence bands today. (Check out Bandcamp Daily’s profile of the band here.)

In 2007, Haisong was approached by Zhang Shou Wang, singer of Beijing noise rock band Carsick Cars, who asked if he’d be interested in producing the band’s debut album. Haisong had been curious about the production process, and often peppered longtime P.K.14 producer Henrik Oja with questions during recording sessions. He agreed.

Ten years later, Haisong estimates he’s produced or engineered between 60 and 70 albums—mostly debuts for young Chinese bands who seek him out from all over the country. Many of these albums have been for Maybe Mars, a label that Haisong helped found and currently runs. He also worked with China’s biggest indie label, Modern Sky, on a 10-album series called House Party focusing specifically on producing debuts for new bands. Haisong says that this has been his driving force as a producer: providing that crucial first step for young artists that don’t yet know the ropes of the industry.

“That’s the best time to record them, to push them to go to the next step,” he says from the Maybe Mars courtyard office near Beijing’s city center. He’d grouped a string of meetings there for the afternoon. For the rest of the week he’ll hunker down in Psychic Kong, his studio located underneath a suburban parking garage, where he was in the middle of recording the debut album for Lonely Leary, his latest signee. “New bands don’t grow up by themselves. You have to push them.”

Haisong says his production work falls into two categories: bands that find him, and bands that he takes a special interest in pushing. In the latter category are Hiperson, a band from Chengdu that Haisong first encountered when they opened for P.K.14 on tour, and whose vocalist Chen Sijiang is described by fans as “the female Yang Haisong.” Another is FAZI, a four-piece post-punk band from Xi’an, with whom Haisong recently completed part of a 42-city China tour, scheduling impromptu recording sessions along the way. Bands that seek him out—like the duo Alpine Decline, who moved from Los Angeles to Beijing in part to work with him—also end up a fundamental part of Haisong’s program. For last year’s Life’s A Gasp, the third album Haisong produced for Alpine Decline, he joined the band on bass.

We asked Haisong to list the top albums from his prodigious catalogue, and to talk about how they shaped his path as a producer and mentor, how he absorbs bands into his DNA, and how he puts his into theirs.

Continue reading

Twelve Metal Bands That Put the Emphasis on Shredding

Axe Crazy

Axe Crazy

Guitar heroics have been a key part of rock music since Chuck Berry first touched the instrument, but heavy metal took fretboard pyrotechnics to the extreme. Ritchie Blackmore built bombastic melodies out of the raw material of classical and folk for Deep Purple and Rainbow. Nancy Wilson reached deep into her soul for Heart. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing sharpened dual guitar harmonies to a buzzsaw’s edge with Judas Priest. One Mr. Edward Van Halen blew up and rebuilt the entire concept of the guitar solo.

Even as punk rock and its descendants rebelled against guitar wank, the trend continued in metal through the ’80s, from the gnarliest underground thrashers to the hairiest poodle bands. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman, The Runaways’ Lita Ford, Katherine Thomas (aka The Great Kat), and Yngwie J. Malmsteen—just to name a few—refined and defined what sounds could be generated with six strings and an amplifier. Even as nu metal stripped the genre of everything appealing in the ’90s, Scandinavian death metal maestros like Alexi Laiho (Children Of Bodom), Michael Amott (Carcass/Arch Enemy), and the Björler brothers (At the Gates/The Haunted) defended the faith until all the backwards baseball caps were burned. Metalcore acts like Shadows Fall and God Forbid (and games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band) helped bring the thrill of the power chord back to prominence in the new millennium, and so-called “hipster metal” groups like The Sword made it briefly cool again.

There have always been retro-minded metal warriors, but recently there’s been another surge in bands that live by the sword and die by the guitar. It’s not just an American thing; you can find men and women from Chile to Poland burning through guitar picks. The shred mentality has survived (and thrived) because nothing else delivers pure energy and empowerment quite like it.

We’ve handpicked some of the finest practitioners of old-school metal that celebrate the least humble of instruments: the electric guitar. The playing may be flashy, but these bands won’t be flashes in the pan.

Continue reading

Honolulu’s Honest, Diverse DIY Scene

The Bougies

The Bougies.

It’s a warm Friday night in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and local punk band Smoke Free Armstrong are playing their final show to a packed crowd at the Downbeat Lounge, a venue that, in recent years, has been ground zero for the city’s DIY punk scene. Between songs, guitarist and singer Steve Tanji grabs the mic to offer a sincere tribute. “I just want to thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart, for letting us play for you,” he says. The crowd of kids gathered in front of the stage cheer in response. “We’ve been playing for two years, and I want to thank you all for coming out and supporting the scene.”

There is a certain poignancy to Tanji’s words. By the usual musical standards, two years isn’t a long time for a band to exist—but, in Honolulu, it’s rare to find bands who last more than a few months, let alone years. Being a punk band in Honolulu is a lot more challenging than it would be on the mainland. First of all, there’s the location—“literally in the middle of nowhere,” says longtime promoter Jason Miller, who has been booking shows in Honolulu since the mid ’90s, and currently books under the name 808shows/Hawaii Express. “It’s so much [money] up front just to get somewhere for exposure. People can go on tours, but they’re not able to do it every summer, or during spring break. They can’t just jump in the van.”

Other problems: Hawaii is by nature a transient place. People come and go from the islands constantly, making it difficult to sustain a musical project for a long period of time. The state has an extraordinarily high cost of living, on par with that of the Bay Area or New York City, but with a far smaller population, and musicians need to hold down two or three jobs just to scrape by. Instruments and amps are more expensive because everything is imported—and forget about PA systems. Nobody owns property and basements are non-existent, so practice spaces are difficult to find and pricey to rent.

As far as places to play, there are currently no DIY venues on the island, and even if there were, the owners would still have to contend with the strange-but-true fact that sound travels farther in moist air than in dry air, making noise complaints inevitable, and house shows nearly impossible in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Generator shows in skate parks and on the beaches occasionally happen, but they can be stressful to execute—especially when it suddenly starts to rain, as it often does in Hawaii. To say nothing of the fact that the laid-back nature of Hawaiian culture isn’t exactly the most amenable to punk rock.

Continue reading

In “Naturewave,” Forest Sounds Mask Sinister Subtext



Vaporwave is notorious for its many proliferating subgenres and memes, but there’s one strand that appears to have been largely neglected by most commentaries and breakdowns of the genre to date. And while “naturewave”—for lack of a better term—isn’t big enough to be recognized as a legitimate subgenre by the vaporwave community, the number of albums that this term describes has been steadily growing since at least 2014. As with every other branch of vaporwave, the specific characteristics of these albums tend to vary, but all of them share a fixation with nature and the natural world, which is evident in their predominantly leafy green artwork and the often New Age-y sounds they appropriate. But more than this, they’re also fascinated by the ways society perceives and constructs nature, and with how the natural world is often used as a dubiously reassuring counterpoint to the artificiality and coldness of the modern world.

Here are the records filling out the “naturewave” sound.

Continue reading