Album Review: Re-TROS – Before The Applause

For a band whose latest album could be described with such words as – high-tempo; electric; industrial punk – Re-TROS are a quiet band.

Speaking to TimeOut Beijing, the band professed “We like it when it’s not east for people to know us.”

For the past eight years they have been going about their business, playing shows under the banner of their Modern Sky Label, and crafting their most accomplished album to date, Before the Applause.

Such is Re-TROS plight, that although they are mega stars and pioneers of the Punk movement in Beijing and China, they are forgotten or completely unknown outside of their motherland.

Singer Huo Dong met bassist Liu Min in his hometown, Nanjing, while he was playing drums for another Chinese megaband, PK14. The pair, who are now married, decided to move to Beijing in 2003, where they recruited drummer Huang Jin to form their present line up.

The band exploded onto the punk scene in 2005 with their debut EP Cut Off, which displayed the trio’s affection for post-punk of the 80’s.

Since then they have met with popular and critical acclaim amongst Chinese listeners, and, less often, amongst foreign post-punk enthusiasts.

They have, however, spent a lot of time in the company of musical savants, such as Brian Eno, who made an appearance on their debut EP, and in support of bands like Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd. Note: John Lydon is known to be a fan.

Down through the years, and over the course of three albums, Re-TROS have never been strangers to re-invention, an idea that is heavily explored on their most recent album.

The most obvious departure for the band on Before the Applause is the somewhat criticised move to go electric. If punk is just an attitude and not a specific sound, they remain punk, however. Their electronic explorations come in the form of heavy looping, and jagged thunderous rhythms.

AT MOSP HERE, a song the band have been playing for five years at this point, starts with a thumping bass line, which could in fact belong to a trance anthem.

It soon becomes apparent that this is just another tip of the hat to old influences as they re-imagine Kraftwerk at 140 BPM. It sounds like something David Bowie might have dreamed up in his cocaine haze, Berlin days.

The band sound highly polished and sharp as opposed to earlier efforts like 2005’s Cut Off, which tended to be slack and loose in parts. In the intervening eight years since their previous album Watch Out! Climate Has Changed, Fat Mum Rises…, Re-TROS have attained a stature within both China and within their music world which has allowed them to produce a much more realised and individual sound.

Though elements of the band’s prior amorous relationships with acts, such as Joy Division and Bauhaus, remain on tracks like Pigs in the River, which is dark and prodding and sounds a bit like Nick Cave singing in a sawmill, Re-TROS are actually trying to leave behind their idols, in favour of forging their own way.

“We’ve been thinking about how to make our music more interesting and not fettered by ’70s/’80s post-punk and New Wave; how to create a view with more experimental elements, more colour and more ambition,” Hua Dong told the Toronto Star in July.

And that is exactly the way it sounds. There are few, if any bands, working, with a list of influences as long and as eclectic as Re-TROS, and even fewer with the kind of devotional craftsmanship to pull off such highly developed, and ultimately unique, imitations.

Re-TROS will support Depeche Mode on the European leg of their World Tour, starting November 15th in the 3Arena, Dublin. 

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