Interview: Thin City新城

Thin City have been the talk of the town for a while now down in Shenzhen. The newly formed band have become renowned for their fantastic live shows and their unique style of twangy guitar rock.

While they are, as yet, unpublished, the group are currently working on putting the finishing touches to their debut 7″ Double A side, to be released through Boring Productions, which will feature Rock City Baishizhou and The Loop, both of which have previously been published on Soundcloud.

In the course of their short time together, they have put together what sounds like an album worth of material, the recording of which we can only hope will begin shortly after the upcoming release of their 7″.

I spoke to singer, guitarist and songwriter in the band, Graham Wann (Scottish, in case you are wondering) about his impressions of life in China, his favourite Chinese Indie bands of the moment and about the band’s unique style and influences.

Who are you?

I’m 老万 (Graham Wann), singer and guitarist with Chinese/International art-punk group Thin City 新城. Along with me in the band there are: Catherine 艾, fellow lead singer and percussionist; Simon Joubert, bassist who lends plenty of girth to the gang vocals and sings lead on a few songs too; and Matt Dowling, drummer & screamer, who we pinched from his other full time role as frontman in his own right with the band MOTT.

I sing mainly in English and bad Chinese, Cat sings mainly in Chinese and not so bad English.

How long have you guys been playing music together?

Matt and I started having some loose jams in, let’s see..must have been the start of March last year, where we just made stuff up on the spot with only guitar and drums. I think we accosted Cat and Simon after they’d played a set for St. Patrick’s night as their alter ego, the pop folk duo Banana Street. We were already friends and they’ve both got a good sense of what’s cool, so working together didn’t take much thinking about and we’ve been going strong as a four-piece since about the day after.

Thin City is a nice catchy name but I’ve been puzzling over what it means, can you enlighten me?

Haha, thanks. We just lifted it out of a book, it was kind of a chapter title. We’ll keep you guessing as to what book it was, though haha

But in some ways it seems to suit a Shenzhen band. Our experience of gigging and going to practice and everything involves us going back and forth along this very thin stretch of land near the coast between Futian and Shekou, so our experience of Shenzhen is of a Thin City literally. Then taking into account the way places round here – venues and stuff – will often be around one week, then gone the next, it’s a kind of thin feeling, like the culture itself is thin – you could almost put your hand through it. Maybe it’s just a hologram

Can you tell me the writer?

Italo Calvino was the author (Invisible Cities was the book.) There’s a Chinese theme to the book actually, now that I think of it. Kublah Khan, Marco Polo and all that

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As a band what are your shared influences in terms of genre, bands, musicians etc?

We like The Fall, Life Without Buildings, PK14 and Hedgehog. Stuff that’s kind of pop but not the easiest to digest. That way it sticks around in your gut a lot longer and makes you think about what it’s doing to you

Jovi recommended you guys by comparing you to The Pastels and some C86 stuff. Any of that kind of influence in there?

Personally speaking, having come up through bands in Glasgow, then in Manchester and always touring around Britain, with those influences always on show and becoming friends with members of some of the bands you mention, there’s no avoiding it. Again, it’s stuck in the gut

I always found post punk good for that after effect. The first time I heard Joy Division I thought they were a bit shit, same with The Fall actually, but those types of bands eventually grow on you.

Haha, yeah it’s to prove you’re the type who’ll stick with it – Are you a lifer, or a one-time faker?

Having played in Britain before, how do you compare that experience to playing in a band in China?

It’s hard to say yet. We’ve only played in Shenzhen so far, although I’ve turned up and played a few scantily planned solo bits in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

What I can say though is that my favourite shows have always been the DIY kind, where you take over a venue of some sort for a night, book the bands you want to play with, look after the visuals, make the poster yourself and so on. And now we’re in the position where we’re doing that more often than working with promoters, because there aren’t really any music venues for new bands in Shenzhen that would know how to pull a crowd for the sort of stuff that we’ve been talking about. It’s clear that there’s plenty of people in Shenzhen who like the DIY thing, just like everywhere really. The only difference here is the idea baffles some people at first, and the power will get cut more often.

How many songs have you guys recorded as of now?

Well, there’s the double A-side coming out on Boring Productions in April and aside from that we’ve got the drums and bass down for most of an album. Now we’re putting stuff down on top of that when we’ve got time outside of writing new stuff.

The double will be The Loop and Rock City?

Rock City Baishizhou / The Loop to be precise, yep (currently, both are available on Soundcloud.)

Is the plan to put the album out with BP too?

We’re not looking that far ahead right now. It’s just great to know we’ve got Boring’s backing for now, and we’ll think about what to do with the album when we get to that point

At what point in the past year did you guys begin putting your own songs together?

We were writing original stuff from day one

When did Jovi first approach you guys about releasing with BP? and what format will the single be released in?

It was after we had Atta Girl play with us at a show we put on in a wee bar near the Uni. We’d seen them supporting PK14 at B10 and loved them so we asked them along. We all hit it off and at the end of the night Jovi offered to do it and we were stoked. It’s coming out on 7-inch.

How many copies of the 7″ will you make for distribution?

I’m not sure haha. Haven’t asked Jovi yet. I’m sure there’ll be at least a couple dozen.. Maybe you can ask him..or that number can remain elusive

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In terms of local bands around SZ, HK or GZ who are you are favourite acts at the moment?

In Shenzhen MOTT and Atta Girl of course, and also Lips McKenzie, Hello Watch, Rabid Dog. Huo Hua are old mates of ours and a big influence, so mustn’t go without a mention, and everything that Adrian Blackstock’s put out has been Great, like Vachina and his recent Enter the Black Dragon project.

Up in Guangzhou we dig Die! Chiwawa Die!, ROMP and all the stuff on the Qiii Snacks label. I know a lot less about Hong Kong’s scene, but we have friends there in a cool free-folk duo called Windowsill and Ashtray, and loved seeing David Boring play in Shenzhen, and I need to get down there more often to see gigs from the Songs for Children label. They have the band Thud! who are cool, and will switch us on to more things I’m sure.

We’re going to play Hong Kong for the first time in April.

I’m gonna have to check Songs for Children out. I just recently caught on to Sweaty & Cramped and Artefracture, both of which are great

Songs for Children is run by Jane, from Edinburgh. A lot of shoegazy stuff going down there. As if HK wasn’t Scottish enough with all those streets and place names, now one of my closest friends there is from Edinburgh and the other has the most Scottish sounding name since Jock Scot haha!

Haha, what?? is he Scottish or is that just a very strange coincidence?

No, he’s American!

cray, Scottish culture is everywhere

Do you guys plan to do any touring in support of the 7″? And also any upcoming gigs in SZ?

There will be shows planned all around Guangdong and in HK to launch the single, from the second half of April, which we’re going to get down to organising in the next couple of weeks. 

We’ve just put a lot of work into organising Magma’s first Spring Tales Bash indie vinyl party, along with Edo from the venue, which we played with Die!ChiwawaDie! and a lineup of Boring/Qii Snacks DJs. Tomorrow we’re going to play a couple of sets at the opening of an exhibition of female Guangdong-based artists to mark Women’s Day, over in in the Houhai district of Shenzhen.

You might notice that in the timeline part of that event listing, they’ve put us in twice as Chin City 

I have an idea to do a show some time where we’re all wearing Jimmy Hill or Bruce Forsyth masks, and bill it for real as Chin City.

In your live sets what songs do you play? Are they all songs that will be on your album when it is eventually released?

In our live set we do all of our own stuff, which will be on the album yeah. We also do some covers, stuff by Wire, the New Pornographers, and a fucked up version of a Florence & the Machine song. On the weekend after Mark E Smith died we were putting on a show at this little dive place, Nexus, and Jovi joined us on guitar while we covered the Fall’s Totally Wired. That was Jovi’s idea actually. I’d already put together a whole playlist of Fall stuff for in between and after the bands, so when he suggested that, it was like ~ well, yeah of course!

 

Find Thin City新城 on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/thincity-shenzhen/thin-city-the-loop

 

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