In the wake of new music coming from both singer Chen Xi, in the form of his side project Late Troubles, and with a new song released by the band themselves called TheAnswerS#3, I felt it was a good time to look back on Snapline’s most definitive album, Phenomena.
Snapline’s Phenomena is the first album that I picked up on vinyl. I grabbed it on a bit of a whim one day in Vinylhouse Cafe in Guangzhou. There were a raft of old Maybe Mars records in the particular box that I was poking through and the swamp-green color of Phenomena jumped out at me.
Later I was to learn that you can’t be interested in Chinese indie music without knowing this No Beijing band. Out of the bunch of D22 bands that emerged post 2008 Beijing Olympics, Snapline were possibly the most innovative, and certainly the most interesting.
Strikingly, the band couldn’t help but investigate their creativity. In the midst of Snapline, happened Soviet Pop, part of the Rose Mansion Analog collective alongside the Frank brothers’ duo Hot & Cold, and Southern trio The Offset: Spectacles.
Li Weisi and Li Qing formed Soviet Pop, making music that resembled Bauhaus architecture – spare, minimal and electronic, essentially catching curves and waves out of what should really have been straight lines.
There was also their legacy with Carsick Cars, part of that D22 group who are often put side by side in musical conversations with Snapline. Li Weisi and Li Qing left Carsick Cars early to pursue their own interests.
Both bands expressed fondness for the No New York compilation, for noise rock of the 70’s and 80’s and for early post punk bands in the UK.
The story of this album seems to me like the zenith of a journey, a sublime coherent expression of the influences and the experiments that the three members of the band, Li Qing, Chen Xi and Li Weisi, made throughout their careers on the way to finally releasing this classic record.
It is Orwellian in tone, it is dark and sinister and it is hard to describe my sense of the influences that went into this album without getting a little bit tangled up in myself. But I’ll try.
Funny story about this record. I had never heard it before buying it on vinyl. At the time of buying the vinyl I hadn’t figured out the settings of my LP player so for weeks I had Phenomena running at half speed, vocals and music slowed down significantly.
It still sounded just as good.
Part of what unites this album so well is the concept of purity, or of focus. If we were alive 200 years ago in the time of Richard Wagner, you might call this concept the leitmotif.
Within Wagner’s opera’s he ascribed certain musical themes for characters, and for scenarios. While Snapline didn’t go so far, they did a fucking good job of producing a cohesive piece of work with certain instruments and certain effects containing the particular ease or unease that went with living in China in the 2000s.
Not to be too grandiose with the comparisons here, but when they work they work.
From the opening track, Part of Solution, there is something not quite normal about the music. There is something insidious, something hidden away beneath the lyrics and in the noise. It is in the noise, it seems, that everything is being said.
If you can’t say it out loud…
The stylistic qualities of Snapline’s noise-fed work has always been their most attractive quality. Hidden away like scientists in their laboratory of peddles, buttons and dials, Snapline, in my mind at least, have an almost Kraftwerk-ian quality.
It has been six years since Phenomena dropped but with developments happening fast for the enigmatic band, I, you and we are all eager to hear more of what 2017/2018 Snapline sound like.
Catch Late Trouble’s new single Her Song over on Bandcamp via the fantastic D Force Records
Catch Snapline’s new single over on Bandcamp via Maybe Mars
Catch Phenomena over on… you guessed it… Bandcamp
Also Stay up to date with Snapline’s touring schedule over on Showstart:
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