Interview with Nakoma
19th December, in a noodle restaurant close to XP with Ophélie and Elie.
Linda Westman = drummer
Nico Mazzei = bass player
Tim Zhang = guitarist
We at FDLM recently decided that we wanted to get to know bands better, in order to be better able to provide the kind of support they actually need. And so, we thought we might as well publish the interviews online, and share with everyone the great bands we’ve come across. We keep the editing to a minimum, since we’re volunteers and don’t have time, but that means you also get the crunchy bits about who’s who and doing what for music in Beijing.
FDLM: What does Nakoma mean?
Linda: Oh, Nico should be answering that question because he contributed the name and it’s actually Southern Italian slang. Everyone answers differently when we get that question. My interpretation is that, like when you smoke weed and you’re high and you think that the world is a beautiful place: Nakoma. Something along those lines, an expression that you use when you think everything’s awesome…It might also be like the world is great but it’s an illusion, I don’t know.
Tim: It’s also the name of Pocahontas’ friend, and we’re pretty sure that he (Nico) really loves Pocahontas.
Linda: If you google it you can find plenty of pictures of Pocahontas’ friend, but if you don’t know that, it just sounds like the name of a Japanese girl.
This is what Google gave us:
Elie: I thought it was Japanese.
Tim: Yea that sounds really Japanese.
Linda: We don’t mind sounding like a Japanese girl. Because the associations are so random, that’s why we’re stuck with that name, it doesn’t make you think “oh that’s a cool metal band”, no, it’s just a nice Japanese girl! (laughs)
Tim: Do you reckon if we wrote “random Japanese girl” in our blurb people would look at you and be confused then look at me and be confused ?
Linda: Sex change or nationality change (laughs…)?
FDLM: When did the band start and how did you guys meet?
Linda: Nico and I met in 2006 or something like that, the two of us had just moved to Beijing for a month and put an ad on the Beijinger, and actually a 3rd guitar found the both of us at the same time, so he introduced us, and then we started playing some kind of garage, very shitty rock oriented stuff. Then we had a couple of different guitars players since, but this line-up reformed a year and a half ago. Nakoma existed for a long time before but…
Tim: Yeah, Linda went away and then came back, and I was introduced to them through a mutual friend. The intention was to play some old stuff at the beginning, but…
// (Nico, the bass player, joined us at that point)
Nico: we said that, we could use some of the old parts, but it never happened, in the end we just focussed on writing new music.
Tim: To be honest, it was a completely new band, and we got lazy and were like, yeah, we can just use the old name.
Nico: We tried going through a couple new names, but decided those sucked.
Elie: So you decided to stick with Pocahontas’ friend ?
Nico: Yeah, we love it ! (laughter…)
FDLM: How long have you guys in Beijing for?
Nico: Me and Linda, 7 years, and we started playing soon after we arrived.
Tim: I’ve been here 2,5 years
FDLM: Is there any direction you are trying to take with the band?
Linda: Please Tim…
Tim: Well, no I mean, at the moment it’s kinda just 3 people stuck in a room without a vocalist, so, we’re trying to make as much noise as possible.
FDLM: From which influence do you take inspiration?
Tim: We all have pretty different influences…what do you say Linda?
Linda: It’s a continuing issue between us, it freezes into negotiations for every single riff. I’ll be like could that be more metal? And Tim is like, could that be less metal? (Laughs)
Tim: But I win at the end cause I have the guitar!
Linda: And double bass added to everything that he writes…
Elie (asking Nico): And you’re in the middle…
Nico: I’m in the middle, yes! Sometimes I would like more ambient or more heavy, but, if we think that something sounds like someone else, we don’t use it. We’re trying to keep an open-minded way to go, we don’t try to think in terms of genre, we go for what sounds good.
FDLM: Does stoner rock work at all to describe your style of music?
Nico: This is an ongoing discussion… what is the genre?…
Elie: When people have asked me I would say “kinda rock”…
Linda: “Kinda rock” is cool
Tim: In our blurb it says we are kinda math rock, but I think we got away with that for a long time until Mammals came along, who are much more classic math rock than us, so we have to find some other genre we can pretend to be.
Linda: We often get stuck with “post bands”. But we’re not post-rock, and not heavy enough to be post-metal, and to call yourself experimental is like shooting yourself really in terms of marketing. Alternative doesn’t even mean anything, so…
Elie: Ok, so work in progress in terms of definition.
Nico: He (pointing at Tim) wrote a pretty good description for our blurb. Something like “it sounds actually better if you hear us than if you read about us”.
// You can actually see the description on their douban page here: http://site.douban.com/nakoma/. And take the opportunity to listen to them at the same time!
FDLM: Not having a singer is not something you wanted from the beginning?
Tim: We’re not really opposed to a singer, but at this stage, with the current tracks that we have, it doesn’t really have room for a singer. I think in the future if we find someone, then we can work on songs with a singer to begin with, so the result might be completely different. But at this point we wrote the songs to be as self-contained as possible, that’s why is sounds the way it does.
Linda: I like the idea of having a singer, but it’s also very difficult to find. We all agree that it’s better to not have a singer, than to try and work with one that doesn’t fit with this kind of music
FDLM: Do you get to tour out of Beijing much?
Linda: We have a guy who is our manager now, and he has connections, but it’s festivals or single gigs, we haven’t been touring yet, which we might think about.
Nico: It’s hard to organise a one-month tour because of our jobs. It’s easier to go one weekend here, and another weekend there. Last time we went once to Shanghai, and once to Gansu province in Jiayuguan, it’s where the Great Wall finishes.
FDLM: Do they have live houses or festivals over there?
Nico: It was for a festival, but they have a small live house, that is quite nice actually.
FDLM: What do you think of the music scene in China / Beijing ?
Linda: I feel like right now there’s a lot of things happening, compared to when we started 7 years ago. Before when we got on stage, people were expressionless or even left the room, for years there were absolutely no response, and we were like “We are trying to do something good here!” But it was not getting anywhere. But the last couple years it obviously got better. And the music scene has expanded so much, there are much more bands now both Chinese and Westerners. It’s developing really quickly.
FDLM: I agree with that, I was in BJ first in 2006, and I was a lot in C-13 and D-22. I remember the first time we went to C-13, me and my friend we ‘d been looking for rock music for ages and we couldn’t find anything, then we stumbled into C-13 and there was this amazing rock show, it was so great, but everybody was just standing there, me and my friend started pogoing and they were like, “was are these people doing, are they crazy, what is happening?” It was a lot of fun.
Linda: I think there is also a cultural difference in not being as expressive about how much you like the music. For a lot of shows that we played, there were traditional metal bands that would get the pogo reactions while we sometimes had people going ”What the fuck? What are you guys doing? Get out of here and don’t come back!”, and I think that changed a lot.
Tim: I’ve only been here for 2,5 years, so D-22 was obviously before my time but I did hear about it, I thing ever since I got here until now the music scene has got a lot better, I do find that there’s a lot of competitiveness among the underground bands, rather than mutual help, I do find that a lot, compared to some other cities I’ve been living in, at least for metal bands.
Linda: I think this is also because those fans are extremely band loyal, they are almost violently opposed to genres that are just sub-genres of the same thing. So they’re like “This is black metal, I can’t take this kind of shit, I listen to death” (laughs). So you have to stand at the back of the room with your arms crossed if your band is not playing, and leave the venue when other bands come on.
Tim: But the one exception that I’ve found so far is Guigui Suisui, Noise Arcade, they seem to pull everyone together, making a festival and having all kinds of people playing, giving a nice community vibe and I think that’s how it should be really. You do find that a lot more in the electronic scene.
Linda: The punks have it too, they have more the community feeling, like in DMC for example or School bar. There’s still a lot of rivalry in metal.
Tim: But overall I think it’s getting better though, bands playing with each other and helping each other out.
FDLM: How is it being a foreign musician in Beijing?
Tim: I think the biggest difference for us is that Linda is getting singled out a lot.
Linda: I was gonna say that, the question obviously would be how is it to be a laowai AND a girl…
Tim: and a drummer!
Linda: … in the scene, and once again I mean especially the metal scene, is so extremely unwelcoming to this. For that it has been a lot of nonsense actually. There is also the whole selling point of some venues that organise gigs purely on the basis of a band having a female member. In some cases it feels like this ends up being a bit like just stand on stage with your skirt and look hot, you know? And it’s so boring, does it have anything to do with music?
Tim: Nico and I would work on the show and support it if we ended on that by wearing a dress!
Linda: I support that too! ! I fully support that! (laughs)
FDLM: Is it something that really happened, did they ask you to play with a dress or something?
Nico: In Mao they organise shows only for bands that have a girl and it’s packed every time with guys there who are watching.
Linda: I can get kinda psycho on this, you get the point. I get a lot of bullshit comments like “I don’t think you’re holding the sticks right”, “I don’t think you have enough power in your arms”, and I’m like, I have the power to dangerously violate you…(laughs)…it just gets really boring. But as foreigners, I don’t know, there are lots of foreigners in the scene. There’s a bit of a divide between the foreigners and the Chinese bands.
Nico: There are also foreigners who speak Chinese and some that don’t speak Chinese, and this by itself is a huge difference.
FDLM: Also, if you wanna have Chinese members in your band, of course you have to speak Chinese.
Nico: Also for booking shows, if you are a new band, and you don’t have a manager, you don’t speak Chinese, you’re gonna book shows with other foreigners because you don’t know how to deal with local promoters.
Linda: It also creates different crowds, if you are promoting yourself on Weibo for example means your circle of friends are all Chinese, or I put it on Cityweekend and obviously I’m gonna have a Laowai audience. That all creates different kinds of followings.
Tim: Saying that there is also, I think, a slightly obvious taste difference as well in music, it’s not good or bad, right or wrong, but some things just do better among the local Chinese crowd and some other things do better only among the foreigner crowd, sometimes obviously it works for both, but there is a slight difference in taste of music sometimes.
FDLM: We want to put together a workshop for bands, what would be the most interesting for you guys? What would you think of a workshop on how to record an album, or one on how to sign with a label?
Nico: That would be really useful. A lot of bands don’t know how to deal with labels. Generally speaking they look for the big names, and good bands might end up with one of them, but they often end up getting a bad deal out of it. That’s most of them. A lot of labels also have one manager working for twenty bands, so they don’t get anything out of it. So knowing what to look out for could be useful.
Tim: But that goes on worldwide, that could be useful anywhere. You always hear about bands getting signs on those awful deals where they don’t own anything that they do because essentially someone told them “you need to sign this and do what we tell you”, it happens all the time.
Linda: I don’t know how much research you’ve done on the labels here beforehand but… it seems like there’s a complete market failure at the moment, there isn’t that many good labels . There is also no good market for the labels to sell the music yet, this is also developing. So it’s more limited, it’s still growing. So from the bands’ perspective but also from the labels’ perspective it’s just “what are we supposed to do with these bands?”…so it might be useful to talk to the labels as well.
Tim: The current climate for the music industry, not only in China but even in the West, labels are restructuring themselves, everyone’s trying to find out what they should be doing because the music model isn’t what it was 30 years ago. It’s clear they’re trying to protect that, with anti-piracy and such, but it’s not gonna happen, it’s not gonna to go back to the 60s when bands were playing arena rock with millions of people, it just doesn’t work that way anymore. So… yeah, no one is telling bands what you “should” be doing, you just kinda have to do it, and then fail, and just do it again.
Linda: and the labels can’t really do that much for you, they might be able to get you on festivals if they have the guanxi, but apart from that what? They don’t have a market.
FDLM: Another workshop idea we got from talking to Luv Plastik is one about promotion, and self-promotion.
Linda: That’s a really good idea.
Tim: Definitely, we’re horrible at it! We’re pretty unimaginative when it gets to promoting ourselves.
Linda: So from our perspective it’s a really good idea. I guess a large percentage of the bands could use that, and even those with a label still end up doing a lot of promotion themselves.
FDLM: What are your favourite current bands in Beijing?
Linda: Ourselves, obviously (everyone laughs)
Tim: In the last six months I’ve found bands that I really like, Mammals for example, Luv Plastik are great, um…
Nico: We used to go to a lot of metal shows, in the beginning but not so much at present.
Linda: There was this metalcore band called “4-5” but I don’t know if they’re still active.
Nico: They’re active, they signed at Modern Sky, so they only play Strawberry.
Linda: another case of market failure.
Tim: Oh, GuiGui SuiSui ! Puts on a great show, it’s good fun.
Nico: Last week-end we saw “Fuzzy Mood”, but… I always go to shows and forget the names of the bands…also a band called “Miao\庙” they’re alternative rock, more traditional but very fun.
Tim: Actually one of my favourite band in China is Death to Giants, but I don’t know if they’re still going. I think they are.
Tim: Yeah they are more comical and also more metal than Luv Plastik, they’re also a two-piece but they are based in Shanghai, they are really cool too.
Linda: And also Duck Fight Goose.
Links to listen to them and get in touch
Upcoming gigs with Nakoma:
Mushroom Festival, May 24 at Mako Livebar
June 5th, Temple Livebar