Martin Atkins China Dub Soundsystem - Made in China

2008-01-24 17:48
The worst parts of China Dub smack tiredly of late-90s dance pretention - cool when it was still new; so very over now. The endless repeated “Ni Hau”s on “Bejing Taxi” and the hideous annoyance of someone playing with a radio dial on “Hand Drum” may make you wonder, Is this an album, or a personal souvenir being foisted on the public?

But mostly, this is musical exploration on a personal scale, and its value isn’t in how “good” (or even enjoyable) it is, but in the unfamiliar textures at play. This makes for some beautiful moments. There’s the smashing of digital drums, the ethereal stereo flute sounds of the hulusi, the tonally complex vocal runs, sharp and high, and even Tibetan folk music bits (without that overpriced spirituality or oily health food).
And yet it’s just what it is, a few collaborations that Martin did with some of Beijing’s musicians. The liner notes for each song sketch the bones of the story of how it came to be – randomly, mainly, in a uber-urban morass where a hell of a lot of stuff is going down, and not all of it charming. Not your typical “world music” project.

Like many souvenirs, it’s more visually appealing than useful. You won’t play it often, unless your musical tastes are more specialised than most. But being well designed, it’s highly likely to wind up on some influential person’s coffee table and start a trend (probably on the dance floor.) You heard it here first.

- Jean Barker

The scratchy rock grind of “Radio China” and the dancy “Mostly Hulusi” are probably the most accessible tracks on this fascinating and challenging collection, curated by Martin Atkins, who specialises not so much in music as in bringing musicians together. China Dub is a non-identical twin to Look Directly into the Sun: China Pop 2007.

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