Music is Medicine

My pals 10 are performing at Logo tomorrow night, and you should totally come. They’ve just wrapped up a fairly disastrous China tour, so it would be nice if we can all send them back to Japan on a happier note. Reggie from STD was gracious enough to let them open for Jeans Team on short notice (and thanks to Abe for the suggestion).

10pm, November 15, 2008
13 Xingfu Lu (near Fahuazhen Lu)
30 RMB entry

You can hear a short sampler of some of 10’s music here. Also check out their MySpace page.

I’ve been a fan of 10 for a long time. I first met Marqido (the Japanese half) at the 2pi Festival in Hangzhou in 2005, and I think I met itta (the Korean half) the following year. They’ve played around China a bunch, including a set at the mini MIDI festival in 2007. To get the gist of what they’re up to, read my review of their show at last year’s 2pi festival here.

10 are in the middle of a bit of a controversy at the moment. (I was planning to dig a bit deeper and post an insightful analysis, but it seems more useful to get this sketch of a post up before they take the stage tomorrow.) This tour was intended as a triumphal lap in support of a new CD they just put together, entitled Nomad (which aptly describes their itinerant musician existence), released on the Beijing-based Wangba 王八 Records. Wangba is the project of a Frenchman named Yoan Gandin, the roster of which also includes Papier Tigre and Thee, Stranded Horse, and they’ve been involved with shows by folks like Xiao He 小河 and Li Tieqiao 李铁桥.

The relationship between 10 and Wangba began to sour on the night of their CD release party at Mao Livehouse in Beijing. I happened to be in town, so I was able to catch this set and meet Yoan, who was quite personable and enthusiastic about underground music. The show opened with Opra Hashimo (another Frenchman) performing a hip, live remix of the Nomad album, and then 10 took the stage with a rotation of special guests, including Xiao He, Li Jianhong 李剑鸿, Vavabond, and Li Tieqiao. (Sulumi was hanging out backstage, but he didn’t perform.) It was a good show, though when everyone took the stage for a monster free jam at the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel that the mass of sound pretty much obliterated the playful balance 10 usually maintains.

After the show is where the stories begin to diverge. Both parties acknowledge that there were only eighty-odd folks in attendance, and that for fewer than 120 people an extra charge was to be levied against Wangba by Mao. But Yoan asserts that 10 wanted to keep all the money instead of dividing it up among all of the musicians, and that he lost money overall, whereas 10 claim that he kept a disproportionate amount for himself, and lied about still being in the hole to Mao.

Points of contention accumulated from there. 10 complain that Yoan put them on the longest and slowest trains for their tour, with hard seats for overnight trips. He canceled their gig in Nanchang, which they considered a kind of broken promise. They say he tried to manipulate payments from the venues along the tour to get more than his share of the proceeds.

While some of the gigs seemed to go well, others didn’t make money at all. Their stop at Live Bar in Shanghai on Oct. 18 may have been the most disastrous, landing on the opening night of the eArts Festival and several other shows, resulting in a dismally small turnout. Afterwards they were told they actually had to pay the bar, since the bar had bought their train ticket for the next day. On top of that, itta twisted her ankle after the set. They arrived in Guangzhou the next day sick and dispirited.

To 10, the issue is trust; they feel that Yoan was dishonest with them on the night of the CD release party, and from this point on, they have anticipated deception in every communication. Mistrust a poisonous weed in the small world of independent music, where so much is based on informal agreements, mutual goodwill, and camraderie. In fact, 10 still haven’t signed a contract with Wangba for the release of Nomad, which shows a great deal of trust on Yoan’s part as well, and makes the future of the album very uncertain. I heard talk of lawyers, but I can’t imagine the stakes are that high. As Milton Babbitt said (of academic avant-garde music, but it’s just as apt here), “It’s a mad scramble for crumbs.”

Ultimately, my sympathies are on the side of itta and Marqido, who have been friends for a long time and are currently staying at my house; their feeling of betrayal is very real. But my feeling is that this dispute arose more from miscommunication than ill will. Having seen an excerpt of the communication between the two parties, it’s quite apparent that English is the native tongue of neither. And if someone wants to make money ripping off musicians, the Chinese underground experimental music scene is an unlikely jackpot.

But one thing I appreciate about 10 is that their commitment never wavers, and I know they’re going to do their best at Logo tomorrow night. As itta is fond of saying, “Music is medicine!” Hopefully when they get back to Japan everyone will have some time to heal.