TIAN ZHANG

A creative producer and writer, originally from Brisbane now living in Sydney. This is where I put my published work.

You may contact me at: tianzhang26 [at] gmail [dot] com

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Aqua @ Hi-Fi

Rave Magazine issue 12 March 2012:

Aqua / Radio Ink / Harry K

The Hi-Fi - Wed Mar 7

Stepping into The Hi-Fi tonight is like stepping into another world: a world of wigs and cowboy hats where glow sticks are an acceptable form of jewellery. DJ Harry K warms the crowd with a selection of modern dance hits and ’90s classics – the Spice Girls’ Wannabe goes down a treat. In comparison, dance trio Radio Ink’s generic ‘doof doof’ beats and slick production seem pretty stale, even if singer Miss S has a soulful voice and struts around in a giant striped cape.

The air is heavy with anticipation as the crowd begins to chant for Aqua. They’ve spent more than a decade waiting and they just can’t wait any longer. The Danish pop sensations proceed with a no-holds-barred, all-killer no-filler, completely unaffected performance. Any perception of them as uni-dimensional one-hit wonders or karaoke singers is completely obliterated – probably around the same time Lene Nystrøm takes off her top and shorts to reveal a studded leotard. “Why do you still fuck me like a robot?” she sings in a new song, while showing off some pretty explicit dance moves. Their live performance has a much heavier, metallic sound than their squeaky recordings. Who knew Aqua had a dark side? Suddenly all their lyrics take on a more sinister edge. They play all the hits – Doctor Jones, Barbie Girl, Turn Back Time, Cartoon Heroes… Nystrøm’s helium vocals contrast brilliantly with René Dif’s mildly sleazy rasp in a way that no other band will ever perfect. Every now and then, one of them smiles to themselves, half in disbelief at the packed room and half in realisation of the sheer ridiculousness of it all. The crowd, meanwhile, loves every bubblegum minute. Hold onto your tank tops everyone, ’90s pop has officially made a comeback.

TIAN ZHANG

2 years ago / 2 notes / Aqua  Radio Ink  Harry K  Rave  Live  H-Fi 

Death Cab For Cutie @ The Tivoli

Rave Magazine online 5 March 2012:

The Tivoli - Mon Feb 27

It’s a balmy evening and the venue is already packed with enthusiastic young girls who probably weren’t of legal age last time Death Cab toured three years ago. Not that the crowd need any more warming, Sydney band Dappled Cities deliver pumping bass lines oozing over sparkling synth and guitars. While their set consists mostly of songs from their forthcoming album, it’s radio hits like Fire Fire Fire and The Price that demand most attention.

A huge high-pitched cheer erupts as Death Cab For Cutie appear. Excitement is palpable and these kids sure know how to scream. This is a nostalgia trip for most and the band appease with a broad selection from their extensive back catalogue. Ben Gibbard’s performance is animated and his vocals are absolute perfection. If there was one detractor, though, it’s that expectations are high and some of the more heart-wrenching lyrics aren’t delivered with the anguish you’d expect. Fair enough, I guess. Good for him that he’s happy.

Favourites like I Will Follow You Into The Dark and Soul Meets Body take on a weirdly contrived karaoke vibe as the audience sing along, even drowning out Gibbard’s vocals at times. Meanwhile, lesser-known gems like No Joy In Mudville are much more enjoyable and unconstrained. Midway through We Looked Like Giants, Gibbard starts bashing out a drum solo on a second drum kit (yes, ladies, he plays the drums as well) – surely the highlight of everyone’s night. A beautiful rendition of Transatlanticism rounds off what has been a completely enthralling set.

TIAN ZHANG

Madeleine Paige @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Rave Magazine online 28 February 2012:

Brisbane Powerhouse - Sun Feb 26

Two of the best crooners around, Gonesville, AKA Ben Salter from The Gin Club and Kate Jacobson from Texas Tea, serenade the Live Spark crowd with covers of what I can only imagine to be a selection of highlights from their vinyl collections. From Sam Cooke to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, it’s like a life lesson on melancholy and Americana-inspired ballads distilled into a neat 45 minutes. The two are completely in tune with each other – even their wails match – and their voices blend better than a good whiskey and dry.

It’s Madeleine Paige’s last concert before moving to Melbourne so I guess we can forgive her for being a tad indulgent. While this reviewer is more familiar with Paige’s folk-pop repertoire, this afternoon’s set is filled with songs from her recent jazz album. While her vocals are beautiful, they definitely lack punch. Paige’s repertoire is fairly unremarkable – either jazz standards like Ella Fitzgerald or subdued versions of trip hop greats like Massive Attack and Portishead. It’s pleasant enough for a Sunday afternoon but this reviewer can’t help but wonder whether the Powerhouse should be programming original music rather than an afternoon of cover bands.

TIAN ZHANG

Thomas William vs. Scissor Lock - Jewelz

Rave Magazine issue 21 February 2012:

(New Editions)

Collage of experimental sounds

The product of a collaboration between Sydney producers Thomas William and Scissor Lock – the former a Director of a contemporary art space and the latter one-half of experimental beat outfit Collarbones – Jewelz is, rather unsurprisingly, completely surprising. The four-track EP, of which most songs are over eight minutes long, is a testament to artistic sonic exploration and blissful beat craftsmanship. Jangly tones give way to expansive vocals; waves of sound sway into eclectic rhythms and back again. All the while, the songs exude an eerie sense of familiarity, rather like being in a dream. Is that a train chugging or a synthesiser? A car going off in the distance or just my imagination? Jewelz is a collage of sounds, all ripped up and pasted together. The result is an intriguingly eclectic collection of songs that may be difficult to navigate, but I get the feeling it’s more about the process anyway.

TIAN ZHANG

Dan Deacon @ Woodland

Rave Magazine issue 17 January 2012:

Dan Deacon / John Maus / Toy Balloon

Woodland - Thu Jan 12

With main songwriter Greg Cooper relocating to Melbourne last year, disco-pop outfit Toy Balloon has since downsized to a solo affair. After a few songs on laptop and synthesiser, Cooper is reunited with old band-mates and label-mates who join him onstage, livening up the performance significantly. Loose and fun, the result is somewhat akin to a summer house party jam with mates.

John Maus takes the stage, lets out a violent scream and immediately the floor is packed with curious individuals. I’m not sure what to make of him. He spends the entire set scratching his eyes, beating his chest and face whilst screaming into the microphone. The agony in his eyes is not something I will forget easily. The music, however, is a mixture of gothic cabaret and screamo … sung on top of a backing track of bouncy ‘80s synth and house beats. Taken in isolation, the music is very dancey; his performance chilling. Together though, it’s just confusing.

The Dan Deacon Ensemble is a phenomenon unto itself. Before beginning the set, Dan Deacon gets everyone down on one knee and pointing up to the disco ball while saying a few words. Looking around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was mistaken for a cult. Deacon leads us through a rambunctious set of rocking electronica and audience participation. The performance includes two drummers, as well as a light show complete with a green strobe skull. The strobe is intense and perfectly executed with the music to create a euphoric atmosphere. This, combined with activities including mass interpretive dance and getting everyone running around Woodland clockwise, and suddenly everyone is going mental. The room is a mass of dancing bodies, flailing arms and smiles. If this is a cult, I don’t ever want to leave.

TIAN ZHANG

Nikko @ Woodland

Rave Magazine issue 8 November 2011:

Nikko / Carsick Cars / Keep On Dancin’s

Woodland - Sat Nov 5

Nikko have lined up a quality night of music to celebrate their last Brisbane show before moving to Melbourne. The Keep On Dancin’s kick it off with some moody, reverb-drenched, ‘60s-inspired rock reminiscent of The Raveonettes. Frontwoman and bassist Jacinta Walker’s vocals are dripping with sultry intensity while her bass hooks are to die for. I am slightly puzzled by their choice of name though, as their alluringly introverted performance is more conducive to swaying than dancing. But I guess ‘Keep On Swayin’s’ simply isn’t as catchy.

Next is China’s Carsick Cars. For those who aren’t aware, these guys are a pretty big deal in Beijing. Heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth with elements of post-punk, they have been instrumental in the emergence of the Beijing underground rock scene. The band’s driving guitar riffs and urgent vocals instantly energise the room and they power through their set with a delivery that is both modest yet fuelled by an underlying agitation.

Nikko have been a staple of the Brisbane scene for many years, but tonight there is something different about them that I can’t quite put my finger on. At first, I put it down to their new songs, which contain more prominent melodies and vocals than previously. The band seem to be moving away from their post-rock aesthetic and taking on more of a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis vibe, especially with the addition of Adam Cadell on violin. However, I soon realise that it’s much more than that. Tonight, they are brimming with an understated confidence that hints of something else, like a band that have matured and are, well … leaving the nest. And judging from their performance tonight, they’re ready for it too. I just hope they’ll call home every now and then.

TIAN ZHANG

Ghoul @ GOMA

Rave Magazine issue 9 September 2011:

GoMA – Fri Sep 2

Dreamy experimental outfit Ghoul have been turning heads with the release of their mini-album Dunks earlier this year and tonight, they can’t put a foot wrong. Lead singer Ivan Vizintin is one smooth operator, soulfully crooning into the microphone and winning over the hearts of more than a few audience members. However, bassist and brother, Pavle Vizintin – whose absence was noticeable last time the band came to Brisbane – steals the show with some pretty audacious bass-plucking. In the live setting, the bass lines are much funkier than as laid down on record and the band’s R&B influences become extremely apparent. The Sydney four-piece float through a selection of Dunks tracks, including Milkily, Dreambeat and 3 Mark, as well as Swimming Pool from their 2008 debut and some new tracks, which indicate grand things to come.

Sonic pleasures are intermixed with visual ones, as panoramic views of the Brisbane River and CBD form the backdrop for the stage. On a side note, the venue should also be commended on excellent sound quality, despite the cavernous layout of the gallery. It’s an extremely enjoyable night, the only criticism being the band’s relatively short set, which leaves everyone aching for just a little bit more.

TIAN ZHANG

2 years ago / 21 notes / Ghoul  GOMA  Rave  Live 

Parades @ GOMA

Rave Magazine issue 19 July 2011:

Surrealism Up Late, GoMA - Fri Jul 15

Did you know that the word ‘surrealism’ was coined in 1917 by poet Guillaume Apollinaire, when writing program notes for the ballet ‘Parade’? It’s therefore fitting that Sydney band Parades are the first act to play the Surrealism Up Late series.

As the band open with Dead Nationale, it’s apparent that, while an art gallery is a great place to have music in theory, it may not be so optimal in practice. Galleries are all about walls – walls that bounce and distort sound. Similarly, while the glass backdrop offers a stunning panorama of the Brisbane River and city lights behind the band, it also makes everything sound much, much tinnier.

Sound issues aside, the band power through a mixture of songs from last year’s critically-acclaimed debut Foreign Tapes and new material, including current single Water Stories. Jonathan Boulet’s drumming is sensational, executing complex off-kilter beats with ease. The highlight of the night is the one-two combination of Tripping Over Your Eyes followed immediately by Marigold – the former offering a quiet reflective moment, while the latter ending with a burst of intensely layered guitars and effects. The band finish the set with Loserspeak In New Tongue, ensuring everyone has its catchy hook ringing in their heads as they leave.

TIAN ZHANG

3 years ago / 22 notes / Parades  GOMA  Rave  Live 

Cut Off Your Hands @ Alhambra

Rave Magazine issue 21 June 2011:

Cut Off Your Hands / Wherewolves / Bird And Prey

Alhambra Lounge - Thu Jun 16

For a while, it seemed like tonight’s show wasn’t ever going to happen, with the headlining act emerging from a two-year hiatus, only to have their flights cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. But luckily, with their flight being rescheduled last-minute, a steady stream of party-goers files steadily into Lambda club night, ready to celebrate the occasion.

Sunshine Coast locals, Bird And Prey are a pleasant surprise for early attendees. Although, perhaps ‘pleasant’ isn’t the exactly right word. Part The Strokes and part SixFtHick, they play upbeat swamp-rock and feature an in-your-face frontman who doesn’t hesitate to stomp around on the dance floor and shuffle next to unassuming punters. Quite the spectacle, I must say. Their tunes are catchy and their demeanour raw, and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing greater things from them in the near future.

Next are Brisbane boys Wherewolves who, after a slow start, warm the crowd with their indie electro-pop. They seem somewhat tame in comparison to the energetic openers but are certainly more inviting. The more upbeat synth-driven tunes are the standout of their set but, overall, their performance fails to really get off the ground.

A club show is the perfect setting for indie-rock Kiwis Cut Off Your Hands. As the band tear into their set, the room fills with intoxicated patrons destined for a good night out. Unfortunately, a poor mix, a temperamental microphone and a slightly flat lead vocalist prevent them from pulling off a killer performance. On top of this, their set is dominated by new songs, which are less catchy and pale in comparison to their older material. Nevertheless, crowd favourites like Still Fond go down a treat, with the band pulling off lively post-punk guitar riffs and getting the whole room dancing and singing along.

Teeth & Tongue @ X&Y

Rave Magazine issue 7 June 2011:

Teeth & Tongue / McKisko / Tape/Off

X&Y - Fri Jun 4

Tape/Off’s garage punk-rock is a brazen choice for tonight’s opening support. Their swaggering vocals and catchy guitar riffs are enjoyable, but it’s the driving drumming that gives power to the songs. Unfortunately, tonight the drums are too overwhelming for the small club venue; I’d much rather see this band in a dingy garage making a huge racket.

Following is McKisko, who pull the tone of the night right back. Helen Franzmann’s butterscotch vocals envelop the audience and have the ability to infiltrate even the hardest of hearts. This, combined with minimalist arrangements of guitar and drums, with the occasional loop pedal, keyboard and melodica, makes for a serenely captivating set.

Melbourne band Teeth & Tongue finish off the night with a rocking but sultry performance. Jess Cornelius’ voice is powerful and moody, and she sure makes for an intriguing frontwoman. With two guitarists, a bassist and an abundance of pre-programmed drum tracks, the band take a gamble by doing away with the drum kit. However, while the group is tight, they tend to lack energy onstage. Perhaps it’s an off night, but one can’t help but think that a flurry of live drums could easily provide that extra kick.

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