22 July 2013

Ladytron in China diaries (2004)

Shenzen 21st – 25th September


Before going to China I had no idea what to expect. Shenzhen is a city of skyscrapers, revolving hotel restaurants, chaotic roads, and concrete surrounded by lush green countryside. Also, this is my first taste of real Chinese cuisine, and its amazing. I won't want to eat a Chinese meal in the UK for quite some time!

The gigs in the true colour club went really well, especially the second night. I haven't had so much fun on stage in ages.


We began our China tour in Shenzhen, a 1970s purpose built 'special economic area' across the bay from Hong Kong. Played two ecstatic shows, a lot of fun, The second night, the audience being predominantly those who'd made the short (but apparently tough) trek from Hong Kong itself. We amused ourselves in the interim with fake Rolex. Shenzhen is interesting, but we expect it to be little like the real China.


Taking a rickshaw ride with a huge bunch of flowers through the streets of Shenzhen surrounded by golden skyscrapers at 6am was a pretty good way to finish off the night of our first gig for over a year. Even if riding on the wrong side of a dual carriageway with trucks speeding towards us did feel more like a ghost train ride at times.

We had landed in Shenzhen 4 days earlier after more than a day spent in the air making full use of the Virgin Atlantic on board entertainment system or at airports trying out exciting new packages of super noodles. We arrived in the midst of a tropical rainstorm so it felt like we had been teleported straight into the opening scene of Blade Runner. As soon as we checked in the lovely Echo and Suzanne from the British Council took us out to a restaurant. I kept an eye out for origami unicorns on the short walk through rain-drenched streets reflecting colourful neon. At the restaurant about 15 of us sat around a huge table with a revolving glass plate in the middle on which the waiters kept on piling delicious food that none of us save for maybe Reuben knew what it was. Whatever it was after a few days spent wrestling food off revolving tables with chopsticks or spinning around food in revolving roof top restaurants we just learnt to accept that Chinese cuisine is about orbiting around food and it tastes great.

It didn't take us long to find the revolving bar at the top of our hotel, but it took us much longer getting to it since it was on the 55th floor and to get to it we had to negotiate a network of lifts. Not an easy task on a jet lag and a few glasses of rice wine. We ended most nights before the gigs there, though we did venture out to the near by 'Piano Bar' on John's (bass player) birthday. The name of the bar turned out to be a bit deceptive since the DJ was playing the theme tune from 'The Omen' to a hard trance beat. The music was so loud the speakers were making the flames from the candles dance around the empty room. That, the full on laser show, a Hong Kong cyber sex flick projected on one of the walls and waiters dressed in suits serving us water melon on the side of our drinks made for quite an experience.

We spent most of our days at press conferences, rehearsing, swimming in the outdoor pool surrounded by skyscrapers or going to the local market where we learned how to bargain for Rolexes, clothes, sunglasses, visors and bags. We were yet to discover the joys of DVD shopping. Shenzhen is brand new city, which until 1979 was a tiny fishing village on the Pearl River on the border with Hong Kong. Deng Xiaoping developed it into the metropolis that it is today as the first Special Economic Zone, i.e. an area of free trading and market economy. We were aware that the real China was yet to come.

The gigs took place in a state of the art modern venue called True Colour. Most of the kids on the first night were local. They had either heard a few songs on the internet or were just keen to find out what a Ladytron is. It felt great playing after a year break and the response was amazing. We played a few new songs as well, but I guess to these kids most of our songs were new. Most of the kids on the second night had come from Hong Kong and were hardened fans who had waited to see us for a while. We had a lot of people singing along and a crowd surfer. There was a whole lot of hand shaking going on with the first couple of rows of the audience. We probably felt as ecstatic as the crowd.

After the gig each band member was given a gigantic bouquet of flowers. After the second gig we were spoiled with Ferrero Rocher. The Ambassadors reception. We stayed out drinking in the club and watched a Chinese trio do covers of The Beatles, Oasis and ouch... 'no more tears in heaven' by Eric Clapton. On the second night Reuben and our Chinese guardian angel Nee Bing took over the decks. Nee Bing put on Pixies and we all fought our way onto the dance floor. Meanwhile, on the other side of the building the ceiling opened up and the stage on which we played and which had only just been cleared up got flooded. Had it happened a second earlier our precious ancient synths would have been killed. Had it happened 30 minutes earlier a band member or two would have been electrocuted. Time to move on.

Chongquing 26th September – 1st October


I think I had the best room in the Hilton hotel we were staying in. From the 33rd floor I looked out over the tops of skyscrapers, a massive sports stadium, and in the distance, through the smog, the mouth of the river.

There aren't many westerners here, which accounts for the stares we get from passers by. Children are especially curious. It's funny. I even got girls in the market giggling at me and pointing to my eyes. Very strange considering blue eyes are so common over here.

The gig is in one of the weirdest and most wonderful parks I've been to Shaping park. First there was the miniature world landmarks, then there were the singing Mynah birds in tiny cages strapped to the trees, and then we stumbled across a ladies choir singing away surrounded by all these trees. I wanted to take a little boat ride across the lake, but Danny put my off - scaring me with tales of disease from water. Oh well.

Chongqing is like no place I've been to before and I'm glad I've experienced it. However, I can't wait for Shanghai!


Now we're 1000km inland in what we're told is the Real China - Chongqing, in the southwest, the biggest and most polluted City in the country.

It's completely breathtaking, newly constructed tower blocks sit side by side with shanty houses, ancient alleys and street stalls. Apparently 4(!) British people live in this municipality of 30 million. Less than 500 westerners total. We've met half the Brits, indeed our party quadruples the British population here. This is very near the site of the three gorges dam, a hydroelectric generation project originally conceived in 1919, which will create an inland sea 550km long, submerging 11 cities and 180 towns in the process. Scale. Spent a lot of time in the pool and jacuzzi as the experience became increasingly like 'lost in translation'. Heading for Shanghai on Friday, where the future is happening.


Airborne treats on China Southern airlines included dried beef, some odd tasting peanuts, a lovely China Southern wallet and a body art TV talent show in which kids used their hands, knees and legs as part of the structure of musical instruments, 2 guys formed a car while a couple of rotating girls dressed in pom-poms acted as the brushes at a car wash. One gentleman's 'talent' was to simply put a mask on the back of his head thus pretending to have his head screwed on the wrong way around. Genius. We landed in Chongqing in thick fog. The skies there only clear up for 20 days a year and when they do the sky is green because of the pollution. As a result of that, we were told, Chongqing girls have very pale skin and are very beautiful. The three things everyone had mentioned to us about Chongqing were the traditional hotpot dish, the fact that it's built on steep hills and so there aren't any bikes around and the beautiful girls with pale skin.

Chongqing, population 13 million, is southern China's dynamo and China's most industrial city. It is a busy port based around the peninsula at the junction of the Yangzi and Jialing rivers 2400km upstream from Shanghai. In 2009 it will find itself on the banks of the Three Gorges Dam. The controversial dam will be constructed by blocking and diverting the Yangzi river 670km upstream from Chongqing, thus creating a lake the size of lake Michigan. In doing so thousands of villages, hundreds of towns and cities and countless historic relics will be submerged. 10 million people will have to be relocated, but when completed the dam will provide 10% of China's power.

The views from the window were very different to those of Shenzhen. Tall concrete blocks, lots of flyovers tiny workman shops, kiosks selling building materials, machinery and food. Not much neon or not much that we could see through the fog. We spent the days before the gig doing press conferences, answering questions such as 'Are you planning on incorporating human voices on your next record? Did you choose Reuben to be in the band because he is Asian for his special effects? Will your show be adequate for Chinese audiences?'. In between we relaxed in the pool and Ivy showed us around some shopping centres.

On the morning of the gig we went out for a walk to the river. At first we followed the main busy roads, but then we noticed narrow winding staircases that lead away down the hills into a dark abyss. Following these staircases was like stepping through the looking glass. Tucked away behind the flyovers and skyscrapers are urban villages. Crowded little houses, people on the alleyways selling food, tiny markets, men sitting outside their houses playing MoJong, a man getting his hair washed ready for a haircut and everyone looking at us smiling and waving hello. When we stepped out of the looking glass we found ourselves on yet another busy road, but the river was in sight. The only way to actually get to see it was for us to buy tickets to a Wedding park. A very snazzy enclosed area where people could do everything from buying their wedding dress, to getting their wedding photos taken, to having the reception and staging a party. The Yangzi was the colour of the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the distance we saw a woman raking out a solitary plot of land on the riverbank for cultivation. All in all a pretty surreal start to a pretty surreal day.

The gig took place in Shaping Park, an amusement park containing some ancient rides spinning around and miniature landmarks from around the world. We saw Sydney Opera House, the tower of Pisa, Notre Dame, the statue of Liberty. Apparently there was a Big Ben but we didn't find it. And where was mini Southend Pier? From the stage we could see people sitting on top of Mount Rushmore to the left. A huge Ladytron poster with 'Way to Toilet' written on it was draped on top of Arc de Triumph on the right. The gig fell on the night of the mid-autumn festival and we were told there was a full moon, only we couldn't see it through the fog. Around 3500 kids came to the gig. The show was free to get into but you had to phone up for tickets in advance. As there are only 4 other Brits residing in the city we weren't expecting a lot of ex-pats to turn up. Most of the people had either heard a few of our songs on the internet, came to see the support Flowers, a Chinese version of Busted, or just came for the party out of curiosity. The reception was great. Kids had made reversible heart shaped banners with Ladytron written on one side and Flowers on the other. Everyone was waving glow sticks and occasionally throwing them in the direction of the stage. There was a 90 year old raver in the front row dancing his socks off. After the 2nd song a six year old came on stage to present us with flowers on behalf of the mayor. He said 'We love you Ladytron, you rock!', then shouted something in Chinese and threw a glow stick at the crowd. After the gig we signed a whole lot of autographs. We hadn't even left the venue before the builders started tearing down the dressing rooms and stage they had built for us by hand the day before. Efficiency. Nee Bing took us to the grand former French Embassy for an after show cocktail.

We had a couple of days off after the gig. The first day we spent walking around the city and taking a cable-car over the chocolate river. On the other side we went to a Hotpot restaurant. The Hotpot turned out to be a Chinese version of Fondue. You order a bunch of different raw vegetables and fish and dip them in the boiling broth full of spices and chillies in the middle of the table to cook. We caused the usual amount of commotion as our table caught fire. On our last day the British Council had organised a daytrip to the Dazu rock carvings. These are a series of impressive 8th century Buddhist statues and images carved in rocks and caves. To get there we travelled for a couple of hours through misty mountains and paddy fields farmed by ox and hand, girls sweeping up the motorway. When we arrived a bunch of smiley 6 year olds ran towards us. I looked in my bag and all I could find was a Ladytron laminate pass to give to them so I chose one of them at random and there and then recruited him as a new crew member. I took a photo of him so we can track him down in a few years time when he grows up to be stronger. My favourite bit of the trip was visiting the Dazu Buddhist temple. We got sung to and blessed by a monk. A very beautiful experience. Then we got pointed in the direction of the cash box and after contributing got asked to bow down three times to it. Nice to know they hold the money God in high esteem. We lit gigantic incense and left after tour manager Chris set off some fire works off the edge of a mountain.

On that last night in Chongqing it rained and the skies cleared for an hour to reveal a beautiful mountain range on the edge of the city. It was strange to see clearly after a week of seeing everything in a kind of soft focus.

Shanghai 4th October


I almost thought we weren't going to make it. The internal flight from Chongquing to Shanghai was awful! My fear of flying is not getting any better.

Shanghai is a breath of fresh air though. I love it. The tree lined streets are so pretty and remind me of New York. With all the fake Prada I've bought I feel like a girl from Sex and the City. I've never shopped so much in my life! The clothes are so cheap in the markets I've been snapping everything up.

It seems like there's a lot going on in Shanghai. A lot of clubs/bars/restaurants. It's a fun place to be. At night everything turns to neon and the city glows.

The gig at Fuxing park was another good one. I think we may have converted a few people. What better way to top off a gig than with karaoke!

At first everyone is a little shy, but after a few more drinks everyone's dying to sing. For some reason Danny keeps putting all these really high and difficult songs on for me ­ like "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton. Yikes! Its a lot of fun tho, whether you can sing or not. Singing "Like a Prayer" with Bamo was a great laugh.

On the morning we leave Shanghai we get one last treat ­ a first class ride on the Maglev high speed train to the airport. I cannot believe a train can go so fast. When we reach 450kmph it feels like we're flying, and as I mentioned before I am not the worlds greatest flyer! I must admit I was a little nervous, perhaps a little scared ­ and thanks to Jackie, it's all been captured on camera!


Arrived in Shanghai yesterday, already in love with it. The New York/Paris/Barcelona/Milan/Sao Paulo/Osaka......etc...etc of China. The French/British colonial influence is all around, but this is a distinctly Chinese city overall, and there seems to be a new energy and optimism here that is infectious.

Been shopping all day, bargaining in markets and visiting traditional tailors for measurements. Tonight a few of us are going to a Chinese football game, followed by karaoke, a full report of which will follow.


We spent five days in Shanghai and had only one show scheduled, so you can see how much free time we had to entertain ourselves. Shanghai is twinned with Liverpool because of its trade links from the turn of the century. There were a few striking similarities, including an almost replica waterfront, apparently to give Liverpudlian sailors a sense of home from home, a city-wide arts biennial event happening at the same time and the bizarre habit of girls roaming streets in nothing but pyjamas.

The clubs and bars here play a lot of funky house and jazzy beats - there's not much electroclash going on in this town, which suits us fine. Bassist Pop Levi played an impromptu set at a cool bar called Tang Hui and was later joined by the rest of Ladytron to perform a Francoise Hardyesque version of "He Took Her to a Movie". Our karaoke session at Shanghai's 'Partyworld' took place in a private room and lucky participants were privy to Helen's rendition of "Genie in a Bottle", Danny's version of a "View to a Kill", Mira's deadpan remix of "Centerfold" and Reuben's E Smithesque rant of "It's Tricky".

The scratch-built venue at FuXing Park took a couple of days to come together. Thanks to Ladytron's talented crew, the band played an hour-long set, with full brand new visuals and light show, including a some new tracks from the new album. A few thousand people turned up, some of whom had flown in from Beijing to see us, some of whom had heard "Playgirl" on the internet and some of whom had no idea who the band were at all. One irrate old man even turned up and started shouting at 'everyone' to pack up and leave because the show had disturbed his sleep from a late night of MaJong... We ended the show with an encore of "Playgirl" and a decelerating version of "USA vs White Noise".

Support band Supermarket played an interesting electronic set beforehand, sounding like a cross between old LFO, The Beloved and slower Orbital... Flowers, coming on like the Chinese version of Busted, ripped the crowd into a frenzy with their camp kung-fu flower show... fantastic.

After 3 weeks of being in China, we've only just started getting used to the lifestyle here, even with it mainly consisting of fake Rolex, pirate DVD, bartering, magnetic levitation, incredible food and intrusively rude Chairman Mao musical lighters... that's our Christmas shopping done already...