“We’re not giving voice to an era, we were just born in it,” Hedgehog’s drummer Atom (Shi Lu) tells Apple Music. “We stand for the voices of the times. It’s a very natural outpouring.” From their days in the Beijing underground to their mainstream debut on variety show The Big Band, Hedgehog has lived China’s indie scene. Since 2005, the power trio has charged through Chinese indie’s embrace of grunge, noise rock, emo subgenres and beyond. Here, Hedgehog not only shares their hand-picked playlist spanning electro-industrial, krautrock, psychedelic and lo-fi, but also recaps indie’s evolution in China, as well as their own.
“I always thought that good music has the atmosphere of the city it comes from,” guitarist and lead singer ZO (Zhao Zijian) tells Apple Music. For Hedgehog, that city is Beijing. More specifically, the now defunct D-22, ancestral home of Carsick Cars, Snapline and other bands of the No Beijing movement. Its name may be a tribute to the “no wave” experimental scene of late-’70s New York, but its inspiration is unmistakably drawn from China’s capital in the late ’00s.
“We live in Beijing. I feel the city changing and the conflict and anxieties these new and old incarnations bring,” Atom says. The city lives in the band’s sound. “Beijing is curt and direct with a kind of fury, but its greatest characteristic is a nobility, as well as an impulsiveness that says I could care less. So that dialectic nature of Beijing is very prominent. The conflicts between new and old, the city’s dialectic side and its changes, naturally have you feeling a sense of crisis and bring a melancholy, tense feeling to the band.”
Like cities, indie labels play an important role in curating scenes and aesthetics, like Sub Pop did with Seattle grunge and 4AD with post-punk in London. “Labels should take their own aesthetic seriously. If a band is popular but doesn’t fit my aesthetic, I probably wouldn’t sign them,” ZO says. He illustrates this point by comparing two models, one belonging to the Beijing-based Modern Sky (Hedgehog’s former label with a global footprint) and other to Maybe Mars and Ruby Eyes (both labels under Taihe Music Group): “Modern Sky is always engaged in the Modern Sky brand. Maybe Mars and Ruby Eyes are more about serving bands and focusing on the music and on expanding the culture,” he says.
The scene has changed since the rowdy days of No Beijing’s peak. So has Hedgehog, whose members are now approaching middle age. But ZO says that indie’s energy does not hinge on youth, citing the Beijing legacy band New Pants’ metamorphosis from slacker punk to arena-style dance rock. “I think the way they rock only changed in form, but they haven’t changed themselves at all,” ZO says. Atom gets more into the nuts and bolts of their maturing sound: “We used to be more about rocking a single way, like I’d scream-sing and that’s it,” Atom says. “But now it’s more about doing some introspection and retrospection first, and then hit. Before, the song structure might have been verse-chorus, verse-chorus and end with a bang, but now it might start out more reserved or relaxed. This way the ending stands out even more and rocks harder.”
Their contemplative approach hits home on concept album Crow Valley - It's All Connected, a dark fantasy that explores social ills, the internet and our looming future. On the brooding track “The Deadly Echoes of the Winds from the Basement Dungeon of Crow Valley”, ZO addresses child abuse by channeling the personal trauma of a kidnapping and alluding to two murders by the notorious Belgian child predator Marc Dutroux. “Because many people who listen to our music have kids, perhaps by expressing this in song, combined with the influence Hedgehog has, talking about it still has certain social significance,” ZO says.
The band uses “Crow Valley” as a metaphor for the darker corners of online life. “This environment makes you feel insecure,” bassist He Yifan says. “It seems prosperous on the surface, but in fact there are many things you can’t predict. You can’t control the potential terror. But he says even the cesspools of the internet have their use. “If you can use it in a different way, manure is actually fertiliser... and it can nourish.” On “Still Alive·Enjoy This Moment”, ZO stays on theme, telling us to “enjoy this sh*t.” “No matter what you come to realise, in the end you should see things in a positive light, or take the attitude that things will get better so don’t give up,” ZO says.
Instead of becoming repetitive while chasing their youthful magic, Hedgehog thrives on change. “When your music stops evolving, your expression stagnates,” He says. “Music moves forward, the band moves forward, the environment is changing, our own lives are changing so thinking naturally changes.” While He acknowledges Hedgehog was built on a love for Nirvana and the three-chord progressions of old school punk, “We can’t keep repeating that kind of thing. You have to have the basics but you need to also do your own exploration and digging,” he says. “You also have three people growing together and collaborating. Add all these things together and you get innovation.”
To this point, ZO cites math-jazz-noise rockers black midi, represented on Hedgehog’s playlist by “Near DT, MI”. “For example, at the end of [our track] ‘A Straight Man In A Crooked Game’, we actually wanted to create that mechanical and chaotic sense of conflict black midi has, including that twisted strumming feel and those sudden modulations and stuff,” ZO says. “When you listen to bands with unique character, their influence on you is immediate.”Below, Hedgehog walk through their picks, track by track.
“Bad Seeds” by Beat Happening
“This is quintessential lo-fi. It’s all about the idea.”
“We Are Rockstars” by Does It Offend You, Yeah?
“Electro-industrial rock for the new century. It’s all about what you sound like.”
“Holiday Innn” by Stereo Total
“Let's go!” ZO says, quoting the song.
“The Beat” by ESG
“Girls’ power beats!”
“Reverberation (Doubt)” by 13th Floor Elevators
“A must-listen of late-60s alt-psychedelic rock. An eternally classic band.
“Mushroom” by Can
“I was born and I was dead,” ZO says, quoting the song.
“Aerodynamic” by Daft Punk
“I think Daft Punk is an alt-electro rock band. Different from most unfeeling electronic music, their timbres and melody make you feel the humanity in electronic music.”
“You Wanted a Hit” by LCD Soundsystem
“‘You wanted a hit?’ This is it.”
“Near DT, MI” by black midi
“Some people say that it’s hard to innovate on power trio rock in the 21st century. black midi says that’s nonsense—just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean we can’t.”
“Jennifer” by Faust
“Simple, beautiful, clever and unexpectedly whimsical. It’s all about, you can do it too, if you want to.”
“Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip” by Nirvana
“The hidden track on Nirvana’s In Utero is a Grunge masterpiece.”
“Oh Yeah” by Can
“They’re the kings of krautrock. The classic track from Can’s classic album [Tago Mago].”
He Yifan’s picks:
“One Inch Punch” by Yin Yin
“The supreme good is like water,” He says, quoting the Tao Te Ching.
“Prester John” by Animal Collective
“A journey into the void.”
“My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark” by Sons Of Kemet
“The whole album [Your Queen Is A Reptile] is a tribute to every queen who has graced a creator’s life.”
“Water in Your Hands” by Tommy Guerrero
“Every sound is meticulous.”
“Nuclear Fusion” by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
“Unrestrained, tense, rocking.”
“Shut the Door” by Fugazi
“The band that influenced a bunch of bands.”
“Modul 27” by Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
“Superb, concise, ingenious.”
“Everyday” by Edward Vanzet
“I liked it five years ago, and I still love it now. It’s like a friend far away chatting with you all night. It’s a very warm feeling.”
“Motherless Child” by Romare
“That out-of-tune flute that pops up in the middle is really unexpected.”
“Right Track / Wrong Man” by Yumi Zouma
“It’s that feeling of release you get when you see that seaside sunset while driving and walk into the sun.”
“Playground Hustle” by The Dø
“An interesting and very special song.”