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June/July 2016

by Jack Woodbury

Ex-Pat Files: Kristen Ng

by Jack Woodbury

Ex-Pat Files: Kristen Ng

When Kiwi underground band crusader Blink toured the Shocking Pinks through China, Europe and the States in 2015, he was filmed in a Beijing rooftop interviewed by fellow Wellingtonian Kristen Ng. The video interview was for her own Kiwese.co.nz music, art and culture website. Maybe more a blog, it covers travel, food, arts, photos and most importantly music – all from Kristin’s own curious perspective. In May she posted ‘Te China Rocumentary’ a fast-paced, fun and two-way sub-titled four- part series covering the Orchestra of Spheres’ China tour that happened last October. She booked, promoted and tour managed OOS, and Lady Lazer Light, on their nine-date tour of the big country, video documenting the madness along the way. Jack Woodbury talked with this new Kiwi ambassadress of underground music in Chengdu, western China.

Kristen Ng is munching on a Whittakers bar as she recounts her story. Since starting the Kiwese blog in December 2013, she’s been in constant search of “cool shit”.

While declining to define exactly what this actually entails, experiencing a Skype interview with her seems definition enough. Kiwese, a combination of the words Kiwi and Chinese, is just that – a New Zealander, living in China, blogging about the atypical life she leads, experiencing the experimental side of both cultures. A Whittakers bar being enthusiastically devoured in the middle of a Chinese city suddenly seems almost poetic.

“Its about bringing over interesting New Zealand musicians and creatives to China and showing people here that, hey, NZ is more than just milk and Lord of the Rings.”

The philosophy translates both ways.

“I think that people in NZ often think that China is just a source of international students or cheap products or Communism. But when you actually come here and see for yourself what it’s like… I’m just trying to break stereotypes.”

All over her Kiwese website, the slogan “He Tangata, baby” seems to appear. Translating to “the people, baby”, it’s representative of what Ng aims to achieve, a multi-cultural showcase of the people from both nations.

“So basically what I’m trying to do with Kiwese is turn it into a cross-country touring platform for NZ acts to be able to come to China and tour in an independent and fun way.”

While Chinese bands coming to NZ is still a pipe dream, her achievements so far are no small feat…

“The Orchestra of Spheres tour happened last October, and it was a whirlwind of awesome. I bumped into Daniel Beban (the frontman) down at Raglan Roast one day when I was back in Wellington. He mentioned that the Spheres would be really keen to tour China at some point. At the time I hadn’t even come to Chengdu yet, but I was still really keen on this idea and finding ways to make it happen.

“A year later, I emailed Dan and was like, ‘Yo, how about you play at this festival that my flatmate’s running here in Chengdu.’ One thing led to another and we just managed to book a whole tour. Nine dates, eight cities, over about two weeks… and they brought the whole gang,’ she continues smiling.

It evidently proved a success. Alongside documenting the tour on Kiwese, Ng shares stories and photos of music, travel, arts and food in Chengdu. The city itself, with a far larger population than her hometown of Wellington, houses a strong underground arts culture. Involved heavily in two specific venues, Ng has truly immersed herself.

“First and foremost there’s Nu Space. I’m the booking manager and promoter. It’s just opened, as the title may suggest, it’s a new space… in an old part of Chengdu. There’s a lot of trees and birds and local people floating about… it’s primarily live acts, but in the future, some DJs have interest in doing live sets.”

Besides her work for Nu Space, Ng has found a home in Zaoshanghao – the Morning Bar.

kristen ng kiwese LUO YOUSHENG SHOOT

“It’s one of the staple underground venues here in Chengdu. They’ve had two of their previous bars demolished to make way for new development, so now they’ve come out to a really beautiful space in the south of the city… I always hang out there and I’m always on the dancefloor. I guess that’s part of my role.”

The extent of her involvement in Chengdu’s music scene doesn’t end there. Having recently joined the experimental electronic collective Atmen, Ng has become both observer and participator. Atmen holds two themed festivals per year, the recent Atmen-aus showcasing a natural theme.

“It was awesome, but it was a total washout. I’ve never seen rain like that before in Chengdu. It went from about 11pm, right the way through till about Sunday. It never ended. It just rained the whole time. Because it was an outdoor festival and we had it on this big-ass lawn, which was really beautiful… it turned into quite the mudfest.

“There were still people raving right to the bitter end when the cops came, but it was just a shame about the weather, ‘cause people who were planning to come for the city looked outside and went, flag! The people that came and stayed and raved on through the rain and the mud, they will never forget it. We will never forget it.”

We might instinctively imagine Chinese cities as being restrictive, Ng laughs as she describes how lenient underground Chengdu can be compared to her expereiences here.

“You wouldn’t get away with this in NZ. ‘What about health and safety?’ Um, there is none.”

And she’s not joking.

“A five metre steel structure holding up this balloon installation that our friends had done just in front of the main stage. It had rained so much, and there was so much tension on the ropes holding this balloon thing in the middle… it just, like, shattered and collapsed. Thankfully no one was there ‘cause it was raining,” she goes on.

The Atmen collective seem to share her own determination and optimism.

“It’s a good start. Next year we’re gonna be able to prepare for things like weather and water-proofing. The next one won’t be outdoors, we’re thinking more like chemical, science lab, industrial-themed. Which means there won’t be rain and mud!”

kristen ng expat kiwese interview

She has an evident fun streak but still, life is not without struggles, in spite of her Chinese heritage and being a former language student.

“Language challenges were certainly a big hurdle. When you’re learning a language it’s never like, ‘Oh I’ve jumped the barrier now, I’m over, I know this language now. Tick, complete!’ My background is Mandarin. Here in Chengdu, people don’t speak Mandarin unless they have to, they all speak Sichuan.”

“Coming here and being immersed in that dialect was, at first, quite difficult, because I didn’t know what was going on. But now it’s getting a lot better.For me it’s a constant learning curve. I imagine it going on for years. People study Chinese for a really long time and I can imagine myself staying here for another few years, just until I feel like I’ve got it nailed down.”

Kristen is actively looking to expand Kiwese’s touring abilities.

“There’s a couple of projects for the future… like The All-Seeing Hand. They’re keen to come over and do something similar to the Spheres, and I would help them do that with Kiwese. Die! Die! Die! are gonna do another tour. I’m helping book the western leg.

“There’s a few NZ bands turning their heads this way now,” she concludes.

The Whittakers bar is out of view by this point, probably finished. Kiwese is not, however. Instead, it appears that with each achievement it grows into a larger beast, aiming further than before, in its quest to prove that China-NZ relations can be more than a discussion about Fonterra. It seems likely that in future years Kiwese will have an important hand in joining our underground cultures together.