China's best albums 2016

Shanghai music people select their favourite records of the year

Few people it seems will remember 2016 with a huge amount of fondness, with the number of music greats we lost in the past 12 months making it particularly galling. Yet there were reasons for celebration too, and with Listmas upon us, Time Out asked a few of our friends involved with music in Shanghai to select their favourite China records of the year.

Cavia, DJ and Le Baron resident
'My favourite album of 2016 is Duck Fight Goose's CLVB ZVKVNFT. It's a bold move to use Ableton to do most of the work and to experiment more on the sound and structure ("Indifferent", "ATM in da Space" and "A.N.T.Z"). Compared to SPORTS it sounds more dexterous, abstract and futuristic, like a Krautrock band from the year 3000.

'From the first math rock EP, to the gigantic SPORTS, till CLVB ZVKVNFT, DFG have proved they are one the greatest bands in China rock history.'

ChaCha, singer and producer
'An album I really liked this year is Chengdu rapper Kafe.Hu's 27: The Code of Lucifer. Kafe personally produced it and from the content of the music to the recording to the cover art to the music videos was very hands-on, which allows you to see a really complete vision. The content is rich and unconventional and it was a completely independent release. You have to say that Kafe's progress and development over the past two years is clear.

'I especially like the booklet that came with the record and the eloquent articles contained within it, which record this uninhibited and sensitive artist's deep thoughts and inner monologue about the secrets of Lucifer and all kinds of little clues, written fluently and with dark humour and self-deprecation. There's also a romanticism to it.'

Jeremy Guo, Split Worker and Wooozy man
'My pick is Yourboyfriendsucks' Episode 1. I tried to book this Guangzhou-based band for a JUE show at Yuyintang back to 2012. Unfortunately, one band member got really sick so they had to cancel that Shanghai trip one week before the show. I finally saw their show in Shanghai this May, which was the release party of their first EP Episode 1. It might be also the last Shanghai show and last release for them, since they broke up two months after the Shanghai show.

'Back to the music, the whole album reminds me of the early days I started to listen to indie music, which were full of freedom, young spirit and joy. Thinking of what the band members have done for the Guangzhou music scene, as the key power of Full Label and Qiii Snacks Records, it becomes more lovely and admirable when you listen to this EP.'

Merrick, Dream Can singer/guitarist
'There really were a lot of excellent new, independent releases from China-based bands in 2016, and choosing one as the best is really tough, but after a bit of consideration I'm going for Woguidehuoche's Aftermath. The first time I saw Wogui live was at Strawberry Festival in 2013 and I was impressed by their sincerity and youthful vigour - plus it's rare to find a young band writing in Chinese in the way that they do.

'Aftermath is the realisation of a more graceful, complete vision over the past two years, and you can hear their sincerity and their effort - every detail really touches you. Their producer Li Ping is also someone who I greatly admire for the professionalism, honesty and rigorous attitude brought to the project and the extraction of Wogui's core sound and excellence and realising their growth and development through this outstanding record.'

MHP, producer and VOID lynchpin
'I'm choosing No Party for Cao Dong's The Serville. Although everyone's been raving about this album for months now, I really have spent the past two weeks listening to it every day. There was a load of great independent releases this year, and the last few years has really seen independent music in China develop and the level of production get higher and higher, which is a good thing.

'This is a record that didn't try and take an international path and is a back-to-basics rock album, the hormones and the lyrics really move the listener, it's a really genuine album. It's fantastic.'

'There were a lot of records that are worthy of recommending from 2016, but if I have to pick my favourite it has to be British-born Shanghai-based producer Swimful's January release on SVBKVLT PM2.5. The reason I'm choosing this record is not just because it's the first grime album to come out of China; the thing that really struck me about it is his use of traditional Chinese sounds. The feeling I got regarding the Chinese elements in this record is completely different to that that I get when I usually hear these instruments and sounds.

'The most popular track is probably "Shanghai (Qingpu Remake)" - even before it was released it was being played by the likes of Slackk and Murlo on Rinse FM and NTS, and after it was released it was a feature set lists in all sorts of clubs. In May, Swimful released a remix album of PM2.5 with loads of great producers featuring on it; it's a brilliant, significant and thoroughly recommendable record.'

Voision Xi, singer and JZ Club marketing maven
'It’s been such a year that we met a lot of unexpected points, changes and struggles on the live music scene. But we did get a really good harvest from local musicians’ originals in different styles. My favourite was released at the beginning of 2016, jazz guitarist Xiongguan Zhang’s debut album New Sound From The Past. Zhang is an exciting new talent in Chinese jazz. His album featured eight originals which traverse a range of jazz sub-genres but was given cohesion by Zhang’s intricate guitar work. I’ve listened to the album for the whole year, and I'm touched many times by the melodies and expression of a few tracks like 'Revelation', 'G#', 'Winter Winter Winter Winter', 'Home'…

'You can hear the future of Chinese jazz from Zhang with no quotes here. "History is recurring and you have to learn the older stuff first," Zhang always says, "but you also have to find your own sound eventually."'

Read more about Zhang Xiongguan and New Sound From the Past here.

Wang Yan, MAO Livehouse PR Manager
'Two years after 1701, Li Zhi released Through Every Sad Street on Wangyi Music for 20RMB. In just a few days, it sold 50,000 copies and went platinum. His fans may have been hoping for more beautiful melodies like "Castle in the Sky" [watch below] and "Together With You", but this is certainly not the kind of album to go light on their ears. At first listen, it's a realist portrayal of life as a middle-aged man; if you want to get the most out of that 20 kuai and listen to it lots more times, it still sounds that way. There's no fancy decoration to the songs, just simple truths. This 30-something me, I give the album five stars.'

Zhang Xiongguan, jazz musician
'The latest Shanghai Restoration Project album, Life Elsewhere, follows its electronic roots but also adventures with more jazz-oriented arrangements of Chinese folk songs. Stay tuned for their 2017 spring tour in China!'

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By: Jake Newby