Thursday, October 11, 2012

Urumqi and The Fence Collective

The start of a great adventure. The third of our four Brit bands, one from each of the home countries, arrived last weekend, played in Beijing, then Xi’an, and I’m joining up with therm in Urumqi of all places. They’re The Fence Collective, a small independent label from Fife, revolving around Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, and now embracing a wide variety of Scottish artists each doing their own niche thing. Kenny has come, plus a 3-piece caslled Found (Ziggy, Tommy & Kevin) and a solo electronic artist, On The Fly (Gavin) who also doubles on drums. There’s four other guys too: Archie & Dostav from Shanghai-based tour promoters Split-Works, and Luis & Yasuke, a film crew.
I am the only westerner on the 4-hour flight to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, the huge and largely empty province (seven times the size of the UK) in the far west of China. The plane flies over Inner Mongolia – a wasteland of mountains and Gobi Desert, beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Urumqi itself is a big (2.5m people), fairly anonymous city, part local Uyghur, part Han Chinese. The latter have arrived relatively recently: first a trickle as the railway reached it from the east, and then a flood as China’s economy opened up. It’s now an important centre for mining and heavy industry. But it’s by no means ‘westernised’. The gleaming tower blocks of the CBD distract from street-level disorder. No Starbucks here…
I meet up with everyone and we head for the venue. It’s called The Lennon Bar and is run by a Han musician and Beatles lover. It’s a great gig, with the guys swapping instruments throughout. The first half is vocal and folky, the second more instrumental, left-field clubby. It’s pretty packed, mostly Han, but we find three British teachers who were hiding at the back. They say it was the most exciting thing that had happened for a year. We’re not sure, but tonight’s concert may have been the first ever by a western band in Urumqi, certainly the first from the UK. A little bit of history?
We end up in a Uyghur restaurant called Fuba which has a vaguely Russian feel (it’s only 500kms away to the north), but serves up pizza & chips, much to the band’s delight. They are a bit fussy on the food-front. Last night they slept in a freezing yurt by a lake to the east of the city. To be honest, I think they’re reeling a bit from the culture shock and travel. So tomorrow should be interesting…
(NB: Trivia fans: Urumqi is the most remote city from any sea in the world: it’s 2,500kms from the nearest coastline).

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