Interview with Jef Vreys of New Noise

New Noise Music is a Sichuan-based promotional agency and independent record label that is doing some great things in that fiery province deep in southwest China. In addition to coordinating Dalian post-rock outfit Wang Wen’s Fall 2012 European Tour—a major step forward in cementing musical bonds between China and the international community—New Noise has brought numerous international recording artists to both China and the surrounding region, including post-rock superpowers pg.lost, Mogwai and MONO.

They’re our partners in the upcoming split 12” between pg.lost and Wang Wen and we’re excited to be working with them. We caught up with founder Jef Vreys to discuss the label’s origin, how to strengthen the bonds between China and Europe, Chengdu’s growing community of vinyl lovers and much more.

Genjing: Tell us about New Noise—who are you and what do you do?

Jef Vreys: I am Jef, a Belgian guy living in Chengdu, China. I started New Noise in 2010 with the idea of bringing bands that I like to China. The first band I brought over was my own, the Maple Room. We played a 13-city tour all over China and Hong Kong, which was a great experience with packed shows. The tour was so great that I started bringing in more bands.

New Noise basically organizes shows all over China and sometimes other parts of Asia. We do anything from booking shows to promotion to tour management. We’re based in Sichuan where we want to help to create a music scene by doing local shows and supporting local bands.

Genjing: “New Noise”—we sense a connection to Sweden in there somewhere…

Jef: A lot of people seem to think that I am Swedish, which I am not. A lot of people know us because of the tours we’ve done for Swedish bands like pg.lost, EF and Immanu El, all of which were very successful in China. The scene is pretty small in Sweden and everybody seems to know each other. After pg.lost came out to China in Sept 2010, word spread quickly. All these Swedish bands with whom we have worked are very good and nice people. We will definitely do more Swedish bands in the future and hope to bring [Swedish metal outfit] Cult of Luna to Asia at some point.

The name New Noise comes from a song from my favorite band of all time, Refused. This Swedish band changed a lot for me and I hope the name fits in what we are trying to do in China—bringing the new noise.

Genjing: What has been your most memorable tour incident in China so far?

Jef: I toured with a band from Finland called Knucklebone Oscar. One of the guys from their crew fell three meters down a cliff when we were simply standing still on the Tianjin-Beijing highway. He fainted, broke both of his legs and I had to go with him to the nearest hospital somewhere in the far suburbs of Beijing. I ended up spending 15 hours in the hospital with him and was awake for almost two days in the beginning of the tour.

We put him on the plane and continued touring.

The weirdest moment was probably on tour with [Swedish post-rock outfit] Immanu El. We had to wait in a queue for our train from Chengdu to Chongqing. We were carrying a lot of gear with us, so it was quite a hassle taking trains. I told one of the employees that I was travelling with [then mega-popular Irish boy band] Westlife. She got us on the train first—we crossed everybody that was in line. After we were on the train, word spread very quickly and there were tons of people who wanted to have a picture with “Westlife.”

Genjing: Ha! How did the pg.lost and Wang Wen connection come together?

Jef: I was trying to get the first pg.lost tour in Asia together and people told me that I should get in touch with Wang Wen because they were the biggest post-rock band in China. I got the contact info of Xie Yugang, the band’s guitar player and co-founder, and called to see if it was possible to do a show together in their hometown, Dalian. They really helped us out and we had a great show. The next day, we had a day off and they took us out—we ended up in Xie’s apartment talking about music for hours and hours…

The second time pg.lost went back to Dalian, we were treated like family. We again had a very good show and a day off and went to Xie’s bookstore/café/vinyl bar, Echo, a really cool place where we started drinking and listening to vinyl. Everyone got along very well and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Genjing: Wang Wen are all good guys. New Noise actually just brought them over to Europe where the band supported MONO and played a show with pg.lost. Tell us about that experience.

Jef: Those guys did the same thing as Wang Wen did in Dalian: they treated us like kings, drove us around, paid for everything and made us feel at home. One of the most beautiful things in doing this job is the friendship that you can create and having brothers all over the world.

We played three shows with MONO, one show with pg.lost and two additional shows in Belgium. More and more Chinese bands are going abroad and are playing shows in Europe, America and Australia and I think that the best way for them is to play support shows for a bigger band. The competition for bands in Europe is much bigger: every small city has their own bands and clubs aren’t really willing to book bands that nobody has ever heard of. I am very sure that we did the right thing in organizing support shows and adding some extra dates.

The shows we had with MONO were huge—a lot of people turned up and the show we did with pg.lost was in a beautiful theatre with a lot of people. I think this tour really achieved its goals with lots of people at the shows, good clubs and great times.

Genjing: How did the crowd and press react?

Jef: I think Wang Wen played a very good show in Stockholm and Gothenburg. They really killed it! I didn’t know how a European crowd would react to Wang Wen’s music, but it was much above my own expectations—they sold all of their CDs and vinyl after four shows and the crowd feedback was very good. I hope this tour really can open doors for them in Europe.

Genjing: What do you think Chinese bands can learn from cooperation with their Western counterparts by touring abroad?

Jef: I think that Chinese bands must take themselves much more seriously and work in a more professional way. A lot of bands seem to forget that playing in a band is not only about making music—if you really want to get somewhere, you should have a good plan. You need to play more shows and need to go out. I think Wang Wen learned a lot this time in Europe by playing with MONO and pg.lost: [Wang Wen] had released seven records, but they never brought those records out when they played shows. They saw that MONO had their whole catalogue of CDs for sale at the shows, which was something that made them realize that they could do much more.

I always see a band as a package: it’s not only about music, but also about putting up good shows and showing who you are through your music! I really hope that Chinese bands will take everything more seriously and can start to compete with bands abroad.

Genjing: This tour was done, in part, to support the new self-titled split 12” between Wang Wen and pg.lost. Why release on vinyl?

Jef: Wang Wen, pg.lost and myself are all people that prefer to listen to vinyl instead of normal CDs. For me, vinyl has more soul—I think the artwork becomes more important when you release on vinyl: it has a more personal feeling and I consider all my vinyl as pieces of art. It is also great to release vinyl in China because it’s something new here. Right now, New Noise is selling vinyl for most of the bands that we bring over. People seem to pick it up and we hope that more people will get interested in vinyl after seeing the Wang Wen/pg.lost release.

Genjing: That’s awesome that people are picking up the vinyl! Where and how do you sell it?

Jef: During the last tour that I did with [Dutch Acoustic pop band] the Black Atlantic, I took vinyl from Immanu El, EF and pg.lost and it sold in almost every city. I really think that people in this country have started to appreciate the art in vinyl even if they don’t have a player at home. We also have a Taobao shop where we will sell the pg.lost/Wang Wen split and MONO release.

Genjing: Sounds great. What’s the state of the DIY scene in Chengdu?

Jef: There is a very nice scene in Chengdu right now with a lot of bands. The only problem is the lack of venues, with the only really decent place to put up shows being the Little Bar. It would be great if Chengdu could have more venues organize concerts. Bands don’t have that many opportunities to play—the scene is still small, basically one big family. On Sat, Dec 15, I will help put on a show with 14 bands for a 10RMB ticket called Made in Chengdu (成都制造).

It’s the first time in Chengdu that everybody is working together in the attempt to create a new platform for bands and to think back to the old days when bands came to Chengdu and got all the money at the door.

We really hope to help grow vinyl culture in the future by opening a vinyl coffee shop! We hope it can change something in the city.

Genjing: Vinyl coffee shop—sounds challenging!

Jef: It is challenging, of course, but we just want to create a nice atmosphere where you can drink a cup of coffee and listen to some vinyl during the day or enjoy some whiskey with some tunes at night. We’d like to have a small selection of vinyl for sale or even just to look at. If you ever go to Dalian, you really should pay a visit to Echo, which actually does the same.

Genjing: We have! It’s a great place. What are some promising Chengdu bands that we should keep an eye on?

Jef: There are two bands from the newest generation that I think that are absolutely worth checking out: Stolen and Hi Person. These kids are from the 1990s and really put much effort in their songs. I think music-wise, they are sound really fresh and can put up great shows. I only think that they lack experience in promoting themselves and going outside Chengdu—that’s where we want to help them. So make sure to check them out if they ever play outside Chengdu.

Genjing: We’ll keep an eye out. What’s next for New Noise?

Jef: We hope that this year, New Noise can continue doing what we do. We still want to do tours all over China with quality bands, but we also want to do more big shows. I think one of the best things we’ve done this year was bringing MONO out to places like Wuhan, Chengdu and Guangzhou. It was the first time that a bigger international act played club shows in these cities and they turned out to be very good. Cities other than Beijing and Shanghai really have the need to see quality bands and we hope to continue our work!

We also hope to help some Chinese bands that we believe in. This split vinyl is a cooperation of friendship—people that really like each other and believe in something. It’s just one of the projects that I’m proud to be a part of!

New Noise will launch a new website in early-2013. For now, stay dialed in via Douban. The self-titled pg.lost/Wang Wen split 12” will be released on Mon, Dec 31.