Re-TROS, or Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, are bidding to be the first Chinese band to go global. Formed in Nanjing in 2004 and now based in Beijing, the trio are heroes of the Chinese underground rock scene. They are influenced by Joy Division, Bauhaus, Battles, Fugazi, Liars, TV On The Radio and Brian Eno, who has played on one of their earlier EPs. They signed to China’s biggest indie label Modern Sky and are attempting to break the rest of the world with Before the Applause. Such ambition hasn’t masked their creative urges. Re-TROS do not sound like a band aiming for bland, across-the-board appeal. They don’t sound mainstream at all.
There’s a lot of New Order in the song structures and particularly in the elongated intros. Before the Applause features three songs that go beyond the nine-minute mark. The repetitive rattling drums and staccato riffing echo the goth guitars of Sisters Of Mercy and Ministry. And, if all that isn’t enough, you’ll find the long shadow of Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Erasure, Yazoo, VCMG) all over this record.
The opening instrumental, ‘Hum’, eases the listener in before the record really begins. ‘Hailing Drums’ is nine minutes of existential dread, with a debt to ‘90s big beat and ‘80s goth. If The Chemical Brothers revisited ‘The Sunshine Underground’ in conjunction with The Black Metal Raccoons, it might come out like this. ‘Red Rum Aviv’ barges in with urgency. It blends the blunt rock riffing of The Kills with electro pop flourishes. The refrain of “V.I.V.A.M.U.R.D.E.R.” rings around your head while a John Lydon-esque yelping vocal ratchets up the insanity.
The centrepiece of the album is the dyad of ‘8+2+8 I' and ‘8+2+8 II'. The mantra-like repetition of part I has a hypnotic, almost soporific, effect from which part II rouses you suddenly. A series of heavy rock chord stabs from a synth pattern, reminiscent of Underworld, that spills forth and tumbles recklessly through industrial drums and heavily effected vocals. The return of the mantra from part I adds rhythmic power to the dysphoric tune. ‘Pigs In The River’ is a long lost sibling of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ while ‘At Mosp Here’ is an, aptly named, epic 12-minute banger.
If this is the opening salvo in China’s forthcoming domination of the music market then we should lay down our synths and guitars and accept it. With one eye on the musical past, Re-TROS’ Before the Applause is a great leap forward in popular music.
Before the Applause is available via iTunes.