French trip hop troupe and independent record label Chinese Man came to the O2 Academy with their new album Shikantaza. A Japanese translation of a Chinese term, Shikantaza is a Zen Buddhist practice called ‘Silent Illumination’ or ‘nothing but (shikan) precisely (da) sitting (za)’. It describes the process of being completely in the moment, emptying the mind and focusing on pure sensation and the environment. It seems like an apt name for a set that got the crowd sweat soaked and dancing with wild abandon, everyone blissfully forgetting that it was a Thursday night.
Chinese Man’s eclectic sound is hard to pin down, they’re undiscerning, taking their influences from different cultures and musical styles from all over the world – hip hop, funk, dub, reggae and jazz, to name a few.
Chinese Man’s eclectic sound is hard to pin down, they’re undiscerning, taking their influences from different cultures and musical styles from all over the world
The O2 was half full on arrival, but the venue soon filled to the rafters with punters awaiting the main event. Manchester hip hop group The Mouse Outfit Soundsystem were supporting first with members Dubbul O, Ellis Meade and Chini representing the collective. We heard tracks Build in a Day and Who Gwan test?
Mophono appeared next, coming to us all the way from San Francisco. He announced his pleasure at being in Bristol for the first time, the city that produced Cup Of Tea records, one of the labels that originally inspired him to make music. Playing super heavy dub and trip hop bass infused tunes, the dance floor was slowly filling up to his sounds, at one point, the O2’s high end speakers were even struggling to handle the bass.
Then came Baja Frequencia, also hailing from Marseille, the duo played a set of Cumbia, bashment and bassline, lit up by a disco ball that encouraged the flowing dancefloor.
Baja Frequencia (…) played a set of Cumbia, bashment and bassline, lit up by a disco ball that encouraged the flowing dancefloor
Chinese Man started their set at 11pm and by that time the crowd were well and truly into the swing of things. They chose to begin their set with new album’s eponymous song Shikantaza; the three DJs High Ku, Sly and Zé Mateo walked onto the darkened stage with hoodies up like boxers entering the ring. There were three screens showing trees blowing in a storm that went perfectly with Shikantaza’s atmospheric intro before flowing into Chinese singing, guitar and drum infused electronica.
High Ku, Sly and Zé Mateo walked onto the darkened stage with hoodies up like boxers entering the ring
We were taken to India with tune Maläd, with its distinctive bhangra drums paired with visuals of Indian people dancing and train journeys. The DJs were joined by MCs Youthstar and ASM (A State of Mind) members FP and Green T for space-themed tune Escape, the visuals showed an astronaut entering a rocket as we heard the countdown for launch off. Then we heard The New Crown with its swing rhythms intermixed with the MC’s incredible flow.
Anvoyé took us on a journey to Africa, the visuals showing animated panda warriors rioting in a city echoing attendees’ energetic dancing with smiles aplenty. Next came Liar featuring Kendra Morris and Dylan Cooper. The MCs told the crowd, ‘We love you guys, how do you understand us?’ before breaking into a remix of Can I Kick It that seamlessly flowed into the classic Get Up, with its hillbilly guitar and catchy chorus, ‘Get up, get up you lazy lump, get into your working clothes, up to your knees in oil and grease with a grindstone to your nose’.
For a calmer interlude, we heard Wolf with its beautiful piano riffs, violins and sensual French vocals
Warriors came next with its sitar and poignant intro ‘Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage, let this be the last time that a child loses life in war, let this end with us, let us begin this ending, together today, here, right now’. For a calmer interlude, we heard Wolf with its beautiful piano riffs, violins and sensual French vocals.
cider and beer raining down everywhere, the O2’s floor sticky with a thick layer
Then came Blah! With the MC’s returning for some fierce rap flowing effortlessly to a Chinese guitar. Their hit I’ve got that Tune came next, remixed with some drum and bass to make it a bit more lively for the Bristol crowd, cider and beer raining down everywhere, the O2’s floor sticky with a thick layer. Ending on a high with favourite Miss Chang from the 2012 album Remix With The Sun for the encore at 1am, the crowd left on a high. An excellent performance from a collective that have been unstoppable from the start.
Words by Charise Clarke