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Ma Li and the Kunming underground

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Wheatfield Bookstore (麦田书坊), located in the university area of Kunming, is a book and music store focused on underground culture. Wheatfields sells books, magazines, music albums and DVDs in Chinese and some English. Named after J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye — the Chinese translation of the title is 《麦田守望者》, literally "the watcher in the wheatfield" — the store feels like a search for peace amongst the hustle-and-bustle of life.

81Strange Day#http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/47/#. He previously edited defunct local rock mag We and runs a studio in Kunming called Plateau Reaction (高原反应), which has released Strange Day's EPs, Outside the Sound (声音之外) and A Simple System (简体). Ma sat down recently for a chat with GoKunming's Xiao Lu.

GoKunming: How long have you been running this store? How do you define the style of your store?
Ma Li: Five years. I think this store's style is non-mainstream, with a focus on literature, music and art.

GK: What customers do you usually have?
Ma: The customers here are mainly thirty to forty year old people interested in art.

GK: I notice that there are books in English in the store, so are there any foreign customers coming to the store?
Ma: Yes, there are some foreign customers here. Some of them can also read Chinese.

GK: When did you form your band Strange Day?
Ma: It was in 2000. Before then it was called "Ma Li & the Band"

GK: How do you define the style of your band?
Ma: Experimental, post-rock and ambient.

GK: What is your ideal music?
Ma: A combination between Chinese and Western music, like that of Dou Wei.

GK: Cool. There are a lot of Zen (as in Chinese "Chan") and Taoist thoughts in Dou Wei's music. Are you also interested in those ideas?
Ma: Yes, our music has elements of Zen and other ancient Chinese ideas. I am reading books about them now.

GK: Mm, after the sound and the fury, sometimes one needs to calm down, like your current lullaby lo-fi music, which feels like kind of a psychedelic trip.
Ma: Indeed.

GK: Do you have any plans for your band?
Ma: We plan to release an album.

GK: By yourselves?
Ma: Yes, the cost will be on us. In doing this, we try to keep our works authentic.

GK: What do you think are the ideal conditions for creating music?
Ma: Interesting ideas + sufficient practice & skills + interaction among the members of the band.

GK: Have you thought about going to Beijing, where apparently the vibe is livelier?
Ma: Though Beijing does have a better atmosphere for music making, I still think the key point is your ideas. If you have interesting ideas, wherever would be fine.

GK: Do you think there is any difficulty in making music these days?
Ma: Today's lifestyle is fast, but music making takes time.

GK: As the former editor of a local rock magazine and the present owner of this book plus CD store, what do you think of the local music scene in Kunming?
Ma: Through these years, I have not found any big changes. Quite a few local bands are still doing heavy metal or death metal. There is not much communication among the musicians. Some musicians' ideas are rather dated or tend to be too simple, and this leads to their music being formalist and lacking intellectual depth. In fact, Kunming's cosy climate and the slow life-style make it a city more suitable for ambient and post-rock. Yet the reality is that not many people are doing it.

Wheatfield Bookstore is located downhill from the intersection of Wenlin Jie and Wenhua Xiang on Qianju Jie. Ma Li and Strange Day will be playing the Halfway House this Saturday evening - we'll have more on that soon.

Wheatfield Bookstore
No. 61, Qian Ju Street
Phone: 6533912 or 13888193089
Opening Hours: 2-9 pm

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Just thought I'd mention that the name of the studio, 高原反应, might be better translated as "Altitude Sickness" although the other translation is indeed correct.

Yes 高原反应 in its original sense means a collection of symptoms caused by decreased oxygen in the atmosphere, usually at high altitudes. Thus it is usually translated as "altitude sickness." But here the name used for the studio specifically refers to the local musicians' reaction to life, rather than certain physical symptoms.

If Plateau Reaction is the translation they chose, their meaning comes through clearly -- here on the plateau, a reaction to life, society, etc, or whatever. At the same time, though, I thought it would be interesting for non-speakers of Chinese to catch the double meaning. Really, a very well chosen name in Chinese, but it doesn't come through with only one translation :)

Mm interesting, and sure one word can often be translated in several ways, especially when it comes to puns. Sometimes it is tricky to find an equivalent of a pun to keep the double meaning. With this case "altitude sickness" refers more to the literal meaning and "plateau reaction" tends to show the figurative meaning. Thanks for the suggestion:) I'll tell them to consider it.

I found the Book/music store to have a nice calming atmosphere and was further impressed at the wide variety of music they carried. I'm a huge fan of Underground/Indi lable music and I found this article to be very informative. Xiao Lu asked interesting and insightful questions, drawing out great responces from Ma Li. Nice Work

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