July 23, 2007

Laptop Rock Doesn't

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New subgenres of music come and go. They appear with the pretense and hype of a revolution, or at least of a meaningful innovation. Many though, putter out with little notice. Laptop rock, a genre that’s not unpopular here in Beijing, may not be around forever, but it suggests a new direction for live music. Basically, a musician constructs mathematical and uncomplicated beats for herself via electronic music studio software, then walks on stage and plugs in her laptop. The beats play and the performer sings. It’s that simple.

And it is simple.

At Yu Gong Yi Shan, Beijing’s liveliest live music venue, two such laptop artists climbed on stage with their portable bands and let fly. Ms. Le Bomb, a diminutive blonde with a Macbook, performed first. Her lyrics were honest, stream-of-consciousness snippets that might have been scribbled down angrily on a Starbucks napkin. “I hate this boy, I hope he likes me,” was a refrain. It was mildly annoying, but it forced me to register her attempts at anti-songwriting. She sang one sentence of Joyce over and over, and set it to a pre-programmed Casio beat.

I don’t remember the second guy’s name. He one-upped Ms. Le Bomb, though, in that he played the guitar poorly while she played nothing at all. As for the future of digi-minialism and laptop rock, it’s hard to say. The format allows for great independence, and calls for great courage, but also permits disappointing acts like these.