Mondays usually suck, but this particular Monday, I’m excitedly meeting Shanghai’s psychedelic darlings Dream Can where they’re staying at their tour manager’s house. Inside, bass guitarist Can Can and drummer Qi Yu are buzzing around the open living space, nimbly darting in and out of rooms and doing their makeup (“we’re putting on our faces” yells Qi Yu gleefully from across the room).
Despite a busy tour schedule playing shows in Adelaide and Melbourne, the band are brimming with a bustling momentum, chirping and chatting to each other between bursts of howling laughs. Their palpable energy has seen Dream Can quickly become an unstoppable force on Chinese indie label, Maybe Mars’ roster. Quickly recording their debut album in just under two weeks, the psychedelic group released Into Sparks in June this year. Since then, the trio have been unleashing their dream-like brand of psychedelic chaos and delirium across music festivals across China, Japan and now Australia.
With the record still only fresh off the press, Dream Can are already overflowing with more songs to cut and ambitions to experiment with bigger sounds. Playing together since 2014, their latest output is only the tip in the iceberg of the young band’s creative potential. “We have recorded lots of songs in the recording for the first album, but we only selected 8 songs. The others will be on the next album,” explains Can Can. While Into Sparks was recorded with live instruments, their next venture, excitedly says Qi Yu, is going to introduce many more electronic elements to their noisy surrealist aesthetics. “We three can make more noise! Next year we will do that, it’s our plan,” she elaborates.
Sitting around a kitchen table, we chat loudly over plastic containers of Chinese takeaway and a mixture of broken English. Drummer Qi Yu talks the way she plays, charmingly boisterous and never skipping a beat, her words barely managing to keep up with her lightning-quick wit. Quietly spotting a bottle of bubbly that’s sitting nearby at the table, she suddenly sings “We are the champagne!” to the tune of Queen. Her impromptu pun breaks our English/Chinese language barrier and sends us all into a cackling fit of giggles.
Qi Yu met Dream Can’s singer and guitarist A Re in 2011 at their university town of Songjiang. They instantly bonded over a love of loud music, and originally Qi Yu started playing guitar. After losing patience with the instrument, she sold her guitar to A Re, and spent the money on learning drums instead. “It’s A Re’s first guitar,” says Qi Yu proudly. When they both meet Can Can in 2014, they immediately enlist her into the band, even though she had never played bass before. “They told her to play in the band, so she went and bought a bass guitar from Taobao,” laughs Dream Can’s band manager Lolly Fan, as she helps piece together Qi Yu and Can Can’s bilingual banter. Qi Yu adds, chuckling, “At this time, we are all very poor because we are students, we haven’t got any money. But Can Can buys an expensive bass guitar!”
It’s hard to imagine that Dream Can began with members unfamiliar with their instruments. The Shanghai band’s music is wonderfully chaotic, constantly breaking in and out of rhythm, warping and bending the speed of time and performed with a dizzying array of moods and colours, all the while encapsulating an elemental rawness that’s borne of their insularity from heavy music. The three-some quote experimental influences like Can and Acid Mothers Temple, but all grew up on a staple of classical music and are well-versed in traditional Chinese instruments. “We all played other instruments when we were little girls. I played piano, A Re played pipa,” describes Qi Yu as she waves her hands around, demonstrating what the Chinese lute-like pipa looks like. Can Can adds, “and I play the guzheng,” as she too throws her hands up to air-play its harp-like plucking motion.
When asked how they gravitated towards such a disparate sound as psychedelic rock from their traditional musical upbringing, their answer is unanimous and simple: “The Internet, it gives us a new world.”
How is your Australia tour going so far?
QY: We are very comfortable, the music and people are very good taste. The audience is very good, they very much like us. I like it that they like us.
What have you enjoyed most about playing in Melbourne and Adelaide?
QY: The audience! They all like to talk to us, they say “I love you! I love your music!”. It’s different in China. In China people watch and then leave, but in Australia people get excited, and they buy our CDs and T-shirts.
What is the biggest difference between playing shows in Adelaide and Melbourne compared to Shanghai?
CC: In Shanghai, no-one likes us. They think we are very noisy, or very creepy. But in Australia, they like us.
QY: Beijing and Shanghai foreigners like gigs, but Chinese people don’t like us.
CC: Recently in Shanghai there’s lots of new bands and they also like to playing with us, but they connect and communicate very little. We will talk but few about the music.
Are there a lot of opportunities to play shows in Shanghai?
LF (Manager): I think there is a lot of difference between China and other countries. There are always people who ask them to play. In China, if we want to play, we can always play quite easily.
QY: In Australia, there are so little people, the population is small so the nightlife is very different. Other country’s nightlife is sleepy and we are go to play play play.
How do you guys have so much energy?
LF: They are always like this!
CC: (laughs) Life should be happy.
Dream Can is the English name of your band, and there’s also a separate Chinese name, “Gu Shui Che Jian”. Is there a translation of it to English?
CC: The Chinese name ‘Gu Shui’, it’s a place name. It’s our university town where we’re located. And the ‘Che Jian’, it means ‘the factory’. So it’s like, a ‘music factory’ and ‘can’ produced the ‘music can’.
QY: It’s not a translation, it’s a sentence: “Gu Shui Che Jian makes Dream Can”. “Gu Shui Che Jian” is our Chinese name, and “Dream Can” is our English name, but actually it’s a long long sentence. It’s too long and people don’t like long names, so we cut it into two Chinese and English names.
What’s next for Dream Can?
CC: We have lots of songs, and want to make lots of albums.
QY: Next year we will know. Let it be! Time will help us. We don’t like to choose by ourselves, we like destiny to help us.