Blood Wine or Honey

China China
After their live debut at Sónar Hong Kong and the release of the acclaimed 12″ ‘Anxious Party People’ last Spring, it’s been a busy few months for the afro-beaten electro-psych trio Blood Wine or Honey. While planning their US takeover at SXSW in 2018, we asked them a few questions to unveil all the best kept secret spots in the crazy city where they met.

What sort of music were you exposed to when you were growing up?

Shane: The first records I bought were Devo and Kiss, but purely because of the album artwork. After that it was mostly metal and hip hop, intertwined with commercial pop radio that my mom and sister listened to, which was the only thing we were exposed to in that part of the US, pre-internet. It wasn’t until my teens that I segued through grunge into things like electronic and experimental music, afrobeat, dub, post-punk, dance music and everything else that still inspires me today.

James: My early listening was via my parents’ small collection of pop (The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Everly Brothers), larger selection of jazz (Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie), and a sizeable amount of classical (Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Elgar). This moved onto Radio One and local radio listening which steered me towards Chic, The Human League, OMD and Adam and the Ants. I was particularly keen on bands from Sheffield (where I grew up.)

Joseph: I was exposed to all sorts of music as my dad was at one time a bit of a music correspondent and took us everywhere with him. We saw virtuoso Hungarian hurdy-gurdy playing, punk gigs, chamber orchestras, Zimbabwean ‘jit’; one particular Bhundu Boys show left a lasting impression as it was in a leisure centre with a roller disco going on simultaneously upstairs. So there were people in roller skates wandering through—and the band were all in shell suits, British Knights trainers and using keytars. Amazing. First cassette I owned was Tsvimbodzemoto by Bhundu Boys and then had cheap compilation of Benny Goodman’s greatest hits on a C120 which I played over and over until it snapped.

When did you start making your own music and what was it like to begin with?

Shane: I played drums in a few bands in my teens, but never felt any projects were my own until my early 20s. The more I learned how to record and play other instruments and electronics, the more I felt I could make music that felt more personal.

James: I played a lot of classical music – I studied cello – but towards the end of my college years I grew disillusioned with the formal treadmill and started playing and writing in a strange electronic pop trio called Framed. We really were just making it up as we went along using early samplers and cheap midi synths.

Joseph: Very late developer—I was in my late 20s when I first started to play with bands. I’d done a lot of busking but the first time I played on a stage with an actual mic in front of me was so bad that the MC cut us short, said ‘well, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before’ in unfeigned consternation and I didn’t do anything for about a year afterwards.

What equipment do you use in Blood Wine or Honey?

Shane: I try to make the most of whatever is around, really. When I moved to Hong Kong, I still had things in the US and France and didn’t bring very much with me, apart from a few synths, MPC, a bunch of pedals and minimal recording equipment. The drums I have here were given to me, and I’ve been bringing things back and collecting new instruments from around Asia. I’ve slowly built a small studio back up over the last few years.

James: I have a ProTools-based mixing room with a bunch bits and bobs of highend/ lowend gear – Juno 60, Nord Lead, Dark Energy, Gameboy, Lynx Aurora etc. plus an electric cello – but my current favourites for experimenting and immediate fun are the Teenage Engineering OP1 and a plugin called Little Alter Boy.

Joseph: I have my wind instruments of course—cheap saxophone, cheap clarinet, various whistles picked up from around the place—then I use an old Alesis mixing desk with some built-in preset effects to make things sound weirder. That’s it really.

Who’s your biggest local musical influence, past and/or present?

James: Fotan Laiki, Big Spoon.

Joseph: I guess the whole free party scene that I grew into as a teenager, though it was a deeply flawed thing and I often hated the music. Disco dancing deep in the forest is always at the back of my mind though.

Shane: There was a really vibrant music scene in Lincoln, Nebraska where I went to University. I lived in a few communal houses with people who were playing in each other’s bands— that broadened my view of everything.

What are the top things you’d suggest music fans visiting Hong Kong should go and see/do/eat/drink?

James: Eat at Yardbird – the chicken and old school soul and hip hop playlist is great. Sense 99 can be good for random live jams, XXX for interesting non-mainstream dance music, and Mom Livehouse for up-and-coming live bands. Go to Tze Yuet Heen for top quality Dim Sum, and Tsui Wah for HK style post-gig fulfilment. Hike through the jungle and up a mountain.

Joseph: Some Chinese opera in one of the incredible bamboo-and-tin ‘opera houses’ that are erected temporarily during special festivals. Or go to Tsuen Wan park on an evening to see big groups of middle-aged locals doing the Cantonese version of line-dancing. If you can afford it, some jazz and cocktails at the Blue Bar in the Four Seasons can be fun, plus the bar snacks appear to be unlimited so just keep eating the olives and they’ll keep topping up. Eat in a cooked-food market— say North Point or Sheung Wan— or go to Hong Lin in Mong Kok for brusque service, shouty staff and clientele, yeunyueng (coffee and tea mixed together) and condensed-milk toast.

Shane: These guys covered a lot of it already. I’d second yakitori at Yardbird (and Matt’s other amazing Japanese seafood restaurant Ronin), strange late nights at Sense 99, cooked food (and wet) markets and XXX… alongside dim sum (at any number of places), noodles at Sister Wah in-between walks in the mountains and the crazy areas of the city like Sham Shui Po. There are new nature spots to be found daily here. Waterfalls at Tai Mo Shan Country Park are my latest discovery.

How was the experience of performing at Sónar? 

Shane: Sónar was our first public appearance as Blood Wine or Honey. It took a lot of work to translate everything from the studio into a live show, and it gave us a great reason to get things together.

James: Sónar was a great catalyst to begin to forge our live show. We definitely turned some heads.

Joseph: I concur—it was a great experience and I was really pleased with how the songs came out as an actual live thing! Very gratifying when our tune got played later on by Gilles Peterson in his DJ set too.

Where in the world would you most like to play a Blood Wine or Honey gig?

Shane: Apart from Brazil, I’ve never performed in South America. It would be amazing to tour more in that part of the world.
James: I did one short tour of Japan many years ago and would love to play there with Blood Wine or Honey. Looking forward to getting out to the US soon too – we’ve been invited to SXSW 2018. Barcelona would also be great.
Joseph: Also would love to play some South American countries and I quite fancy Eastern Europe.

(Source: Lonely Planet)

Does living in HK influence the music Blood Wine or Honey make?

James: I think anywhere you live has some kind of influence. HK is densely urban, chaotically thrown together, and humid but with spectacular mountains, tropical seas and jungle. I think the combination of organic and mechanistic elements in our music reflect this.

Joseph: For sure. Hong Kong is a constant Ballardian waking hallucination of a place as far as I’m concerned.

Shane: It’s beautiful chaos here—there’s no way it can’t seep in.

What do you think the future of music is going to be like?

James: Big question, short answer… less of the same with more niches and interactions.

Joseph: Exceedingly strange and beautiful, I hope.

Shane: Hopefully the human overtakes the machine.

Can you send us a photo of the view from your window?

James: Near Clearwater Bay, HK

Joseph: temporarily—Montpelier, Bristol, UK:
Shane: Chai Wan, HK

Blood Wine or Honey – thank you!

Photo: Daniel Murray

by Editor
October 11, 2017

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