So So Modern's trans-Pacific course
Wellington indie band So So Modern are putting themselves back on the map after a two-year break, with a new release and tour of discovery through Asia.
In the 80s, bands used to be tagged "Big in Japan".
That was if they were from the west and never had huge success at home but had legions of fans on the other side of the international dateline.
Back then New Zealand's cultural focus was firmly locked on mother Britain, the United States and Australia.
London, Los Angeles or Sydney was where you went to find a new market for your music. Asia usually didn't figure.
But times have changed. These days politicians and economists talk about the rise of China, and a free market economy in Asia and the Pacific.
What could it mean for an indie band from Wellington? So So Modern are going to find out.
Today the band released a new five-song EP, Transpacific Express, and begin a tour that starts in Dunedin and will later see them wind their way through Asia before finishing in Australia.
The five-week Asian leg will see them perform in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (shows in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia are still to be confirmed).
However, while they wouldn't shy away from a shot at financial success, if it arose, "it's more like So So Modern goes on a commercially suicidal tour", singer/guitarist Mark Leong says.
For a band who by choice have no manager and no record label and operate under the mantra "the workers have taken over the factory", the tour is being treated as a chance to explore different cultures and connect with other artists.
"We want to meet awesome people first and see where that leads us," Leong says.
The idea of being an "Asia-Pacific band" is being embraced in the artwork for the New Zealand leg of the tour with Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Pacific Island languages on the poster.
So far the band haven't booked dates in the Pacific Islands but "if we can get a good offer we'll go there", Leong says.
The new release will be sold as an electronic download and with a poster by illustrator Toby Morris. Kerry Ann Lee, a Chiniese-New Zealander whose work explores cultural identity, is doing the art for the EP's release in Japan.
Leong admits the band don't totally know what to expect in Asia.
"It's going to be a lot less set up for our style of music - for strange, weird rock electronic kind of stuff.
"But at the same time I think we're going to discover real music communities. And some of these communities really struggle to exist, maybe because of cultural pressure, or political pressure."
He gives the example of Hong Kong, where he says local authorities have been shutting down volunteer-run venues.
Leong will also be on a journey of personal discovery. He grew up in New Zealand, but was born in Singapore and his ancestry is Chinese.
"We moved further and further from China with each generation for the past three or four generations."
Earlier this week So So Modern played in Wellington with Chinese folk rock band Omnipotent Youth Society.
The two groups spent some time hanging out and Leong says the Chinese group were a bit "weirded out" by some cultural differences, such as local rules around smoking.
Leong wasn't sure whether the Chinese band's experience on tour was going to be reflected in what they might encounter in Asia.
The Chinese band were visiting with support from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the Chinese Culture Ministry and a major airline.
So So Modern will be doing it themselves, with a little help from their friends.
NEW ZEALAND TOUR DATES
Friday, March 1 – Dunedin – Chicks Hotel (R18)
Saturday, March 2 – Christchurch – Dux Deluxe (R18)
Friday, March 8 – Auckland – Kings Arms (R18)
Saturday, March 9 – Wellington – San Francisco Bath House (R18)
Friday, March 22 – The Stomach – Palmerston North (all ages)
Saturday, March 23 – Space Monster – Whanganui (all ages)
Transpacific Express is available at sosomodern.bandcamp.com or a digital download code can be purchased at shows with a poster.