Travel Diary: Perth’s Rag n’ Bone experience the touring life of mainland China

When we last left Perth rockers Rag n Bone, they were leaving Singapore and heading to China to play the Concrete and Grass Festival – but would the threat of a typhoon keep them from reaching their destination? Let’s see how they went, how they got there and see all the experiences they had along the way…

15.09, We are actually going to China.

Sara – As requested, Ben the gregarious escorted us to the airport the next day, insisting we have a photo with the famous flight tower (see below). Singapore had us sorted, and before you knew it I was looking for something resembling Imodium whilst da boyz smashed Burger King. Settled on Lucozade, pretending nothing happened till I found myself preflight panic hiding in the toilets. Fucking Meranti… fucking Lucozade. We boarded a big bunta plane (A380) and for the first time, our seats were on the upper deck – which doesn’t matter when you’re dead; or does it? May the impact kill the peasants downstairs first.

I continued my in flight panic, (as I had already watched the calming jungle book on the first flight), trying to put it to bed with some Singaz slingaz. Typhoon Meranti delayed rather than killed us, so we arrived and were quickly acquainted with the famous Shanghai people traffic. 1.5 hours later, we left passport control and proceeded to customs swerving a hard right to miss a boy peeing in a bottle… at this point I wished I had a penis or the freedom to squat freely. With CC (band handler) and our newly assigned driver in tow, we learned the art of spitting, wide windows and got to the hotel. A quick burst of navigating the English capacity of the entire hotel staff, and the barriers of vegetarianism, we smashed some lasagne in time to see the launch of The Tiangong 2 space lab, live across all Chinese channels… dats pretty kewl…

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16.09 Concrete & Grass & a Typhoon.

Jamie – Our second day in Shanghai was the day of our opening set at Concrete & Grass Festival. We woke up fresh as daisies and hopped into a shuttle from the ritzy AF Sheraton, gear in hand to the Shanghai Rugby Club, where the weather looked rather grim. We opened the festival just after noon despite wind and rain coming at us from all angles on account of a nearby typhoon – A set we will never forget. A poncho and umbrella covered crowd began to assemble. By around 7/8pm, what started as a dusting of rain had turned torrential, forcing Canadian rock band Silverstein to go on acoustic – which in my opinion made for a much more memorable set as the eager, soaking wet crowd sang along to every word.

Festival organiser and downright legend, Archie Hamilton had been rolling with the punches all day, and as it came time for Chinese black metal band; ZURIAAKE’s set, it didn’t look too promising. Before we knew it Archie had arranged for shuttle buses to take both band and eager fans to a venue downtown where they would go on as per. THAT’S COOL AS FUCK. After a long day of great music, torrential rain, countless Tsing Taos (local beer), we all retired back to the Sheraton bar where we bumped into Silverstein sippin on some negronis and decided to join them. Axel even got the opportunity to meet one of his idols, Stephen Malkmus who was set to play the following day in much sunnier conditions. So a few negronis later it just felt right to end up in Silverstein’s room wearing our Sheraton robes and drinking their abundance of alcohol. What a day.

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17.09, C&G Day 2

Axel – I awoke in a muddled daze – did I really awkwardly meet Stephen Malkmus last night? Did I punch a durry with Silverstein in the hotel lobby? Where are my pants? I struggle to the buffet, new mates all hunkering into eggs and coffee, something I would soon do too. Arriving at the Rugby club grounds for day two saw a new character emerge: the sun! This was perhaps the most beautiful day of the tour, meeting and seeing new friends in Thug Mills from Melbs, In Each Hand a Cutlass paying off their kindness with mind-altering song structures and conviction, PVT being as dependably good as when seen on a small stage at the first Laneway in Perth when I was 18, About Tess having two of everything (including their own drum kits from Japan) and wearing all black, HEALTH doing an absolutely mental set with a fifteen second encore and finally, my lord, my liege, Malkmus, side of stage, durry and fiery nub (Tsingtao) in hand – could it get much better than this?

Shout outs to Archie aka the reason we were here riding a bike around the entire festival all day, random people stopping us and taking photos with us and those two French guys who hijacked our little promo tent by blasting their own twisted versions of White Stripes songs. We smashed negronis in the hotel lobby, listening to Rhys from Thug Mills tell us stories of his bizarre Chinese wedding until we couldn’t sit up – an amazing day.

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18.09, WTF.

Sara – In starting the day with a Sheraton buffet, I didn’t know shit was about to get real. Our mission was to find our Airbnb accom (about an hour away), and then proceed to a domestic rail station (about another hour away) to meet a friendly Chinese contact who was going to help us purchase our tickets for the rest of the tour – and all before 2:30pm. I ordered a taxi (or so I thought), but I guess things were misunderstood. 45min later a Volkswagen minivan sporting a robust gas tank in the boot, failed to meet the capacity we needed for all of our shit (plus 4). I did the sanctimonious 5-star hotel thing and tapped my invisible watch until we had two Volkswagen Santana sedans appear (from what seemed like 1995).

Being a cautious traveller I probably made my most uncomfortable travel decision yet; the rest of the band got in one car whilst I rode alone with all of our shit. Luckily for me, the driver was more concerned with the four phones he had in holders in front of him than stealing me and our equipment. We arrived at our apartment tower and quickly met David our host and his 3 cats; Theo (the affectionate, below), Fei Fei (the stupid), and Dollar (the entitled who was quickly known by lesser names). Luckily Mason our friend from Uni met us in Shanghai (becquée by this point we missed our valued contact in taxi flurry), and had some lovely burgers, 2 for 1 cocktails,and finally, our train tickets. Arrived home at midnight, after arguments with taxi drivers, the shutdown of the subway and a long walk home thanks to VPNs, google maps and low battery life.

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19.09, France in Shanghai & Poo.

Kiera – We hadn’t really seen much of Shanghai yet so decided to head out to Tian Zi Fan which is in the Old French Concession part of the city. This place was a really cool mix of west and east; little alleyway shops full of trinkets and food just about everywhere you looked. We all bought little plastic poo keychains (notice the theme here?) and followed each other up some tiny stairs into a small music box museum.

After a few hours we stopped at a bar for 1 drink but this turned into about 50+ including free shots from the bar guy and the largest ‘pint’ of Hoegaarden I’ve ever seen. The night ensued; durries, more fiery nubs (shots) & locals filming us while we took over the bar playlist and sang out loud to Ed Sheeran, Mariah Carey and Avalanches. The bar-tender made sure the mic was in Ed’s – I mean Jamie’s – hand each time it was a Sheeren song. Our train ride home was probably really embarrassing. Catch phrase: “Do you like poo?”. Needless to say we were fucked the next day.

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20.09, Hello Nanjing.

Kiera – Today was the start of our 3 day tour to nearby cities. We got up to catch a bullet train to Nanjing where we would be meeting up with a guy called Eight. He was the tour manager for Zuriaake from Concrete & Grass and also for a Swiss band called Closet Disco Queen. We had already met him back at Concrete & Grass day 1 and arranged for Rag n’ Bone to join their tour for 2 nights before doing our own show in Ningbo. Arriving in Nanjing was awesome. Just having someone there to organise a car and take us to the hostel we were staying at was so relieving, especially as the language barrier became harder to combat further from Shanghai. (Who am I kidding) We met Jon & Luc from Closet Disco Queen and realised we have common friends in Perth! We were all feeling pretty wrecked from the night before so slept a few hours at the hostel where one of us disregarded the ‘don’t flush paper’ rule and clogged the toilet….

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A car arrived to take us to the venue – which looked like a giant Tortoise. Because #china. After stumbling into a conference theatre we finally found Ola Livehouse – our first introduction to city venues in China & they are are ridiculous! The backline is all provided and it’s always good gear. We had 2 stage techs, a lighting & sound guy and an afternoon sound check plus staff members to handle our merch and an artist room with coffee, beers and a piano. Not used to any of this, we naturally found it kinda funny and overkill but it was great to see such a professional and well designed venue. Eight took us out to eat and we finally got to try some local Chinese food.

We told him that 3 of us were vegetarian and The Menu had no pictures so he just ordered a bunch of stuff for us. As it came out it was apparent that even if you order a pure vegetarian dish it still comes garnished with meat! One dish we got was literally chillies, garlic, onion and slices of fat…. Next was the toilet experience and let’s just say it’s hard to squat and not piss on your shoes.

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Admittedly, being sick before going on this tour and all the travel up until this point had finally started to take its toll, leaving me feeling worn out, stressed and really anxious about my voice not being 100% there. I had to challenge myself to think positively and to not feel defeated by the situation, instead to get up and do my best which in the end allowed us to still have a great show. Rinse, repeat.

21.09, Hefei

Sara – From Nanjing, we ventured into the deepest Chinese city in our tour; Hefei. Coincidentally, this is also where our train station protagonist Mason lives, and lies around 472km west of Shanghai. Upon arrival at the hotel, I crashed hard whilst the boys ventured to the zoo themed coffee beacon shining brightly across the road. This is where we found our mascot, Ningbo the hippo who ironically had a ‘Singapore Zoo’ tag on his ass. With EIGHT and CDQ already sound checking at the venue, we decided to brave the task of finding dinner alone at a shopping centre across the road. After identifying what we guessed was a pizza cafe, and tried to point, sign and wave to communicate our order, we braced ourselves to see what we had ordered; 3 massive peach and lychee pizza topped with mayo and cheese. Tomato and cheese would have been kewl, but this was also pretty good.

We then realised the venue was also located in the shopping centre. Hefei’s ‘On the Way’, was a sort of rock n roll dive bar in all the best ways; so naturally, the Tatts and shots were plenty. We met the bar owner from two shops away who insisted we try the fruits of his establishment, Mason came along and was an all round legend throughout, and I even got to touch the swollen stomach of a pregnant woman bearing twins.This is also where I realised I would have to make my inaugural squat pee premier. In retrospect, I can’t believe I lasted that long. We played a crazy show, and completed the night with an insider’s view of Hefei’s gutters…

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22.09, On our own in Ningbo.

Axel – The last show of the tour is in Ningbo, a four hour train ride away, a ride that basically stunk like shit the entire time – we were sat close to the dunnies and there was no quarter with their use. Ningbo is a city still under construction it seems: the banks, the hotels, hell, even the venue! While it typically had an amazing lighting and sound system and great backline, the broken glass and paint splattered stage gave us indication it was still a work in progress. I spilt my rice everywhere also, a true calamity. This was the gig with the most reservations of us all, with the least amount of promo, a bill that included just us, in a venue in the middle of a construction site with an unused skatepark and a cafe with a single patron – but it was all worth the while when the crowd started rolling in.

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Even though I broke two strings (half covered by looping up a storm) and we were all tired and shot, this was the lone group of people that demanded, in a very polite and respectful way, an encore. Also, one gentlemen came up to me specifically and told me through a friend that he had driven three hours (!!!) to come watch us play and had brought his guitar (!!!) to show me because we play the same model – absolutely humbling and flabbergasting. We celebrate with corner store beers and punch many disgusting durries through the hotel room windows, triumphant in our stupidity. Postscript: today we collectively shat as a group 16 times. Shitty guts.

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23.09, Archie.

Kiera – We had breakfast at the hotel in Ningbo which consisted of fried noodles, dumplings and boiled eggs in tea. By this point Jamie is the only one who has become accustomed to hot orange juice. We caught our final bullet train back to Shanghai where we would be going to dinner at Archie’s place. Context: Back in November last year we played the WAM festival in Perth where we met Archie Hamilton. We kept in touch and he must’ve thought we were ok because he invited us to play his festival Concrete & Grass. He is the reason we are in China and tonight would be our way of catching up and saying thanks. We got to Archie’s and met his wife Claire, his family and business partner Nathan and ate what felt like the most amazing, not to mention normal food in 2 weeks.

Champagne and conversation flowed and it felt like a special place to be. When it was time to leave, Archie suggested we head to Yuyingtang – the best live venue in Shanghai. Sweet. Nathan comes down stairs with us and orders us an uber in his very fluent Mandarin. – I want to learn this language, a seed I plant in my brain… Walking into the venue we catch the last couple of songs of leathery, iggy-pop-like legends; The Fleshtones, and they are tearing down the very full house, spilt beers at hand. We sit on the ground outside and chat about our childhoods and supernatural experiences. It feels like a moment of solemn reflection, the weight of this tour starting to lift and the reality that soon it would be done.

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24.09, Indie Music France.

Jamie – A couple of weeks prior to this tour, we were contacted by a French guy expressing that he couldn’t wait to see us in Shanghai at Concrete and Grass. This kinda baffled us. Turns out, his name is Nicolas, a Frenchman living in Shanghai who works for Indie Music France. We caught Nic’s attention after he stumbled across our video for our last single ‘I don’t feel at home in this world any more’ which features a very scenic French island – La Reunion.

Long story short, we end up at his arts studio on our last day of tour to have a couple of brews, shoot a couple of acoustic songs and maybe do a wee interview. We performed ‘I don’t feel at home in this world any more’ and our soon to be released new single ‘Last kind words’ for an intimate crowd with a snare, hi hats, left handed bass and an acoustic gat. Nic the legend even organized a taste of home for us in the form of Aussie beer. I’ve never been so happy to see Coopers Sparkling in all my life – sorry Tsing Tao but you just can’t compete with the mighty Coops.

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25.09, Home time.

Jamie – Waking to the headache that could only have come from a red labeled Coopers bottle, it was time to hit the road. 5 hours in Singapore airport found us in the ridiculously placed butterfly garden and the Hard Rock cafe bar sinking some horribly over priced Singapore Slings. A good time was had by all, but the prospect of our own beds and smoke free toilets became very appealing over the course of the tour. Ah well, time to get rehearsing for our Last Kind Words single launch on Oct 21 at Badlands, hopefully see ya there!

Don’t miss Rag n’ Bone this Friday, October 21st at Badlands in Perth! Learn more about the band and their upcoming shows on Facebook.