Hiperson’s Instagram looks like a fantasy. Scroll through and you’ll see eager faces singing, shouting, and sweating together in the ecstatic pleasure of live music. Though the return of shows is, thankfully, inching ever closer here in the US, these exhilarating images still seem like relics from a far-off past. For Hiperson, who emerged from COVID-19 lockdown several months ago with a heroic new album and a sold-out Chinese tour, they reflect a present reality that still feels like a dream.
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“We felt so lucky,” the band writes, collectively, from their home city of Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province. “Audiences around China gave us so much energy. We were surrounded by excitement from people who had been away from shows for too long.”
Things are different in China, Hiperson explain. Live music, and other live arts like dance and theater, returned in the summer of 2020, thanks in part to extremely strict nation-wide mandates and protocols. With cases so low, masks are less common — and less necessary. The past year has been a busy and, enviably, prolific time for the five-piece post-punk band, beginning with the recording and release of Bildungsroman, a sweeping epic that blends stirring spoken word, punk-inspired passion, and traditional sonic touches that recall an ancient history.
Hiperson work to unify the old and the new, but the result hardly sounds like work at all — Bildungsroman is raw, beautiful, and as honest as nature itself. Listen to “Spring Breeze” if you want to feel the wind in your hair, airy rhythms cradled by searing rock riffs. (Though this month, as the US marks the one-year anniversary of quarantine, the feisty “I Am In a Period of Desperation” may feel more apt.)
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Below, Hiperson share more on daily life in China, the diverse Chengdu music scene, and how it felt to play a show in Wuhan to a crowd of front-line workers.
Loren DiBlasi: Where was everyone when the pandemic first hit? How long did it take to come back together again?
Hiperson: When the pandemic hit, it was very close to [the Chinese holiday] Spring Festival. Sijiang and Ji were in London for study and made a very quick decision to come back to China to produce our album, Bildungsroman. Luigi and Boqiang were in Chengdu. Ming was in Vietnam traveling. So our situations changed very quickly, and we had to adapt our former plans until we could all be back together later. By April, we were all back in China, out of quarantine and able to get to work.
Loren: Now that COVID cases are so low in China, what aspects of daily life are still being impacted? Has anyone in the band been vaccinated?
Hiperson: Now, people wear masks much less in Chengdu, but masks are still compulsory on all public transport. We haven’t been vaccinated yet ourselves, though it is possible. We assume it’s a similar situation with the US — right now, it’s mainly medical workers, public servants and the elderly getting them.
Loren: Unfortunately, you had to miss your first-ever US shows when SXSW was canceled last March. Are you still hoping to tour the US at some point?
Hiperson: When SXSW was canceled, we understood because this is a difficult time. But we still have a chance in the future to come to America and we look forward to going to SXSW when it reopens.
We like so many types of music, but American bands like Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Shellac have definitely influenced us greatly. America has such a rich culture of modern music and we can’t wait to visit and share our music there.
Loren: When did live music return in China? How did your sold-out tour happen?
Hiperson: Live music returned in summer 2020. Before this, we took a “leap of faith” to book our two-month tour of 14 cities, because we saw there was a possibility based on how the pandemic was going in China [at that time]. We felt so lucky to be able to finally play, with limited hassles to work through, and all the audiences around China gave us so much energy. We were surrounded by excitement from people who had been away from shows for too long.
This was especially true for our show in Wuhan. After Wuhan had been the focus of the whole world and the people in the city had been through so much, it was special and unique to be there in person and share our music. At one point, we asked people in the crowd to raise their hands if they were doctors, nurses or front-line workers fighting the epidemic, and 20 or 30 people raised their hands. The applause was huge. It was really emotional, and something we, and hopefully all the audience members that night, will not forget.
Loren: What safety protocols are currently being implemented at shows?
Hiperson: In summer 2020, when the venues first reopened, there was a capacity limit of 30%. It then went up to 50%, and now it’s full capacity.
Bands are not wearing masks on stage nor backstage. The ticket check-in has a protocol of body temperature measurement, and there is a “health code” check, which you might know of and is used massively in China, in public spaces.
Loren: Can you tell me a bit about the music scene in your home city of Chengdu?
Hiperson: There is a very diverse music scene, including rock, reggae, electronic, folk, and pop. One of the oldest live venues in China was Chengdu’s own Little Bar, and now there’s a relatively new, comprehensive venue called Nuspace where we often play and work in, along with clubs like Axis and Tag. Some [favorite local] bands we’ve played with are dance-rock band Mosaic and electronic band Stolen.
Loren: I love the way Bildungsroman merges classic post-punk with more traditional elements like wind instruments, giving the album a very raw, natural, almost ancient feel. Can you talk about how traditional Chinese music played a role in the making of the record?
Hiperson: In general, as China modernizes it seems that more attention is given to newer sounds, and people [think of] traditional music more as a thing [that belongs in] a museum. However, as we are maturing [as a band], we have grown to think about how we react now to these culturally familiar, yet a bit distant sounds.
The flute works well in “Spring Breeze” and it sounds really traditionally Chinese, although what’s funny is that it’s not a traditional Chinese bamboo flute. We got it as a souvenir in an anthropology museum in London. It’s the way it’s played and how it fits into the music and lyrics that makes the audience, as well as ourselves, think of traditional Chinese music.
This is what’s most interesting to us, and what we see as the role of these sounds — to lead and bring out an expression and characteristic. Not necessarily to restore traditional music or culture, but to show how those influences can mutate, grow, and create something new.