Musical chameleons Cold Fairyland

By Thomas Podvin


So what's in a name? This band's moniker was borrowed from Haruki Murakami's novel Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. But which version? Various translations of the book gave the band three choices: Cold Fairyland, Cool Fairyland and even Frozen Fairyland. At different times, they have used them all. "The name Cold Fairyland already carries a contradiction," explains singer/composer Lin Di, "and that's the feeling we want to deliver to the audience."


In Shanghai's relatively unsophisticated alternative music scene, Cold Fairyland, stands out. Arguably, the most original ensemble in the city, this quintet cultivates an image of ambiguity. In a recent gig at Creek Art's damp and dusty warehouse, the band offered a blend of guitars, drums, pipa and cello, accompanied by all-but-indecipherable vocals, that was impossible to pigeonhole.



C"Typical Shanghai bands make posh fashionable music, but I think we bring a deeper meaning," Lin tells that's.


Formed in 2001, Cold Fairyland has just two unofficial releases to its credit: Flying and The Zoon of Stranger (only available on their website Composer, lead vocalist, pipa and keyboard player, Lin is the band's creative muse and the only band member that's doesn't have a day job. In addition to her work with Cold Fairyland, she's released two solo albums in Taiwan, Ten Days in Magic Land and Bride of Legendin. Both CDs offer her take on 'world music' and have yet to be released on the Chinese mainland.


On stage the band performs her solo works and their own music, but the studio versions of Lin's solo work bear little relation to the band's live renditions. In concert, the tone is darker, much darker.  "We want to express despair rather than hope," says Lin. "When both coexist, hope comes second; it is a comfort from pain."


Cold Fairyland's unique brand of music is miles away from the Britpop often favored by local bands. But Lin is at a loss to describe her style. "It belongs to Chinese-folk music mixed with other elements°™it's hard for me to identify. We never follow a pattern," she says.


While many musicians resist labeling, Cold Fairyland is one of the few groups who legitimately cross genres °™ from one song to the next, their style is never the same. On stage, in just one set, they go from jazz improvisation to world music °™stunning the audience with their seamless transformations.


Currently, the band plans to release a collection of tracks from the first two CDs, and is working on a CD for release in the US. Meanwhile Lin is preparing for her third-solo release, a Stone Age throw back, so to speak, employing the percussive sounds of wood and stone. Says Lin, "It will be more experimental and less accessible."


Once these projects are wrapped, the only thing that's certain, is that nothing is certain. "We are considering performing only instrumental tracks in a near future," says Lin.


Cold Fairyland will play on Aug 14 at Ark Live House, 15 North Block Xintiandi, 180 Taicang Lu (6326 8008)