My first night out at Fort Reno this summer, I got there late, missed most of the second band while in line at Whole Foods trying to get a burrito and tea, but got to check out Imperial China for the first time on a gorgeous summer night.
I’d heard their name around this town before, but never was all that interested in checking them out, partly because I really don’t like the name at all. (Oddly, one of the people I went with, the other guitarist in my band, said the exact opposite.) Imperial China? It seems to violate all kinds of band-name rules: it’s kind of generic, it has no suggestions of anything, it has a geographical location in the name, it sounds like it is evoking history. I know it’s difficult to come up with band names but really I don’t like the name “Imperial China” at all.
Another thing that held me back from investigating them sooner is that I really soured on the DC “indie rock” scene over recent years. The younger generation of indie rockers — if you can call them that — seem to me to be really generic and dull. Somewhere in the early part of this decade it seemed like a flood of post-Death Cab, post-Shins, post-Bright Eyes kinds of bands emerged to kill indie rock via earnest dullness. They all just seem like uninteresting and generic pop-rock bands; like the Gin Blossoms without the hooks. (The flipside to that is the boring party/dance-rock indie scene, also pretty much humdrum.) So usually any band that gets a DCist “Three Stars” review makes me wanna hit snooze or maybe download some metal.
But I found Imperial China to be pretty good, definitely a step above the tepid-indie style so common lately. They grew on me during their set, and reminded me at least somewhat of some other interesting bands that I’ve seen in the past year or so, like Battles and Fuck Buttons. They were just rocking enough to not be an electronica act, but were electronicky enough to make it interesting. Pretty solid. In fact they were more interesting to watch than the much-hyped Battles, who make interesting music but weren’t really worth watching live. Other names my friends and I mentioned during their set included Tool, Nine Inch Nails, and Helmet. I’m always glad to hear Tool influence (even if it wasn’t the band’s intention).
I wouldn’t say that Imperial China are the salvation of the local scene, but they are at least doing something that feels both interesting and contemporary. I’ll see them again sometime. Here’s their myspace with some samples and videos (apparently they recorded a full-length album with Devin Ocampo, hope it gets a solid release).
And here’s a flickr photo from bozick: