Ten great bands that I only discovered by traveling

To travel is to trade.

From the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the overconfident 18-year old who crosses the ocean with a loaded iPod, travelers are always in the business of exchanging things: ideas, food, fashion, genes and diseases. Music is right up there, and with the ease of the MP3, we freely unload playlists to one another like apples in a market.

When I look over some of the best music I own, I realize that I only discovered these bands/musicians from traveling away from home, well outside my own musical comfort zone. Certain bands are universal, others still quite local (or were, once upon a time), but despite iTunes attempts to drench us all in far-reaching world tastes, some music is still homegrown. Here’s a quick (and personal) top ten of my own discoveries accompanied by a slew of cheesy YouTube clips for your listening pleasure.

Trentemøller (Denmark) Something about dark, electronic music and the Nordic countries go hand in hand. Trentemøller has become a legendary DJ who plays across the globe, but had I never gone to Denmark, I would have waited five years for his music to work its way across the Atlantic.

Zero Degree Atoll (Maldives) I met the lead singer of this band in his home country of The Maldives, right after he performed a chilling cover or R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Though he masters Led Zeppelin and his favorite band is Jethro Tull, his own music is sung in the Dhivehi languages and combines the local blend of Arabic and Indian influences.

Cheb Hasni (Algeria) You can’t visit North Africa and not hear the signature sounds of Algerian Raï music blaring in the chaotic streets of the medina, day and night. Cheb Hasni is king of the genre–an Algerian man, who with his band, cultivated a global following before he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994. I caught on to Cheb Hasni in Morocco and despite regular online research, have yet to listen to every one of his songs that make up his prolific discography.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola (Ireland) Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just have to take a chance and buy a random CD from the locals. I picked up Lasairfhiona in Ireland’s windswept Aran Islands some 7 years ago and have been listening to this Gaelic singer ever since. I don’t know any other music that captures the spirit of a place like she does.

Faye Wong/ 王菲 (Hong Kong) Anyone who’s been jetlagged in Asia knows the thrill of watching hour after hour of sappy karaoke-style MTV all night long. And yet, I actually discovered Faye in a discount bin in New York City’s Chinatown and had to wait until YouTube came around to take in her full repertoire, which is extremely vast. Somedays she the Chinese Celine Dion, other days the Asian Alanis Morissette–Faye is constantly reinventing herself and loves to do Cantonese covers of western indie classics. So don’t judge too quickly–Faye grows on everybody.

Architecture In Helsinki (Australia) Admittedly, big city Melbourne’s got a pretty crazy independent music scene but Architecture in Helsinki might just be the trippiest of them all. Going on a decade strong, the bizarre musical set-ups of AIH evokes a lot of “What?” reactions while still gaining global fans for their deliciously infectious, irresistibly toe-tapping and hip-shaking songs. As ambassadors from down under, AIH begs the question, is Australia an actual country or just a constant spaced-out party?

For a Minor Reflection (Iceland) Four 20 year-old dudes wailing thoughtfully on guitars. It’s a tried-and-true recipe but somehow, this post-rock band from Reykjavík adds something wonderfully new, delivering long, drawn-out ballads completely devoid of lyrics. Heard them first at Iceland Airwaves, which might be the greatest music festival in the world.

Marisa Monte (Brazil) Fairly popular in Brazil and France, I only came upon Marisa myself while passing through South America earlier this year. Her voice, songwriting, rhythms and melodies fall slightly outside the typical Latin American canon, which is why she’s succeeded in crossing over to an international following.

Springbok Nude Girls (South Africa) Compelling band name and even more compelling music, there’s not a South African out there who doesn’t have a strong opinion about these guys, thumbs up or down. That’s why I started listening to them in London, where there are more South Africans than Brits, I think. Springbok’s broke up a few years back but are apparently back together and playing sold-out gigs in South Africa right now.

Iryna Bilyk (Ukraine) Countries with dysfunctional governments always promise a steady flow of talented artists, and after living there for several years, I can say without irony that Ukraine is no exception. Of the many divas that rock Ukraine’s airwaves, Iryna Bilyk is the most classic–a kind of bottle-blond Slavic Madonna that plays in every cab in Kiev. Like the actual Amereican Madonna, Iryna caused no small scandal when the 40-year old singer married her 22-year old backup dancer. This song is called, “I’m not sorry.”

Feel free to add your own great musical finds in the comments below–Just make sure it’s music you discovered while traveling abroad.(If you spam me with your favorite Beyoncé or Coldplay clip, the world will know that you don’t even own a passport.) Thanks!

Round the World in 80 Sounds: China’s rock star rising

Beijing, China is a noisy place. China’s capital and largest city treats visitors’ ears to an endless stream of sputtering cars, clanking construction cranes and chattering pedestrians. But amidst all this growth, you could be forgiven for missing one particularly surprising sound – the strumming of an electric guitar. It’s the sound of an Asian rock scene on the rise – a new crop of Chinese bands that’s taking the music world by storm.

Along with the increasingly middle-class trappings of China’s economic boom like cars, clothes and consumer goods, an altogether different China has loudly been exporting an unexpected new product: the culture of its burgeoning rock scene. At creative concert venues in Beijing like D-22, a homegrown Chinese rock and experimental music scene is in full bloom, with a range of innovative, creative new bands leading the way. For a country better-known for its authoritarian cultural politics, the rebellious notes of this new rock counter-culture seems unlikely. Yet this new breed of Chinese music manages to straddle the line of the rebellious and the musical, shying away from the political while pushing towards new frontiers of creativity.

Expecting this new wave of Chinese music to include loopy new-age vibes and traditional Chinese instruments? Think again. These bands are more likely to channel rock gods like The Ramones, Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Want to see what rock music looks like in the 21st Century? It’s not just American and European any more. This week in Gadling’s new series, Round the World in 80 Sounds, we’ll investigate four Chinese bands you need to check out now. Keep reading below for our favorites.Carsick Cars
First formed in 2005, Beijing’s Carsick Cars have risen to a status as one of Beijing’s biggest groups, becoming unofficial frontmen for Beijing’s buzzing rock movement. Fans have compared the Cars’ noisy, experimental punk sound to other innovative bands like Sonic Youth and New Zealand innovators The Clean. Their new album, released in June of 2009 is called You Can Listen, You Can Talk. In this clip, the team plays their hit song “Zong Nan Hai” during an appearance last year in New York City.

P.K. 14
Another of the Chinese rock scene’s elder statesmen, P.K. 14 have been making music together since way back in 1997. Though they are associated with the Beijing scene, the band originally hails from Nanjing. Much like the Carsick Cars, P.K. 14’s music has been described as an artful blend of Post-Punk, tinged with a hint of Motown, and plenty of raw energy thrown in for good measure. The group’s infectious melodies led Time Magazine to name P.K. 14 one of Asia’s Best Bands. Forget Asia – these guys sound great anywhere. The clip below is a song called “Behind All Ruptures:”

Originally started as a side project of Carsick Cars members Li Qing and bass player Levi, Snapline has quickly evolved into a tight little band in its own right. Indebted to the dark, synthesizer-and-guitar-based sounds of bands like The Cure and Joy Division, Snapline’s live performances have been rumored to walk a line between brilliant and completely baffling. Here’s Snapline performing their track “Hey Jenny:”

Though P.K. 14 might have been formed earlier, Chinese band Joyside has earned its reputation as China’s most influential rock and roll band. Formed in 2001 in a bar on the outskirts of Beijing, Joyside has gone on to release five albums and get featured in a documentary on the Chinese music scene called “Wasted Orient.” Their punk-tinged sound references favorites like The Stooges, Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. Here’s the band playing “Baby in Shadow:”

Noisy? Angry? Indie? Beijing’s growing rock scene is that and much more. With continued international attention at festivals like South by Southwest, these promising bands look ready to move beyond being just another trend in the Far East. The future looks increasingly bright for the rising stars of China’s rock underground.

Curious about the sounds of the world? Read previous Round the World in 80 Sounds posts HERE.

Motel 6 goes for younger image, offers free stays to rock bands

When you think of edgy, hip places to stay, I’d venture a guess that Motel 6 isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But the budget lodging chain is hoping to change that with a new promotion – providing free rooms to a few up-and-coming touring rock bands. The marketing gurus at Motel 6 have asked the bands to blog and tweet about their stays, hoping that the buzz will build brand recognition and positive association among younger customers.

The bands, which were chosen by a music promotion company called Primary Wave Music, will receive six weeks of accommodation at Motel 6 locations along the tour routes. The bands aren’t being told what to say about Motel 6, but the company is obviously hoping for positive press. Even the budget motel has been hit hard by declining travel, with occupancy rates down 5-7% over the last year. Jeff Palmer, VP of marketing, is hoping the promotion will help get Motel 6 back on track, and earn the company some new, younger customers. “If they stay with us young, maybe they’ll remain brand loyal,” he said.

Rock on, Motel 6.

A Day in the life of Abbey Road time lapse

If you keep watching this video of people crossing Abbey Road The Beatles’ style, you’ll notice patterns. Some people organize themselves just like The Beatles did in their iconic photograh of the Abbey Road album cover.

The time lapse photography is set to the song “Garble Arch” by the music group Blame Ringo. Look for the near misses. Some people were almost clocked by vehicles that sped through the crosswalk. One guy does a bit of flashing at oncoming traffic.

There is something about this video that’s mesmerizing.The time lapse photography is set to the song “Garble Arch” by the indie band Blame Ringo. In case you have a hankering to cross Abbey Road yourself, it’s located in the the city of Westminster section of London outside the entrance of EMI’s Abbey Road Studios