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Martin Atkins' China Dub Soundsystem - Made In China

Released on Invisible China Records and Bloodshot Ltd., 12/04/07

Martin Atkins knows about drums. He drummed for Public Image Ltd., Ministry, Pigface, and many other industrial bands. Atkins' drums are played live and sampled, a technique that, when executed correctly, can sound like John Bonham's bionic spirit, back from the dead with a hard drive sharing space in his brain. Imagine the drums on Nine Inch Nail's "Closer". Atkins career revolves around that drum sound.

The premise of Made in China involves Atkins bringing together east and west. He traveled to Beijing and created sounds and samples with Chinese musicians, then brought the tracks back to the states to be turned into "songs". Listening to the record, it sounds like Atkins' drumming over Beijing radio. The results are spotty.

Credit Atkins for attempting a survey of China's capacity for music; it's certainly a market the world will be hearing more and more from. In the case of Made in China, however, the attempt is mishandled and boring. The best track, "Yellow Cab", presents members of the bands Car Sick Cars and the vocalist (Chen Xi) from the band Snapline, who lays a distinctly Chinese voice over a cocky disco beat. In this moment, the music matches the intent and the whole effort sounds humane, exciting, and Chinese.

For all its refreshing sass, this moment stands alone. The rest of the album is like a grade school collage that never reaches beneath the surface of cultural perception (there's a song called "Fortune Cookie"). The chopped-up radio sampling grows trying, almost like Atkins might have recorded the radio in his cab to and from the airport, brought the tapes back to the states, butchered everything together and called it a day.

On tracks like "Tibetans vs. Dirty Girl" traditional Chinese music (made with instruments like the hulusi) plays out for a few seconds before thunderous Atkins-sounding drums pile-drive onto the mix. It sounds silly and cobbled together. Worse, there's a disheartening abundance of record scratching and detuned, Korn-y guitars. Some say China is the future, but with Atkins at the helm China sounds a lot like the late 90s American suburbs.

It's tantalizing to think about what a qualified sampling of Chinese music would sound like, and it's too bad that this isn't it. As a testament to the good idea -- and in spite of the wearying music -- the album booklet is best part of the whole experience. In the liner notes, Atkins describes the processes of meeting and playing with the Beijing musicians, and it's fascinating. Basically, Made in China would make a better blog than album.

At least the drums sound cool.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars