Chances are that Beijing would not be anyone’s first guess at where the current coolest electro act hail from but that is exactly the place of origin of Nova Heart, made up of threesome, Helen Feng (Vocals/Keyboards), Shi Lu a.k.a. Atom (Drums) and Box (Bass Guitar). Ever since Nova Heart were formed in 2011 by lead singer and creative mastermind Helen Feng, they have taken China by storm, with no fewer than 350 live shows under their belt. They are the first Chinese band to get massive airplay on Triple J in Australia ( equivalent to BBC’s Radio One) and have garnered support from NME, Rolling Stone and The Guardian to name but a few.
In 2012 they released their debut EP, “Beautiful Boys” in China, produced by Italian dance music maestro, Rodion, toured 5 continents and played some of the most important music festivals in China and abroad as well as some of the most celebrated venues in Germany. All very impressive indeed considering the band are not based at the centre of the international music industry in London, New York or Berlin but in Beijing. They have been described as “The Blondie of China”, with Feng being hailed as the “Queen of Beijing Rock”. Other comparisons include Ladytron and New Order and their music certainly reflects these influences. Fans of electronic music should be very interested in what Nova Heart have to offer as their popularity is rising in the UK – they’ve appeared at Glastonbury this year (the first Chinese band to do so) and played smaller venues, like The Islington in London back in June. Their self-titled debut album was released on 2nd October 2015 in the UK, France and Germany via FakeLoveMusic, a label that’s associated with Feng’s own music production company, FakeLoveMedia.
Rodion is at the helm again as Producer and the album was recorded in Berlin. Instantly, with the opening track, “Drive To Our End”, we are promised something different and cutting edge. It is a brave move to open the album with an instrumental but it works. The track begins with a solitary synth beat and is joined by a spoken “cha cha cha cha cha” which seems to symbolise the rhythm of a nocturnal train journey and the synth effects are cleverly chosen throughout to reflect this. Twanging guitars and drum add menace and the song slowly builds in intensity. Cymbal sounds are used to reflect the momentum of the gathering pace of the track until it reaches a crescendo of percussion and synth before continuing on its journey. It’s a creative and enthralling start.
“Lackluster No.” is the lead single and it’s a beauty. Feng’s vocal is perfect, cool and alienated. It begins with a simple, sultry guitar riff which remains throughout blending perfectly with the electro sounds the band are adept at creating. There is a throwback to their Asian influence with small snippets of spoken Chinese before an intriguing pause leads to a surprising spasm of synth. It’s the album’s best song. “We Are Golden” has a voodoo vibe about it and makes for another interesting listen. Feng carries the vocal with a little bit of Debbie Harry and this adds a retro feel to the song. The guitar is omni-present but never in your face, instead creating a cohesive blend to the synth beats and drums.
Another album highlight is “My Song 9” – Feng’s vocal sets the tone initially, sounding fragile and blue before she is joined by reverb drenched guitars and an extensive array of synth sounds which include the cry of seagulls. The mid-section offers a catchy call of “uh oh oh, uh oh oh oh” before the beeps, buzzes and drum beats take over. “The Queen is Dead” is more hard-hitting and dirtier than the previous songs and has a White Stripes influence because of the heavy use of drums, cymbals and bass. Flutters of cowbells and tin cans keep things interesting and inventive, yet reminiscent of Ladytron’s “Playgirl”, Feng sounds positively delirious as she sings “Take, take, take, take as much as you can”.
Every song is unique because it contains a surprise, whether its programmed prose played backwards or whispers that turn into voodoo screams as featured in the psychedelic “Evil” or even an admirable cover version of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot”, ( and why not?) – the closing song on the album. Nova Heart have created a perfectly formed electro-rock album, full of dark melancholy and with some brilliant hooks. They sound futuristic but with a real retro sound and it’s an inventive, wonderful and utterly addictive listen.