One of the best things about music is the naivety that comes with joining a band. The sense of camaraderie and unity with the feeling that the world is about to be conquered is what gives emerging bands their spark, drive and ambition to create a magnum opus that will be talked about for generations. .
On the contrary, one of the worst aspects of music is the naivety that comes with joining a band. Once the honeymoon period wears off and each member only has resentment for the other’s ways, the door to the real world opens wider and wider.
For the past year and a half, Beijing indie rockers Axis Neptune have been showing the best aspects. Four handsome and talented guys with an interesting and approachable sound, they have what it takes to make the band a lasting business. However, after our conversation, we can understand why the Profitability Portal is only open to a select few, and often for reasons beyond their control.
Image via Sofar Sounds
Born in Scarborough, UK, singer and guitarist Josh Cotterill used Axis Neptune as the stage name for his solo project in the Chinese capital. He soon realized that with the right acquisitions, his musical vision could be expanded into something bigger and better.
“I think at some point you kind of have to accept that it’s never going to be exactly the way you imagined it would be,” he said. This is. “I realized that I needed to involve other people if I wanted to better translate my music into a live context and make it sound really good. I’ve always had an idealistic idea of being in a band. I like having camaraderie and working together.
With two of the band members being British, this conversation revolves around something that binds the people of these islands together, curry. Nepalese guitarist Hikmat Yakha clearly likes the spicier flavors. With a side dish of whole dried chillies, the 31-year-old explains why he was drawn to this project.
“Cotterill is a very good guitarist. He made the first album all by himself and there are lots of interesting sounds on it,” he explains, nibbling on his heavily flavored snack. “It’s hard to be successful as a group, but I feel like we’re constantly improving. It’s been a year and a half since we started and we’re still improving.
Bringing in new people gave Cotterill the chance to diversify his tracks in a live setting. After writing, recording and releasing the debut album “Reasons” in February last year, the next challenge was to get his new bandmates to match his vision and make the project stand out in a market. saturated for this kind of acts.
Band founder Josh Cotterill performs a trademark melodic solo. Image via Sofar Sounds
“I think the most valuable decision we made was trying to get out of the expat bubble,” says the singer-songwriter. “You really have to get down to business and keep going. We don’t have a bassist, so we’re leaning towards a more electronic aesthetic. It’s just about being heard. We play with other Chinese bands and it’s wonderful to meet local musicians.
Following the release of “Reasons” and the concerts that followed with the new lineup, the group quickly gained followers all over China. COVID-19 restrictions permitting, they’ve been traveling and playing around the country with an eye on a follow-up. With new talent and creativity to incorporate into the songwriting process, Cotterill did what most sane, rational people would do. He holed up with the band in a remote part of Beijing while they invented new material.
Swedish keyboardist David Yang further developed the band’s professionalism while in exile.
Keyboardist David Yang performing at the 798 Art District in Beijing. Image via the Neptune axis
“We had this beautiful place with a great back yard. It was so nice it was hard to concentrate. We tried to be strict with each other, like putting in place a no-drinking until 8 p.m. rule, but sometimes we wouldn’t stop drinking until 5 a.m. I really enjoyed being away. We could still jam and record.
“I’m very excited about ideas,” smiles Cotterill. “We rented this house for about five days and the idea was to cut ourselves off from the world and record the best album anyone had ever heard. Is that what happened? No.”
As the guys scoop up the rest of their rice and reminisce about their “wasted” excursion, it’s easy to see why Axis Neptune is so strong as a unit.
Guitarist Hikmat Yakha playing at What the Folk. Image via @achiiiie_
Our dinner even acts as the perfect metaphor for how the group works. Chef Cotterill is the rice that ties it all together, Yakha chickpeas are the wholesome texture that makes the dish a bit different, while Yang’s combination of herbs and spices would complement any curry. What hasn’t been mentioned yet is the potato filling (which adds texture) on drums sitting across from us.
Briton Patrick Waldron only joined the band in February and is the band’s fifth drummer in their short existence, a record that would give Spinal Tab a hard time. Unlike everyone’s favorite parody band (where a series of drummers died in bizarre circumstances, like spontaneous combustion and choking on someone else’s vomit), no one in the band can explain why he was so unlucky to find the right person for the kit.
“I don’t feel like we’re asking too much of them,” Cotterill remarks jokingly. “Drummers are a different type of musician. If you grew up learning to hit things with a stick, you’re probably a little different. Drummers would join in and some would be a little more bluesy and rock a little and it just wouldn’t sound right.
Waldron’s talent is supported by his three cohorts at different times during our conversation. Watching him live, you quickly realize why Cotterill and company feel lucky to have him in their ranks. Receiving another serving of homemade curry, he explains why Axis Neptune is the project for him.
Cotterill performing a song from the debut album Reasons. Image via the Neptune axis
“I think we have some of the most special musicians I’ve ever met. I already had a lot of ideas based on the recordings from the first album. The band means I can play something exciting and interesting. I love watching pop stars perform with a live band. They always have great quality musicians who know how to add extra flavor to the music. We incorporate a mostly electronic aesthetic, but then mix it with a musicality that we can achieve live. I think that’s really cool.
Being in Beijing can bring success but not sustainability. As an act made up of strangers, there will always be a glass ceiling no matter how good your music is.
Succeeding as a musician is one thing, but breaking into the mainstream Chinese music industry as an overseas act is nearly impossible. Axis Neptune finds out the hard way.
“We’ve had concerts canceled with virtually no explanation,” Cotterill says, looking at everyone in agreement. “We never know what the truth is. It could be something to do with insurance. We have no idea.
These issues became apparent with the band’s success. A newly formed group in Beijing can organize shows by simply getting in touch with bar owners and the reputation can be built from there. Most bands are happy to stay at this stage, but after Axis Neptune built up their fanbase, the shows got bigger and eventually more bureaucratic.
Cotterill is getting the big-screen treatment. Photo via Ax Neptune
While China has given them vital concert experience as a group, there is an ambition to explore different music scenes and cut their teeth in front of more diverse audiences and even make a documentary about their experiences. The first planned stop is Yakha’s homeland.
“I just suggested going to Nepal and the guys were like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it,” says Yakha. “Nepalese are open to all kinds of music and people are always open to listening to ‘foreign’ music or something different. This trip will be all about creating memories.
Cotterill is also excited to make the trip as he feels it gives the band a chance to let people experience a side of the tour that is rarely seen.
“I have a background in broadcast journalism and I want to do something real. We were all okay with keeping the camera rolling throughout the tour and it could be really interesting. We’re only getting older, so if we want to do something like this, we have to do it soon.
As expatriates, all members of the group have an open mind to live and interact with other cultures. The larger goal, for now, is to create experiences with each other and perform in front of as many different audiences as possible. There aren’t many places in the world where groups can ride and run like they can in Beijing. It can be the perfect platform for ambition. And wherever Axis Neptune’s training takes them, like the curry we enjoyed, it will take time for them to settle down.
[Cover image via Norman Manríquez]