So the idea for Chinese electro-punk outfit Nova Heart was to take a scenic tour of Australia’s East Coast, enjoy all it has to offer, from kangaroos to kayaking, sunshine to surfing, throw on a couple of gigs and enjoy a warm retreat from the Northern Hemisphere winter. Great plan – until a busted ankle threw a spanner in the schedule.
Nova Heart lead singer, Helen Feng, is bandaged up and waiting for surgery. Not really the best Australian holiday experience, but she brushes it off with a laugh and a blasé shrug. Wanting to make the most of the band’s visit to Byron Bay on their way south down the Legendary Pacific Coast, the obligatory surf lesson, taking in the town and kayaking on the bay had all been on the cards – but the planning fell to pieces at stage one. A fun little surf outing ended in a broken ankle and a trip to Tweed Heads for a minor operation. But this is just another snap to add to the collection for the boisterous songstress.
“I was playing a gig back home and wanted to do a stage dive – I LOVE crowd surfing,” Helen enthuses. “But there was a big pit between the audience and the stage. A security guard was trying to stop me, but I’d done it a few times and thought I was Superman or something. I was trying to clear the guard and I jumped sort of sideways. There was a whole bunch of grass everywhere, but I hit this one, tiny little patch of cement in the whole place and boom – it tore the ligament clean off my knee.”
But despite this little mishap, Helen, bassist, Bo Xuan, lead guitarist Wang Hui and their pint-sized drummer Shi ‘Atom’ Lu, are loving Australia. The band came together three years ago. An accumulation of various bands, international connections and multiple world tours, Nova Heart manifested into a pop-punk infused electro collective. Hints of Blondie merge with La Roux and Daft Punk before being sideswiped by a lashing of Joy Division, all ironed, starched, pressed and packaged by Italian producer, Rodion, Helen’s ethereal locals cascading over a concrete synth-drumline, stripped bass and simple yet contagious guitar riffs. Nova Heart defies any preconception of what may be produced by the subjugated Chinese music scene. All of the band members have toughed it out on the oppressed Beijing music circuit, Helen also working as a VJ on Chinese television – unofficially one of the first presenters to air a punk rock band in the highly staid communist country.
Although the members of the band have visited Australia individually before, this is their first time as Nova Heart. Triple J has picked them up and the response and recognition from the Australian public has been unprecedented. “We actually have quite a following – that’s been a big surprise. We got on rotation on Triple J and, through a festival in Reunion Island, got signed to Indica Records (who also have Canadian flavour-of-the-month, Half Moon Run also on their books) and asked us to come out here for a tour.”
As well as a great response from their audience, the band are relishing the opportunity to explore the country further. Taking one step to the left of the usual tour scenario of hopping from one anonymous hotel room to another, they are taking a more leisurely jaunt along the Legendary Pacific Coast.
“Other than the obvious, I’m loving it here in Australia,” says Helen. “I like the vibe here a lot. People seem to be really open and really caring of the land, especially the young people. It’s such a big luxury you guys have. There’s not that much beach in China, so this is beautiful, and I think a lot of people in China are looking for this lifestyle. People there are really shifting their values. How they’re perceiving culture is still a little materialistic, but it’s slowly trickling in that maybe we need a new set of values because the old ones are not helping us have a happy life and they’re not helping the world around us.”
With our cultural and environmental diversity, appealing climate and more laid back, sea-change lifestyle, Australia has proven to be a very refreshing change for the quartet of Nova Heart, and, from a quick browse of their Facebook page and a cursory glance through the doors of their gigs, it looks like they weren’t the only ones who enjoyed their visit. Happy band – happy audience…even if it did cost one of them a month in a cast.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jan 13, 2014