THIS month is shaping up to be a major one for rock fans with chart-topping acts like Metallica, Aerosmith and Limp Bizkit all slated to play high-profile shows.
However, Melbourne-based indie-pop singer Sophie Koh is quietly making waves with an ambitious Chinese tour that includes a pair of shows tomorrow and Sunday in Shanghai.
“Eleven shows in a row,” she tells Shanghai Daily during a rare break. “I’ve never done that before.”
Organized by the Beijing-based This Town Touring, Koh will play 14 shows in 12 cities including consecutive dates in Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, Zaozhuang and Qufu in Shandong Province, Beijing, Chengdu in Sichuan Province and Chongqing.
Although the schedule is daunting, Koh is excited about the opportunity. Born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore and New Zealand, she is using the tour to explore her family heritage.
“My grandma is turning 100 and she left China when she was 16,” Koh explains. “As I get older, I really want to connect with my grandmother’s roots so I want to see as much as I can.”
The bilingual singer hopes the tour will influence her musical direction. “Long-term, I want to write more in Mandarin, my mother tongue. In this tour, I’m able to meet people to absorb and help with this transition.”
Koh’s performances of Mandarin favorites have been well received and she hopes to sprinkle more into her set. A friendship has already formed with tour openers, 16 Minutes, described by China Radio International as “one of the most original bands in Beijing.” The psychedelic-tinged group has been helping Koh translate some of her original songs into Mandarin.
It’s been a remarkable music journey for Koh who moved to Australia after finishing university. In 2000, she won popular radio station Triple J’s Unearthed Contest, a national talent competition. Two albums of acoustic-based indie-pop followed and Koh became a fixture in Melbourne’s flourishing music scene.
Her popularity led to an invitation to guest-perform on the iconic Australian soap opera “Neighbors.” There Koh met award-winning Australian rocker Ben Lee. The two worked together with producer Brad Wood on Koh’s 2012 album “Oh My Garden.”
The album marks Koh’s musical growth, with electronic whooshes and exotic instrumentation adding heft to the songs. However, it’s still a poppy listen, which Koh cites as central to her song-writing.
“The melody is always the most important thing,” she says. “I play guitar or piano when I write, the music and melody always come together.”
A lucky break brought Koh to China. While performing at last November’s Australasian World Music Expo in Melbourne, she impressed Tom Mattessi, booking agent for This Town Touring.
“I’ve always wanted to play Asia but didn’t know where to start,” Koh says. “Tom asked if we wanted to tour China. For a couple of guys in the band, this is their first time in Asia.”
Selections from all three albums are performed on tour and Koh promises Shanghai audiences an exciting show,
“There’s lots of energy and the set has a nice mix of quieter and more rocking songs,” she says. “The band sounds so tight and they all sing backup harmonies so there are a few parts where it’s a lot like a choir.”
Sophie Koh’s shows in Shanghai
• Date: August 9, 9:30pm
Venue: Yuyintang, 851 Kaixuan Rd
• Date: August 11, 2:30pm
Venue: 696 Livehouse, No. 11-8, Lane 1727, Sichuan Rd N.