Chinese indie-rock bands Escape Plan to Norway

From left: Bassist Gang Ang, guitarist Ma Xiaodong, lead vocalist Mao Chuan and drummer Li Hongtao, members of Chinese indie-rock band Escape Plan, on a recent tour to Norway.

From the title of an early hit to their recent encounter with the aurora borealis, the rockers of Escape Plan find the sky is the limit, Chen Nan reports.

It has been more than 10 years since the Chinese indie-rock band Escape Plan broke onto the scene. But it took years to get their first taste of mainstream fame, which came only after one of its songs, The Brightest Star in the Night Sky, was performed on popular reality TV shows.

That happened in the second season of Zhejiang Satellite TV's The Voice of China in July 2013 and on Hunan Satellite TV's I Am a Singer in February 2014.

The sudden limelight brought lots of opportunities for the band to perform around the country, including the Midi Music Festival in May 2014.

Later in the year, the four members of Escape Plan headed for Norway, crossing the Arctic Circle and viewing the awe-inspiring aurora borealis, or northern lights.

"It was the first time for us to travel together just as tourists, to feel the place and sceneries, which was very exciting," says the group's drummer Li Hongtao.

The band kicked off a seven-day tour in Bergen, known for its rainy weather. Besides the clean air and breathtaking natural sceneries, what impressed lead vocalist Mao Chuan was the happy faces of the local people.

"We come from a place full of pressure. People are concerned about many things, like buying houses and getting promoted. But the people of Bergen seemed to have nothing to worry about," says Mao.

From the Alesund harbour, they boarded the cruise ship Kong Harald and sailed north through the fjords of Norway.

When they arrived at the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle, they gave a live concert aboard a ship, performing their hits, including The Brightest Star in the Sky, from their 2012 debut album, World.

The stage was small due to the limited space on the ship, but it was very intimate. Because of the sea waves, the musicians had to control their balance while performing, according to the group.

The band also visited Rockheim, the Norwegian national museum of pop and rock.

Built upon a former grain factory in the Trondheim harbour, Rockheim was completed in 2010 and its most striking views are the boxed roof and 14,000 LED lights shining from the behind, which makes the colour of the building change constantly.

The band members found pictures and videos of their beloved music idols in the museum, such as Norwegian singer Lene Marlin and the heavy metal band TNT. They couldn't help but wonder, "When will China have such a rock music museum?"

Visiting Rockheim also reminded the members of the band's history. The 32-year-old Mao was born in Qingdao, Shandong province.

He established Escape Plan, along with guitarist Ma Xiaodong in Beijing 11 years ago. With its retro blend of indie pop and post punk, Escape Plan soon became one of Beijing's most-watched bands.

The band's bassist Gang Ang can still remember that he rode a secondhand electric motorcycle with Mao for an hour to rehearse at a small building in Tongzhou district, in Beijing's eastern suburbans. It was in the winter of 2007, and the two men put on as many clothes as they could to keep warm.

In the early days, they performed almost every night at live-house venues in Beijing, either opening for other bands or sharing the stage with others.

"We were unknown and most of the time there were no audiences. But we didn't care and we just performed," recalls Mao. "It was crazy."

"During our tours in China, we have realised that the energy of a small, remote city could be ignited if it has a live-house venue. That's the power of live music," he says.

Now that the band regularly packs Beijing's top live music venues, they intend to slow down a little bit. They want to stay sober and be aware of what they want with music.

Mao says the band is busy recording a new album, including songs he was inspired to write on the Norway trip.

On the last day of their cruise, just when the musicians were about to give up on seeing the aurora, the captain announced good news, and they rushed to the deck with hundreds of other tourists on board.

"In the dark sky, countless stars shining and dancing in big waves, we cannot describe the scene in words. It's just unforgettable," says Gang, the bassist.

"I knew that the trip would be full of surprises but I didn't expect that we could get so much," says Mao. "We may not become the biggest band on the planet, but we want to find our own colour and temperature. That's all," he says.