Student Band Sleeping Lion Finds Unexpected Fan Base in China

By 
Kimberly Ashton
December 22, 2016
Noah Longworth McGuire (left) and Nathan Flaks (right), who comprise the band Sleeping Lion, at the Great Wall in China.
Sleeping Lion signs the iPhone of a fan in Suzhou.
Nathan Flaks and Noah Longworth McGuire walk a zig-zagged path to a Shanghai tea house.
Photo by Nathan Flaks
Photo by Nathan Flaks
Photo by Nathan Flaks

Berklee students Nathan Flaks and Noah Longworth McGuire aren’t used to being swarmed after their shows with people looking for autographs and photos.

“That doesn’t happen for us in Boston,” says dual film scoring/electronic production and design major Flaks, who, with music production and engineering major McGuire, forms the downtempo electronica and indie-pop band Sleeping Lion. But in China, where the two students performed for a full auditorium at Dulwich College in Suzhou in late October, they found an unexpected fan base. Thanks in part to Dulwich's promotion of the concert, a lot of the students in the audience had been listening to Sleeping Lion well before the show.

Sleeping Lion was in China as part of a four-year collaboration Berklee has had with the high school Dulwich College International, which has campuses in Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou. Each year, Berklee selects a student or alumni band to play in the school’s annual Dulwich’s Diversity Festival. Previous performers included Dave Vivas, the Scratch Ambassadors, and Cordelia and the Buffalo.

The festival both exposes teenagers in China to the Berklee teaching methodology and provides Berklee students and alumni with a chance to engage in China’s rich musical history and tradition. In addition to performing a couple of shows at Dulwich’s Suzhou site, Flaks and McGuire also performed at their Beijing and Shanghai campuses. Along the way, they got to dive into the culture offstage.

In addition to a stop at the Great Wall, the pair made their way to a Shanghai tea shop that was only accessible via a path that locals say was zig-zagged to keep spirits out; they tried their hand at ordering food in a Chinese restaurant (leading to an unexpected dish); and they danced on a rooftop bar in the country’s capital as the crowd cheered to a Justin Bieber song. “Beijing was fun like that,” says Flaks.

The trip is just one of many that Berklee students, faculty, and staff take each year to China, which the college sees as a rich source of musical talent. “Our goals are to engage, collaborate, and explore the opportunities, sharing what we do at Berklee—which now includes the Boston Conservatory’s incredible faculty and students—as well as to learn from the deep traditions and modern innovations present in China,” says Jason Camelio, director of the Office of Global Initiatives.

Berklee also went to the country earlier this month to do auditions in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu, hoping to tap some of the talent coming from different regions of the country. "Our Chinese student population and alumni significantly enhance the quality of the Berklee experience. We are all learning a great deal about their rich historical culture, music traditions—both ancient and modern—and are feeling the positive impact from their presence," Camelio said. 

And it's in that fertile culture that some Berkee alumni have found their own paths. One of the most notable is Chinese-American singer-songwriter Wang Leehom '99 '16H, sometimes called the King of Chinese Pop. Raised in the United States, Wang learned Mandarin as an adult and has earned superstar status in China singing in the language. In November 2016, Berklee presented him with an honorary doctorate of music degree during a sold-out concert with Berklee students at Boston's Symphony Hall. 

Including Wang, who's perhaps the most successful alumnus in China, Camelio says that Berklee is "seeing strong potential for our graduates to find excellent opportunities for engagement and careers in mainland China." And, for a few moments, Sleeping Lion got a taste of that potential.