For reasons not fully clear to me (but in retrospect I am ok with), an email arrived this morning via Bandcamp, that online listening station/record store, with exciting news of a forthcoming album from yaogun stalwarts PK14.
Sub Jam, the “experimental art organization” headed up by poet, critic and musician Yan Jun, just put online an archive that is a treasure trove for fans seeking China’s outer-edge music history. Compiling over ten years’ worth of events, publications and photos, there is a lot to go through. But anyone interested in a window into how the edge of yaogun mapped itself out should head there and check it out.
Sub Jam’s, and Yan Jun’s, story is you might say, typical of yaogun in its atypicality…
In these, the first few hours of the Year of the Dragon, we continue on from our last look back over the course of yaogun, part II of one man’s view of the best records to come out of China’s rock scene takes us into the new millennium. Chronologically we go…
Cold-Blooded Animal by Cold-Blooded Animal, 2000
Less inspired by Kurt Cobain than his embodiment, Xie Tianxiao, the band’s singer/guitarist who now goes by the name XTX, was a force of nature live, and though he still retains some of that energy, in the early aughts he was at his peak. Here, “Who Was it That Brought Me Here”, live at CD Cafe in Beijing in 2003.
Second-Hand Rose by Second-Hand Rose, 2003
Yeah, singer Liang Long dresses like a girl. But when you listen to the album, it doesn’t matter, and that’s the true test. “Gathering Flowers” showcases the bridge bewixt traditional China and modern rock.
Ma Music featuring Glamourous Pharmacy, Ruins and Wooden Pushmelon, 2001
This posse of bands led the early-aught alt scene, often infusing art into their performances, which signaled a commitment to more than just music. Xiao He, who walks both sides of the fine line separating idiot from genius in his current solo work, led GP; Ruins singer Zhou Yunshan first added his name to the band’s and now just goes by his name; WPM’s Song Yuzhe makes great folk music. Listen to the whole record via this link, which may be in Chinese but is easy enough to navigate.
“How Steel Wasn’t Tempered” – Wooden Pushmelon by jWc
The World is a Noise Garden by Sound Fragment, 2002
Spacey and dreamy, the record showcases the empty spots even more than the titular noise. One of yaogun’s rare headphone records. Here, the lead track, “Deceive One’s Self” (ziqi).
Xin by Wang Lei, 2004
Wang’s first decade-plus in the arts saw him move from breakdancing to pop-rock to freak-folk. In the new millennium, he took to industrial music briefly, then discovered dub and fell in love. This record is the peak of that fascination, mixing traditional and contemporary sounds from a range of different traditions to create a minimal, groovy and bounce-along-able record.
“Again” – Wang Lei by jWc
P.K. 14 White Paper, 2005
Post-punk quartet P.K. 14’s third album sees the band in top form, just in time for the mid-decade “indie” boom. The video for “Them,” below, is one of several greats the band produced.
Omnipotent Youth Society by Omnipotent Youth Society, 2010
Singer Dong Yaqian may not look like he’s having a good time while performing “The Not-So-Omnipotent Comedy,” below, but the song, as evidenced by the singalong, is fun in a way that is rare (even if you wouldn’t know it by watching frontman Dong Yaqian); ditto, the album.
This Readily Assimilative People, 2010
by Lonely China Day
Two records made for headphones, and two records more representative of Twenty-First century China than any other yaogun album.
“One” from Sorrow
“Rise Up” from This Readily Assimilative People
L & R by Wang Wen, 2010
This Dalian-based post-rock group has a sizable following cross-country, and is helping fertilize the local scene by example and involvement through record label (Fox Tail) and venues (several short-lived spots).
Cang Lang Xing by Zhaoze, 2011.
Like their brilliant fellow (now former) Guangzhou resident Wang Lei, they seemed to have suffered somewhat from being outside of Beijing, not receiving anything remotely like the appreciation they ought to. But, like the two post-rockers mentioned above, they have a seriously intense fanbase. Below, “Cang Lang Shui Yu You” live in Hong Kong, May 2011.
As a former foreign resident of the Middle Kingdom, it was both shocking and unsurprising to hear the number 594,000 bandied about, in this post on the China Beat (yes, that is the site you know from its posting of an excerpt-plus from Red Rock as well as a range of great and insightful readings on China), about how many non-Chinese, in 2010, called China home.
The number is both higher than I thought and lower than it ought to be, and the article points out several reasons this is so. The visa situation for many non-Chinese residents, which is perhaps best explained by evoking the colour grey, means that many foreigners are not exactly counted in official stats. Compounding that situation are the periods of regulatory, erm, adjustments that tend to follow periods of Special Events — say, the Olympic or World Expo periods. But on the other hand, anyone that’s lived in China for an extended period of time knows that foreigners can’t truly live under the radar.
Alas. There are foreigners, a whole bunch of them. And, to turn things, as we often do, back to Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll, as long as there have been foreigners, they have used their devilsh ways to spread gospels of many kind, rock and roll being only one of many recent such gospels. There have been many unsung heroes, bringing their collections to the hungry ears of local audiences and several important figures who brought not just the sounds, but the actual artists into the country desperate to experience for themselves the music. And, of course, there have been players.
And so, a brief look, at some of the laowai (“lao [rhymes with ‘how’] why“, literally, ‘old outside’) inside yaogun:
If Cui Jian is yaogun’s Adam, Eddie Luc
Lalasoa Randriamampionina isn’t Eve, and he’s probably not the snake, but he’s definitely one of the other residents of the Garden. Since the earliest days and right through to today — unlike any other musician — Eddie has been alongside Cui, making him the most famous foreigner in yaogun, and one of the most famous foreigners in China. He also played for legendary blues crew Rhythm Dogs as well as the amazing Nogabe, in addition to early band Ado (which became Cui’s band from early one).
One of the first alt bands to come out of Beijing was Xue Wei, a band about which little is known, other than they had a big fan in Cui Jian who told a reporter that he wished they’d play more. Scotsman Colin Chinnery, maven in the contemporary Chinese art scene as both artist and curator, led the band (and is pictured at right). Check out their tune, “Trivial” (微不足道), streaming here.
Thin Man has established itself even into the mainstream, but in the band’s earliest incarnations, Chandler Klose played an essential role; he and still-frontman Dai Qin formed the band, and it was Klose that brought Dai, who had only just discovered the Beatles (and was playing in one of the early-nineties party scene’s favourite bands, which became known as the Mongolian Beatles) under the spell of the alternative music only recently dominating the American rock scene. Klose also played alongside Zang Tianshuo (soon to become a pop star) in the band 1989, but left it for Thin Man. Here, the band’s contribution to 1994’s Original Chinese Rock compilation, “Passed this Place”
P.K. 14 remains atop the yaogun heap, even nearly 15 years after their formation. Soon after Yang Haisong and his now-wife Sun Xia moved the band to Beijing to break into the then-nascent but bubling scene, he met Swede Jonathan Leijonhuvfud, who had brought punk bands on tour through the mainland from his base in Hong Kong. Like Yang, Leijonhuvfud discovered that Beijing was where it was at, and moved there in 1999, joining the band soon thereafter.
Leijonhuvfud also makes an appearance in the short-lived Cocktail 78, which united he and future FM3 co-founder and Buddha Machine co-creator Christiaan Virant with two members of Brain Failure, Xiao Rong and David O’Dell (author of the recent memoir Inseperable, about the punk scene in Beijing) and Jerry Chan, who recently posted a link to not just video of the group performing (sans Chan) at the Great Wall, but also a sample of a track the band recorded in-studio in 2000
Beginning in the early aughts, bands with members from outside of China were less rare: There were more spaces to rehearse and perform and there were exponentially more of us. And we got around. Which doesn’t mean that your humble narrators two most recent bands are unworthy of mention here…
Black Cat Bone, still going despite my departure (as well they should be), formed in 2005ish, is a blooze band of the party-with-us variety.
Finally, RandomK(e), a dark space-post-indie rock band formed in 2005 and disbanded in 2010 with, alas, my departure.