Shanghai Pranksters

In light of a recent piece in ChinaFile on the wackiest bunch of Shanghaiers in the land – and, for anyone in Beijing this weekend, in advance of the band’s performance there – I thought it appropriate to revisit the phenom that is Top Floor Circus.

The band’s frontman and founder, Lu Chen, who started out singing pop songs following his love of karaoke, dismissed Nirvana as the worst band ever when he first heard it, but came around soon thereafter, deciding that his goal was to make a band louder than Nirvana. Lu is finally ok with his pop roots: as he told ChinaFile, “we don’t mind being a pop band.” And he is bringing that pop to more folks than ever…

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Post-Punks: Of shoes, of sunglasses, milk and more

We have heard, and seen, yaogun on China Central Television. We have seen yaogun’s only real anthem reinvented in protest. We’ve even seen that anthem of anthems (“Nothing to My Name”) reinvented for the Idol set (2009’s Super Girl, the massively popular Chinese televised singing competition):

But we have gone from an age where yaogun, occasionally, is broadcast on television to an era in which brands now scamper after yaogun. And, in the spirit of the previous post, I give you, again, Anarchy Jerks.

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Liang Heping


I was just informed that Liang Heping was involved in a serious car accident a week ago; details are difficult to come by, but as of June 29, he remains in hospital with serious lower body injuries.

Liang has been involved in yaogun for just about as long as anyone could have been. A member of the ‘house band’ that backed up all of the singers on that yaogunnily-fateful May day in 1986, it was technically Liang that introduced China to yaogun: He played the first notes of the Song That Changed Everything, Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name,” at the Let the World Be Full of Love concert.

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Yaogun: 3D!

There has been talk for a while now about the possibility of a 3D film based on Yaogunner Number One’s 2010/2011 New Years’ Eve and Day concerts. For those two shows, Cui Jian turned the tables on his former employers, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. Cui had blown the trumpet for the group through most of the 80s, until the Orchestra told him that his extra-curricular pop and rock activities had to stop. Luckily for us all, he chose yaogun, and left the Orchestra before the decade was up.

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More of “Nothing”, Finally

The casual follower of rock and roll in China will have heard that Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name” (一无所有) was the song that started everything and that it was first performed, in 1986, to a stadium and a television audience that immediately took to it like it was their own (which, for all intents and purposes, it was). One of my favourite experiences writing Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll was doing the play-by-play on a video of that performance. I watched and re-watched the only clip of that performance I could find, a clip with a voice-over covering up the second verse, and, worst of all, an abrupt ending in the wake of the suona (a traditional combination clarinet-oboe-soprano sax) solo halfway through the song.

Though continually coming empty, I continued to search for a better, more complete version of the performance. Today, I lucked out and found, finally, a different cut of the same show, this time in all its four-minute-plus glory.

First, let’s recap what It all was: In May 1986, Cui Jian, then a trumpet player for the Beijing Song and Dance Ensemble, was one of the lucky few to have heard a bit of Western pop music at a time when even hearing that there was a thing called Western pop music was rare. He was singing other peoples’ songs – Chinese songs written for him and Western pop tunes reworked in Chinese – and was tinkering with his own material on the side. He joined up with over a hundred of his fellow pop singers united, as the Hundred Stars (百名歌星) under the banner of the International Year of Peace to sing a song called “Let the World be Full of Love” (让世界充满爱), the Chinese response to “We Are the World” et. al. Cui was one of the Hundred Stars who got to perform their own tunes in addition to the big number. This is when yaogun, Chinese rock & roll, was born.

There are problems with this video: The sound quality is less than ideal and the video doesn’t synch up with the audio. And in contrast to what I assumed was the only video I’d be able to find, the actual playing of the music comes out here much more clearly as not fantastic. But, like any great rock and roll, technical skills are only a part of the story. Here, it’s a very tiny part, and the footage is too important for any of that to get in the way. What’s most important is that the video provides a better glimpse than anyone’s had in twenty-five years of what went down on the day yaogun was invented and when a trumpet-playing Cui Jian transformed from semi-famous pop singer to Infamous Yaogunner #1.