Monday, December 22, 2008

Chinese Punk Rock report

Chinese punk band Underbaby "All the Same"

From the Washington Post (Aug. 9, 2006) "Punks and Posers in China" by Maureen Fan.


For Chinese punks today, it might take screaming to be heard. They make up a small slice of the music industry here, and they play to a largely underground scene. But their struggle to gain attention provides a glimpse of what it's like to be a rebel in a country that suppresses dissent and individuality, and an artist in a culture that worships money and Western fads.

"Most bands are into punk because it's fashionable. They are more like copy bands, cover bands that copy the lifestyle. Punk rock should be more dangerous, more deep. You should establish your own style," said Yang, the lead singer of P.K. 14, which has a sizable following and performed Saturday night at a bar in Beijing's Wudaokou district.

"We want to be a dangerous band, like Fugazi or The Clash or Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie's folk music influenced me a lot," Yang said. "But because the government doesn't care about us, we are not forbidden from playing. Maybe we are not dangerous. It's sad."

In the West, punk rock is about annoying your parents and confronting the establishment at every turn. In theory, it's the same in China.

Punks here believe they can say whatever they want. They are pierced and sullen, with spiderweb tattoos on their elbows and cheap dye in their hair. Band slogans include "No future" and "Revolution for your life." Their lyrics urge fans to "never forget the lessons from Orwell" and to fight the police "until dead."

But in China, bands can't publicly turn the national anthem into a rock statement, as Jimi Hendrix did at Woodstock.

Artists can't publish anti-government songs in Chinese. Just last month, the Culture Ministry announced a plan to help prevent the spread in karaoke bars of "unhealthy or obscene" music, or songs that have inappropriate sexual or political content.

As a result of these limitations, would-be anarchists in China have to be flexible. Chinese punks may admire Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, but their methods are different.

One popular band sings sarcastically about its destructive need for Zhongnanhai cigarettes, a brand that happens to share its name with the residential compound for China's top leaders. Another band sings about "the square of hopelessness," without ever mentioning Tiananmen.


The obstacles to China's music, filmmaking and painting are not always from government censors. China's pressure-cooker university system has been criticized for destroying creativity and preparing students only for exams. Much of the most interesting art is found underground. Often, it is society that is unsupportive.

"If a filmmaker shows the dark side of society, for example, homosexual life, even if the government doesn't stop you, people will not come out to see the film," Lu said. "If you are a singer and you have your own style of music and only five people come to see you, can you survive?"


Cocktail 78 live, a Chinese punk band (1997)

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