Goth metal rockers Evil Thorn 恶刺 @ 13 Club
Saturday night. WDK. Two concerts. Two venues. D22 and 13 Club. Punks versus Goth Metal Rockers. Some tough choices had to be made.
At around 9 pm I headed over to D22 on Chengfu Road in the Wudaokou district of Beijing for a concert featuring three Beijing punk bands. Arriving early gave me the chance meet Michael Pettis, the owner of D22. Michael is a New Yorker with background in finance on Wall Street. He now teaches finance at the Guanghua School of Management. He also ran (co-founded?) a club in the Village in the early 80s. Not so long ago he decided to move to Beijing and apparently one of his goals was to encourage the music scene here. D22 is doing just that.
A crowd began to gather outside the club around 9:30. Many of the usual suspects showed up. I’m starting to recognize people in this scene by face if not by name.
The night’s lineup featured three bands: Guai Li, Hedgehog, and Carsick Cars. All young punk bands. The band members hung outside and mingled with the crowd, which was weighted towards foreigners. The hour or so before the concert started gave people a chance to socialize, since there would be little of that in the club itself once the bands started playing.
D22 is a small club. The distance between the entrance door and the stage is probably 10 meters. There’s a bar on the left side and elevated tables on the right. There’s also a balcony on the second floor where people can look down at the crowd and the band. Above the entrance is a small room where bands can hang out. On the other side of the private room from the balcony is another tiny balcony. This is by far the best spot to watch a concert at D22, but it’s limited access.
Guai Li on why do Chinese punks sing in English?
At around 10:30 the first band, Guai Li started playing. I spent a little time chatting with the female singer Wen Jun and the lead guitarist on the steps outside the club. They’d all been in other bands before, but had just got together for this new band a month ago. It’s a new band just discovering its sound. The results are mixed.
Another American and I were chatting outside about the bands here in Beijing and he asked me why so many of them sing in English. I figured this was a question that we should ask the band, so we went over to Wen Jun and the guitarist (whose name I forget) and shot them the question. They explained that the music went much better with English lyrics than with Chinese. I asked if the tonal system of Chinese made it difficult to pair the language with the punk sound and they agreed this was the case. Kang Mao of SUBS had said something similar to me when I asked her the same question.
My theory is that these bands listen to a lot of English-language punk rock music, and that as they draw from a well of subconscious musical influences, it just comes more naturally for them to come out with English lyrics as they create their songs. From what they described, it sounded like Guai Li goes through a similar process to the SUBS, building tunes through a collective process of experimentation, and then adding lyrics. Since there’s really no precedent for Chinese-language punk (at least from what I’ve seen and heard), there’s no musical model for them to sing in Chinese. Maybe some bands have experimented with Chinese-language punk but so far the ones I know all sing in English.
Like I said, Guai Li is a young and new band, so while their act doesn’t have the polish of the other two bands in the lineup, they should be given some slack. My mate Chris thought Wen Jun’s voice was--well, less euphonious than it could have been--but I kinda like her singing style. It definitely fits in with the punk genre. As I wrote in the previous blog (they also played at Mao Livehouse on Friday night) she has orange hair that hangs over her face, partially obscuring her eyes. She is skinny as a rail. She has a large mouth and sings with her eyes closed half the time. It’s a pretty strange look all right, but I was kinda digging it.
The club was jam packed and got even more crowded as time went on. I had trouble filming from around the stage, since it was hard to find a spot between people’s heads, though I did get a few shots from in front and the side of the stage. The upstairs balcony was packed too. Fortunately I discovered the little balcony beyond the private room. Zhang Shun, the drummer for SUBS, was hanging there and beckoned me over. I shot most of the rest of their act from there, and did the same with the next two bands.
Cute Punks: Hedgehog
After Guai Li finished, the three members of Hedgehog were on. I haven’t met anybody yet who does not like this band. The three members are lead singer and guitarist Z.O., bassist BoX, and female drummer/backup singer Atom. (I know their Chinese names but since they go by these stage names, I’ll respect that). Z.O. is a skinny guy with longish hair, buck teeth and glasses--looks as nerdy as any Chinese college kid, but when he’s onstage, he’s electric. Pounds that guitar and pops out the lyrics like any heavyweight. BoX is a pretty boy, tall and thin, immaculate “punk” hairdo, the quiet type. Atom is tiny and cute as a button, has a bowl cut that partially hides her eyes--a common phenom among punk singers here. But she’s an amazing drummer, especially for a girl of her size. Watching her beat those drums is pure poetry in motion. She backs up Z.O.’s vocals, creating a musical counterpoint that is absent in most punk bands here, with the exception of the husband-wife team of Re-TROS. Both bands are signed with Modern Sky records by the way. Hedgehog plays a hard-driving yet poppish punk, which they call Noisepop. They cite their influences as including the New Order (apparent immediately), the Cure (also apparent) and Nirvana (somewhat less apparent). Anybody interested in reading more about this band can check out the following site where somebody posted an interview with them on 24 July 2007:
(I’m hoping to catch up with them sometime this week and do a filmed interview. Maybe I’ll post the highlights.)
After they finished I told Z.O. that I thought this was their best performance I’d seen (this is the third time I’ve seen them perform). He shrugged and said he thought they’d been off that night. They’d just gotten back from a concert in HK and were pretty tired, plus they hadn’t had a chance to practice. If they were off, I didn’t notice and neither did most of the audience.
The third band was the Carsick Cars. I’d heard mixed reviews of this band. Some people said they were great, others thought they were pretentious and overrated. The usual range of opinions. Since they were the top act that night, the crowd was bigger than ever and I could barely squeeze through the masses to catch them on film. I was pretty tired at that point and only filmed a couple songs, then went outside to catch some fresh air and catch up with my mate from NYC and fellow Columbian, Chris. I will refrain from passing any judgment on this band who I only caught partially, having had enough of the heat and the crowd.
Chinese goth metal rockers: Peking Opera in disguise?
Chris was next door at 13 Club which was hosting a goth metal concert. Seven acts played that night. I saw the tail end of one and then caught the full show by Evil Thorn. Two members of this band are employees of Chris in his Beijing office (he runs a music company--more on this later). For their act, they paint their faces in Kiss-like style, with white makeup and black around the eyes. They all have long straight hair. Onstage they roll their heads and stick out their tongues, lolling and learing at the audience. The theatrics are probably more interesting than the music, which is pretty basic metal strumming and a lot of grunting and screaming by the lead vocalist. I’ve never been a big metal fan, but they did get the audience going. I got some good footage of headbangers, mostly Chinese men and women (there were very few foreigners in the audience here in 13 Club), banging their heads at the front of the stage while the band sported onstage. Good band-audience rapport. Which suggests that metal here has a strong subcultural following, much as punk does. Except that metal seems to attract more of a local crowd than punk. Maybe people are more entranced with the theatrics and the face painting, which resonates with more familiar territory of Peking opera, than with the heavily westernized sound and sight of punk bands. There was one foreign guy who tried to mosh, but nobody understood what he was up to. It just wasn’t done in this scene. Chris told him that he should stop because people thought he was a real a*hole. However I did see at least one person being carried on his back around by a sea of arms.
Onstage, Evil Thorn is pure mania. Offstage, after the makeup and spiked wristbands come off, these are the sweetest guys imaginable. We all piled into cars (one of their mates was driving an Audi, another a Beijing Jeep) and headed with the band and some of their lady friends to a local chuanr dive in the Deshengmen area. You would never find this place if somebody didn’t take you. It was a dive all right--better not to inspect the kitchen--but they cook up a mean chicken-wing chuanr. We sat on an outdoor second-floor deck drinking beers and looking out at the elevated highway while they brought us tray after tray of skewered chicken wings dipped in a hot sauce and spiced up with pepper.
The guitarist Nanshan (“south mountain”) is a solidly built dude with a pleasing, classic Chinese face--eyebrows lifted right out of a Tang dynasty painting. His lady friend spent the entire time combing out his long hair (she also combed some of the other bandmates’ hair--maybe that’s her official job). I fed the band members a steady stream of questions and tried to participate a bit in their conversations, but it was obvious that we guailo (“foreign devils” in Cantonese) were out of place in this scene, though they made us feel more than welcome (didn’t hurt that their boss was footing the bill). Owing to his limited Chinese skills, Chris couldn’t interact much with the party. They’d brought a couple of girls who spoke English to converse with him but one had left and the other hung out with the lead singer. One of the guys spoke French with him. At some point we got up and bid goodbye, letting his employees hang out for a while longer with their Chinese chiquitas while we headed east to Sanlitunr to check out the late Sat night scene.
Cheers! and good night
Which is hardly worth mentioning except for Cheers! Run by a bearded Chinese artist named Leon, this is the friendliest, funnest bar in all of Sanlitunr. It’s a long thin bar wedged in between two popular clubs, Bar Blu and China Doll. They have live music onstage, but this night a few white dudes were air-singing to a steady stream of British pop songs while two guys beat on the drums. People there were dancing up a storm, including some European dudes who had obviously pulled a few of the local ladies from Bar Blu upstairs. The bar is decorated with oil paintings of female Chinese nudes painted by owner Leon, which give the place a sultry, seedy air. If you go to this bar, be sure to have a chat with Leon, who is fluent in English and has a lot of interesting things to say. And don’t commit the faux pas of rushing through the bar just to get to the other dance club.