Playing with Noise: A Weekend of Art and Rock in Beijing

Beijing is the capital of the PRC. Most folks know the city as the political center of the Chinese world. And of course the seat of the 2008 Olympics. Fewer people living abroad are aware that Beijing is also a leading center of a growing arts and live music culture that is also global in its orientation and scope. This weekend while on a trip to reconnect with bands and other people who appear in my film Down: Indie Rock in the PRC, I also reconnected with the amazing world of art that this city offers.
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Ah, Those Wonderful Olympics (II)

Yesterday I posted a rant about how the Olympics ought to be depoliticized and treated as a game rather than a political spectacle.  Of course this in itself is a naive aspiration, since (as one of the commenters to my post rightly remarked) by its very nature the Olympics plays into our atavistic nineteenth century nationalisms, with nations sending their best athletes to compete for a countable stack of medals, to be tallied up at the end like coins. 

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(mis)Representing Beijing: A Review of _Beijing Time_ by Dutton et al

In an effort to cash in on the Olympics, a flurry of books has been published recently on the topic of Beijing. These include several histories of the city, such as Geremie Barme's _The Forbidden City_ and Lillian Li et al, Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City as well as books by Stephen Haw and Jasper Becker, all of which have come out in the past year or so. It seems that everyone is rushing to the publisher to get their Beijing book out before the Olympics hit in an effort to boost sales. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does have the potential pitfall of creating a bunch of hastily written thinkpieces.

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Dartmouth in Beijing Presents: Preserving the Hutongs of Beijing

 Last fall, at the end of the Dartmouth in Beijing FSP program, my students delivered several outstanding presentations on the history and contemporary society of Beijing.  I am putting these online so that others may benefit from them.  The file size is a problem, since these are all nearly one-hour presentations, so I've compressed this one in mp4 form, hence the fairly low quality.  If anybody has an idea for doing it better, let me know.  This presentation is about the Hutong neighborhoods of Beijing and what is and can be done to preserve them.

The Ullens Center and Chinese New Wave Art from the 1980s

Last night I attended the opening party for the new Ullens Center in the 798 Arts District in Beijing.  The Ullens Center takes up a large factory space across from the bookstore/cafe Timezone 8.  It has been nicely renovated and painted in white.  The center functions as a museum and knowledge center for Chinese arts, showcasing the Ullens collection. 

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Beijing Punk Band Snapline


Above:  Snapline lead singer Cheng Xi at Mao Livehouse Oct 6 2007

If you like the Talking Heads and the Cure, and enjoy the industrial noise issuing from a distorted electric guitar, you'll like Snapline.  In the words of my mate Jimbo, this is "the ultimate geek band."  The lead singer is a thin, gawky, sharp-featured and oddly handsome dude named Cheng Xi.  He dresses like a hip schoolboy, with baggy pants and a white collared shirt with semi-long sleeves.  He sports a pair of glasses with thick black frames, common to the hip punkster scene.  When he sings, his face contorts into a weird grimace, as if he were laughing at his own secret joke.  He does a gawky David Byrne-like dance as he holds the mic.  As Jimbo my swing dancing pal said, he ought to be wearing a zoot suit a few sizes too large for him. 

The music is jumpy, punchy, catchy.  It isn't angry punk stuff.  Not quite happy either, but somewhere in between. Bizarre stuff. It's fed by the industrial sounds of female guitarist Li Qing, who is similarly dressed in a white shirt and dark pants.  The bassist Li Weisi keeps the rhythm going.  He also wears a thick pair of black framed glasses, dark pants, white shirt.  In other words there's some coordination in couture going on here.  The band is tight and polished.

Like a kid playing with a new toy--a dangerous toy at that--Li Qing keeps bending down to adjust the knobs on her distortion controls.  I like it better when she's at the synth backing up Cheng Xi's vocals--you can hear him better that way, and he really is the show.

I've seen them twice now, the first time at D22 on Thurs night, second time on Sat night (Oct 6) at the Mao Livehouse.  Spoke briefly with Cheng Xi at the Mao bar, where I enjoy hanging out owing largely to the cute bartender (the gal not the guy, but he's pretty cute too), who knows her shit when it comes to music.  She used to manage a band.  Anyhow, Cheng Xi comes across as a pretty humble guy.  I asked him how many albums they've sold so far.  He said somewhere in the hundreds, and that he was surprised they were doing so well.  I told him I'd talked to an Aussie bloke at D22 who organized tours for rock bands, and that he wanted to take Snapline to Australia.  He said he knew about this and would be happy to go.  I told him he was most welcome in Sydney and that his band would definitely have a following.

So far they've put out one album, "Party is Over, Pornstar" (2007).  It's more polished and less industrial-noise oriented than their live act.  Good music for Halloween.  Haunting.  And unlike many other Chinese punk singers who sing in English, you can actually understand the lyrics.

Will be paying more attention to this band in the future.

Hang the Police, We're Here to Rock! The Beijing Pop Festival, Sept 10 and 11 2007

When the capital city of the world’s largest authoritarian police state hosts a rock concert with headliners Public Enemy and Nine Inch Nails, how does it prevent mayhem from breaking out?  Answer:  police.  Lots of em.  The Beijing Pop Festival was an impressive contradiction of rock-fueled mayhem that brought performers and audience together, and rigid military discipline that kept them apart.

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Chinese Punks and The Ramones Tribute Concert @ Mao Livehouse in Beijing

Are the Ramones really a “punk” band?  Personally I don’t associate them with the punk movement of the 1970s [I do now--AF, 2017] but people here in Beijing seem to think they are the quintessential punks.  At least judging from the tribute concert held last night at Mao Livehouse near the drum tower.

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