Some Random Notes on Filmmaking, Art, Music, and Identity

I just watched a great film on that very subject, the Banksy documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" about the underground filmmaker Thierry Guetta (if you can call him that--film collector is more accurate) who turned his obsession for filming street artists into a career as a "street artist."  I wonder if people who film documentaries about artists aren't themselves aspiring to be the artist in the film.  Of course we can all agree that Jia Zhangke is already an accomplished "artist," in that the films he makes have an artistic quality to them. 

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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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Touring the French Concession and Screening Down: Indie Rock in the PRC

What a Saturday!  I awoke around 7 am, still groggy from the Bob Dylan concert of the previous night and a night of tossing and turning to some sort of intestinal infection, and readied myself for my alternate job as tour guide.  I had a 9 am appointment at the new Peninsula Hotel on the Bund for a tour group called the International Collectors Forum organized by a locally based tour guide agency called Shanghai Far East Expeditions.  I caught a taxi to the Bund and had the driver stop at Suzhou Creek where I took this morning shot of the iconic Garden Bridge (外百渡桥) overlooking the Pudong Skyline.

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The Rock Doc is Nearing Completion

It's been three years in the making.  After making over nine versions of the film, we are finally satisfied with what we've got now and are ready to bring it to the world.  We've tested it on a few sympathetic audiences but it has yet to go public.  2011 is the year we will bring this film to a global audience by whatever means we can:  film festivals, distribution deals, TV screenings, or just your friendly neighborhood cafe.  

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Windows Underground: A New Bastion for the Rock Scene in Shanghai

Last night Mency and I met my friend Mo Jin, who is back in town for the weekend, and together headed over to the new Windows Underground.  We arrived at 11 pm in the middle of the Secondhand Roses (ershou meigui) concert.  This Beijing-based band delivers a powerful mix of northern-style folk rock enhanced with traditional Chinese instruments.  The male lead singer has a campy singing and operatic performance style, and is known to dress up in women’s costumes.  They looked like regular rockers last night though, and like my friend Dan Shapiro (Handlebar Dan, though he shaved his whiskers for the summer) said, these guys don’t need a gimmick—they’re solid.

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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.

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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