From Music-China Wiki
Biography by James Bollen:
Sonic Youth meets Gang of Four, in China,' declares a review included in the sleeve notes from P.K.14's second album "Shei, Shei, Shei He Shei, Shei, Shei." To discover whether this was more an allusion to the post-punk icons than Madame Mao's malevolent clique, I contacted the band and arranged to meet them as they played the last of their European tour gigs in the city of Umea, situated in northern Sweden.
Before leaving, I searched Chinese music websites to have an idea of how P.K.14 are regarded back home. Their sound has been compared to in some instances Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Stooges and The Smiths; one acquaintance in the UK who's heard them reckons they sound like the Meat Puppets. Also written in the sleeve note review is the proclamation by rock critic Wu Yuqing that P.K.14 are 'a serious band,' while MTV China's website has Julie Wu pronouncing, 'they don't have much flowery stuff.' Moreover they have a reputation as outsiders. Yan Jun, the Middle Kingdom's equivalent of Lester Bangs, claims they're 'on the fringes of the [Chinese] underground.' As for their live performances, a review of one gig they played in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province during last year's tour of China, quotes Chongqing News reporter Jiang Xiaoyong remarking that 'P.K.14 are imbued with the same passion as a bunch of kids who've just formed their first band.'
The night after my arrival I see them play at the less than glam location of Holmsund Gymnasium. The scene is of clich¨¦d Swedish tolerance. Parents have placed earphones normally used with pneumatic drills over their toddlers' ears; it seems the environmental consciousness Swedes are famed for extends to noise pollution. The little ones dash around the concert goers, a mix including indie kids, teenagers sporting Mohicans and middle-aged men in (too) tight Levis. P.K.14 unceremoniously take to the stage set up in the sports hall. Clad in his trademark drainpipes at half-mast, quietly charismatic frontman Yang Haisong announces to the audience in English, 'we are P.K.14, we come from the People's Republic of China.' The band then launch into 'Stranger's Come to Visit', a song taken from their new album White Paper.
An aural assault of such intensity ensues that the audience aren't sure whether it's friendly fire. Guitarist Xu Bo, who resembles a young Frank Black had he been conceived in the People's Republic, plucks eerie and raucous sounding chords. The clunky bass belongs to Ren Jie, who stamps across the stage as if he's putting out a potential forest fire. Behind them sits Jonathan Leijonhufvud, whose drumming is a skillful blend of subtlety and strength. Later in the evening, he pummels the drums with such force that he falls off his stool. Yang Haisong jumps and ambles across the stage. His vocals are not quite like anything you've heard. This isn't because he sings in Mandarin, but rather that they're punctuated by an urgent, panicked tempo and idiosyncratic yelps expressing the songs' yearning and despair.
When they finish, the crowd pauses as though in shock, then applaud enthusiastically. Before giving them a chance to recover, the band tear into 'Eden', which has a stomp along of a chorus. Imagine Sonic Youth and The Pixies sharing a power drill over the broken landscape of old Beijing being demolished to make way for the Olympics, and you have P.K.14 at their most emotive and energetic. 'What Kind of Wind is Blowing?' is a spaceier reprise, similar to a slow burning Sonic Youth track but without developing into a menacing crescendo. They end with 'Tell the Children', again taken from White Paper. The number reaches an anthemic climax with Yang Haisong pleading: 'tell the children, why exist in this dead city, don't stop, let the noise continue. Tell them, don't stop, let the music continue.' The band ends their set to surprised and respectful applause.
The children's art room has been converted into the temporary backstage area. As the others in the room are complying with the No Smoking signs, Ren Jie goes outside for a cigarette, taking with him a box of P.K.14's merchandise. I ask Jonathan why P.K.14 are playing at a venue such as Holmsund's gymnasium cum kindergarten. He describes it as being another part of their ad-lib tour, a 'last minute puzzle that fell into place.' Originally in March they were offered a one-off gig, as part of an exhibition at Stockholm's Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. They played a half hour improvised set. 'It was fucking loud, the acoustics were huge,' says Jonathan, excitedly stretching out his arms to illustrate the point, 'and just massive reverb.' Afterwards he decided to contact friends who helped set up more concerts. 'We all said to ourselves, shit, we finally get the chance to go over and play outside of China, let's just not go and spend a few days and then come back again.' This all seems to fit in with P.K.14's diligent DIY ethos. In almost three months, the band's played nearly forty gigs. They've been all over Northern Europe, from Stockholm to Berlin, Vienna to Oslo to little known towns such as Murek in Austria. The venues have included squats in Eastern Germany and an anti-racism festival at Kuba Park in Oslo during Norway's National Day.
When Ren Jie returns, we all head out into the still light night and sit below a pine tree beside the banks of Holmsund's river. While Ren and Yang roll their cigarettes, the group have a Tarantinoesque discourse on the kebabs they've had in Europe. 'The best were in Vienna,' argues Jonathan. 'The cheapest were in Germany,' observes Yang Haisong. Described in alternative circles as the 'kernel' of the band, Yang is also a poet and 'steadfastly anti-bourgeois,' according to mainland Chinese scribe Tian Pu, who's also written of him that, 'he puts all his energy into reading, thinking, writing and music.' Yang's response is, 'I'm interested in all sub-cultures¡ the biggest influences on my world view are French existentialists and the Beat Generation.' He's also the only remaining member of P.K.14's original 1997 line-up, previous ones departed because of homesickness, serious illness, and a sex change. With his Graham Coxon type spectacles that never leave his face, Yang Haisong wouldn't look out of place in the Left Bank. He has a hesitant approach to conversation. When he talks his voice is rapid and soft, and sometimes his points are repeated using different combinations of words, as though he's thinking out loud and conversation is interrupting his flow.
After leaving school, the younger Yang began singing, playing both the drums and acoustic guitar, and writing songs. He describes this as, 'an impulse.' Through friends, Yang started listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Woody Guthrie, who he explains were 'huge influences.' He says, 'I still really like post-punk,' and lists bands like Talking Heads, Patti Smith and The Cure as further inspirations. 'Our backgrounds and the music we like are very different,' continues Xu Bo, who joined P.K.14 in 2001. At university, he played in a series of outfits with unpromising monikers. 'The bands that have influenced us a lot are Joy Division, Television, Fugazi and Sonic Youth' affirms Xu Bo. Ren Jie, who became bassist earlier this year, adds 'early hardcore' to his likes. Ren intended to study film at the Beijing Film Institute, but 'Xu Bo phoned and asked me to play bass. I used to be a guitarist, I'd never played it before. I gave it a go.'
Jonathan cites similar influences; when a stripling of 15 he saw Sonic Youth play in Hong Kong (he went to school in the territory, as incidentally did Kim Gordon.) How he came to be P.K.14's sticksmith starts back in May 1999, when he organized some concerts for Swedish alt anarchists The (International) Noise Conspiracy in China. When they played in Shanghai, P.K.14 were the supporting act. Jonathan states, 'P.K.14 opened up my eyes. The energy and the vibe they had on stage was so different from anything I'd seen at that time. And also meeting and talking to Yang Haisong was really special¡ he still is a person with his head switched on.'
Fluent in Chinese, Jonathan has lived 21 of his 25 years in China. In the winter of 1999, he moved back to Beijing from Hong Kong. 'The punk scene in Beijing was just starting and things were really happening. It was a cool time. I said fuck it, I gotta get out of Hong Kong.' Unaware that P.K.14 had moved from their hometown of Nanjing to Beijing, Jonathan ran into them at Club 17, one of the city's now defunct live venues. After a meeting between he and Yang Haisong in Ikea ('they had cheap coffee and it was halfway between where the two of us were living' explains Jonathan apologetically,) he was asked to try out for the drums and joined when the original skin beater left that winter.
I ask how the gigs compare to those in China. The band maintains that the differences between playing in Europe and the motherland are minute, only 'people in China know where we're coming from. The spontaneous and honest reaction to what they see right there, right then on stage is pretty much the same. For us, the most important thing of course is having some kind of relationship or contact with the audience.' Has the audience had preconceived notions about what a band from China would be like? 'One word we kept hearing in Germany,' continues Jonathan, 'which we thought was really funny to describe a show, was intelligent. People I think were expecting something more primitive and sort of more Sex Pistols or Exploited¡ '77 style.' Xu Bo says, 'we don't see ourselves as a Chinese rock band, but maybe in their minds the audience still think this way.' Ren Jie concludes, 'they seem to like what they hear.' With this in mind, how far do the band push the Middle Kingdom cachet? Jonathan answers, 'what we want to show is, look, there are kids in China playing rock music like anywhere else.'
The following balmy night after Ren Jie and Xu Bo have left for Stockholm to catch their flight back to Beijing, I meet Yang Haisong, Jonathan and his friends at Umea's Dobelns Park for a round of 'Kubb', a sort of Swedish bowls with wooden blocks. Yang Haisong talks about Beijing's music industry. "There's nobody saying, 'I'll check out some new bands¡ then make a recording with them.' Nobody cares about you, then you're like, oh, this is tedious. Let's split up.' Things are getting better, a few years back it was impossible to run a independent record label on mainland China unless 'you had heavy contacts in the government, a lot of money and somehow got hold of a publishing license.' Jonathan points out that they had neither of those and besides, 'wasn't interested in compromising either.' I ask Yang Haisong if in this sense the band consider themselves part of Beijing's underground. He answers, 'I don't trust any form of group¡ I cannot connect with them. I detest the concept of cliques.' I asked Ren Jie and Xu Bo the night before what's their definition of being underground? 'Sticking to our thing and not being controlled by all the commercial stuff,' answers Ren Jie.
The guys have a forty-minute walk to Second Home Studios where we've arranged to meet. There, in a couple of tiny rooms situated in a garage shared with a local theatre group, P.K.14 recorded White Paper with Henrik Oja. With his relaxed voice, floppy sun hat and kindly beard, Oja comes across as an avuncular figure. For twelve years he's been guitarist with what he classifies as a 'psychedelic rock band, to put it easily,' The Spacious Mind, though recently like Ren Jie he's switched to bass. He's been involved in several bands and set up his own label, Goddamn I'm a Countryman Records, for 'The Spacious Mind unrelated by-products.'
I ask Henrik why he's recorded two albums with a band from Beijing and he answers, 'I can relate to what they're doing.' In fact he first met Jonathan when he came to Umea six years ago and was staying with the 'hardcore kids' recording in Henrik's studio. They kept in touch, and last year when Jonathan told Henrik P.K.14 were due to start work on "Shei, Shei, Shei he Shei, Shei, Shei" and asked if he wanted to come over and record it with them, which he did in a fortnight. I remark to Henrik that he's quite unique in being both a producer and musician. He replies, 'I tend to almost always, I think, produce together with the band.' Henrik emphasizes that 'a band like P.K.14 have already thought about their music so much that they are the producers as well.' He tells me they've had meetings to discuss the recording and write everything down. How do they assess the new album's sound? Henrik's response is, 'it's more live orientated and more raw.' Before Xu Bo and Ren Jie left Umea, I asked Xu Bo. 'More direct,' he replied. 'In addition, Ren Jie is a new bassist. His background's comparatively rough¡ more vigorous.' Yang Haisong states that the album's 'noisier, more intense¡ it's all to do with the four of us.' I ask him and Jonathan if the region's long summer and dark winter nights provided inspiration for White Paper. Yang replies that almost all the songs were written back in China. Jonathan says the four of them were cooped up in a friend's apartment during the beginning of this European tour, and that as a result of a construction mishap, the windows couldn't be opened. 'That was our inspiration,' he laughs.
While P.K.14 are a naturally democratic outfit, Yang Haisong still remains the kernel, particularly as his lyrics connect profoundly with their audience in China. Wu Yuqing writes they 'are always concerned about people.' In one of his earlier songs, Moon Blue, the last line is 'let me rot away.' This has since been used to describe the generation born in the 70s and 80s as the "Rotten Generation." I ask Yang what is the "Rotten Generation." He says, 'it's a satire¡ it expresses¡ refusal. You ought to refuse the mainstream¡ by that I mean we want to do our own thing¡ [which is] neither for money nor to conform to a standard¡ or value.' At this point his speech becomes uncharacteristically lucid. 'I'm probably a nothing in my parent's eyes [adopts nagging tone] 'fuck, you haven't got a job, you don't earn any money, you're over thirty, you have nothing but you're still making music¡' If you don't make money you're useless, they think you're rotten, you have no worth in this society.' He breaks off, then adds defiantly, 'then I will be rotten. Don't bother us and we won't bother you. We're not willing to enter your lives, we're not willing to enter your value system. We have our own perspective.'
Yang Haisong uses the adjectives 'sorrow, pain and loneliness' when I query what inspires him to write. 'I have my own experiences and those of the people around me.' I ask if he sees himself as a spokesman for the "Rotten Generation." He responds with 'actually most of my songs are written for the minority.' Who does he mean? 'The people who share similar feelings,' those who want to 'refuse.' Yang says he writes as a reminder to both himself, 'I need to oppose¡ [and] maintain a youthful attitude,' and his friends who 'need something to prove that what they're doing is right because they're living this sort of ["rotten"] life.'
Yang Haisong's lyrics are predominantly about China's disaffected urban youth. The titles may seem gloomy (two from the previous album include 'Religion Lost' and 'Speaking Wounds') yet his songs beseech the listener and, as he's just explained, have elements of hope. Legend has it that Yang's worn the same pair of glasses he's had since secondary school, perhaps they are what help him preserve his youthful world view (one of the many abbreviations for P.K.14 is 'Public Kingdom for Teens'.)
The musical gap between P.K.14 and their contemporaries in the West is becoming smaller as the country's modernization steamrolls on. P.K.14 may sing in Chinese, but their pared down sound, energy and DIY passion need no translation. They are a group whose sound reflects their audience, one that has more in common with The Meat Puppets than Mao.
December 1997, plays first show in Nanjing.
1998, plays extensively in Nanjing and records various demos.
1999, first appearance in the Modern Sky music magazine. "Lanse De Yueliang" is included in the magazines' compilation CD.
May 1999, P.K.14 plays with The (International) Noise Conspiracy in Shanghai.
2001, first album "Shang Lou Jiu Wang Zuo Guai" is released by Sub Jam China / Empty Egg Canada.
2002, moves to Beijing, signs with Badhead, a Modern Sky label. "Guan Yu K" appears on the Modern Sky Vol. 4 compilation.
October 2004, second album "Shei Shei Shei he Shei Shei Shei" is released.
November 2004, P.K.14 tours China, playing 14 cities.
January 2005, P.K.14 invites The (International) Noise Conspiracy back to China.
March, April and May 2005, P.K.14 tours Europe and Scandinavia. Shares stages with The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Ex Models, Isolation Years, The Deportees, Mullstation, Nitro Mahalia and Silverbullit. Clubs include Wild at Heart (Berlin), Kapu (Linz), Fluc Exil (Vienna), Cafe Central (Weinheim), Kafe 44 (Stockholm), Debaser (Stockholm) and Elm Street (Oslo).
June 2005, P.K.14 records in Sweden together with Henrik Oja (The Spacious Mind, Råd Kjetil, David Sandström, The Perishers, Moon Trotskij). Mastered by Pelle Henricsson (Refused, Isolation Years, Entombed, Silverbullit).
September 2005, third album "Bai Pi Shu" (White Paper in English) is released.
September 2005, P.K.14 embark on their second nationwide tour of China.
June 2006, the 6th annual Chinese Music Media Awards nominates P.K.14 for "Best Band" and "Best Rock Band".
July 2006, MTV Chi chooses "Ta Men" video as their 'Pick of the Week'.
On February 2nd 2007, online music mag The Fader (New York, USA) featured them in their issue no. 44. (info)
May 2007, P.K.14 plays with The Soundtrack of Our Lives in Beijing.
In January 2008, P.K.14 makes Time Magazine's list 5 Asian Bands to Watch in 2008.
In January and February of 2008 the members of the band decamped to Sweden, where they recorded their fourth album, titled Chengshi Tianqi De Hangxing (City Weather Sailing). Produced by the brilliant producer-duo Henrik Oja and Mats Hammarström.
The new album surfaced late June 2008 on Maybe Mars (Bing Ma Si).
End of June 2008, P.K.14 goes on their China Tour 2008. In August they join up with Queen Sea Big Shark and start their Love Noise tour, sponsored by Converse, travelling to Nanjing (July 31st) and afterwards to Hangzhou (Aug 2nd), Changsha (Aug 6th), Wuhan (7th) and Xi'an (9th).
In May 2009, Yang Yang is voted the no. 4 coolest rock star in Beijing by Timeout Beijing Magazine. On stage, Yang Haisong is a picture of jerky and compelling energy, but his high position on our list has just as much to do with his positive influence on the local rock scene. Very few people, say insiders, have done more to nurture up-and-coming bands in Beijing; and few bands have had as wide an influence as PK14. The unassuming and bespectacled Yang is said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of rock history, both international and Chinese, has published poetry and criticism, and has produced albums for bands such as Carsick Cars and Ourself Beside Me. November, Maybe Mars sends Carsick Cars, P.K. 14 and Xiao He on a showcase through North America. Asked upon their feelings for the upcoming US-Tour, Jonney Leijonhufvud states, in an interview with City Weekend Shanghai:
We are super curious about the U.S. The cities, the people and the music scene. Throughout the years we have played together, we've been influenced by a lot of American music, past and present, and now we get to set sail and play for American audiences. In some ways we feel we're coming full circle with this visit.
On January 22nd, 2010, they performed in the Mao Livehouse Shanghai. According to Andy Best: PK14 are just legends so none of the above really mattered. Everyone started to go nuts as soon as they saw singer Yang Haisong, me included, and they enjoyed the reception that their status deserves.
Modern Sky Festival 2009 - 2009, October
Beijing Pop Festival 2007 - 2007, September
Modern Sky Festival 2007 - 2007, October
Beijing beer and rock festival 2006 - October 2006
Appearances in Press/Books
- Mentioned as one of "Beijing's hottest bands" in the Insider's Guide to Beijing 2008.
- Mentioned as "Yaogun band to watch" in the Insider's Guide to Beijing 2007.
City Weather Sailing - 2008, July
White Paper - 2005, September
Shei Shei Shei He Shei Shei Shei - 2004, October
上楼就往左拐 - 2001
烂掉吧 - 2000
- Demo - 2000
The China Invasion Tour 2010 (VA) - 2010, March
Look Directly Into The Sun: China Pop 2007 (VA) - 2007, August
A Tour of the Public Kingdom (documentary by independent filmmaker David Harris) - 2005
- How Majestic Is The Night (多么美妙的夜晚) Music Video (from the album City Weather Sailing, Directed by Jonas Lundberg & Petrus Sjövik)
- They (他们) Music Video (from the album White Paper)
- 一些点缀 Live at D-22, Beijing (2007-06-02)
- Eden (伊甸园) Live in Shanghai (2007-07-14)
- Cuo Guo Le Live in Shanghai (2007-07-07)
- 燥眠夜 Live in Shanghai (2007-07-07)
Appearances in Podcasts
Dragonradio no. 032 - 2006, with their song Stormy Eyes
- Modern Sky Records
- (Old) Sub Jam Records Profile Page
- PK 14 at Sick Baby
- PK 14 in the Chinese Rock Database
Articles & Interviews
- Comprehensive PK14 interview in English, by Artrocker magazine (down, archive)
- Washington Post article about Punk in China
- Pick of the Week at MTV Chi
- Interview on SmartShanghai.com
- Interview by AMP in July 2007
- Article by Anton Berkovich in that's Shanghai magazine (July 18, 2007)
- P.K. 14 article on The Wall Street Journal Blog by Maya Alexandri
- China's Newest Export: Punk Rock, profile on the band on the occasion of their U.S. tour by Zoe Chace on NPR (November 16, 2009)
- 8 Questions with P.K.14's Jonney Leijonhufvud, by Daniel Shapiro for City Weekend Shanghai
- (2012), 10 Questions With Yang Haisong- PK 14 is a Spicy Dish, published on 29 November 2012
- Alex Hoban (2009), Turning Japanese heads to China: The Shanghai scene, published on 4 August 2009
- ↑ http://www.douban.com/subject/3118264/
- ↑ Timeout Beijing Magazine (May 2009). "Class of '09". Retrieved on 2009-05-07.
- ↑ 8 Questions with P.K.14's Jonney Leijonhufvud, by Daniel Shapiro, link
- ↑ Andy Best (2010-01-23). "Maybe Mars Showcase @ Mao". Retrieved on 2010-01-24.