Why No Beijing and D-22 are not worth the hype!

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Why No Beijing and D-22 are not worth the hype!

A declaration of independence from the chains of wrongly-understood Beijing Rock

Since the founding of D-22 in 2006, the international press has started a hype around bands frequently performing in this location at WuDaoKou; the bands, the sound, the scene around D-22 and the No Beijing movement all do not justice to such a pushed hype. Looking for examples? See below ...

Here is to the why!

Released in October 2005, the record No Beijing had its mental roots in the No Wave scene of New York and contained the early rock bands Carsick Cars, The Gar, White-2j and Snapline. Four very close bands doing similar kind of music. Four bands that sooner than later would enter the stage of D-22 and perform on a regular basis in this little venue down the students' district of Beijing. Other bands, such as AV Okubo, Joyside, PK 14 and Queen Sea Big Sharks would soon enter the same circle and receive a memorable monument in form of a printed photograph lining up the wall of the club. It was not much later that Maybe Mars was founded by the owners of the D-22, promoting their "house" bands and releasing their debut records, e.g. "Party is over, pornostar" by Snapline or Carsick Cars self-titled debut. Later on, some of "their" bands first went to Europe on individual tours, as e.g. Carsick Cars with their Sonic Youth connection, and later were shipped out en masse by Maybe Mars via their Showcase of the Chinese Underground 2009 to the USA. Further label work was added by e.g. Michael Pettis and his review of Carsick Cars in the Esquire magazine as well as the photographing work of D-22's "house photographer" Matthew Niederhauser, who published his book Sound Kapital with showcases in galleries all over China.

But is this particular group of bands and promoters really representing the sound of Beijing rock?

No! Because Beijing rock and the Beijing scene is by far more! Think of the guys behind Hotpot Music and their continuous effort to host emo, screamo and hardcore shows. Think of the well-established bands of the former Rapcore Genre: Twisted Machine, Yaksa and Miserable Faith, that are not only going strong, but from which Miserable Faith also won the Midi Awards in 2009. Think of 2 Kolegas and their shows, think of Mao, think of Yugong Yishan! All those clubs do host regular shows, do host newcomer shows and they do give others a chance. Think of 13 Club that boasts a regular metal scene and has hold festivals packed with fans of which D-22 can only dream of, just size-wise.

So what are the actual reasons, that there is the perception in the West that the "rising stars of China's rock" are to be named only by the billings of one particular club?

For one thing, it's the language barrier, that prohibited many Western newspapers, magazines and blog writers to actually contact the bands, the label and the people in the scene and talk to them, exchange ideas and gather background information. If people wanted to find out about the bands, whom could they contact? At Mao, only Japanese speaking mags would be satisfied, at 13 Club and Get Lucky Bar, without Chinese no one would be able to do an interview. So it had to be D-22, the only bar with English speaking staff close enough to the student area to attract not only the attention of Chinese students and fans, but also of international students, that later certainly would share a word or two with their friends back home and contribute to the "fame" of D-22.

Add to this "single point of entry" for far too many, the fact, that D-22 is not built up by anybody, but an experienced club owner who has not only the connections back home, but also the eagerness and the passion to do what he loves, promoting music. It takes luck, hard work and experience to set up a functioning record label and to not just promote bands, but to actually help them in the things they do. It consists of constantly talking to others, convincing them on "your bands", "your sound" and "your music". The fate of Scream Records, Mort Productions, Little Bar Records, 13 Moon Records, Pilot Records and many many other indie labels is one and one thing only: the lack of English language to communicate with the foreign press. And with less people to talk to, once again, there is the "single point of entry" which helps to bottleneck the available news and interviews down to a handful of bands, down to certain particular circle of bands. Down to those that are hyped.

A statement of clarification!

Please do not misunderstand us! We love the fact that Chinese rock is being made known overseas! And we love the fact that some bands are successful. And do get listened to. And do get money from the things they love to do! We have been to D-22 and saw the bands, listened to their songs and we like them, as we like D-22 to hangout and watch the shows! But this is a statement of clarification for Beijing rock and the way it is perceived right now in the foreign world! And if you don't believe it then make a quick search via Google and just have a look what The New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post are saying about Beijing rock. But this is a limited view on the scene! And one, we of Rock in China try to level out, by putting online more information!

One can always argue, that D-22 and their folks are doing just the things others should do as well and it is theirs to blame, hence it is the fault of all the other bands to not have taken that road. But we also blame the media for not being interested in really reporting what is out there in Beijing, and not just here, but also down in Shanghai or back in the provinces, in Chengdu!

Coming to the actual sounds!

Let's dissect the sounds of No Beijing and the scene being hyped! For are they really worth the notion, worth the noise being made in the global hum of news ticking into our lives? Starting slow, we have to look at where it started:

Snapline! Berwin Song names their debut record "Party is over, pornostar" as "essential listening for everyone interested in Beijing music" and Martin Atkins had taken on of their songs on a split record with his band Pigface. Later the people of Time Out Beijing named Li Qing one of the most important women on the Beijing music scene. So what can be said about the music of Snapline? And in which way does it represent the Beijing music scene?

One certain assumption that these reviewers have done is, that the "music scene" mentioned in the above statements seems to be always focused on the exact same scene this article is about: D-22. Dig deeper, most reviews mentioned, most exemplary statements, most honors are being given by Western-oriented magazines or reviewers, which leads us back to above composition of the "single point of entry". Where is the importance, that e.g. Hang on the Box inherited with their first shouts in Nameless Highland? Where is the emotion, that Subs induced in its fans, e.g. Midi 2006, when crying fans came asking for her signature?

Carsick Cars! A band built up around their main song "Zhong Nan Hai", inviting foreign critics to immediately point out the references of Chinese government, politics, and revolutionary traits, while the band itself sticks to its interpretation of singing about their favorite cigarette brand. "Highlight of the show" as cited by several concert goers is the throwing of cigarettes on the stage while the band performs the song. Compare this to the "Painter" shows of Tongue and its political and social criticism! Yet one wants to point out that Carsick Cars are not about politics and never want to be. Fair enough, but is then the mere show highlight of "cigarette throwing" amongst mediocre rock music enough to be famed? Call it taste if you want to, but compared to bands such as Tookoo, The Last Successor, CMCB, The Reason, Tongue, No, Miserable Faith and many others, the music alone of Carsick Cars is not the convincing factor.

The Gar! The only band, having more than 2 songs on No Beijing, that actually has not released their debut record the very year that Maybe Mars was established. And in many ways, they have not made it as big as Carsick Cars or Snapline! Even though their music is by far more mature than others! Blake Stone-Banks calls it "a brilliantly realized album that stands out in a sea of recent Beijing indie releases". But as so often in music business, it is not maturity or creativity that counts, but luck!

So if not them, who else?

When one considers the vast number of Beijing bands and genres and sub-genres established over the years, one should take into account the history of the bands, the history of the scene, to be able to speak about the Beijing rock. With Tree Village and Midi many years ago forming not only the backbone of bands, but considerably influencing many others as well. Take Yaksa, long time headliner of the Midi Festival and one of the first to have a record not just issued once or twice by its record label but thrice and sold nation-wide. Have a look at the three Gods of the Underground, Tongue, No and Punk God (even though they are not in China anymore). Take a look at the energy of the Subs, which always kept independent and also turned down poor poor Martin Atkins. Take a look at the Mongolian Folk bands and semi-folk bands pouring into the Beijing scene. Gang Zi, HangGai and Voodoo Kungfu have covered the range from pure folk to extreme metal.

The Beijing scene cannot be pinpointed down to a couple of bands and a bar in the students area, for it is so much more. A scene is the multitude of fans, of bands, of people working in the background, of records being issued and listened to, and, of stages. And with the loss of Tree Village, a center of true cultural exchange, which part of the scene is the prominent one? Which part is the one making the scene? It's the stages, the connecting point between fans and bands.

Seeing this statement of clarification, this declaration of independence as the first step, stage no. 1 in our look at the music world of China and especially of Beijing, let us proceed to stage two: Through the looking glass: Beijing Inventory

in progress

--Azchael 15:05, 27 April 2010 (UTC) and --Websl@ve 16:05, 27 April 2010 (UTC)



Update 1

Andy Best of Kungfuology hinted out, that Queen Sea Big Shark would be actually a band more of Modern Sky than of D-22. But as far as I remember, they are also part of the picture wall at D-22.

Andy furthermore warned me not to use Miserable Faith as an example, as they would be seen from outside Beijing as part of the circle of Midi bands. Possible! And definitely a true statement, if one has a look at where the band originated and that it recently won the Midi Heroes 2010. Yet still it is not part of the D-22 "quan zi" and is to be taken as a valid band, that many people in Beijing like! See, e.g. the Midi DVDs if you doubt. However they are part of one of the scenes in Beijing and that is part of the "Through the looking glass" article.

Last but not least, Andy mentioned that D-22 and Maybe Mars are just the most professional of all record labels in Beijing. Well, I would not say so necessarily, but one thing is for sure: they know how to act overseas and how to attract the attention of overseas media, be it the podcast here or there, or the vidcast a couple of years ago. Other labels in China are also professional to some extend. One can argue about the professionality of Modern Sky loosing New Pants on the fact that they announced their show at the Strawberry Festival without even bothering on telling the band beforehand, but one thing stays uncorrect: Modern Sky has a festival with multiple stages and thousands of attendees. Maybe Mars records not. For me the main crucial factor is still the English language, that Maybe Mars has naturally inherited and which others lack.

I do admit that Maybe Mars is signing bands in the way many people would understand signing of band, i.e. promoting, helping, producing and touring, and not like e.g. Scream Records did with the first Yaksa records (pay and hey), but is that the reason to start the hype, just because one label in China seems to be on the right track? There are numerous labels expanding right now, that are doing similar efforts, and there are numerous bands out there that are doing a similar job all by themselves (DIY!). If you look at the "exploding music scene of Beijing" take a broad look. Take it all in! There is more, much more. And that's part of our "Through the looking glass" article.

Update 2

Beijingnoise featured the article series: http://www.beijingnoise.org/2010/04/rock-in-china-declares-independence-puts-the-smack-down-on-d-22/

Update 3

Check out the discussion we have with Tenzenmen at the Talk Page.

Update 4

China Music Radar mentioned this article here: http://www.chinamusicradar.com/?p=1352

Update 5

Please have a look at the discussion over at Luke's Beijing Noise post about the article: http://www.beijingnoise.org/2010/04/rock-in-china-declares-independence-puts-the-smack-down-on-d-22/

Update 6

Beijing Gig Guide also posted about the discussion, titling it The May Debate: http://www.beijinggigguide.com/blog/2010/05/06/the-may-debate-is-maybe-mars-really-all-that/

Updated 7

The May Debate has reached the Pudong river delta. Andy on the issue: http://www.kungfuology.com/andybest/2010/05/ooohh-controversy-and-more-the.html

--Azchael 17:56, 5 May 2010 (UTC)


Examples of the hype

Mentioned Bands

Mentioned Venues

Mentioned Record Labels


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