Finally, a Beijing punk album that you don't have to record yourself
at a live show in a packed bar. Previously, the only Beijing punk records
available - aside from bootlegs - were compilations on cassette or vinyl,
produced by the bands themselves and distributed in small quantities.
All of that changes this week with the release of Wuliao Jundui (Bored
Contingent), China's first punk compilation. The album is produced,
recorded, and distributed by Beijing's Jingwen Records. Now the average
Chinese kid in Shanghai, Wuhan and Hebei can buy an album at their local
record store and listen to Beijing punks sing "We are just losers in
the PRC/ We aren't terrible/We aren't strong/At least we have power
in our minds."
Wuliao Jundui features Beijing's four seminal punk bands 69, Brain Failure,
Anarchy Jerks, and Reflector. Producer Lu Bo and sound man Wang Di have
cut a fine, power-packed album showcasing bands who may be experts in
the grungy bar scene, but are novices in the recording studio. Representative
of the sounds of early PRC punk rock, the album is composed of a range
of styles from Reflector's uplifting ska beats to Anarchy Jerks’ ballads
that show the clear influence of 'oi’, a type of punk first played by
working class British skinheads. 69's songs draw more heavily on China's
own history, with songs like 'Revolution' evocative of the Cultural
Revoloution (1966-76) , and featuring a cameo trumpet solo by Cui Jian.
Of the four bands, Brain Failure lays down the most powerful tracks
with songs like, "Si Xiao Fei Xiao" ("Barely Smiling"), featuring lead
singer Xiao Rong's infamous hyena screams (for those with strong hearts
And what is all this screaming about? Perhaps the albums’ name sums
up the unifying principle of Beijing punk: "We have no freedom of speech,"
says Anarchy Jerks singer Shen Yue, "so our way to rebel is to not care,
and just do what we like to do."
By emerging from underground and into the mainstream, Beijing punks
are faced with restrictions they didn't have to deal with when they
were just playing concerts at local dives. Only a portion of Anarchy
Jerks’ set was included on the album, leaving out songs that might provoke
the censors like "Our Freedom of Speech Has Been Eaten by the Dogs."
Other songs by 69 and Brain Failure were edited extensively.
"That is just the way it is in China," explains Liang Wei, the lead
singer of 69. "We don't mean revolution like Chairman Mao - we needn't
kill anyone," he adds. Liang Wei captures the spirit of the album in
a 69 punk rock reprise of the Cultural Revolution hit "Naqi zhi bi zuo
baoqiang" ("Lift up your pens and make them weapons"). Liang Wei parodies
the revolutionary anthem with words that you wouldn't catch Lei Feng
singing: "Our bodies are strong, our minds are empty. All we want to
do is have fun."
Bored Contingent Punk Compilation (Jingwen Records)
Available soon from Beijing record stores, cassette rmb10, CD rmb30-80
Wayhwa Takes the Acid Test
by Steven Schwankert
Wayhwa first appeared on Western radar screens in spring 1989, during
an appearance on the U.S. television news show Nightline. The articulate
CCTV news broadcaster expressed certain controversial political opinions.
She was summarily fired the next day.
Wayhwa, ne Wang Weihua, moved immediately from her day job to a night
gig as lead singer of Breathing (Hu Xi), which lasted until she and
lead guitarist/songwriter/boyfriend Gao Qi (now the soul of heavy metal
act Overload) split up. Five years later, she released her experimental
first album, Modernization.
She's back with a second release on Jingwen Records, Acid Rain. The
new record is a vast improvement over her first effort, although that
wouldn't be too hard. Backed up by another Jingwen act, the Rhythm Dogs
(which includes Eddie Luc Lalasoa and Zhang Ling from Cui Jian's band),
the songwriting shows greater maturity and skill than her first album.
Thanks to the backing band, many of the tracks on Acid Rain are eminently
listenable, including the opening tune "Stubborn" and the catchy "Ocean
Drought." Wayhwa also better utilizes her fluent American English on
Acid Rain, with lyrics both written and delivered with greater fluency
Ultimately though, the album's greatest weakness is Wayhwa's vocals.
Hoarse and gravelly but without the emotiveness of a Dylan or Springsteen,
her vocal performance fails to uplift what would otherwise be a competent
album. It's a shame: China's rock scene could use a greater number of
solid female singer/songwriters.
Wayhwa: Acid Rain (China Record Company)
Available from Beijing record stores, cassette rmb10, CD rmb80
A-mei Holds Her Own
by Christiaan Virant
Bugger Clapton, Zhang Huimei is God. Turn on your telly, wait for a
bus or crack open a cold one and the omnipresent princess of pop is
there - swathed in summer sass, beckoning you to feed at the fount of
With a new album that has quickly gone platinum, record-setting Asian
tour, and spiraling stable of product endorsements, the 26-year-old
singer has a stranglehold on New China Cool. And if her newest release
is any guide, she's not about to lose her grip anytime soon.
Breaking the mandomold of disposable KTV kitsch, A-mei's fifth album
in three years takes her into a new realm of sonic seduction. Can I
Hold You is a 10,000-watt ramped-up review of cross-century love dosed
with screeching, rug-tearing, body-shaking vibes. In short, it rocks.
From her hometown hills of Taiwan's east coast to million-selling Greater
China megastardom, rags-to-riches mandomuffin A-mei has rewritten the
rule book for an effete industry struggling to find a role in the New
Age. Her secret: a mindbending mixture of lovelorn lyrics and hot, syncopated
dance tunes. Just the medicine to pound away those high-school heartaches.
On A-mei Five, Zhang's prescription kicks in slowly. The new release
opens with the meditative title track "Can I Hold You," setting the
spiritual pace for the rest of the album. Behind the cover of a simple
acoustic riff, A-mei's soulful voice recounts the heartache of the night-before-breakup
and the end of a long relationship with her lover. Then the magic begins.
In rapid-fire succession, A-mei rips into two live-wire shootouts that
dry the tears and set the body revving. This is A-mei at her vengeful
best. In "When I Think of You," she dumps her man, lays down a mean
riff and blows the blues away. Written by her longtime producer, Zhang
Yusheng, the saucy salsa rocker is a classic in the tradition of her
1998 hit "Bad Boy."
After a two-tune acoustic set, A-mei goes electric on "Rare Love," an
amped-up wiretap with phuzzed guitar and off-key harmonies that bear
the distinctive post-pop stamp of hot Taiwan producer Tao Zhe.
Heart racing, A-mei cuts the pace for her next few songs, which includes
her first crack at the Japanese market and a numbingly slow number about,
you guessed it, heartbreak.
Slinking from groove to groove, A-mei keeps her theme constant but cloaks
the message in genres as diverse as techno-electric muzak and bizarre
On "Goodnight Goodbye" she croons a chorus which could have been pulled
straight from the title track of a Chinese 007 rip-off.
And urging her fans not to "Put Salt on the Wound," A-mei belts out
the kind of impassioned plea that inspires teetotaling teens to thrust
their blazing lighters in the air and sway to acid guitar, tears welling
and mind racing with images of high-school pinups.
Five more songs await the wet and ready mandofan. Check it out yourself
and be sure to catch the downright devious remix of the 1950s bubble-gum
hit "Barbara Ann" in which A-mei brags of being "high for three days
and three nights."
That's one damn good dose of heartache.
Zhang Huimei Album No. 5 (Can I Hold You?) (Forward Music)
Available from Beijing record stores, cassette rmb10, CD rmb80