Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 24, September 3 - 9


Beijing Punk Emerges From Underground
Wuliao Jundui hits record stores across China
by Anna-Sophie Loewenberg

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 only).

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 and fluidity.

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 A-mei cool.

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 India-inspired rap.

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

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