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  All materials © 1999 
  Beijing Scene


Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 1, October 15 - 21

Thin Man's debut album is selling out at record stores nationwide


Packed stadium gigs, rave reviews in the local press and a sea-of-lighters-inspiring performance at the 1999 Annual New Music Festival in Xinxiang, Henan province, have pushed Beijing-based garage band Thin Man into the mainland rock-and-roll limelight. Their eponymous debut album has already sold more than 60,000 copies, and they are generating a stadium rock-style groupie following. At a recent promotional record signing in the downtown Beijing shopping district of Wangfujing, the record store sold out of Thin Man cassettes, but that didn't stop eager fans who proffered notebooks, shirts and even bare skin for the band members to sign.


Most of the fans were teenage girls. Just two years ago, rock fans in China were almost exclusively male college students, but most of Thin Man's most ardent supporters are female. "Everyone knows that Wang Lan is the drum king," a teenage groupie gushes, "and he is a total stud."


Thin Man, in several incarnations, has been fueling fan enthusiasm since 1993. But their reputation as an electrifying live act really took off in 1997 when erstwhile bass player Dai Qin became lead singer, fronting for guitarist Fu Ning, bassist San'r and drummer Wang Lan. Drawing on a wide array of Western and Chinese influences, their music is rich, complex, and also catchy. Fans of Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, Smashing Pumpkins, and Jane's Addiction will hear these influences in Thin Man's music.


Dai Qin has a magnetic stage presence and a voice full of tension and resilience. His emotive vocals range from cracked whispers to explosive howls, and incorporate aching melodies and ferocious raps. Growing up on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia instilled an epic quality in his personality that he brings to his performances. On stage and off, he is flamboyantly expressive-almost melodramatic. He stomps across the stage, pointing and posturing, shaking his long curly hair, and leaping into the mosh pit with child-like glee.


Guitarist Fu Ning's riffs range from calculated executions of technique to inspired rages. Percussionist Wang Lan was judged China's best drummer in Beijing Music Radio's All China Band Competition in both 1997 and 1999. His intricate rhythms, syncopated tempo changes, and riot-inciting solos give Thin Man's music an edgy feel. Bassist San'r uses slap improvisations, rolling, dark harmonies, and driving, hard-edged bass lines, providing a musical anchor for Thin Man's hard-core jams.


Thin Man's song lyrics address problems common to youth everywhere: drug addiction ("June 26"), despair ("No Hope"), self-destructiveness ("Wound"), betrayal ("Talk Talk") and even the war in Kosovo ("Enough Already"). Their activist message is sincere, but also politically expedient which has spared them the word changes that many bands have to make to get albums approved for distribution.


"We want to show that rock music is not 'spiritual pollution'? Some of our songs are angry, but emotional release is healthy. Our rage is directed at things that hurt people? We want to show young people how to turn that rage into a life-affirming force, to give them strength to face their problems and be true to themselves," comments band leader Dai Qin.


The band members are true believers in the authenticity of rock music and its distinctness from pop, which bassist San'r calls "a pop culture assembly-line product." This distinction between rock and pop has been very real in China until recently. Whereas in the west, rock music has been packaged for the market since the 1960s, Chinese rock has not been allowed to sell out-government restrictions on performance, broadcasting and distribution of rock music ensured that money was not driving the musicians.


"The circle of underground rock musicians used to be a mutually-supportive community based on the shared desire for unfettered self-expression through original music," says Dai Qin. "Now the 'circle' is breaking up into small cliques organized aroundstyle rather than substance. Now people worry too much about what the market wants, and what's 'hip,' and not enough about how to make the music that they themselves love." Thin Man face the same problems, as Dai Qin explains: "If you want to be heard, you need a market for your music."



The band's debut album is an attempt to have it both ways. Thin Man believe they have found a formula for gaining a large audience without losing their artistic integrity by marketing images of authenticity and politically correct activism. The combination of Cui Jian sound engineer He Biao, and rising-star producer Zhang Yadong certainly gives their album a running start. The sound is lighter and less bone-jarring than when heard from the center of the mosh pit, but with the volume cranked up it still packs a punch. The lineup of 11 songs clocks a full hour of hard-driving rock, with high points in 'The Singer' (sung in Mongolian), 'Divorce', 'Protective Amulet', and 'Enough Already'.


For Thin Man, rock is more than a musical genre. It is an ethos, their own truth in a sea of what they see as other people's lies. Whether their "truth" will be heard by many comes down to how the music is marketed.

Whether this "truth" can survive success comes down to the band members

themselves. Can Thin Man manage to square angry, hard and heavy music with

a non-threatening, politically correct image? If their first album does not answer the question, Thin Man II-scheduled for recording and release next year-will make it clear what commodification has done to Thin Man's cool.

Thin Man (Jingwen Records)

Available at music stores, department stores and at Thin Man performances,

cassette RMB10; CD RMB 60.


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