Beijing Bubbles - Punk and Rock in China's Capital

"There is no use to be a hard-working man"


The friends, Bian Yuan, who was to become singer, Liu Hao, the later bass player and Xin Shuang, the future drummer and current guitarist of Joyside, met and got to know each other as housemates. They lived in a cheap and damp basement in the north of Beijing, drank together and listened to CDs by the Dead Boys, The Sex Pistols and The Germs all day long. When Bian Yuan’s former band, whose name he doesn’t even want to mention any more, split, he was bored and started to write his own songs about the lazy life as a drinker. By that time he, having come to Bejing from the far west, a 40-hour train ride away, had already given up his studies as an anthropologist. There wasn’t much to do. So some time during the summer 2001, he said to his flatmates on a whim: “Let’s form a great punk band”. The others were up for it and Joyside was born.

Joyside played their first gig half year after they decided to be a band, but they had practised in these months like others in weeks. Bian Yan reckons, it must have been a big party, eight or nine bands were performing, he had apparently been nervous and quite drunk. In fact, he only recalls that his band was paid a 50 Yan fee by the organiser. That equals 5 euro. Until now they rarely earn more from their weekly gigs. Usually that goes far enough to stretch to a dinner and a taxi ride home.

After a few gigs Xin Shuang left the band, they had a short time drummer called Li Jin, Fan Bo, the current drummer, joined the band in early 2003. Before Xin Shuang joined the band as a guitar player again in 2004, they also played with a japanese guitar player called Yang Yang. In September 2004 they released their first studio album: “Drunk is beautiful”. After touring China in 2005 they followed the release with the mini album “Bitches of Rock 'n' Roll” in June 2006. When Bian Yuan is asked to think about what he has achieved with Joyside, he simply says: “Just look at us, how lazy we are.“

Only recently Joyside had to separate to be able to rise from the dead stronger and wilder than ever. They had to split with their guitarist Xin Shuang. While they were sorting themselves, the did the occasional gigs as „Johnny’s Teeth“ covering rock’n’roll songs from the Fifties that Johnny Thunder’s covered, too. But now Joyside are back. They want to become faster as well as  more sober, they claim. New guitar player: Xiao Hong. New drummer: Guan Zheng. When asked about his plans for the future, Bian Yuan says that he will go to Africa to feed the lions. Or that he wants to dance with the devil.

"We need a quiet mood to think about music"

Hang On The Box

Founded in 1998 the cornerstone for Hang On The Box, the most successful girl rock band in China, had been laid a few years earlier, when later singer Wang Yue and later bass player Yilina federalized in school. They became friends, caused a stir with their dirty jeans and black boots, hung around together and pooled their pocket money for the few imported CDs you could buy in China that time. Already then, boys were irrelevant in their unity: From the very first both of them decided boys hadn’t a good taste in music. In 1997 Wang Yue and Yilina began to plan founding a girl rock band. Shortly after that decision they met Yang Fan in the record store, where both of them worked at that time. Wang Yue played "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" from “The Clash” the moment Yang Fan came over to the counter and offered her a Lucky Strike. Anon the three girls began working on their first songs.

In July of 1998 the girls of Hang On The Box had their first gig: Wang Yue played the guitar and sang, Yilina played the bass and Yang Fan the drums. They performed "No Sexy" and "Asshole, I'm Not Your Baby" – simple, lively and funny songs Riot Grrrl-Bands like Bikini Kill couldn’t have written any better. Right from the start they split their audience: Since that day Hang On The Box have ardent worshippers, but there are also a lot of Chinese men, for whom the image of self-determined and self-confident women the girls of HOTB represent goes way too far.

But they always kept their chin up and constantly developed their band. In 1999 16year-old Shenggy joined the band as a new drummer, Yang Fan became guitarist. In May 2002 they released their first album "Yellow Banana" in China and Japan, where they went on tour soon after that. In July 2002 the second studio album "Di Di Di" was released. The following year in March HOTB for the first time went on a Tour through the United States, where they played in nine cities. Yang Fan left the band and was substituted for guitarist Xiao Gan. In September 2004 their mini album “Foxy Lady" was released, in which you can hear influences of Krautrock, Electronica and Hip Hop. Two years later Hang On The Box recorded their fourth studio album in the Beijing studio of Blixa Bargeld, for now again only in a threesome without Xiao Gan. So far they haven’t found a title for the record yet, but it will be released in spring 2007.

"We don’t want to be a part of that society"

Sha Zi

When asked when he picked up a guitar for the first time, Liu Donghong, singer of the Band Sha Zi replies that he does not remember: „I am told that I was about three years old, when I discovered my father’s guitar“, he recalls. „That guitar however was completely out of tune, and I never saw or heard my father play.” A couple of years were to pass until Liu Donghong formed his first band. That was in 1996. He was 25 years old, had bought himself his first used guitar in the meantime and written countless songs and decided that Shazi, the Chinese word for sand, would be a good name for a band from China – a country where individualism has yet to be discovered. A person in China can easily feel like a tiny grain of sand among others, he reckons. On the other hand/side, a little grain of sand can perform miracles when trapped in the workings of a machine. Their first gig Shazi played at a college for foreign languages. Lui Donghong reminisces:

“I guess they, the audience, had a lot of fun with us. All bands who played there at the time were horrible, and we weren’t any better.”

That definitely had to change so the band went into retreat for three subsequent summers to the mountains west of Bejing. They rented an old temple for little money, played music all day long, and only went back to the city when a gig was lined up.

In 2001, Shazi released their first album “The Stars fall on my head“. All songs on this album as well as on the current material, have been written by Liu Donghong. Until now, he wrote his lyrics in Chinese. Some of the songs are simple love songs, others, such as the song „Fortune“, reflect the social crisis, that China currently finds itself in. „Fortune“ is about an ordinary man with a bad education, who tries his luck to find fortune with easy money and instant success. In his mid-life he realises that he has achieved all he can, and that there is no way to disguise his background and to buy social respectability. With his lyrics – he often delivers them as spoken word - Liu Donghong ties in with the emergence of Chinese rock music as a culture of protest as well as with American blues traditions up to Tom Waits who, in his lyrics, often tells similar tangible stories of ordinary men. It is the human downside of people, that Liu Donghong is interested in, the people on the fringes, the nighthawks and winos, those humilated and hassled by life, the stranded and the damaged.

While Shazi in 2004 still played  in the bars of Beijing often twice a week, these days they perform only in front of paying audiences –nevertheless their concerts, which happen to have a mostly Chinese audience, are well attended. In Winter 2005 the current line-up - with Liu Donghong on mike and guitar, Da Chuan on second guitar, He Wenin on bass and Wang Bin on drums – toured China as the first Chinese band in a tour bus and performed in 9 cities. In 2006 their second studio album ”The World is A Fairytale” was released.

"I have isolated myself for a long time"


Yiliqi, son of a Mongol and a Mandchurian, founded his first band in 1996 – at that time he yet didn’t take any interest in traditional Mongolian music. The band was named Qingpi, which means “slacker”, and first of all was committed to Grunge. When in 1998 Yiliqi founded his second band T9, he was interested in “Rage Against The Machine” and other hardcore bands. But little by little Yiliqi got bored of always being angry on stage and writing lyrics about drinking, frustration and fear of the future.

In 2001, at the age of 21, time and again he remembered his father and his grandmother singing traditional Mongolian songs to him as a child. In those times Yiligi travelled a lot to Xilinhot, hometown of his parents in the Inner Mongolia, which he had left with his parents as a 12year-old for moving to Beijing. In his former home town he met Obsorung, a famous singing teacher, who taught him Mongolian Overtone Singing – a technique with which a single human voice can simultaneously produce two or more clearly audible tones. Besides he learned to play some Mongolian instruments like the Tobushuur and the Morinhuur. 


He had grown up with Mandarin as his mother tongue and up to that had only sung in English, but at that point he decided to furthermore only sing Mongolian texts.  Even though T9s CD „Fix It“ and their concerts in Beijing were very popular, Yiliqi wasn’t that much interested in rock music anymore. The time of the shooting of „Beijing Bubbles”, his band already played more and more music with traditional Mongolian sound.

Shortly after the shooting Yiliqi couldn’t reconcile his new interests with those of a rock band anymore and finally T9 broke up. Newly he performs in Beijing bars with the Hanggai band interpreting only Mongolian folk music. Later on, when they are good enough, he would like to bring in electronic music again. His new band colleagues all have come from Inner Mongolia, where they worked as professional musicians. In summer 2006 they recorded their first studio album.

"We are still Underground"

New Pants

If you visit a concert of New Pants, you can hardly imagine that this creative band with its melodious, but thistly and wild interpreted hits in style of the famous Ramones has so many fans in China. Normally you have to do saccharine pop-songs with catchy lyrics easily to sing along to have a mass appeal – the kind of music that is sung in the numerous Chinese karaoke bars.

Founded 1996, the New Pants released their first album „New Pants" in 1998, which from the influential Hongkong music magazine MCB was chosen for the 10 most important Asian records of the 90s. In 2000 they released their second album “Disco Girl”. The same year the music video to their single “I Love You” was awarded “Best Music Video” from Chinese TV-channel V. Not that remarkable as in Chinese music television you usually don’t see a video, where moving Plasticine men with scrubby hair bounce over the screen.

In 2002 “We are automatic”, the third studio album of the New Pants, was released, four years later they recorded their fourth one. Anyhow they have the same problem as the most Chinese underground bands: they can’t live on their music. So New Pants keyboarder Pang Kuan (27) for example works as a graphic designer, singer and guitarist Peng Lei (27) runs a little shop for unusual toys and all kind of merchandising stuff from his favourite bands “Kiss” and “The Ramones”.