Dave Barry

Rolling with Beijing rock scene


I was in the mood to have blood spurt from my ears, so I decided to take in the Beijing rock scene.

I went with some other Americans to a club called Star Live, which was presenting a rock show called Youth Party of China. When we arrived, the party consisted of maybe 150 youth of China, many wearing Beijing rock-n-roll-hipster attire, which features fedoras, shorts, long hair and ironic T-shirts. As you can imagine, our group, the Middle-Aged Tourist Party of America, blended smoothly into the scene, virtually unnoticed, like buffalo in a submarine.

There were five bands in the show: Bigger Bang, Guaili, The Scoff, Casino Demon and Candy Monster. When we arrived, Bigger Bang was onstage, performing in a cloud of smoke. I would describe their musical genre as deafening. Even the youth of China seemed reluctant to get too close to the speakers for fear the sound waves would liquefy their eyeballs.

We found tables toward the back, where we met up with David Borgonjon, a young Beijing resident and observer of the local rock scene. He gave us a brief but fascinating history of rock music in China, which I would happily pass along to you except I couldn't hear most of it. But from what I gathered, back in the '80s Beijing had an active and subversive rock movement, which was a big part of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Since then, however, Beijing rock has become much less political and much more about self-expression.

''During the day,'' David said, "a surprising proportion of the bands operate fashion outlets.''

He said the hard-core rock audience in China is actually quite small, which is why most of the bands sing in English: They want to go international. The problem is, their English pronunciation is often not great, the result being that neither the Chinese-speaking audience nor the English-speaking audience can really understand the lyrics. (In other words, it's pretty much the same as our system.)

At one point, Bigger Bang was performing a song that sounded like this:

LEAD SINGER: Run! Run! Run! Run!

GUITARISTS: Run! Run! Run! Run!

LEAD SINGER: Run! Run! Run! Run!

GUITARISTS: Run! Run! Run! Run!

And so on. After a while I shouted to David, ''Are they singing 'run'?''

''I have no idea,'' he shouted back.

Later on, another band -- Scoff, I think -- was performing a song, and one of the members of our party, sportswriter/author/international media conglomerate Mitch Albom, after listening intently for a while, said, ''I believe this one is called, '(Bad word that rhymes with "duck" the Postcard.' ''

So we all listened, and sure enough, on every chorus, the lead singer appeared to be shouting, with great passion and loudness, ''(Bad word) the postcard!'' It was a catchy tune, and on the next chorus we Americans joined in, thrusting our fists into the air and shouting ''(Bad word) the postcard!'' We were crazy rockin' rebels, Beijing-style.

I am thinking of purchasing a fedora.

Anyway, we had a fine time at Youth Party of China. If any of these bands has an international breakthrough and appears in a city near you, I urge you to go hear them. Or, if the city is within 30 miles of your house, you can just stay home and hear them from there.

Speaking of bad words: This seems as good a time as any to inform you that the name of the subway stop next to my hotel is ''Dongsi Shitiao.''

The Beijing subway is modern and efficient. However, it also gets very crowded, and the riders use the entering-and-exiting system developed in New York City, wherein the instant the doors open, everybody getting off and everybody getting on tries to lunge through the same space at the same time, in clear violation of the laws of physics.

If you manage to get inside the train, you're generally packed in the middle of a dense mass of people, and although the stations are announced in Chinese and English, the names are unfamiliar, so you run the risk of missing your stop and getting off in, I don't know, Hong Kong. But I continue to find that whenever I get lost, or have any problem whatsoever, six or seven enthusiastic young people in Olympic-volunteer polo shirts materialize out of thin air (OK, out of really thick air) and offer to help. They all seem to speak some English, and they get a kick out of it when I try to use my pathetically limited Chinese vocabulary (hello, thank you and beer).

The volunteers seem especially amused when I use the Chinese phrase for ''thank you.'' At least I've been assuming it means ''thank you.'' It occurs to me, based on their reaction, that maybe it means something else. I hope to God it does not involve a postcard.

©2008 Dave Barry

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