Editor’s Note: The post has been updated to reflect whilst June 1st was the last show played by the full Rainbow Danger Club lineup, drummer Michael Ford’s current absence from Shanghai is a temporary one. We apologise for the error and any confusion caused.
This is a guest post from Dennis Ming Nichols, bassist for Rainbow Danger Club and Death to Giants and generally one of the hardest-working and nicest people you’ll ever meet. Rainbow Danger Club are disbanding this summer due to the departure of lead singer/guitarist Jesse Munson. Saturday, the remaining members of RDC are hosting Goodbye Shanghai, a day-long extravaganza to send off Jesse and Adam Gaensler.
Below Nichols writes about the founding of Rainbow Danger Club and the highs and lows of being a Shanghai band that happens to be comprised entirely of foreigners. From the “expiration date” of the band to missed opportunities because of their national origin, read on for one of the first accounts from a local band without “local” origins (whatever that means anymore).
by Dennis Ming Nichols
In an attempt to represent Rainbow Danger Club and offer the story of our band on the eve of our Goodbye Shanghai show, I’ve done everything I can to not be too cheesy in its delivery. Still, I can’t hide the fact that we are high on the warm vibes Shanghai has emitted over the last month (both literally and figuratively). Feel free to fast-forward to the last section “Souvenirs and Free-T-Shirts” if you aren’t in the mood to read the ramblings of a overly-sentimental band nerd. Here goes…
Once Upon A Time
In August 2008, I left my native land to try my hand in a foreign land. The last thing on my mind was to be in a band, but a guitarist/singer named Jesse Munson was very insistent. I started practicing with him and a drummer named Michael Ford in March 2009 and we named ourselves Rainbow Danger Club. The three of us had some similar but mostly very different musical tastes, so the dichotomy of the band name made sense I guess. The first song we ever wrote was called “Robots”, then came “Drone Killer.” The latter was featured in the short experimental feminist exploitation film “No Boob for You.” A few months later trumpeter Michael Corayer starting showing up to rehearsal as he just lived down the hall from Jesse’s apartment / practice space which itself was on a high school campus where he taught, ages away from the renao of Shanghai’s burgeoning music scene. We were just four teachers in China having fun and we had some decent songs. The stories in those songs existed in a fantasy world that we created ourselves and some folks said we ought to record them and bring that world to life. So we did. Our 2010 debut release The New Atlantis EP turned some heads and got us gigs with Shanghai bands we really liked…Boys Climbing Ropes, Duck Fight Goose, The Fever Machine, Stegosaurus? and Ludacris, among others. The release of Where Maps End in March 2011 got us dozens of write-ups and reviews in China and abroad as well as shows all over China and some festival gigs. Unfortunately, the festival gigs dried up really fast. I’m not saying we deserved more…I am appreciative of the opportunities we did get…but it does seem that a band of Laowai can only go so far in China. For that matter, the opportunities for ANY independent band in China are still very limited.
So, we set our eyes on the USA.
We Are A Shanghai Band
For our 15-stop USA tour in the summer of 2012, we didn’t know what to expect or how many Americans would even care to see a band from Shanghai. At the shows, we got a lot of puzzled faces. Not because our music was weird but because we were a Chinese band…but we weren’t Chinese in appearance (side note: I am half-Chinese so technically speaking, we were 1/8 Chinese, right?). After the performance, audience members came at us ready with questions.
The most common question we got asked on the USA tour was “What’s it like out there in Shanghai?” (By the way, in my head its a well-meaning redneck with a strong country dr awl asking that question. In reality, that probably wasn’t the case, but its more fun remembering it that way!). We could have said, “Shanghai is a flat, homogenous amoeba of concrete buildings, pale faces, and brand marketing with very small and very exciting bubbles of earnestness and artistic passion.” We could have said, “Working in Shanghai means contributing to the social, economic and cultural fabric while simultaneously feeling completely removed from it.” We should have said, “Whether good or bad, Shanghai is always exciting and there is no other place in the world like it.” But we were usually on our way to our hotel in a drunken, sleepy stupor, so ultimately, the common answer was “It’s crazy and the Chinese food there is different.”
The second most common question we got was “Are you a Shanghai band or an American band?” It dawned on us all that the USA tour was the first time that we had all seen each other outside of Asia! We cut our teeth on the China club circuit and the themes in our songs draw inspiration from our lives far from “home.” We are a Shanghai band and very proud of that.
Foreigners in China are used to expiration dates and RDC knew that we’d eventually all leave Shanghai. I had been in China the shortest amount of time (5 years) and Ford the longest (10 years). The fact that we had remained a band for 5 years with all original members intact was a miracle! After the USA tour, Jesse decided he was ready to move to the United States after 8 years in Shanghai. But RDC still had countless hours worth of melodies, jams and ideas stored away in our vault. We knew that if we didn’t complete one last album there would be a black hole in our creative lives. We couldn’t stop writing and recording songs for our made-up little universe. It was a drug.
So we made enough songs for our Into The Cellar EP released in November of 2012 and then worked tirelessly on the follow-up full-length Souvenirs, just released on June 1st 2013. This time we enlisted the help of a bunch of friends on a bunch of instruments, including a new full-time member; Todd St. Amand on cello. Our album release show on June 1st, 2013 supported by our friends Duck Fight Goose was the pinnacle of our band and my life in China. But it was also the beginning of the end.
Souvenirs and Free T-shirts
The best part about being in Rainbow Danger Club for the last 4 and a half years has been meeting up with four of my best friends almost every Saturday afternoon to just drink and play music for hours. Maybe work on a song, maybe record a jam, or maybe just waste away those oppressively polluted Shanghai days tinkering on instruments and telling bad jokes. Rainbow Danger Club h as defined my life in China in so many ways and I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished and indebted to the friendships it has forged and the community that embraced us.
On Saturday, June 22nd, we will throw a big party to close this chapter in our lives. Some have inquired as to why. The truth of the matter is that both Jesse and Todd are leaving Shanghai. Corayer, Ford and I will do the same one day. We are Laowai in China. These things happen. Will we return? I don’t know. Will we ever reform as a band? Still not sure but we’d certainly like to if we could ever make it happen. But even if we do, will it ever be the same as it is right here right now? No way. Shanghai is a beautiful and heartbreaking place like that.
The album Souvenirs is exactly what its name implies and much more. It is a parting gift to ourselves and our generation of Shanghailanders. Though we are leaving, all our studio albums are dense with secret messages, inside jokes, suggestive whispered words, personal histories, dreams, and other “Easter eggs” for you guys to uncover and interpret for as long as you want. Listen to remember or listen to discover, dou keyi!
But literary devices and hidden meanings aside, we have one last surprise: a one-off, just-for-fun single called “Ironic T-shirt.” It’s a parting shot of our band of gentlemen who’ve spent the majority of our Shanghai existence chained to our instruments, falling asleep at mixing consoles, and sweating the night away at Yuyintang. It hasn’t always been easy, but its been well worth the effort.
You can download it for free or name-your-price here:
Thank you Shanghai and the rest of the world for all the memories. This may be the end or it may be a new beginning. But one thing is for sure, it will ever be the same again and that is a heartbreaking and beautiful thing!
Dennis Ming Nichols via Rainbow Danger Club