There have been a lot of noises coming from the punk scene recently. In June there was the opening of the DMC punk live club in Tongzhou. Then the Beijing Punk Festival turned 10 on the 24th August, with 2 Kolegas welcoming punkers from across the country. The Shanghai Punk Festival was 2 years old last weekend and the China Hardcore Festival is up next weekend. The vibes at the Shanghai Punk Festival (we can tell you from first hand experience) were good. The bands were tight (they have come a LONG way in the last 5 years) and were often seen in the audience pogoing to the other artists on the bill. There was a real feeling of community, although a lot of the bands in Shanghai have been around for a long time.
But since when was punk about grilled lamb on the lawn, Dr. Martens brand sponsorships, or chocolate cake adorned with plastic skinheads? If you don’t have your own collection of nostalgic 70s memories (you lucky spring chicken you…) then watch This Is England for a real feel for the vibe.
You know just as well as we do that punk was never just about music. The music was ancillary. Punk was about saying ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. What is punk now? Where is it going? China had a wave of visceral and important punk and metal through the 80s and 90s, and arguably China now provides the perfect environment for the founding of a new era of punk. There are problems back in the West, the economy, inequality and the rest, but in the main, life is still remarkably comfortable. China has all of the above and more; a growing disparity in the distribution of wealth, corruption in the institutions, soaring housing prices in the major cities, high graduate unemployment. So what is China’s youth doing now to communicate that discontentment?
On the one hand we’ve got artists like Liu Dongming who are taking a softly softly approach, raising issues with a crowd-pleasing Dylanesque style. Spurred by the story of Xia Junfeng who was charged with the murder of two Chengguan (local law enforcers) in an act that is being fiercely defended online as self-defense, Liu brings subtle attention to the daily confrontations that take place between the powerful and the powerless. His new song ‘A Vendor’ specifically targets the issue of unaccountable violence being directed toward street vendors. At the other extreme you’ve got bands like MiSanDao taking the oi-punk approach of joining punks, skinheads and other disaffected youth with upbeat calls to the people to make a difference themselves. It will be interesting to see how these two distinct approaches intersect.
Back to the original point, are brand sponsorships and the niceties that accompany even the more extreme music festivals signs of the times we are living in (or is it just Shanghai)? Are they now entrenched practices, things that music fans expect without questioning? Maybe if it’s a choice between a sponsored event and no event at all the punk crowd is willing to concede.