As I start to approach a new incredible life project which I will make public in a few months, I feel the need to start re-tuning Monkeyrockworld on the “rock” side of things… Asian style. I am republishing – and for the first time in English, and integral – a great interview I had with David O’Dell aka Texas Dave, one of the laowai forefathers of the first seminal Beijing punk scene, back in the early 90s. The piece was originally published in Italian by China Files.You can read more by purchasing Dave’s incredible written history of early Beijing’s punk, “Inseparable, the memoirs of an American and the story of Chinese punk rock “, click here to order a copy.
You played Bass for BRAIN FAILURE for a few years, one of the most successful “export Chinese punk bands”. What can you recall from the experience, and how do you think they help open up the Chinese punk scene to the world, if they did?
The days of playing with the 2nd incarnation of Brain Failure were some of the best times I had in China. I was incredibly lucky to have worked with both Gao Wei from Underbaby and then with Xiao Rong in Brain Failure; the two most influential punk rock musicians in China. Both of them are gifted lyricists and guitarists. When the original BF broke up, I helped put a new one together with members of Azriel – Wang Jian and Xu Lin. We had an incredibly good energy when we rehearsed. Xiao Rong was always making new songs, just endless with him. The reason why we had such a good loyal fan base was that Xiao Rong always had a new song to bring into our shows. We would avoid becoming a “house band” that played every weekend. We played maybe twice a month at most, and usually each month we had a new song. I was a shitty bassist, I pounded bass, I never really played it. I left the band because they were getting really famous and invited to so many foreign music festivals, I had a day job that I couldn’t quit because I was trying to pay off my student loans. So I sat down with Xiao Rong over dinner and volunteered to leave the band. Shi Xu Dong from the band Shit Dog took my place and he was way better than me, I was very happy that they went on to become such a good band later on. They are the most toured Chinese rock band ever, they have played more cities than anyone else and I’m incredibly proud and jealous of them at the same time!
Back then and now, what are the main differences you see in the Chinese punk and rock movement?
Back then it was for survival, now it is for getting pussy. There are only a handful of truly punk bands. Brain Failure, Misandao, maybe a few more, but not many. These are the guys that already have what they need, they sing for sharing their message, not for playing dress up.
In your opinion, what are Chinese punk’s “special characters”? Does it have some, or do you instead think it was mostly an Asian development of Western ideas?
Chinese punk scene started similar to British scene, under a heavy political cloud of censorship. So, it shares characteristics with that early London scene. However, it is uniquely Chinese in the sense that their message is about 2 billion people, living under cultural revolution, not enough food, people fleeing the country to other parts of the world, 5000 years of culture… Etc. etc.. The message is uniquely Chinese, but the path they followed was similar to the west.
As Texas Dave and your involvement in Beijing’s scene, how do you think the punk movement impacted people’s lives, if it did?
The Punk scene in china totally changed my life for the best. I feel incredibly lucky that I was welcomed by the earliest punk bands to help start the scene. My story is their story, without them I would have stayed behind the walls of a language university and learned nothing about China. The punk movement has impacted all of china’s youth in my opinion. The fashion is totally accepted now and the music is on the radio, it is not hardcore but it is pop punk and I suppose it’s better than nothing. We opened the door and began building a pathway, the punk bands after us kicked the door down and built a highway. It was inevitable, it was gonna happen with or without me.