Made possible by the wonders of modern technology and a company called Skype, MLvS of Rock in China (RiC) and Xiao Zhong from Shanghai noise rock / DIY outfit Pairs went into a conversation on the band and the scene.
RiC: What kind of instruments are you using? Which brand?
Xiao Zhong: We use a fake Fender tele or Squier or something. I bought it from a Tianjin guitar store for 700RMB with a free case and a discounted practice amp. It’s not the world’s best guitar and buzzes
like all hell, but it’s served us well. Cymbals are a big deal for me. I only really use Sabian AA hi-hats and ride. I just replaced my ride but couldn’t find any AA’s in Shanghai so went the Taobao route. The new one is ok but the bell isn’t as large and it sounds more like a crash ride which I’m not totally in to. Maybe it will grow on me.
RiC: Do you consider yourself as a Chinese band, a Shanghai band or a rock band?
Xiao Zhong: Can’t we be all three? I don’t really like the term rock band although that’s what I tell co-workers we play just for ease. I feel like we’re a bit of a Shanghai band and when I post about it in forums I write Shanghai rather than China . But we try and leave Shanghai as much possible. Shit, this question is a mind fuck.
RiC: What do you think about free music? Why is your latest record “Summer Sweat” not for free, whereas your first record was?
Xiao Zhong: We had a big table full of shit at our CD launch in Shanghai . Our CD’s, records, shirts, badges, demos, photos, other bands stuff and we wanted to make it by donation. But we were worried that some right jerk would drop 2 kuai and grab everything, then we said 1 yuan minimum per item. Thought that was a bit fairer. But then if you have it for 1 yuan at your launch, you have to keep that going in the interest of being fair. Although, we do often give it away. Not sure how that’s really fair.
But to people’s credit, no-one paid less than 20yuan for our CD at our launch.
Something to be said for free shit though. We played Mao the other Sunday and I gave a few CD’s out and people were fighting over them, so I said there were heaps of CD’s at the door for 1 yuan. Not one person bought one. It’s worth fighting over if it’s free, but fuck paying 1 yuan for it.
Also, Summer Sweat cost a fuck load more to make and package and press than the first CD. Although we aren’t going to make shit back really. Just by having the DVD in there made it a shit tonne more expensive. We hope that even if we choose to sell stuff, it would never be expensive or anything. Don’t want to price our self out of the market. The non existent market for us.
RiC: As you mention T-shirts, where can i get your t-shirts?
Xiao Zhong: Email us at email@example.com and we’ll figure it out. They’re really expensive to get made, like 43 yuan per shirt. Crazy expensive, yeah? If anyone knows a quality shirt maker please let us know. We looked at a bunch of different places but so many had shitty odd shaped shirts or stuff that faded after 2 washes. So we wanted something a bit better quality; but because they are so expensive and we only ask 1 yuan for them we can’t buy a heap at one time. Just do 30 – 50 orders.
Can’t believe more than 30 people would want one. People must need some sleeping shirts come Winter time. We haven’t quite figured out Taobao yet, so emailing us is the best.
RiC: What impresses me is that most Chinese bands just have no shirts out there for purchase. What is your opinion on chinese bands and t-shirts?
Xiao Zhong: I get the impression that most bands here sit and wait for people to make them an offer or they aren’t organised and willing to actually go around and look at test samples, email some people and get quotes and then handle the selling part. I could be totes wrong here, and it’s not so much the case in Shanghai as I know Friend or Foe have heaps of shirts and I have a Lava Ox Sea one. Maybe they don’t see it as important. I’ve been to CD launches here and they didn’t even have the CD at the show. What the fuck is with that?
Bands here seem to love stickers though. Personally, I’ve never seen a sticker on the toilet wall of a venue and said ‘fuck I really need to check that band out!’
RiC: So would you say that Chinese bands are lazy?
Xiao Zhong: I’d say a lot of bands here, not just Chinese, sit back and wait for shit far more than I’m comfortable with. I see so much stuff as ripe for the picking and I guess they are waiting for people to present them with amazing opportunities and cash prizes without even having to reply to a fucking email. Bands here and their complex relationship of clear communication is my cross to bear. It’s an odd beast that just seems to be looping constantly, eating it’s own tail. I pulled Major Dick and messaged a band we booked recently saying ‘if you don’t start replying to emails, I’ll find a band who does’. Awful fucking move on my part, but goddamn – the more people know the better, I think. More communication reduces the chance of fuck ups and stress. I rant about this way too often.
RiC: One notion in that regard, as I am reading Jon Campbell’s Red Rock these days and one of his arguments, which also was mentioned by others is, that in China, artists/musicians see themselves as cultural ambassadors instead of money-makers in the first place, what is your opinion?
Xiao Zhong: I’m not sure who goes to a show at Hot Cat or 686 and sees a band and says ‘they must be loaded, that’s my ticket to the big league.’ Not sure who is playing in bands at this level for the money.
I’d say the biggest thing holding people back is their lack of looking back after they do something and saying ‘if I could do that again, what would I do differently?’ – like after a set, or organising a show or recording or promoting a CD, I’ve met so many bands who make the same mistakes over and over. It’s like a moron’s Groundhog Day at soundcheck time at Mao. Goddamn.
RiC: Can you give some examples of these mistakes of Chinese bands?
Xiao Zhong: Taking an hour to soundcheck. They must do it every fucking time. It’s not a practice. Make sure shit works, you can hear yourself and your band members and fuck off. But every time, I have to sit through the same intro being fucked up for 40 minutes so they can get the singers walk on music right.
Although, we always turn up when we’re told and have to sit through this. We need to learn from our mistakes and arrive 2 hours after our scheduled sound check time.
I’m going to start recording sound checks and uploading them to Tudou so people can see what cunts they are being. Hopefully it will be like when you go to a nice hotel and they have 360 mirrors in the shower and you get to see your whole naked body from all kinds of angles and you realise you’re not as buff as you thought you were and you think you need to start working out.
RiC: When we are talking about mistakes, do you also know some Chinese bands that just do it the right way?
Xiao Zhong: Yantiao, for sure. http://site.douban.com/yantiao/ Those guys have got their brains and hearts in the right places.
Best most organised booker in all of China is CC / Kakoushi in Hangzhou. Guy does some amazing organising. Worksheets, good communication, the little 1% things – gets better everytime.
Some of the Guangzhou bands are awesome at the way to run events and stuff; but they all switch members and are forever starting new bands so I can’t keep up with names. Androsace are being cool with how proactive and outspoken they’re being.
Ivan from Moon Tyrant and Death To Giants is doing some great things in Shanghai .
Heatwolves is a real cool guy as well doing a bunch of interesting stuff too and blogs a heap too at heatwolves.com.
RiC: Now, I have heard that you are going to New Zealand. When and how many gigs you wanna play?
Xiao Zhong: I would like to play as much as possible. 2 shows a day would be cool, but it’s up to MUZAI Records and God Bows To Math who are helping us book everything. Got the North Island done, still waiting to hear on the South Island , but we’re only going for 2 weeks or so, not that much time. Just got an email saying we’re playing a house party though, so that’s cool. Haven’t done one of those for years. Think the last one I did was in New Zealand actually, and some guy pissed his pants as an act of defiance when he was asked to leave the party. Fuck, hope he isn’t there this time. Apparently he used to sleep on a mattress full of cockroaches.
RiC: Are you going to New Zealand with tenzenmen?
Xiao Zhong: Nah, it’s all of our own backs and with MUZAI Records. They deserve a lot of credit for being super awesome and kind and handling all my moronic fucking emails asking obvious questions.
RiC: A trip to New Zealand must be expensive. Are you making money with your music or are you paying down?
Xiao Zhong: We don’t make money. Well we probably could if we played less and stuck around Shanghai more. We will lose a bunch going to NZ purely because we are flying in and out of China during Spring Festival. In a perfect world, Christmas and Spring Festival would see flights go down because airlines know they are going to be busy then. Down seasons should see a spike in price. Fucked if I know. Just showing off how little I know about economy and the simple supply/demand concept.
RiC: In your opinion, what was the most important technological development for rock music in the Shanghai scene?
Xiao Zhong: Douban. For sure. Why the fuck hasn’t this thing caught on in the West? It’s awesome! If I had money or any kind of access to someone with money, I’d be investing in getting an English version of Douban together. Goddamn, it’s real good and could be huge. It’s not just limited to Shanghai o’course but it’s been super handy for us as a Shanghai band to get fans and gigs and spread the word.
RiC: Before coming to to the China scene question, what is “underground” for you? Are you “underground”?
Xiao Zhong: Underground is just as cliquey, politically cunty, bitchy and self involved as the overground it tries to avoid. You meet just as good people, shit people, mean people, fake people, organised people, lazy people, motivated people, smart people, dumb people, people who think they know more than you, people who pretend they know less than you, people will good stories, people with boring stories, people who like the same shit as people, people who don’t, people who ask good questions, people who listen well, people who you don’t quite connect with, people you want to see again as you would pretty much at any party or on the subway.
If you don’t think so, I reckon you’re way too two dimensional and need to stop sucking your own dick and learn to talk about shit other than what your totally in to. 2 way streets.
RiC: Interesting answer, so in China’s “underground”, where is the best spot for a concert, which venue?
Xiao Zhong: It’s all generally the same, really. Some walls, maybe one odd pole and a stage with really strange bars in front of the stage. 696 and D22 have those bars at the front. What’s going on there? But it’s more about nice, genuine people working behind the bar and mixing desk and really nice people behind the scenes and friendly faces in the crowd.
VOX in Wuhan is like this, Old What in Beijing is another. Places in Guangzhou are good too.
Bigger doesn’t mean better though. Seems like people are unimpressed when I talk about Old What, but when they hear we have played at Mao we get the oohhs and aaahhs; but the bar staff are useless, bookers are odd and one of the mixers there has to be one of the rudest and most arrogant people on the planet.
RiC: As you mention Mao, which exists in both Beijing and Shanghai: Do you think you are rather a Shanghai or a Beijing person?
Xiao Zhong: Shanghai. I lived up North for awhile, in Tianjin and loved it, always going back, my girlfriend is from Tianjin and I’ve spent a lot of time in Beijing . But Shanghai feels like home. It’s convenient, public transport rules – for my job it offers a better salary and opportunities and it’s a pretty fun city. Beijing has cheaper beers and people are a bit nicer for the most part but Shanghai just feels like home.
RiC: Going a step further into another direction: What kinda feedback you get from the scene?
Xiao Zhong: Pretty good thus far. But like everything there’s peaks and troughs and right now we haven’t had too much negative feedback, so I guess the backlash will begin soon-ish. We’ll fuck up or say some general sweeping bullshit statement and people will call us names and so on. It happens.
We don’t go around looking for feedback though. Not like we walk of stage and strut around the crowd looking for handjobs and high fives. Egos big enough as is. We’re content to pat each other on the back; seems to be enough.
RiC: Reason that I am asking is that especially in our RiC Facebook group some people tell me “Pairs is shit”, some say they are “the new shit from China”, e.g. one guy stated:
“PAIRS??? Right behind CARSICK CARS in the, “What the f##k?” department of, “of all the awesome bands here THESE are the people receiving press?” Loud little PR Chihuhuas get the eyes and ears of the select few. Then again, this is China . It’s not like justice has ever been present here on any level….”
Criticsm received, what’s your point on that?
Xiao Zhong: It’s pretty funny and pretty spot on. We run our mouths a lot in a lot of different places. But it’s not like we have some golden key. We find blogs/writers who seem interesting and email them and say ‘would you like our CD?’ or ‘we are open to chat if you want’ and they follow up. Anyone can do it. Shit’s not hard.
I’m wondering if people will start hating the band purely on the amount of press we get, and I am constantly thinking ‘if I was not in the band, would I be bugged by it?’ Probably would a little, but it would be a jealousy thing; jealous that it wasn’t me talking shit in press all the time. Reality is though, it is me and F but it could be anyone and should be everyone. People always post their email address on their pages; get in touch with them if you’ve got something to say.
Bloggers here want to have active blogs, yet not that much happens so it’s up to the bands to let them know what’s going on.
RiC: So would you say that you are tapping in a pool of potentials that others are not using?
Xiao Zhong: A little bit but not really. Anyone can go to the contact page of a site and shoot them an email. I’ve read emails from band that read like some rat tailed sleazy PR agent like ‘To whom it may concern, I play in Shanghai ’s first and foremost best band. We have the punk rock mentality but the power up hooks melodies to keep you rocking along and we’ve played at the Hard Rock café in Singapore and placed first in a battle of the bands sponsored by Gibson’ – what the fuck is that? Speak like a human. Hey, for some fucked reason I spend the majority of my free time writing and playing music, if you’re interested, I can give it to you; if not, that’s fine.
RiC: Last question for the night: Where do you want Pairs to be in the future?
Xiao Zhong: I really want to write some grand ‘part of the solution, not the problem’ statement. Not confident letting that roll off the tongue though. Personally, I don’t want it to get to the pro touring band. It’s not a good/healthy lifestyle for me. Something as a creative outlet hobby passion that doesn’t completely swamp me and make me some boring rock cunt with a 2D personality that can only talk about music.
I want Pairs to be a good time for F and I and something we can look back on with pride and knowledge that we died a lot with what we had.
RiC: Thanks a lot for the interview!
All photos from Pairs Douban. Read more about Pairs.