It seems that a good way to come back to Layabozi after my time off is going back to the beginning of the underground music scene in China. And Dou Wei is the voice that called the awakening of the Chinese underground back in the 90s. So, here we are again, make some room, this duck is plunging back into the hai.
Dou Wei’s first solo album Dark Dreams is one of the albums (if not THE album) that are the base for all that’s now China’s underground/indie scene. Yes, Cui Jian has been named the father of Chinese rock, but Dou Wei is the pioneer of China’s underground music, it’s his music in the early 90’s that embodies the spirit of all that is and was underground and alternative in China. And, I believe that Dark Dreams is the album that made sense and empowered all those people that later became the first forces of the indie underground of China.
The second song of 黑夢 is “黑色梦中” (Dark Dreams) this is the one that gives the title to the album, and it’s the song that Dou Wei sang in Beijing Bastards, the first indie film made in China. In the movie when the first chords of the bass sound you can feel the breeze coming in, I think that is a special moment for all the people that were insurgent and silenced by the system at the time, feeling lost in the wrong planet, that’s a moment when they found a channel to release their frustrations and “madness” and finally belong to something that they felt right. This song performed in the movie, and later when the 黑夢 came out, they were events that lit up the rebels and let them see each other to discover they were not just few “freaks” but enough to make their ideas happen. When that bass plays in Beijing Bastards and then Dou Wei appears on the stage from the darkness with his detached attitude but full of his own individuality he gave an idea of style and strength for those that were isolated in the middle of the crowd of androids that were being harvested at that time. Dou Wei was a shot of hope for the wild hearts that were under pressure.
Dou Wei is usually compared to Peter Murphy and therefore to Bauhaus, it must be because of the darkness of the songs that are in the same style that “黑色梦中” and because the tone of his voice, but that comparison seems a little narrow to me. Musically speaking in 黑夢 you can listen to so many more styles than just the new wave/dark industrial feel that originates the parallel with Murphy, also you can listen that though the musicians are fine, not missing a chord or a beat, they are not delivering any special flavor to the mix, the musical power of the album is in the arrangements and the production which are all product of Dou Wei’s musical vision. The lyrics are the other amazing element of the album, as they are all about issues that were more than relevant to the times to anybody with a bit of an inquisitive mind. And then the greatness of 黑夢 is carried by the selection of the music styles chosen for each of the songs, this is also all the result of Dou Wei’s lyrical intelligence.
“从命” (Obey) starts with a couple of sweet chords and sounds from a keyboard sounding a lot like an accordion, it could be on the way to be a dub or a ska ballad, but then it could also be influenced by some Russian music too. I know it sounds strange selection of references, but well. I’ve been searching for some Russian music of those times, but it’s not an easy thing to do, so I can’t yet prove my hunch, better you listen to “从命” and see if you hear what I do. The thing about this song is that with this “eastern” pop vibe is that Dou Wei chose to call to rebel and question the impositions of the establishment, imagine who is he talking to, I imagine maybe tunes like this sounded on the radios of the people sitting on the streets playing mahjong, maybe. Among all the things he says, I find reason and saturation when he complains about having to use clever language to express himself if anyway he is going to be punished for it. Maybe he was being fearless but to me sounds more like he was just done with the bullshit of the times.
“噢!乖 ” (Oh Good Boy!) has a happy silly melody that seems out of place for the brutal reality that is telling, but the sweet Chinese flutes, those sweet little flutes make you think deeper, and imagine maybe more clearly the situation. By the way, Dou Wei is a flutist. The music could also be willing to recreate a little bit of the propaganda music of those times, except for the dark breaks that give the contrast to the shining surface created by the flutes, so at the end the children voices instead of make you feel happy they force you to think a bit deeper, maybe more about those kids’ future. It has been said that “噢!乖 “ originates in the divorce of Dou Wei’s parents, to me it seems that the story he is telling could also be about the struggles of growing from parents that are teaching you to follow the system with zero space to question it, to be a “good boy”, accept the reality, forget your dreams, and know there is no way out because he is aware of how his parents were overpowered by the system. It’s a hardcore reality and worst of all unfixable. “噢!乖 “ forces you to stop and ponder the confronting dimensions in which a teenager like Dou Wei (which were millions) grew up, and who knows… maybe you will feel like stop complaining about the speed of Internet for a little while.
黑夢 is Dou Wei’s first album after he left Black Panther (one of the first rock bands from China, somehow a classic because of their timing). Dou Wei’s life after 黑夢 changed a lot, as he became part of the Chinese pop scene quickly after his first wife (Faye Wong) reached the top of Chinese pop charts becoming the best pop star that China has had until now, we can assume that a lot of her success might be thanks to the graceful style that Dou Wei gave to her songs when he was her producer. Anyway, we can skip the yellow journalism as the force of 黑夢 is genuine and still influential, and more than enough to win admiration. Dou Wei’s 黑夢 is considered one of the first non- mainstream albums from China.
Dou Wei released 黑夢 in 1994 under Dou Wei’s label Magic Stone Records. Magic Stone Records were Dou Wei, Zhang Chu who was with Dou Wei in Black Panther, and Landy Chang.
Dou Wei “Black Dream” from the film Beijing Bastard.
Dou Wei 黑色梦中 Black Dream