I think I finally have an entry into the minor Internet controversy last month over the political wherewithal (or lack thereof) of Chinese indie rock bands. This all came to me during Pet Conspiracy’s set at Mao Livehouse Friday night, in between bouts of unbridled ecstasy.
First thought: Artists do almost nothing arbitrarily.
Second thought: Chinese artists must necessarily use subterfuge to express their true political feelings.
Third thought: If you are seeing nothing political in Chinese indie rock, you are not paying enough attention.
Fourth thought: Case in point, Pet Conspiracy at Mao Livehouse.
Indulge me, so that I may become the literature and visual art analyst for a moment: The opening piece of a Chinese (and Western) band’s entry to the stage includes a masked (read: blind, faceless) person wrapped in red cloth, struggling against an unseen pair of hands pulling her back. The rest of the band paws at the barrier from behind the red cloth, while music blares. Finally, a singer rises, on the shoulders of a man, above the red binding, and begins to hysterically belt out a crazy, upbeat tune. (Thanks to Jake Newby for the great, borrowed picture.)
During this song, the other singer (the one who was masked) removes her mask, but proceeds to wrap herself up in the microphone cord and stand, like a black widow in her own web. The cord goes everywhere- around the shoulders, arms, legs, and even in the mouth, like a gag. This was similar to Pupi’s (of Bigger Bang) stage behavior a couple months back at YuYinTang. Coincidence, or do I detect a note of political commentary here?
Taken a step further, consider that the band recently released pictures of its members in the nude, happily frolicking, and also that a member of the audience (?) attained stage level and promptly ripped off her dress to reveal taped nipples and black panties. Finally, take in the fact that the drummer and guitarist intimately kissed during the course of the festivities, before exchanging instruments. Go ahead and take this all in. It’s my pet conspiracy theory of the moment.
Like Cui Jian and others, Chinese artists know exactly what buttons they are allowed to push and with what degree of force. These artists are smart enough to stay free in the face of blind madness, all the while cleverly upstaging the status quo. Think of the traditional boundaries that were broached wordlessly in an hour-long set by the Pet Conspiracy: Political iconography, sexual and gender issues, associations with Westerners, and LGBT issues. These are all no-nos, n’est-ce pas? However, this band will not receive any political flak for their performance. And who knows how many minds they may have altered through their subliminal signals? There’s nothing artful about being overt. Bands like Pet Conspiracy challenge their audience and make them think about subtext, which is a good thing, like the band has respect for its fans’ powers of perception.
Additional thoughts on a great show at Mao:
Can’t say enough about Pet Conspiracy’s performance. Again, what’s in the water up there in Beijing? Helen Feng’s (as well as the rest of the band’s) urgency on stage was contagious to the point of being dangerous. You need a little danger in a show. There was constantly something happening onstage that excited me, from the cord-wrapping to the dancing and mirror ball smashing.
Second, Mao is a great venue. They did an admirable job on the remodel and probably added another 100 in person capacity. And last night it had the attendance to match (approx. 650 people). YuYinTang would have exploded in a spray of scenesters if it had hosted the Pet Conspiracy show.
Fare thee well, Baijiu Robots. We hardly knew ye. They threw down in between sets and really made the waits bearable. They were unable to clean up for B6 at Mao, but they made up for it at Dada later on in the night. Nice tiger suit, also. The tie really pulled the whole ensemble together.