by Eric Mullis
Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province and it's known for it's laid-back life-style
and blazingly spicy food. I asked around about live music venues and was told to check out
The Little Bar (xiao jiu guan) which is known as the Chengdu home of Chinese punk.
After taking a harrowing taxi ride downtown (Chengdu drivers don't pay attention to the lines, pedestrians or cyclists on the road) I arrived at the bar. It had a Snug Harbor vibe, but had a brighter atmosphere. The stage set-up was good, as was the sound system. The crowd wasn't as diverse as that in Shanghai since Chengdu isn't an international city. In fact, even though it's the fourth largest city in China, before the big earthquake in Sichuan last year, not many westerners had even heard of Chengdu!
Anyway, the group was Xiawen which was a trio a vocalist and two guitarists. One guitarist ran a sampler/loop-station that spewed out bass and synth lines as well as drum tracks. Their songs ranged from aggressive punk to eerie atmospheric and, in any case, they kept the crowd thrashing about.
Many of their fans screamed along. Of course, it's usually hard to understand the lyrics
in much live punk music since the instrument volume is jacked way up and because the vocalist usually screams at the top of his or her lungs. Added to that, the Xiawen's vocalist (and fans) screamed in Chinese which was odd in an interesting kind of way. Since you can't really understand anything anyway, it's easier to focus on the raw emotional and physical expression.
All-in-all, I dug the group but wished that they had a drummer. As you can see on the video (unfortunately, it can't be uploaded until I get back due to China's ban on YouTube), a drum-kit was set up, but it was evidently just a house kit. The groups sampler sounded good through the PA (the sound on the video clip doesn't do it justice), but punk music just needs a drummer beating the hell out of a shitty drum-kit.
Next, I'm off to have an extremely different live music experience: I'll be checking out Sichuan opera. Check back next week to see what it's all about, eh?