Wednesday, May 11, 2005

John, Rod, and Kevin pointing the way to more Divine Music at the Temple of Heaven. Our last full afternoon in Beijing together, enjoying a beautiful afternoon and the satisfaction of a job well done. Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Fantastic Voyage

John here with my wrap-up.

What a fantastic adventure! Yes, there were stresses (touring is hazardous, especially when the cultural rules are unknown). Yes there were organizational/communication issues, and the sound at the festival was questionable. But in the end, we Rocked the Jing, and when we left, I think most of the immediate problems had been worked out and we left a good impression. Plus a lot of press: Emily had arranged for print, radio, and national TV interviews with us.

Rod and Emily have another week travelling around the country -- hope they have a great time (bound to be stress-free without the rest of us.) We heard from them on Saturday afternoon and know they made it to Chengdu, despite their hurried departure.

On the way to the aiport, Haonan took us to KFC -- "Wait here for ice cream!" he sang giddily as he jumped off the bus. We felt like the St. Mary's Sinfonia schoolgirls, being rewarded for being such a well-behaved punk band. The soft-serve ice cream was wonderful -- our first officially-sanctioned Western snack (we had eaten pizza at Eudora Station, the expat hangout next door to the hotel, but that was on our own dime, not The Party's.)

Here are the heroes of this story: Emily for putting it together and making it happen, Haonan for his professionalism and organizational skills, and Kevin Cain [aka Vin Dog -- Kevin Barrett was remonikered Special K so as to distinguish the two Kevin Patricks] for his no-muss, no-fuss filmmaking ethos (as well as providing insight and stability during the trying times.) Thanks also to Kat for her dispatches from the front.

I also want to acknowledge the diverse and interesting musicians that we saw (and got to know a little,) like the guys from Acadian band Blou, Mina and Maaka from Kiwa (find them at and Moscow rock band Mumiy Troll. Also props to expat Americans (like Bree, Adam Lowry and Lee Clow) who helped us understand what we were experiencing. And Wen for her cross-cultural interfacing skills.

Thank you, PRC and the people of Beijing, for inviting us to your country, for treating us with patience and great generosity, and for being so interested in the kind of cultural diversity that the Pop Festival program represents. We were honored to be part of it.

Let me sign off with this thought, a message of comfort to all nations, from a Chinglish T-shirt that Kat bought: "Seeingmemore, loving Im a sweeheart in the world it snot yousomethinge."

I think that says it all.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bye-Bye Beijing

John and I cabbed it to the east part of town to check out fmusic, a store that sells local indy music. I had a list from Adam, and we picked up almost a dozen CDs by PK 14, Hang in the Box, Joyside, Reflector, Convenience Store, and the Landscape compilation. Much good listening ahead of us along with the CDs from Stefan with Blou, Maka with Kiwa, and Mummy Troll.

This was after John bought a bike. Yes, a bike. He's hankered for a folding bike for years, and now we're schlepping this thing along with the two guitars Rod left behind. We haven't yet solved the mystery of how these things are going in the car once we get to LAX.

We had a final lunch with Haonan and Mr. Shi, the driver, who is Hong Kong gangster cool. The lazy susan was so laden with bok choy and fried pumpkin and fish roe and omelette and rice and snow peas and broccoli and dishes that got buried before I could get to them--well, that thing could hardly spin.

Was it a success? We asked. Did everything go ok? Were the bosses happy? Oh, yes, Haonan said, so happy that they want you back next year--and to go to Shanghai and Guangzhou and Changsha and Chengdu. Yay! It may all just be sweet talk, but we're glad they're pleased.

Well, the bags are packed, and we're sitting around drinking the Coke we've taken back from the restaurants. Joe the Rooster is crowing. We're sad to leave but will be glad to be back. See you guys soon.

Signing out
from Beijing

Temple of Divine Music

So what happened for the last performance was this:* the Urinals were supposed to go on at 10 and went on at 9:30. That's a.m., by the way. So if you turned up to see the band and got the Finnish folk dancers, well, I hope you enjoyed them.

Chaoyang Park is a festival ground with permanent rides. The performers have named the temporary stages after the rides: Oh, did you have the Tilt a Whirl stage? We had the Roller Coaster stage. At breakfast we compare notes with Blou. You had drum sound in the audience--we did too but no sound in the stage monitors. Maka, the sound engineer and drummer for Kiwa, a Maori/Tongan/Greek ensemble from Wellington, had especially choice words for the challenges he'd been dished up.

To be fair, the sound workers have to deal with switching from Mummy Troll ** to the Finns with two fiddles and stomping dancers to Cuban conga players. It can't be easy, especially when festival officials and band managers with pull swap the schedule around.

Friday the Urinals played at the Bumper Car stage. Haonan took on the task of introducing the songs--he even wore the band T-shirt! I wish I could have taken photos of him, but Kevin Cain had given me his little digital video camera to film from the audience. It can't possibly be watchable. There was so much glare on the viewfinder from the sun that if Rod hadn't been wearing an electric green shirt, there's a good chance that the footage would have been of the parachute jump behind the stage and not of the band. I couldn't see a thing.

Rod and John introduced "I'm a Bug" as a sing-a-long: "We sing the verse, you sing the chorus--'buzz buzz.'" Haonan couldn't bring himself to say "Buzz Buzz"**** the first two times they explained it, but he did on the third. The song is so short, though, they didn't really figure out what was going on--but they clapped. And they clapped during "Surfing with the Shah." And they clapped at the end of each song. And the set came in at EXACTLY 30 minutes. Emily was happy, the officials were happy. Was it a good set by our standards? You know what? It doesn't matter.

After lunch***** Haonan took us to the Temple of Heaven. This was the best touristy expedition yet. There was a sweet breeze and the sun shone. There are gardens and birds around the temple and the structure is elegant. (I just changed tense mid-sentence, didn't I?)

Yikes! Rod just knocked on the door. He and Emily are spending an extra week here, and she just figured out that their flight to Xinjing leaves at 8 a.m., not 8 p.m. I gotta shut down and help. More touristy rhapsodies later. Or not.

*I think my photos and posts are scrambled.
**That's the name of the Russian rock band. We tried for days to figure out what their name was because it was translated from Russian to Chinese to English as Red Mummer, Mum Troy, and Troymer. They are very Rock Star*** and have the world's scariest girlfriends--they're working on the Lotte Lenya as evil Soviet villain in Dr. No look.
***John managed to swap CDs with them, though. We'll listen to it at least once and give you a report.
****Or "bzzz bzzzz" in Chinese.
*****I haven't mentioned that we've been fed every four hours whether we are hungry or not. (At breakfast we overheard one of the Kiwi schoolgirls: "I want fish and chips. I want pizza. I'm tired of eating Chinese food!")****** Yesterday the Canadians were musing about the first thing they'd eat when the got back to Halifax: Alexander King ale. Spaghetti with meatballs. And CHEESE. Roast beef.

But we're loving it: bok choy, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. John may be pining for a burrito and a margarita, but even he has found it a treat to eat such great food all the time. As vegetarians, it's been a privilege to have Hounan and Emily's navigate through the menus for us.

******The Kiwi girls are tired of many things. I overheard one in the elevator saying that she's "tired of getting in trouble all the time." ("You have to stop being such a bad girl," I told her. Giggles.) We've been mimicking (mimicing? sp?) them, I'm afraid. Imagine a high-pitched New Zealand accent: "I'm tired of looking at the Hill of Accumulated Elegance." "I'm tired of Inner Mongolian ice cream." "I'm tired of being an imperialist running dog lackey." Oh well, you have to be here to think it's funny. We think it's hysterical.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Haonan took this photo of the band at Chaoyang Park Posted by Hello


Wednesday night John, the Kevins, and I took a cab to the Chinapunx show at the Nameless Highland* bar in Anhuili.

Just getting there was an adventure for us. We hadn't taken a cab anywhere yet--although plenty have tried to annhilate us when we cross the street. (And you really have to scurry and dodge to get across Beijing's broad boulevards.*) Haonan had no idea where the club was when I showed him the address. We got the concierge to write the name in Chinese for us and gave that to the cab driver.

What a champ he was. First he got us to the general vicinity and then asked other cab drivers, passersby, building guards, and bicyclists where the club was, narrowing the location. For those of you familiar with Tokyo--it's like that. No real street addresses but the directions get more and more micro--district, neighborhood, building.

There was a pretty fair crowd outside the club, even though the show was supposed to start at 9:30 and it was 10 ish. A police nuisance of some kind. Ah, just like old times. We talked with some of the expats outside the club. Bree abridges the Brontes and Jane Austen for Chinese schools.*** Lee teaches at a Chinese middle school and sings with End of the World.**** Adam is a software engineer and keeps a blog on Beijing music:*****

We pay 30 yuan to get in--about $2.40, I think, but I've been shaky on currency conversion. It's not long before the air is smoky and I've got a bottle of Beijing Lite beer. Ah, punk rock music as Nature intended.

We enjoy a great evening of six bands, all very different, all great. Bree and Adam fill us in on who the bands are. (I have photos here: John works the room and meets some of the audience and musicians. There are a lot of girls in the bands and one or two Americans. Adam later explains to us that the musicians are either the children of the well-to-do who have the leisure to rehearse or live far out in the country where it's possible to get by on very very little. Lee says that when they want to sing something inflammatory, they sing it in English. But the authorities don't care very much because it isn't a very big movement. Most of the other pop music is utterly apolitical.

After the show, we go outside and discover it's pouring. We quickly catch a cab and go happily and wetly back to the hotel.

*I forgot to ask anyone what the name means.
**Good thing I still have my Tehran street-crossing skills.
***Jason, finally a version of Wuthering Heights you might be able to stand!
****Nori, he shares your great love for the No Child Left Behind idea and standardized testing.
*****Adam's blog has a link to a browser that gets around the Great Firewall of China--it has a link to this blog.


It's still dark, but I can see sunlight start to hit the smokestack of a neighboring factory. Joe the rooster* is crowing from the bird park next door.

Finally, the band gets to play again this morning at 9.30. It's been a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday full of sight-seeing, shopping, eating, and trying to work out a performance that will make the festival promoters happier.

From my perspective the audiences look as if they're having a good time. They do wander away from time to time, but there are many distractions in the park. They've been interested but then I suspect they'd be just as interested in singing pomeranians jumping through hoops.**

So more effort is being made to introduce the band and explain this strange indigenous music of Los Angeles.*** And why not? After all, the conductor of the LA Philharmonic will often provide some context for each piece the symphony performs.

The band agreed on a set list that had the more pleasing mid-tempo numbers. They've worked in a little audience participation on "I'm a Bug"--the crowd can go "buzz, buzz." And clap along with "Surfin' with the Shah."

John wrote introductions to each of the songs and went over them with Haonan. They're straightforward and not snarky, ironic, surreal, or jokey. This is hard for John, but his kind of dry humor doesn't translate. So, for example, John explains that "Surfin' with the Shah" is a little instrumental that marries southern California surf music with Middle Eastern tones. (Haonon: "what's 'surfing'?")

Making these accommodations has been a huge source of tension all along, from Emily's request that John dye his hair to her suggestion that they include Rolling Stones and Elvis covers. This clashes especially with Art for Art's Sake and the punk "no sellout" ethic.

But here we are.

It looks as if it's another pretty morning. We had a norther blow through Wednesday night and yesterday--I don't know if it came from the north, but it was like a sudden Texas storm. It poured rain and the wind came up and shook up the willow trees. It blew all the crap out of the air. The blackbirds are singing in the bird park, I have a second cup of jasmine tea, and the Urinals are going to show Beijing a good time.

What's wrong with a little fun?


*"Joe" because he wakes you up like a good strong cup of joe. The bird park is a pleasant spot with pheasants and eagles in cages. I've found the absence of urban birds unsettling. There are some magpies and Chinese jays. I saw a peregrine falcon float off a highrise. I've seen a few domestic pigeon coops and some ducks. I understand that sparrows were eradicated in the 1950s because they ate scarce grains--it was that bad that people had to compete with sparrows for grass seeds, I guess, or it was part of the Chairman's lunacy. It turns out that sparrows eat insects too....

Come to think of it, I haven't seen that many bugs.

**I had an epiphany on a walk the other day when I realized that the dog an old woman was carrying was a Pekinese. "Look, John, A Peking-ese." He gave me a look like, duh, everybody knows this but you.

***By the way, when shop clerks or other people ask where we're from, Los Angeles is meaningless to them. California too. Maybe its our pronunciation. So we're just Americans out here. It's not like Europe where people hold this against you, so it's ok.

[I just realized that the Blogger time stamp has been PST all along.]

Finnish mosh pit Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hang on the Box has toured in the U.S. Posted by Hello

The mosh pit at the Nameless Highland club Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

This one is for Mom. Posted by Hello

Little Trouble in Big China OR...


Haonan tracks Emily down by phone, and she joins us in the van. She doesn't say anything and she and Rod decline joining us for lunch.

When we get back to the hotel, Rod knocks on our door. He asks us to get Kevin, and then lets it rip. Emily is deeply hurt and offended. By not going back on stage, the band humiliated her in front of the festival officials. The band is obligated to perform for the length of time specified. Emily has contacts here and she's known as a trustworthy person who always delivers.

Furthermore, when I told Emily to talk to Haonan I was insulting her by suggesting she consult with a subordinate. Emily is the boss. Haonan is just a hired hand. We haven't been appreciative enough of Emily's efforts. John and I are arrogant and condescending (stop smirking, Bill). That we're way too demanding. Rod has to protect his girl, who is more important to him than anything.

John points out that the set length kept changing and that he did the best he could to time the set list. We say that the chain of command hadn't been clear. That we thought Emily had facilitated getting the band to the festival but that Haonan was the coordinator once we were here. That at any given point five people are ordering the band around. That Emily has a strong accent and is very difficult to understand, especially in chaotic situations.

Somehow John manages to mollify Rod. Now that we know what the situation is we'll certainly respect Emily's authority, he says. There's one more show, and the band will get it right. We're very grateful to Emily, and this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Please apologize to Emily for us.

After Rod leaves, John and I collect Kevin Cain and walk over to a local department store. John wants to buy a day-pack. Kevin wants to replace his digital camera. I want to see if there's goofy stationery. I feel very ashamed. But I also feel pissed off, frankly. Sure we needed an attitude readjustment. But, selfishly, I was having a good time until this fracas made me feel like a bug.

But you know? I get over it. We hunt and hunt and finally find some sad little roses. They're actually fragrant, though, and it's the best we can do. We buy them and give them to Emily.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Here you go...a photo of the band playing. Note the guard...they were all over the place. Posted by Hello

Holidays in the Sun

It is beyond bizarre for a punk band to play a show outside at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. Sunlight? Little kids chasing mylar balloons? Fresh air? Ok, not so fresh air. (And if you're thinking: Park = pigeons and starlings and sparrows, think again. There aren't any. I'll get back to you when I find out why.)

But then, it's all been beyond bizarre.

The negotiation over the length of the set has stabilized at 55 minutes. The Urinals go on first, then the Blou Band from Halifax, Nova Scotia. They are a great bunch of guys--real musicians, very proficient. They do Acadian / Cajun / Zydeco music. Oh boy. Fun dancey music.

The crowd in the park looks a little thin, and at the last minute Emily tries to get the order reversed on the bill, but there's a billboard on the front of the stage with the band listing. No go. As soon as the MC comes on, people begin to pour over--there are three other stages, no other bands have started.

This crowd is here for the spectacle, not the music. Clearly they are not western pop music fans. Still, the sound is actually good. The band's energy is good. One guy even starts dancing. Brave soul. All eyes and cameras are on him. Another guy--drunk, I think--does cartwheels. It's Golden Week! The sun is shining! It's a holiday! Wheeee!

It's a great set, and the band blazes through it. It is received enthusiastically. When it's over, I run backstage. Rod is unplugging the guitar. The drum set is being assembled for Blou. Emily comes up to me, "too short! too short!" She says, "the band didn't play long enough. Tell them to go back on."

"That was a whole set," I say.

"They have to go back on, play ten more minutes." Emily is very agitated.

"That's ridiculous."

I'm not the band's manager. I'm just along for the ride. "Talk to Haonan," I say. "See what he says." Chaos is swirling around. Blou starts setting up. John, Rod, and Kevin waver. "We can do it, but what songs do we do?" "Ack ack ack ack?" "'Beautiful Again,' again?" "We can do the first four songs in the set again--no one would know the difference." "Ok, ok." They try to go back on, but Blou is out there and their interpreter is introducing them. That's settled then. No stupid little coda to the set.

Blou are great, and they really know how to work the crowd, teaching them to siing along with "Oh, Madeleine." They even try to get the crowd dancing. It doesn't work too well. But there are some foreigners out there bopping along, so it goes over great. John wanders off to see the Russki pop band, but I stay for Blou. I explain to Hounan that my mother is from the place where this kind of music is from, but he doesn't know where Louisiana or New Orleans is. He's going to a program in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie so I tell him he MUST go to New Orleans while he's in the states.

After Blou's set, I go backstage to help carry the gear to the van. Rod is upset: Emily has disappeared.

It's just a little too loud for some of the audience. Posted by Hello

This brave dancing man got almost as much attention as the band. Posted by Hello

The Jaws of Victory

All Monday afternoon there's been negotation over the length of the night's set and who was going to perform when. Two forty minute sets with the Azerbaijani dancers in between. The Azerbaijani dancers first. One 50-minute set with a ten minute rest break. Rod tries to explain, not very patiently, that the dynamic of the set builds and that the band would prefer one longer set without breaks. John is constantly writing and rewriting set lists. All the festival organizers and staff boss each other and the bands around. Because we can't read the badges, we have no idea who the chief is and who is a subassistant water carrier.

Finally it's settled. Urinals first, a 50 minute set, a little long for them. Then the Azerbaijani dancers. The dancers are peeved, but because Emily has pull, that's the way it is. They go on 7.30ish in the dusk.

Kevin Cain has been filming the shebang, and he gave me a DAT recorder and a long directional mike to record the evening performance. The MC, a young woman who doesn't simper like the other announcers, gets the crowd whipped up. And is there a crowd! They go nuts at the end of each song, even though the guitar is once again inaudible. And no drums. The sound guy fixes the guitar after three songs, but the drums never do.

It doesn't matter. The crowd, who seem to understand the rock idiom, clap wildly. They don't dance or even tap their feet during the songs, though. Rod really feeds off the energy and rocks out. They do "I'm a Bug" in Mandarin, which doesn't make much impression because it's so out of left field. Emily bustles up and tells me to tell Kevin Cain to film from the crowd, not the stage. I tell her I have to stand out in the audience and that she can go tell him herself.

I could go, though. I can tell the recording I'm making is going to be terrible. The sound is bad off the stage and the Gobi wind whips through every few minutes. The bumper cars are off to my left and that throws in more noise. It's starting to get chilly but the crowds at the park are still having fun--there's still fresh smoke off the grills and the rides are roaring away, neon glowing.

When they break into "Beautiful Again," a girl near me shouts "I love you!" Too weird. When it's over, the band leaves the stage. The MC gets the crowd shouting "Ur nou! Ur nou! Ur nou!" (Distant Promise!) They come back on and do an encore, beaming. The Azeris tap their feet impatiently in the wings. This is eating into their time.

Carrying the gear back to the van, the band is stopped a few times by kids who want to take their photos, get their autographs. They even want my picture. Rod and Emily lag behind. Emily is telling Rod they should have played two twenty minute sets, that the long set tired the audience. "Emily," I say, "you should be very proud! It was a great set! They got a great response. You did a great job. You should be happy." "No," Emily said, "they play too long." Rod has a long face. "Yeah, whatever," I say. Isn't it amazing how some people can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Before the first set.... Posted by Hello

Monday, May 02, 2005

More Photos

Lion dancer Posted by Hello

"Distant Promise"

The wind from the Gobi Desert blows the smog out of the air and May Day dawns bright and clear. Haonen has said that we have the morning free, so we wander around the neighborhood. We run across lion dancers and several wedding blazing into local hotels in a barrage of confetti, silly string, and cymbals clashing. We crowd around along with the huge contingent of New Zealanders who have arrived--not to mention the Cubans, Danes, Swedes, Russians, Azerbaijanis, and Finns. Everyone takes photos in the wedding scrum. (I have dozens of the backs of peoples’ heads….)

Back at Chaoyang Park Haonan tells us that the Urinals are performing third in the opening ceremony, right after the St. Mary’s girls’ choir (from Aukland) and before the Azerbaijani dancers. He’s wearing the Urinals T-shirt John gave him. The band does a quick line check, decide the sound is hopeless but so what. They spend a couple of hours trying not to be nervous. The mayor of Beijing will be here. The governor. CCTV film crews. National radio. No pressure.
The stage is set up next to bumper cars. There are a couple of vomit comet rides nearby and stalls with grilled whole lambs (I don’t stick around to see how they’re served), pirated DVDs, and cheap hats. Crowds of moms and dads and their one kid enjoy the holiday and the clear, bright afternoon. I try to override my body telling me it’s 1 a.m. in LA and drink some sweet green tea from a bottle. And some sweet milky Nescafe. And some Coke.

We spread out on the grass in the area roped off as a green room. We have a small crowd watching and photographing everything we do. When I walk around the park, I get stopped so people can take their pictures with me. I put my arm around them and give the camera the peace sign and we’re all happy. The green room fills up with the Kiwi girls, who are wearing rattly wooden skirts over sarongs, loose hair, and drawn on chin tattoos. The Azerbaijani dancers are wearing their Cossack hats and boots. The Finnish folk dancers have on their outfits. The Cubans are wearing shiny blue satin ensembles. The Swedish brass band has on tuxes and formal gowns. The Russki prog band has on their 70s clothes. (Haonan said there was a group from Japan, but they were ummm uninvited.)

It’s so surreal. Here are all these accomplished performers brought from around the world. And then there’s the Urinals.* That Emily has arranged this and managed to make it all work is amazing.

I get very nervous. I have one task: to plug Rod’s foot pedals into the amp. Sorry, two tasks: plug in the pedals and get underfoot. We watch the ceremony begin. Party officials give speeches. They are translated into English for the crowd, many of whom are the parents of the young Kiwi dancers and choir and the younger members of the Swedish brass band and other ensembles. Big applause. The Swedish brass band is introduced and plays Enter the Dragon. The girls go on and stomp and make their scowling Maori warrior faces to huge applause. (Some of the girls are clearly part Maori but others are English roses--still, the effect is very cool.)

The girls clatter off the stage. Haonan hustles us on. I plug in the pedals, check that the power light is on, and then try not to trip over the stairs going back down. A woman wearing a spangly red and yellow ball gown starts talking, giving some kind of introduction. It’s translated: “From the United States of America, the Urinals band, performing a love song, ‘Beautiful Again.’”

From the crowds a few girls scream. I can’t believe it. Girls screaming. I look out and see a lot of people, most of whom don’t have their hands over their ears. As the Urinals play, the sound levels go up and down--you hear the drums, you don’t hear them, the guitar goes in and out, John’s vocals boom, fade, and hit just about the right level.

And in a few more seconds the song is over. Whew. Big relief. Emily seems happy. Haonan is giddy. Even though there’s a buffet with the party members at 6 and a performance at 7:30, the pressure is off.

*(I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the band’s name has been transliterated and not translated, so apparently no one knows what the band’s name means. We’re told that the characters that have been used for the phonetic transliteration mean “Distant Promise.”)

Smile! St. Mary's Maori dance ensemble from Auckland. Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Touristy Photos Posted

I've posted some photos--in no particular order--on Flickr

More later. The lads have a 9:30 show this morning....

Saturday, April 30, 2005

At Chaoyang Park

The sound check is a disaster.

There's no overdrive on Rod's guitar and all you can hear is John's bass and his vocals. So far the other bands testing their sound have been a Cuban all-drum ensemble, a group of moody Russians who spend 45 minutes perfecting their church organ sound, and a 43-piece Swedish brass ensemble that do Abba covers. You have not lived until you've heard a sousaphone pooting out "Mamma Mia."

The sound guy doesn't seem to know how to mix rock bands. John and Rod are unnerved and their harmonies sound like something from the Beijing opera--like off-key yodelers--it's horrible. They run through a quivery version of "Beautiful Again," which Emily has chosen as their four-minute love song. It sounds terrible. I feel really depressed about this but remember that bad sound checks often lead to good sets.

"What do you think?" Emily and Haonan ask me. "It sucks." I say. "It sounds TERRIBLE." One of the festival organizers bustles up. "You are very good. We think you will play first at the opening ceremony tomorrow."

Oh shit. I guess they like the song and the way the band sounds because you can hear John sing the word "beautiful," even though "Beautiful Again" is about the pain of watching the planes hit the World Trade Center and knowing that the whole world has just changed for the worse. Or maybe they want to get them out of the way and put them on first. Or maybe it's a political thing and it just looks really rad and freedom of expressiony to have an American punk band go on in front of--get this--the mayor of Beijing, the governor of Beijing shi, and who knows who else.

Haonan and Emily go and kick butt and the band gets a chance to do another sound check. This time Rod sounds great, the drums are great, and John and Rod are joking while they test the microphones. Yay! As they leave the stage, a hot wind from the Gobi kicks up and blows the banner off the back scaffolding, almost decapitaing one of the five guys who supervise everything on stage. The winds of change have oh can't think of anything Chairman Mao sounding here. Anyway, we're packing up now to go to the opening ceremony!

Wo shi shiao tsong tsoo--I'm a bug...a public toilet at Chaoyang Park inside a giant ladybug  Posted by Hello

Rod and music fans Posted by Hello

The descent Posted by Hello

Haonan and John catch their breath Posted by Hello

The Great Wall in the smog Posted by Hello

Friday, April 29, 2005

Building Beijing

Our hotel is on the northeast side of Beijing, not far from the Olympic Village being whipped up for 2008. (This means it is a long way from the center. My early idea about walking from here to the Forbidden City would be like hoofing it from Pasadena to Santa Monica....). Cain, who is an automotive designer who has come along with us to shoot a video, says that 70% of all cranes in the world are here in China (and not whooping cranes either), and I believe it. Construction everywhere, starting this morning at 6, just after the roosters got crowing.

Haonan's taking us to the Great Wall in a few....
Ziajian! [ciao]

And the high-end way Posted by Hello

Low tech building techniques Posted by Hello

Our Minder

We arrived in Beijing at 5 a.m. after leaving LA at 1.30 a.m. It was a 12 hour flight spent mostly in a catatonic daze, especially after the rough take-off from LAX through a rainstorm. (LA is the new Seattle.)

Li Haonan greeted us. Haonan works for the Central Arts Performance agency, which is putting on the Chaoyang Festival. It dawned on me after a few foggy hours that his sole duty was to herd us around--just us, not the Kiwi Band from New Zealand, not the Don Johnson Big Band from Finland (the seven deadly Finns, as we've been calling them), and not the Blous (probably Blues) band from Ottawa. Just us. A huge responsibility because some of us wander off to look at junk food displays or gawk at torn flyers taped to lightposts. Like herding cats.

Haonan has worked at the Kennedy Center and will go on to an internship at the Carnegie. I don't know if he has any idea what the band sounds like or what an Old School punk band who no one knows of even in LA is doing in the thick of this extravaganza. But he's game.

He's game, but....after I figured out how to get connected through the network cable in our hotel room, he told me at lunch that I'd have to pay for my connection time. I hadn't mentioned it. How did he know.....?

Haonan at the airport Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Live from Beijing

We've arrived and this is an experiment to see if I can post. The blog itself appears to be blocked by the PRC but it looks as if I can access the Blogger interface.....

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


From the Chinapunx:
"Hey kat,We have a performance on May 4th. But then, we have no sufficient funds topay for your show. If you want show on the May 4th (The Anniversary of theChinapunx). Maybe I can plan it. But, I can't make sure. Tell me youropinion. I will plan it asap.Yang Fan"

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The so-cool Chinapunx website:

Three Cheers for Emily

This is the gal who is making it happen. Hurrah for Emily for getting the gigs lined up and taking care of the arrangements. Will transformers blow? Will sets be at weird times? Will the Gobi Desert dust blow in and obscure the stage? Sure--but E is a trooper and it will all be great fun. Just you wait.

Emily Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Will Play for Beer!

Two dates have fallen through in the Urinals' Beijing sojourn--we'd love to hear about possible gigs for May 3, 4, or 5. (Or the night of May 2, for that matter.)

This is the current plan for the Urinals' shows at the pop festival:

May 1, 5 p.m., opening ceremony plus 7:30 p.m.
May 2, 9:30 a.m. (a.m.???)
May 5, 7:30 p.m.

So--Puppet Show anyone?
If you have suggestions, please leave a comment or email me at katalleyjones@gmailcom.
A million thanks.....

Monday, April 25, 2005

It's So Bizarre, It's Off the Map

Is a trip to China a worthwhile career move for the Urinals? Will this trip improve our chances of playing the East Coast of our own country? Will we get a lucrative recording contract that will propel us to the next level of obscurity? Probably not, but as is typical with our haphazard musical career, it'll be an adventure. We don't even expect to sell any merchandise or garner an online sales tsunami either - the typical price for a CD in China runs between $2 and $3, notably below cost for our releases. We're taking this plunge because, as fate and (Emily's) tenacity would have it, we can.

Emily's been working on this venture for about a year and a half. Originally, the plan was to have us attend the festival in May of 2004, but things didn't work out. There were initial doubts of course - someone with no booking experience that we're aware of, from a culture not known for its contributions to contemporary popular culture, arranging for us to be subsidized by what is thought of in the West as a monolithic, humorless, tyrannical bureaucracy. It's beyond comprehension, especially given the content of our material, which has not as yet been reviewed by Beijing (I envision a scenario where, immediately after our first number, the Senior Minister of the People's Culture is hauled off to a labor camp on the Plateau of Leng.) And yet, here we are, with airline tickets in hand, visas in preparation, and arms inoculated. As David Nolte told me, "it's so bizarre, it's off the map."

Things that could work against us:
1) The band was known as 100 FLOWERS at one point;
2) The band name has not been directly translated into Mandarin, but instead into a phonetic equivalent whose meaning is "Distant Promise" (sounds like a Yanni record, right?);
3) When it's not about the carnal, our lyrics tend to be critical of culture and politics (primarily our own, but still...);
4) We're decidedly middle-aged, a condition which hair dye will not disguise (I was recently asked to do this, btw, to improve our appeal to the soon-to-be-conquered Asian Market.) Nor should it - pop music comes in a variety of flavors, and our approach is no-less valid than the next wave of youthcult superstars;
5) We'll be using unfamiliar equipment - will it work? Will we get a soundcheck?

Things that could work for us:
1) When we're on, we're on;
2) We have faith in the material which, in the context of this festival, will most certainly stand out as unique.

Regardless, we're happy to be the sole American band on the bill. We get to represent our country in the best way we know how -- let the International incidents begin.

- John

MP3s Posted

MP3s of a couple of songs posted here
It isn't pretty, but it's free.

'97 Kilowatt poster by Coop Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Four-Minute Love Song

The Powers that Be have requested that bands playing the Chaoyang Pop Festival open with a four-minute love song. Mid or slow-tempo. Hmmm. I guess the Urinals have a love song or two in their repertoire ("Sex"? "All Sexed Up"?) But anyone who knows the band's ouevre knows they'd have to play songs three or four times to come up with four minutes. And mid-tempo? That would be *compared to what* I guess.

Still, I'm sure they'd play "Love Me Tender" to go along Heh. Or would they?

This gentleman will surely be able to sing you a four-minute love song. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

Official Festival Website

Here it is:

Here are some of the other bands on the bill. You'll see we have many hours of entertainment pleasure awaiting us in The Jing--which I, Madame B, will only be too happy to report to you.

If you sit through the interminable scrolling gif, you'll see our boys, circa 1978 at Blackies. A great show, it was, closed down by the LAPD.

The Five-Spice Girls Posted by Hello

Casualties of Christo's last project. Posted by Hello