After reading about Beijing’s music scene for a year, I’m finally starting to get out and see what the buzz is all about. Last weekend I caught Guaili, Hedgehog, Snapline and Carsick Cars at Yugong Yishan, and this weekend I headed out to 2 Kolegas for Random K(e), SUBS, Re-TROS and Hedgehog.
This time I managed to talk RR into going with me. I was pretty sure he would enjoy it, and he was such a concert-hound back in LA that he’s been showing symptoms of withdrawal in Beijing. Neither of us had been to this club before, and the address was kind of strange (which is nothing unusual in this town): inside the drive-in cinema on Liangmaqiao Road. Right.
We had the taxi driver drop us off in the middle on Liangmaqiao and started looking for street numbers. It took us a while to find it, but there it was, a drive-in cinema, closed for the season of course. There’s a collection of restaurants and bars inside around a little pond. I guess we looked like rockers, because a parking lot attendant asked me, “Jiuba ma?” Jiuba (joe-bah) is a very handy Mandarin word: bar. He pointed off to one side, and we saw the 2 Kolegas sign.
The word “dive” would be appropriate here. It’s a pretty small place, with walls mostly consisting of bare red brick. Graffiti on the outside, snapshots of bands taped on the walls on the inside, prices for food and beverages hand-written stuck all over the place. We paid our ¥40 each (about $5). Gin and tonics were ¥20 ($2.60) and beers ranged from ¥15 up. The place was left than half full at this point, and the crowd seemed to be mostly foreigners.
RR looked around and said, “Yeah, this is already my favorite club in Beijing.”
First up was the oddball band of the night in more ways than one. First, Random K(e) consists entirely of foreigners (Brits and Americans by the sound of the voices); second, it’s not a trio; and third, they’re all guys. The first tune was very good and reminded me a bit of Radiohead, but from there on they took on a variety of styles. Instrumentation was electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and a guy who played both upright electric bass and a laptop with a bank of effects devices. Refreshingly, the guitarist actually had a pretty decent singing voice. They played with a visual backdrop of various still and moving black and white images projected over them, making photography pointless with my camera.
Next up, SUBS. I saw them do a few tunes months ago at Star Live, and I found the female singer so annoying I had to flee. The three guys backing her this time started out with a spacey instrumental tune that was quite good, kind of a post-punk Pink Floyd. But then Kang Mao came out in her funny hat and started screaming. When she settles down and sings, she seems to have some talent (aside from her looks), but she never settles down for more than a few lines of lyrics at a time before returning to shredding her throat.
Totally blurry picture, but I kind of like it. I can’t help thinking this band would really be something if she would just tone it down a few dozen notches.
RR came up to me after being AWOL for a bit (just lost in the crowd). He said he’d seen Hedgehog’s drummer going to the bar and getting a bunch of cans of Coke. So that’s where she gets her energy!
By this time it was getting very crowded and hot inside. Of course everyone was bundled up in heavy coats and layers of sweaters and scarves, which makes for a really awkward situation when there’s no coat check.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Re-TROS (Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, which has got to be one of the oddest band names ever in any country) since I first heard about them. I’ve got their EP, and like it quite a bit.
They did not disappoint. In typical Beijing fashion, the band is a trio with a female member, in this case the bassist. She and the lead guitar player arranged their microphone stands to face each other, so they were both sideways to the audience. Can’t say I’ve seen that done.
The lead vocals are a bit like a snarly version of David Byrne, and the music reminded me a fair amount of Gang of Four, though not so funky (or is it pseudo-funky?).
They are known for English lyrics featuring social and political commentary, but in a live setting it’s kind of hard to get much of that. Aside from the almost scary intensity, meaning is mostly reserved for the studio versions.
This time, Hedgehog was the headliner.
Their performance was similar to the one I saw last week, just a slightly different set list and a different drum kit. It seems to be the standard at clubs here for there to be a house kit that all the bands use.
For the light show, a series of images of the band was projected onto them, again making photography difficult.
Near the end of the final song, the guitarist pulled his strap over his head and dropped his instrument to the floor, finishing out the tune on voice only. Then when the others finished off the song, he staggered backwards and fell to the ground.
He was still lying there as his bandmates headed backstage. Atom came over and shook him, but he didn’t appear to move.
She hurried over behind the drum kit and got one of her cans of Coke, then brought it back to him.
She lifted his head up to pour some in his mouth. Eventually he sat up enough to drink on his own.
Now that’s rock ‘n’ roll. Either that or a Coca-Cola endorsement.
Once the music was over, we headed out straightaway. Not much reason to hang out at 1am in an uncomfortably warm room filled with smelly smoke.