During the Dragon Boat Festival, Chongqing city draws two types of ‘tourists’ to its city limits. The first type are the flag waving tourist type, hell bent on taking selfies in front of the Yangtze river and gorging on the spicy delicacies the city has on offer. The second type of ‘tourist’, don’t sport the matching caps and t-shirts, but instead are more likely to be wearing flat-caps, braces, Doc Martins and displaying a wide range of tattoos on various body parts. These tourists, instead of going down to the river to eat Zongzi, will be heading to NUTS Livehouse to drink free beer and let loose at the Chonqing Punk Festival.
Already in its 4th year, the annual punk festival is becoming synonymous with Dragon Boat Festival in China’s punk community. Every year the festival brings together some of the China’s most celebrated punk bands as well as some of the scene’s newest names for a 2 day celebration of punk rock music.
In previous years the festival has drawn some of the biggest names in the scene, including SUBS, Mi San Dao (R.I.P Lei Jun) and Rooftop Circus (R.I.P Rooftop Circus). And this year was no different with headlining acts such as Wuhan legends SMZB and 69 (无聊军队) who came out punk rock retirement for this show! The festival, with its ability to draw the biggest names in China’s punk scene, is fast making it one of China’s biggest and most influential underground music festivals.
We caught up with the organizer of the Chongqing Punk Festival and NUTS Livehouse owner, Lao Gui (老鬼), to talk about the past, present and future of the festival.
Lao Gui 老鬼
"People from Chongqing are direct, speak loudly and are very simple. That’s why Chongqing suits punk!" - Lao Gui
Under the Wall:So this is the 4th Chongqing Punk Festival. What’s different this year?
Lao Gui： This year being the 4th year, (the biggest difference being) more people are coming down for it. Punks from different cities, near and far, are coming down just for the festival. It’s awesome!
Under the Wall：We’re guessing that this year’s two headliners (69 and SMZB) has pulled a lot of people down to the festival this year. Talking of which, 69 (无聊军队), how did you manage to get them to come out of punk rock retirement to come play?
Lao Gui：I knew that last year 69 did a guest appearance at one of AiYou’s (哎呦) shows. I got in touch with them to try and get them to come play at the 2015 Chongqing Punk Fest, but because of a schedule clash, we couldn’t make it happen. So we invited them to come this year instead, they were really into it.
Now that they have broken up, they hardly ever play concerts. Even when they were still together, China didn’t have a music tour system in place, (at that time) many cities didn’t have a lot of rock clubs or live houses. So most of their fans have only heard their songs and not seen them play live, this was my motivation for inviting them down to Chongqing. Even I’ve never seen them live! They are a band I really like. They represent the Chinese punk music scene. They are acted as a bridge from the music of the 70’s and 80’s and took those styles and brought it in to the 90’s and 00’s. That’s why I think they are very representative (of the Chinese punk scene).
Under the Wall：Exactly. Would you say their song ‘Youth’ （青春）is a direct representation of the Chinese punk scene?
Lao Gui： A lot of their songs are awesome. Like ‘Revolution’ (革命) and ‘Dynasty’ (一代) both are classic punk rock songs which contain a feeling of revolution. ‘Youth’ is a classic. This song can make most Chinese punks go crazy each time they hear it. It’s representative of our generation.
Under the Wall: The other headliner, SMZB are one of the biggest punk bands on the scene today. A lot of people have been saying that SMZB are the biggest act to headline the Chongqing Punk Festival so far. What’s your thoughts?
I think they are one of Chinese’s most influential punk bands. They’ve been around for a lot years now. I think this highlights one of Chongqing Punk Festival’s best parts, we invite a lot of young bands, for example this year we’ve got Xi’er (喜儿) a newly formed band, and The Protesters have only been around a couple of years. But we also invite a lot of older, more established bands, like 69, AiYou, SMZB, Mi San Dao （蜜三刀）and Changsha’s The Last Choice (最终选择)。
We hope that the festival can become a proper festival and have a good mix of young punk bands and die-hard punk bands.
Under the Wall：From our experience of the Chongqing Punk Festival, it is not only a place where people can come to listen to punk rock, it’s also a place where young people can come to experience a different culture, even an opportunity to get to know themselves a little better.
Lao Gui: Yeah, it seems that is the case.
Although saying that, this is the culture that we (NUTS Livehouse) provide. NUTS has been around for over 9 years, and I’ve been working in China’s independent music scene for over 14 years. Each year we put this on (the Chongqing Punk Festival), the culture we look to pass on and promote is that this is a diverse live house in a diverse time and age. Therefore we look to bring in diverse and different sounds. The Chongqing Punk Festival also has a lot of different cultures and different music included in it. (Each year) we’ll have old school, new school or new hardcore, that way it’s a little more accommodating (to different tastes).
We’re not like those live houses that only do one style of music, we don’t just limit ourselves to putting on punk or metal shows. Instead, NUTS is a medium to attract all sorts of different styles of music. NUTS puts one a variety of different events, for example, Neverland, a 2 day dance music event which takes place in the mountains, this punk festival, as well as a ton of other similar events.
Also, I think that it (NUTS) steers clear of mainstream music. I don’t like buying into that that (mainstream music). But we accept other styles of music, even styles like experimental music.
Under the Wall: Talking about putting on a diverse range of underground music, can you see any common ground between different genres of China’s underground music scene?
Lao Gui：I think the biggest similarity is that they all provide a platform for young people to discover themselves. This gives young people an opportunity (to discover new things). Take the punk festival as an example, for some who come it may be their first time to listen to punk. They may love it, or they may think its shit. No worries, there is still a ton of different sounds out there. The most important thing is that at least you have on opportunity to listen to this (underground) music, instead of only listening to that, what we think is, unlistenable (mainstream) music on the internet. If you come to a show here, you can be sure you’ll be exposed to different things, whether you like it or not, that’s up to you.
Under the Wall:In your own opinion, what is punk?
Lao Gui：It’s an attitude. Punk to me is an attitude.
It’s much different compared to other underground cultures. It has its own special attitude.
That’s why I organize this punk festival, because I think Chongqing is a city which has a strong punk spirit. This city has a very young culture. There is a sense of progressiveness in this city. A lot of the youth in this city haven’t been assimilated by (China’s) traditional culture, and as a result they are more willing to develop, and get their hands on new things - things they are interested in. Adding that to the fact that people from Chongqing are very direct, speak very loudly and are very simple. That’s why I think Chongqing suits punk!
Getting back on to why I want to put on this punk festival, and not any other type of other music festival, such as a folk music festival. The reason is that punk can ignite the fire inside of a young person. It can really evoke that intense emotion. This, I feel is exactly what the youth of Chongqing need. They lack the opportunity to ignite these emotions. This is why Chongqing really needs a punk scene.
Under the Wall:In your eyes, does the China punk spirit differ in any way from the rest of the world?
Lao Gui：I’ve never really thought about it like that.
But I feel that Chinese punks have a little more attitude (a different attitude). Like SMZB’s state in their song, The Chinese are Coming (a song criticizing the lack of manners of Chinese tourists) that as Chinese person when we go to other cities, we should act as normal person and not like an insect and wreck what’s in front of you. No matter where you are from, you should live your life with a unique attitude. So that song (The Chinese are Coming) tells us that Chinese people are coming so you better watch out. At least this is my interpretation of it. Chinese bands should think about SMZB’s attitude if they want to turn be a proper punk band.
Under the Wall: What does the future hold for the festival？
Lao Gui：That’s a tough question because I don’t really systematically plan the festival. Our one hope for the festival is that we’ll always have punk music playing, we’ll always have free beer flowing and we’ll always have people who live their life with a unique attitude coming to the show. As for how it will change in the future, we hope it won’t change.
Under the Wall:Last question, if you could have any one band to come play at next year’s festival, who would you choose?
Lao Gui：(thinks long and hard…) I really want to see Sham 69 live! They’ve never played Chongqing. I really want to see more and more bands from different countries come to Chongqing and play in the punk festival. As for Chinese punk bands, I really want to see more fresh bands, more new bands!