It has been a busy year for Chinese Football. Fresh off of their most recent China tour, the band have not only expanded their domestic fan base but have also reached out to an international audience and received an impressive amount of likes from rock fans from all over the globe.
Founded in 2011 in Wuhan, known affectionately through China’s underground as the country’s punkest city, Chinese Football stands out with their unique sound, a sound labelled by many as Post/Math Rock. For those of you familiar with American Football, they may fit into the Midwestern Emo genre. Chinese Football has released one studio album titled Chinese Football, one compilation album named Come Together! featuring bands they toured with during their first tour, and in 2017 the band released their latest EP Here Comes a New Challenger!
The band took 25 days to complete their 8 show tour. Why so long you ask? Quite simply because the band had to be back to their day jobs in Wuhan each Monday morning and could only play shows on the weekend or on Holidays. Their recent tour is not only a testament to their work ethic, but also to their growing popularity with the band selling out the shows in Shanghai and Guangzhou.
While on tour in Hangzhou in March, Under the Wall’s Tian Tian caught up with the band to talk.
UTW: The lyrics and the cover art of your new EP (Here Comes a New Challenger) doesn’t include the football references the last album did. Instead there is much more reference to the Japanese Otaku culture. Why is that?
Xu: Our friend Bei Shi (also a musician, guitarist of a band based in Guangzhou named Yourboyfriendsucks!) is a cartoonist and designed the cover and everything. We told him what we wanted and he sketched it out but he wasn't really satisfied with the work. All of a sudden he found a 90s Japanese PlayStation game called Tokimemo (ときめきメモリアル) from his collection. We were thinking this new EP would be related to video games so he (Bei Shi) said why not design a cover in the style of the game’s cover design. If you happen to know this video game, check the front and back cover, and you’ll see it’s the same design. But instead of the heroine from the game, it’s our new drummer Zheng.
Xu: Talking of our last album, everyone thinks that it was related to football. Well, all those titles of the songs that seemed to be related to football, we actually made them up.
It’s was just a coincidence that the names we came up with were somehow relevant to football or rather, sports. So there was this main thread. Now our EP came out, we kinda want to dilute people’s thoughts on us being related to football.
UTW: So why are you called Chinese Football? Is it in relation to the sport or the band, American Football？
Xu: Speaking truthfully… we randomly chose that too. Of course I personally love American Football very much so I just thought, hey it’d be fun if we change it to Chinese Football. Some of the band hadn’t even heard of them by then. We simply considered the name funny and easy to remember. It really is a good name you know, because no one ever forgets it.
UTW: Saying that, lots of fans find there are striking similarities between your music and American Football’s?
Xu: Hmm… they must be very subjective (everyone laughs).
UTW: So, the similarities in sound to American Football were unintentional?
Xu: We often reflect on this question actually. In my opinion, when people want to learn about things, they don’t try to get what messages are conveyed at the beginning, they tend to refer to their experiences they had in life and compare them with the new stuff they are trying to learn. If they listened to American Football before they’d automatically tag us with Midwestern Emo or Math Rock just by seeing our name Chinese Football, which makes sense. Or, if an ordinary Chinese audience who never heard of American Football might think us as the Chinese Football Team, which probably makes them question us whether we are a comedy band that mocks the Chinese national football team. They might also relate us to passion or youth…
Li: The same thing with cartoons like Slam-Dunk(スラムダンク) and Captain Tsubasa(キャプテン翼)!
Xu: As a matter of fact, they are not absolutely objective. So what listeners actually think of us might not actually be what we are trying to communicate.
UTW: The music from the new EP has a larger emphasis on vocals compared to your last album. Is there a reason for this?
Xu: I think there weren’t enough vocals on our last album. I’m not that big a fan of purely instrumental music. There is a sense of isolation if a music piece is without vocals. When there’s vocals, there’s more a bond with humanity.
UTW: Do you know there was this meme page on Facebook, that photoshopped a album cover for you and linked it with your first album on youtube when American Football announced their new album last year…
Xu, Li & Wang: We don’t get it. What’s a meme?
**UTW use the examples of pepe and Harambe to teach Chinese Football what a meme is**
Li: Why is killing of a gorilla funny?
Xu: I have no idea about memes. But I’d say it’s more like a meet of their curiosities? I’ve been thinking about American Football’s reform and their new album release. It’s a bit strange but it still has its inevitability. I still remember when i first came across American Football — that was back when we could still watch youtube videos in mainland China*. I stumbled across American Football and I really liked them so I started to look for their videos on YouTube.
*(Youtube was banned in China on October, 2007)
Xu: Their first album is truly classic.
Xu: When we formed Chinese Football they hadn’t reformed. If they remained broken up, there’s a possibility that the audience from overseas wouldn’t think of us as a rip-off band. Maybe they’ll consider us as a tribute band. Well, look American Football is reformed now, and they released a new album too!
Xu: I got to know American Football when I was listening to Emo and Pop Punk music. We described them as music that hardcore kids listened to when having sex. It didn’t seem to fit the hardcore music genre, but the hardcore kids loved it.
Maybe those Emo kids then have grown up to be the backbone or mainstay in their respective society now, and now they have the voice. So it’s their turn to decide which band should be massive. Hence the Emo revival. The other reason is, the Americans are seeking their presence. The genres we know about nowadays such as Shoegaze or Punk all actually originated in Europe. Talking about the most original genre of music from America, I can’t think of anything that comes to mind but Emo. I lived that Emo era when MySpace was filled up with Emo-esque content even though the content had nothing to do with Emo music. It has become an American phenomenon.
The fact that we managed to catch the eyes of the international scene was probably down to a lucky break brought about by this Emo revival train. From our name alone, they may at first see us a rip-off band (of American Football) because we happen to be from the “copycat country”. Through this coincidence that may start to keep an eye on us.
UTW: Given that emo music is traditionally associated with the struggles of western youth, do you feel these notions of growing up, such as dealing with relationships and responsibility, are also transferable to your fan base?
Xu: (Thinks) This in itself is the definition of Emo. Every song has emotions. I personally feel that Emo is just a more sensitive kind of Punk. It tends to express your private, reserved emotions out loud in an more exaggerated way. Perhaps it’s more artistic than Punk. It’s sort of effeminate, I even find its more suited to Asia because it accords to some eastern philosophical ideas in some way. But to answer this question, I personally feel that western Emo and eastern Emo don’t have much difference because as human beings we all suffer from these notions in adolescent period and we share similar life experiences, more or less.
UTW: Besides China, which country do you have the largest fan base in? Have you thought of touring abroad? Is there any place particular you want to go?
Xu: Judging from our BandCamp we have a slightly larger number of fans in the USA compared to other counties. Most of European fans are from Italy. If we have a chance we’d love to go to America and Europe. Eat different food. Learn about different cultures. But due to our day jobs it’s extremely hard for us to find the time to tour even in China.
Wang: We’ve already been to our favourite country — Japan. I’m a big fan of Japanese culture.
Xu: Maybe the most distinguishing part of us being different from other Emo bands is that we don’t really listen to western music these days. I personally listened to a lot of western Emo and pop punk earlier in my life, because you didn't have much choice back then. *laughs*
Well everyone has his/her own type of music. Wang loves Japanese bands. To a certain extent, most bands will become influenced by what the listen to the most.
UTW: What’s the biggest difference between touring in Japan and China?
Xu: I think their (Japan’s) market is way more mature and differentiated. They have more bands, more gigs. It’s not like in China now where when a band tours a city the local venue or media promotes the band hard to draw lots of new people to the gig. It seems that in Japan people are more likely to stick to their existing preferences in music.
For example, if a person is fond of Brit-Pop, he only pays attention to Brit-Pop gigs. In Tokyo, Shimokitazawa area has 200 live houses alone, and they have all kinds of music acts every day. People who come to see your show won’t be loiterers and not know anything about you or your music.
Given all that, there are more opportunities in China to catch the attention of people who don’t know you.
UTW: Did you know the bands you played with in Japan?
Xu: The guest bands were invited by our Japanese organizer. Talking about the biggest difference…
Li: The venues in Japan were very tiny, but the crowds were professional.
Wang: To be honest, the venues weren’t that tiny. Maybe we are just used to Chinese venues. Looking at it from the other side, the venues in China really are very good.
Li: We just don’t appreciate how good we’ve got it! *laughs*
UTW: To Bo Xu, you started a project called A Hidden Trace 10 years ago. Tell us about it?
Xu: Before I always used to write stuff down, but this material didn’t get used when I was playing with my old bands so I just kind of kept it to myself. I didn’t think too much about it. The whole recording (of A Hidden Trace) was a bit rough. I didn’t mean it to be Lo-Fi but I only had a shit computer, Cool Edit software and a fake SONY microphone that cost 25RMB (US $3).
A Hidden Trace is more like a personal project. I’ll probably keep it updated. If I can’t achieve my aim with bands I can always try realize my goal on my own.
UTW: You also released a compilation album last year, Come Together. How did you come up with the concept for the album? Will there be a Vol.2?
Xu: The idea originated after touring with a ton of really talented, yet unheard of bands. The second volume is already in the works. We are going to include a lot of the bands we toured with in Japan. This album will also be release under my label, Coral Records.
UTW: What’s Chinese Football’s future plans?
Li: Release a new album next year. Now we are just collecting some inspiration.
Wang & Xu: We also want to go to tour Europe. To try some European delicacies!
UTW: Last question. Can you give UTW readers a few recommendations of songs:
1.an association game+1 - how to count one to ten （郑紫莉）