When Americans think about indie rock bands, they don't normally imagine a band from China. But a new tour featuring artists from China has been introducing cities on the East Coast to a fresh new sound.
Solo artist Xiao He, and the bands Carsick Cars and P.K. 14, all from Beijing, blasted China's version of indie rock to a crowd of about 80 people last week in Gerrard Hall on the University of North Carolina campus.
Xiao began his set by showing off his expert use of his guitar effects pedal. Imagine the on-stage antics of American Keller Williams mixed in with the music styling of Australia's Xavier Rudd and you'll essentially have the essence of Xiao's music.
His guitar and pedals were connected to his computer and which gave him the ability to change the sounds associated with each string. One minute you'd be hearing a gong coming from the g-string, the next, a bird's whistle.
As Xiao played, the crowd, which was still growing in number, sat on the floor or stood silently watching as he programmed all his pedals.
When Carsick Cars came on, the band's lead singer, Shou Wang, told anyone in the balcony to come down and dance. And dance they did.
From the beginning of the first guitar riff to the end the students were dancing, jumping in the air and starting less-than-aggressive mosh pits. The band itself was solid from beginning to end, sounding like a mix between Sonic Youth, The Ramones and Cheap Trick.
"They're definitely some TV on the Radio sound to it, too," said Greg Strompolos, 21, a University North Carolina junior who attended the show.
"One thing you have to realize is that in China, the Internet is just opening up in a lot of ways," Charles Saliba, the Carksick Cars manager, said. "It's unlike here in America where music is a generational thing and everyone listens to music from the previous decade. In China, the past 60 years of music history have opened up all at one go, and that's why bands don't really sound a like there."
And Saliba was right. When P.K. 14 hit the stage, it turned from light indie music to an all out punk show. P.K. 14's lead singer Yang Hai Song was jumping off the drum set, high kicking his way across the stage like he was a youthful Mick Jagger or David Lee Roth. The band kept the heavy tones coming, very reminiscent of The Sex Pistols and the Vandals.
The students raged on through the set and were spent of energy as P.K. 14 left the stage.
"It was ridiculous," Strompolos said. "They represent their country well because they show an incredible interest in actually making music."
As for Xiao, Strompolos said he had seen him play in Beijing last year and didn't see any difference between the two performances.
"This is what sounds good," he said. "It doesn't matter where it comes from. He's a great live performer."
The bands were discovered by Saliba, part owner of D-22, a music club in Beijing. Within a few years, Saliba and the bands that regularly play at D-22 started a record label, Maybe Mars. After attracting more local talent, the Beijing indie music scene exploded.
"At the club we give these bands a home that puts musicians first," Saliba said. "They have regular gigs and we've built that support structure that music needs to thrive."
Survival for bands in Beijing is harder than it sounds. According to Saliba, there are several different hurdles to overcome in order to make it big.