Live from Wuhan Prison

Posted by Nevin Domer on 16. May 2009

Wu Wei is one of the most influential members of China's punk scene. Vocalist for legendary Celtic punk band SMZB, he is like a father to many Chinese punks. Far from just playing music, he has been involved in all aspects of the Chinese scene -- from setting up festivals and tours to managing the booking at VOX.

Before our show on Wed, May 13, I sat down with him at Wuhan Prison, the store and bar he helped build, and asked him about his venue and his thoughts on China's underground scene.

Can you tell me a little bit about your store and the bar?

Well first off, I'm not the boss. I just help them with some of the business aspects.

So who are the people that you opened this place with?

They are friends. In the store there are three bosses: Hu Jian (SMZB's drummer) and two guys from another punk band in Wuhan called Aberration. The boss of the bar is a drummer in a local metal band.

When did you guys first open?

Last October was the beginning and here (pointing to the bar section) it's brand new.

So what was here before?

There were two rehearsal rooms, but there weren't very many bands that used them so they lost too much money. But I think the bar is better, because when the bands play in VOX after the show they have no place to go -- just hang around on the street.

In VOX after the shows they just play dance music, right?

Yeah, but the bands can come here and listen to good after-party rock music.

What kind of products do you sell in the store?

We sell everything about rock n' roll: CDs, magazines, clothes.

When I look around the store, I see a lot of CDs and other things from underground bands around China. A lot of those products are hard to find anywhere else.

That's my idea. The people here just wanted to have a store but they weren't sure how to go about it so I helped them to do these things. Some record companies in China send us new CDs and some bands that came to play in VOX leave CDs or T-shirts here.

And the bar just opened a week ago?

No, yesterday.

I heard a story about the bar: that before you wanted to rent out the space but you couldn't find anyone suitable to rent it?

Before this whole space belonged to the store, but the rent was very expensive. Some people wanted to rent the space, but not for music for a pink house (prostitution). I said "no, no, no, never!" So that is why my friends and I got together to make the bar.

The bar is only one day old. What sort of plans do you have for it?

I just want to have a real rock n' roll place in Wuhan.

Will you have shows here?

Well, I think the place is too small and VOX is better, but if some underground bands want to play, then I think here is better. We also hope to hold some shows with folk and experimental bands.

Yeah, next time Fanzui Xiangfa wants to play here.

Yeah, when some underground bands play in VOX the place is empty. The bands don't enjoy it and neither does the audience.

What do you think about the current underground scene in Wuhan?

There aren't many bands in Wuhan now and most bands are pop music bands. All of them have a dream to be a star, like the Super Girls. There aren't many true underground bands.

For me, when I think of a healthy music scene, I don't just think about the bands. I think about people making magazines, taking photos, opening record stores. Is there more of that stuff in Wuhan?

No, there aren't very many people doing those sort of things. Just some people like Mai Dian, Wane and myself, but not too many others.

What do you think about the future of the underground scene in Wuhan and in the rest of China?

Do you want to know for real?

Yeah, I want to know for real.

I want to say that the scene in China is getting better, but now I don't think so. I really don't think so. I know what most punk bands want because most of them are my friends. I talk to them and I know what they want. Like Du Wei, before they moved to Beijing they talk to me and I told them "No, I don't think that's a good idea, but you can go ahead and try it. Then you will know what it is I'm saying."

I don't think it's good that all the bands want to move to Beijing. I think they should stay in their own cities. They should help their own local scenes to grow. That is the best way for China to grow up.

That's all the questions that I have. Is there anything else that you would like to say?

There are lots of things that I would like to say, but I'm not really sure where to start. What I feel now is a lot of disappointment in Chinese bands. A lot of things have happened but I only do the things I can do.

Fanzui Xiangfa is scheduled to be on tour across SE Asia until early-June. Their complete tour itinerary, as well as more dispatches from the road, can be found here.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Listen to Fanzui Xiangfa on MySpace.


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