Posted by Pete DeMola on 11. Oct 2009
BEIJING, Oct 12 - Last month, three of the biggest names in the Chinese rock world, Casino Demon, Queen Sea Big Shark and Hedgehog (all of whom are signed to Modern Sky Records), went on an unprecedented three week, 20-date tour across the United States as part of the Sing for China Tour, an effort undertaken by this country's music community to raise awareness for children orphaned by AIDS here in the Middle Kingdom.
Since bubbling to the surface in Jan 2005, local trio Hedgehog has become one of the country's most important bands, neatly encapsulating the ideology of the forward-looking post-80s generation with a winsome blend of optimistic lyrics, boundless energy and unique fuzzed-out and buoyant songs that brings crowds, always stuffed to capacity, to their knees.
Or towards the ceiling.
With three critically-acclaimed albums (Happy Idle Kid, Noise Hit World, Blue Day Dreaming) to their credit, numerous nationwide tours, headlining slots at major festivals (including last week's Modern Sky Music Festival 2009) and near-universal respect from their peers from this city's fragmented music community, the ambitious trio (Box plays bass and Atom shares vocal duties with Zo from behind the drum kit) continues to aim their finely-calibrated sights skywards.
Zo discusses all of that below, as well as takes us through some of the photos taken on their trip. (Scroll down for 中文.)
WLIB: When you started Hedgehog in early-2005, did you ever think that your music would take you on a nationwide tour of the United States?
Zo: I have thought about that before, but we knew that it wouldn't be easy. The band has always received a lot of attention from foreign friends and we have been working hard to prepare for a tour abroad. Going to the USA has always been our dream.
Zo: "We are coming, USA! (洛杉矶国际机场，美国，刺猬来了！)"
WLIB: The tour covered a wide area of the country, from California to New York -- and even remote parts of the interior like Indiana and Utah. Which was your favorite place and why?
Zo: We thought the highway tour, from coast to coast, was really cool -- really rock and roll. The beauty of Los Angeles and San Diego (California) impressed us very deeply with the sunshine coast and golden beaches: a worthy tourist attraction. The freedom of lot of street artists performing improvised music in Venice Beach really struck us, and I felt really free.
In terms of rock impressions, the coolest city was Seattle. The city is grandiose... lots of rain and a kind of spontaneous decadence mettle, and the ubiquitous live houses were really cool. The countryside views in the Midwest also impressed me deeply; I think this natural view is the root of country music. Detroit's bleak mettle made us quiver, and New York City was undoubtedly the best.
Some parts were really similar to Beijing, with profound pop culture laying beneath the veneer of roughness. In Brooklyn, there were artists everywhere. By the way, we joined an underground experimental show at the Silent Barn. The artists there were really friendly and good at communication, which was really awesome, and why we gradually understood that's why the best rock bands in this world were born here.
WLIB: What was your first reaction upon walking those New York streets?
Zo: The people, the really cool people. I think whatever you shoot, you can have the most fashionable magazine. As I said earlier, Brooklyn is really cool: the coolest place I have ever seen. Everyone here can make themselves look really cool and are really friendly. That's really awesome!
Atom is in Brooklyn.
WLIB: Tell us about the most memorable show.
Zo: The Silent Barn in Brooklyn. We, Pink Reason and some other experimental musicians performed together. We got significant positive feedback: they hoped that we would be able move to NYC and we quickly became very good friends. After that, we went to five different bars. Drink and hang out... yeah! This is what we look forward to: the 24 Hours Rock Party!
WLIB: What was the reception of the Chinese bands to American audiences?
Zo: What pleased us the most was that many professionals understood bands like us. Though the crowds weren't so large at our shows, we felt they really wanted to communicate with us and the other bands. Many people said that they haven't seen such exciting and true bands in a long time. They said we are really rock and roll, and that we have changed their usual impression of China and of Chinese rock and roll.
Box takes a smoke break before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show in San Francisco.
WLIB: That's amazing. Most Americans know very little about China outside of things like gong fu, spring rolls, fireworks, Math geniuses and the country's political system -- much less her explosive rock and roll scene and youth culture. Did you have any awkward conversations, and if so, how did you respond?
Zo: Yes, most Americans just care about the Chinese political system. China is a quickly-developing country in their eyes. They don't know anything about the Chinese rock scene. We told them "Yes, China is a quickly-developing country, so the rapid development of the society should have intense conflicts. Young people feel this is a good social environment for the birth of rock and roll. Like the generations of Joy Division and Nirvana, China is experiencing such a great rock and roll era."
WLIB: You played at Washington DC's 11th Chinese Culture Festival on Sept 27. What was that like?
Zo: That's not really rock music. It was more like a community meeting with a fair and traditional Chinese food and performances. But it made us happy to perform for overseas Chinese. They were traditional Chinese and didn't know anything about us. We changed their mind about Chinese youth culture.
WLIB: Since we get asked this question every day here in China, we have to ask: You must have tried quite a bit of American cuisine. Any favorites?
Zo: Oh... Our agent told us that if our tour can make a lot of money, we could eat the best food in the USA. But we ended up eating hamburgers everyday. We think In-N-Out Burger is not bad. Actually, we are not used to it. Haha...
WLIB: Any new musical ideas or inspiration?
Zo: Sure! China needs to give birth to worldwide influential bands -- we have this ability. Chinese bands can't just stay in-step and imitate others. Beijing has a lot of musical youth with hearty creativity. We are some of these youth and we are getting the approval of the world. We will make a really good album. And while it's easy to become the best rock band in the world, we have larger ambitions.
WLIB: Was this trip life-changing for you?
Zo: To a certain extent, you could say that. From the musical horizons, we feel we can try more: the band still has a long way to go and we can do more. If we didn't tour abroad, maybe we'd just record one more album and then break up. But now we are thinking that everything has just started.
Zo: "From Seattle to Omaha, we had an incredible 38-hour nonstop road trip. Our agent told us, 'After this, you can do everything.' Here we are taking a break in a garden during that trip.
(从西雅图到奥马哈，我们经历了难以想象的38小时不间断公路之旅，这真难以置信，经纪人告诉我们 'After this , you can do anything,' 这是路途中的田园小憩.)
WLIB: Did you learn anything about yourselves on this tour?
Zo: Yes, we found our own potential. We learned a lot, and our agent told us many stories about American band's pullulate history. That's amazing. We need to be like that!
WLIB: What can we expect from Hedgehog in 2010?
Zo: If all goes well, we will return to New York in March, do a small East Coast tour and then stay in New York to make our new album. We are looking for a young and talented producer. We need a international album that can help the band go far.
WLIB: Is there anything else you'd like to share with both our Chinese and foreign readers?
Zo: Come to our live show! Enjoy yourself! Every rock night is a passionate night because the young do more awesome things!
Zo: "This is where we first saw the Pacific Coast." (在这里我们第一次见到了太平洋海岸.)
Zo: 公路巡演, from coast to coast, 我们觉得这样真的很酷，很摇滚。加州洛杉矶、圣地亚哥给我们印象很深，因为那里确实很美，阳光海岸金色沙滩，不愧是旅游胜地，在洛杉矶的Venice Beach看到很多街头艺术家表演即兴音乐，感觉特别的自由。不过说到摇滚印象，第一个让我们感到很酷的城市是西雅图，城市很大气，这个城市多雨，有一种自发的颓废气息，包括随处可见的live house，很酷。美国中部的乡村风光也让我们印象深刻，我想这种自然风光也是乡村音乐的根源所在。底特律阴冷的气质让我们寒颤，纽约无疑是最棒的，这里其实和北京有很多相似之处，粗狂的外表下蕴藏着深厚的流行文化，布鲁克林区随街可见很酷的艺术家，另外我们在Silent Barn参加的一场地下实验演出也让我们印象深刻，这里的艺术家都很善于交流并且非常友好，这非常棒，我们逐渐在明白这里为什么可以诞生出全世界最好的摇滚乐队。
Zo: "This is the Seattle park beside Kurt Cobain's apartment where he committed suicide. Every year, countless fans come to this bench and write messages in many different languages. In addition to the regret, we felt an even greater touch: Being a top level artist, you need to effect the whole world. Although we know that Hedgehog still has long way to go in the future, we can do it!" (西雅图，Kurt Cobain自杀寓所旁的公园，每年都有世界上无数的歌迷慕名而来，这把椅子上有各种语言的寄语，来到这里的时候我们除了惋惜的同时更大的触动是，作为一个顶级艺术家，你需要做的是感动这个世界，我们知道刺猬将来的路还很长，但我们一定会做到.)
Zo: "Caleb (Pop. 1280 vocalist) made this flier for us to promote the show at Silent Barn. This "牛逼" is really funny." (Caleb, Pop. 1280乐队的主唱, 为刺猬做的在Silent Barn的演出海报，这个"牛逼"真的很有趣.)
Zo: 是的，大多数美国人可能更关心中国的政治，在他们印象里中国是个发展很快的国家，但他们对这里的摇滚乐一无所知，我们会告诉他们中国发展很快，快速发展的社会必然会有激烈的矛盾，对于感受其中的青少年来说这正是好的摇滚乐诞生的社会环境，像Joy Division、Nirvana诞生的社会年代一样，中国正在经历这样一个伟大的摇滚时代。
Zo: "Atom is a mailbox robot." (阿童木是邮筒机器人.)
Zo: Sure! 中国需要诞生一直在世界范围内有影响力的乐队，我们有这个实力，中国的乐队不能只停留在模仿阶段，北京有很多创作力旺盛的年轻艺术家，我们也是其中之一，我们正在得到世界的认可，我们会在不久的将来做一张很棒的唱片，你可以很容易成为中国最棒的摇滚乐队，但我们有更大的野心。
Zo: "The last night in New York. Bye-bye, we'll come back!" (纽约最后一夜，bye bye，我们还会再来的!)
Anita Zhang contributed to this report.
You can listen to and buy Hedgehog's records here, and view more photos from the tour here. All photos courtesy of the band. Zo, Atom and Box are pictured above in San Diego.
Hedgehog will perform in Xi'an on Sat, Oct 17 as part of the Zhangguan Lidai Music Festival. No Beijing gigs are currently scheduled.
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