Don`t Look Back

Posted by Pete DeMola on 26. Jan 2010

BEIJING, Jan 26 - As 2008 limped towards its miserable conclusion, I grew increasingly vocal about the Unsafe, championing the exhilerating Beijing punk quartet as one of the three great hopes whom I thought would punch Buick-sized holes in the country's derivative sonic landscape in 2009, saving us all from the endless parade of post-punk pissants proliferating throughout the underground.

I was wrong.

Some of the guys unexpectedly departed and the band went into hibernation, resurfacing only sporadically to churn out overextended sets of crossover thrash metal to the chagrin of club owners and longterm fans alike, who responded in turn by shutting off the PA system in mid-song (the former) and lamenting about how they "weren't as punk as they used to be" (the latter).

The situation remained status quo until a gig in the final weeks of the decade at MAO Live House when a revitalized lineup took the stage after their younger bretheren (Gum Bleed, Misandao, Shochu Legion, among five others) took about 150 of us on a six-hour hell ride through a volitile territory of buzzsaw guitars, thumbtack-gargled vocals and enough adrenaline-fueled anger to stop more than one group of doe-eyed kids dead in their tracks, dispersing them back into the snow-coated safety of Nanluoguxiang from whence they inevitably came.

Whipping through a fat-free set of classic punk anthems from their eight-year long career -- including favorites "What's Free," Don't Look Back" and "Army Coming Down" -- the Unsafe mopped it all up 40 minutes later with a visceral, stomach-churning rendition of Metallica's 1981 classic "Seek and Destroy," which casted new axeman Wu Maiduo literally into the spotlight with his sizzling lead guitar work and cheeky pipes.

The quartet, filled in by bassist Zhao Xiaoxi and drummer Da Zi, are now gearing up to release their fourth effort this March on Dragon Flag Records, their first since Punk Declaration, their 2004 split with Last Chance of Youth and Easy Going.

"This new record isn't so much punk stuff," said band founder Zhang Nan, explaining that lyrically, the subject matter is more morose than past work and draws more musically from three of the four American bands known as the "Big Four" of thrash metal -- Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth -- then their hardcore punk idols of yesteryear.

"Everyone can understand this sadness," the guitarist and band's lead vocalist said. "We all have sadness in our lives. For us, there's no hope in the Chinese rock and roll scene."

There's no real money to be made and most bands don't play "real rock and roll," he added.

"What about the recent tours by Maybe Mars and Modern Sky," I asked him, referring to last fall's heavily-publicized treks across the United States facilitated by two of the country's top independent music labels, bringing domestic artists like Xiao He and Queen Sea Big Shark, unknown even to most Chinese, into American consciousness for the first time.

The considerable media attention and overwhelmingly-favorable fan response led many figures in this country's industry to deem this past year as the turning point for the internationalization of China's rock and roll scene.

"Surely they were indicative of what's happening here making a global impact and moving forward," I said. "It has to mean something."

No dice.

"Those tours don't mean anything," he responded, positing that since he believes the music issued by bands here in China is of poorer quality than their counterparts in Europe and the States, last autumn's groundbreaking treks were, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

"Chinese people are really lazy and fake," he added, citing the flaws of the moribund education system as one of the factors affecting bands' originality and performance, leading to what he sees as overwhemingly derivative artists. "And in real life, most bands don't practice -- they're too lazy."

No comment.

But he said with the addition of Wu Maiduo to their ranks last November (Wu is also a member of what is undisputably Beijing's most slobbered-over band, but we'll let you figure out exactly which one on your own, gumshoe), his foursome, at least, has never sounded tighter.

No shit.

Their headlining set at D-22 on Fri, Jan 8 concluded in a maelstrom of writhing flesh, "fuck yous" to certain authority figures watching carefully from the shadows and bellicose gang vocals from the younger generation of punks in the audience.

"They're back," beamed a ten-year veteran of the Chinese music scene as he set his bottle of Tsingdao down at the bar and dashed back into the pit. "And they sound really good tonight."

"We're better than ever before," Zhang later said on their new guitarist. "He gives us a good feeling."

The Unsafe will play an acoustic set of Clash covers on Fri, Jan 29 at the Old What Bar. Thrash commences on Sat, Feb 6 at D-22.

Photo courtesy of the band. From left: Wu Maiduo, Zhang Nan, Zhao Xiaoxi, Da Zi.

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