Strange Case of Xiao Zhong and F

Posted by Pete DeMola on 26. Jul 2010

BEIJING, JULY 26 -- "One of them looks crazy, and the other looks stoned," said the cherubic boy standing next to me as our faces began to melt from the incendiary energy raging before us.

"You're right," I said.

The audience whooped and cheered and I thought of that old Memorex advertising campaign, the one with the man putting on a pair of sunglasses as the soundwaves coming from his giant speakers take on the properties of a Category 5 hurricane.

Image: Pairs perform live, from a box.

Pairs are a duo who create acute microbursts of lo-fi garage rock. They live in Shanghai, where they have been making shockwaves in the city's music scene since mid-April, particularly among industry professionals.

Music writer Jake Newby calls them so "ridiculously good it's not even funny," while Dan Shapiro thinks that they are the most exciting band coming out of Shanghai. "Their lo-fi, minimal rock manages to sound contemporary and dated at the same time," he said.

And Andy Best hopes that they they "kickstart a bunch of similar bands who just go for it and don't try to be polished genre acts."

Guitarist F, laconic and cool, lays down a thick wall of guitar noise as the other, Xiao Zhong, sings while laying waste to his drum kit and any object within reach -- the walls, floorboards...

Perhaps other people if they were close enough.

Most of their songs are short, about two-minutes, and end abruptly. Xiao Zhong will then briefly hug his drum kit like a boxer and take a deep breath before throwing himself (literally) back into another frenetic forray, launching thunderbolts from beyond his perch.

They'll be back in Beijing during the weekend of Aug 13-15. You should go see them: they're refreshing and creative.

And while there, you can pick up one of their DIY T-shirts.

But for now, you can read our conversation with Xiao Zhong. Here, he dishes on the Shanghai music scene, his favorite summertime activities and what to expect at their upcoming shows.

You guys must have a cool "this is how the band started story."

We have no cool stories. We sadly lack any and all cool stories. F saw my skull at the X Games; she liked the shirt I was wearing and claimed to be there with friends but I never saw them. Then we stayed in touch.

When was this?

It had to be around 12 months ago, as we just went to the latest X Games together. It was pretty shit this year -- not enough Grinspoon being cranked over guys doing Supermans on their motorbikes.

Ah, okay. Were you guys in any other bands before this, and how did you come up with the idea of creating such frenetic and unique music?

This is F's first band, but I'm a little bit of a whore. I played in a lot of bands back home and made some noise with people around China. Our music just comes from our lack of talent, our inability to play up strokes on the guitar and from our personalities. We tried to write some slower songs, but I think we just got too excited and they sped up overtime. Maybe if we had a metronome we would be a totally different band.

No need for the metronome. What's the typical Pairs songwriting session like?

I write most of the songs at home in the spare half-bedroom, record them on my camera that drains the life from batteries in five minutes and send them to F. She either gives the thumbs up or the vomit down -- or she'll say "I like this part" and we'll go from there. A few of the songs have been written whilst waiting for F to come to the studio as she often runs pretty late.

Are you guys a couple? And if so, how does that effect the live dynamic?

Nah, we aren't a couple. F would never stoop to my level. It's pretty ace how so many people just jump to that conclusion. Maybe it's cutting down on the amount of women that want to throw themselves at me. Maybe I'm cockblocking -- and I'm not sure if it would work if we were rubbing bodies.

I had to ask. You guys remind me a little of Handsome Furs.

People generally don't even ask. They just do the nudge and wink at me. I never got see Handsome Furs. I was there, but I got there late and could only find room to hang out at the door. I saw them on a tiny monitor and thought "Fuck it, I can get a better view on YouTube."

They're amazing. And they'll be back next month.

Yeah, I've heard and read and talked and listened. I assume I'll make my way to the show and hopefully get an eyeful. A lot of people complained they are playing the same small place as they did last time in Shanghai, but I think the smaller venues would probably suit them a lot better.

Their gig at D-22 was much more intimate than the one at MAO Live House. How do people respond to you guys in Shanghai? There doesn't seem to be that many bands doing what you do.

I don't know how people really respond to us. It's a little strange, like you get people coming up after we play and saying "that was cool" and that shit, but after that I kind of just go and talk to my friends and no one really approaches anymore.

I live out of the city a bit -- I'm in my own little bubble -- so I don't really know what people are saying or the trash that's following us around. I'd say people respond pretty well -- no need to put the chicken wire up just yet. There aren't many bands that I've seen who are doing the stuff we are doing, but they could do it pretty easily if they wanted.

What are you thinking about when you're going completely apeshit up there?

There isn't much thought process going on in my day-to-day life, and there is even less going on onstage. I guess shit just happens: some good, some bad, some stupid... some clever. It's hit and miss.

Yeah. Good philosophy.

I think I stole it from Nike.

"Just do it."

I was thinking more like "Wo ai Kobe," but "Just do it" works too.

What's the Shanghai scene like in terms of experimental bands?

There are a lot. Miniless has a bunch of nights around town with bands making noise, using loops and other kind of interesting stuff. I'm still yet to make it, as shit I am doing keeps clashing with shit Miniless is doing. We need to sync calendars.

There are some pretty interesting bands going on here: I'm really liking Asthma Writers Union, Belly Mountain, Boojii and a whole heap of others. But I feel Shanghai suffers from the problem of not having enough places to play -- not having enough places for the new bands to get their shit together. In a city with the population the entire size of my country, you would hope for more than a handful of places to play.

There's no "experimental-friendly, come as you are" venue like D-22?

Yeah, there is -- it would have to be Yuyintang, Shanghai's D-22. They put on a lot of varied stuff and are super-nice to work with, well-organized, treat people with respect and have a nice beer garden. There are places -- I would just hope that there would be more places. A bit of competition is good for a music scene.

Definitely. I'm watching your video now...

Sorry to hear that.

The sound is on mute for some reason, so it's okay. Trust me.

(Laughs) The way God intended.

Who's this guy playing drums?

Uncle Dave, or as I call him, Ugly Dave. I really liked his old band -- before I met their singer -- and I like the idea of getting different people up to do stuff. So I wanted to get Dave up before he went back home to study. He was wasted drunk, but did super-well. It's nice to change things up. Yeah, it's pretty ace to get out from behind the kit and shake my groin around.

Two of my favorite weekend activities.

Dave and groins?

Getting behind kits and shaking groins. It's fucking sweltering here in Beijing. What do you guys do to cool off down in Shanghai?

When I was in Tianjin, I rolled my shirt over my stomach and was surprised with how well it worked. Plus my abs needed a tan. Down in Shanghai, I eat a bit of Milo ice cream -- I'm pretty down for that shit. But I try and ignore the heat, wear my shirts and Taobao-bought Cheap Mondays and strut around with sweat pouring from my head. I reckon most ways of cooling down are too temporary. And that's not some artfag kind of shit either: I just find you eat an ice cream -- you're hot again anyway. You go to the pool -- you get out, get dry and you're hot again on the way home.

I'm going to come to your show and stand in the front row with my gut hanging out. You guys can write a song about it.

It would be just like Christmas with the folks, being that Australia's Christmas is in Summer. Fuck, we've written songs about worse things.

"I Spent My Birthday With a Bunch of Cunts?"

That song originally had four lines, but I kept forgetting them. So now it only has two lines and I still fuck it up.

Care to write a two-line sonnet for our readers about what to expect at the show?

Does that mean it has to rhyme?

Anything you want.

Dickheads and bitches, giving trash on the stage
Dickheads and bitches, ren think they're engaged

Nice. Anything else you want to add?

Nah. I'm an empty vessel.

Pairs will perform on Fri, Aug 13 at the Old What Bar and on Sat, Aug 14 at Raying Temple (小雷音俱乐部) the new Nojiji Records-helmed venue in Tongzhou.

Image courtesy of Xiao Zhong.

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