One Day at a Time

Posted by Pete DeMola on 6. Aug 2009

24 Hours, one of Beijing's most invigorating rock and roll acts, have been busy since their formation in the Fall of 2006, accomplishing more in three short years than what most bands in the Middle Kingdom manage to do in their entire careers in the industry.

In their hometown, Xi'an, they quickly landed several high-profile gigs supporting some of China's most respected underground musicians, including with punk-cum-New Wave trio New Pants (Dec 2006), Queen Sea Big Shark (Summer 2007) and Joyside (Fall 2007).

Upon relocating to Beijing nine months ago, the threesome have also shifted their position on the sonic map, moving from a highly-polished post-punk (a la Gang of Four, Joy Division) to a hot-blooded rock and roll machine quickly carving out a niche for themselves in an increasingly-crowded and duplicative rock scene.

Guitar licks and song-writing chops improve with each subsequent performance, with a mid-June gig at Wudaokou talent incubator D-22 acting as the detonation of the slow-burning fuse that had been lit eight months prior.

At that show, reunited with the aforementioned Queen Sea Big Shark and fuzz-pop trio Hedgehog, the laconic trio carved out 小胖-sized slices of rock to a stifling and swollen crowd writhing eight-deep under a broken air conditioner.

For sixty minutes, they channeled the (sweaty) glory days of a Joyside show in 2005 (sans Dionysian revelry), stunning scene watchers and newcomers alike with a bold, adrenaline-fueled set, which included smoldering renditions of Nancy Sinatra and Dead Kennedys tunes, as well as dangerously-catchy original compositions.

Their highly-anticipated debut record, produced by famed knob-twirler Martin Atkins (Pigface, Nine Inch Nails), is scheduled for a fall release on Maybe Mars Records.

Here, bassist Zhang Chen, guitarist Ren Yilan and drummer Li Guanyu (the three collectively share vocal duties) tell us about the 1980s generation, the Xi'an rock scene in the early-2000s and the identity of Mr. Stevenson, the titular subject of one of their most infectious songs.

WLIB: Describe 24 Hours in five words.

24 Hours: Justice, passion, vigorous, plain, rock and roll.

WLIB: You describe yourselves in your bio as "typical youth from the 1980s." Can you elaborate?

24: Like other only children who were born in the 1980s, we make much account of ourselves and also we are some kind of selfish and willful. We burn with curiosity and keep an open mind for something new all the time.

WLIB: Tell us about the connection between yourselves and the film 24 Hour Party People.

24: We like this film, the music and the whole atmosphere of that incredible time. The name of our band is named after a Joy Division song.

WLIB: Why that particular song?

24: Very simple, we just like it.

WLIB: You're originally from Xi'an. What is the underground music scene like there?

24: Xi'an had the top atmosphere of underground music in 2000. It was really outstanding, no matter which local underground band performed -- it was quite diversified. We miss those days, though we were just audience members.

Compared with those days, the young who have a passion for rock and roll is less and less now, and the road of making rock music in China is narrower and rougher. Rock and roll needs fresh blood.

WLIB: What kind of fresh blood is your band adding to rock and roll?

24: Rock and roll itself is full of passion and strength: We'll dare to try new things, including experimenting with different rhythms, sounds, instruments and arrangements in the future

WLIB: What was your initial reaction upon relocating to Beijing to pursue your music?

24: The whole environment of underground music in Beijing is the best in China. It's more open and more diversified, it has a lot of shows and different styles.

We're also all art majors and Beijing could offer us more opportunities in our career development, which is part of the reason we come to Beijing.

WLIB: What are your ideal jobs, and what do you hope to do in the future?

24: Painting and design. We hope to be a good illustrators or designers.

WLIB: You're one of the most prolific bands in this city, playing almost every weekend. How has both your sound and approach to music developed since you've been here?

24: Maybe Mars is about to release our first album, and we've learned a lot from it. We wish our band can continue to keep the vitality and create satisfying music. In China, it's impossible to make a living on playing music, so we treat our band as an ideal and something makes our lives fresh and interesting.

WLIB: That's a great attitude to have. What do you do for day jobs?

24: Painting and learning new things.

WLIB: Yilan, who are your favorite guitarists, both here in China and abroad?

Ren Yilan: Nick McCarthy (Franz Ferdinand), Andy Gill (Gang of Four), 刘虹位 (Joyside) and Carsick Cars' Zhang Shouwang.

WLIB: Tell us about the most memorable show that you've ever played.

24: It was a show in Shanghai: almost all the audiences came to drink. It seemed that nobody just cared about us except a young man who told us he came specially for our show. We were really moved by him, and I have to say the show that night was for him.

WLIB: What was it like working with producer Martin Atkins last October?

24: Martin is really nice. We enjoyed working with him, although it's the first time that we worked together. He has a lot of brilliant ideas, which allowed us to cast a new light on music. The process of recording has inspired us a lot no matter in playing or arranging the music -- we have a lot of same ideas with Martin. The only problem was that the time for recording was a bit pressed.

WLIB: What can we expect from that LP?

24: Real rock and roll and our emotion. And also we would give out some free gifts together with our album.

WLIB: What does "real rock and roll" mean to you?

24: Forever young, passionate and full strength.

WLIB: Who is Mr. Stevenson?

24: A Briton who invented the steam train.

WLIB: Ah, the so-called "Father of Railways." I always assumed that it was about a creepy English teacher. How did you come to write a song about him?

24: A creepy English teacher? Ah, I agree. Or called "The Railway Superman."
When we go to other cities, or travel, we will take a train. We read a book on the train that said that Mr. Stevenson had created the world's first steam train. We found it very interesting, so we wrote a song about him.

WLIB: The world ends in 24 hours, and you're booking a final gig with five other bands. Who are they?

24: Franz Ferdinand, Iggy Pop, Sucker (Xi'an), Peaches and Cobra Killer.

24 Hours will perform with the Reason, Birdstriking and Flyx on Sat, Aug 15 at D-22. See the events page for detailed info.

Photo courtesy of Ray Deng. From left: Li Guanyu, Zhang Chen, Ren Yilan.

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