From Hutongs to Huangdao

Posted by Pete DeMola on 17. Sep 2009

Shortly after arriving in Huangdao after a grueling 13-hour bus ride in the early hours of Sat, Sept 12, we ripped a number plate from a parked car, threw it in a tree, attempted to tear a supporting beam from a newsstand, almost broke the revolving door of our hotel and brawled in the hallway of a restaurant.

Some people were injured. Unintentionally, I think. Feelings were hurt.

Hello Qingdao. We're from Beijing. You have a nice beach. We'll probably break that, too.


As the sky shone an unpolluted blue overhead, motorcycle revving shook the boardwalk and was shortly followed by a mean guitar riff.

We followed the rumble down the beach towards its source. An apt welcome, the festival's theme song "Rock and Roll on the Golden Beach" is a glorious cock rock song in the vein of Motörhead, sonically-suitable for either chain whipping or fucking someone to.

Maybe both at the same time.

In this Demerit written and performed slice of kickass, the act of pumping up the crowd between bands was enough.

Our party arrived to the type of adoration that greets foreigners in the provinces and rock stars in other countries. Music and entertainment-starved kids swarmed us, the majority of whom were clean cut, wholesome and appeared as if they should have been curing cancer in a Tsinghua University research lab.

We posed for photos with the beach as a backdrop, autographed T-shirts with felt-tip pens and fielded dozens of questions from the citizen press corp.

I soon gave up my attempts to tell the kids that I wasn't in a band.

"I'm Metallica," I said to a beaming duo as I autographed their shirts. "And he's AC/DC," I said while gesturing to another member of our party.

In contrast to Modern Sky, MIDI or any of the other outdoor music gatherings that have taken place in the past, the differentiating aspect of this festival -- the second installment in what the organizers anticipate to be an annual event -- appears to be the 老百姓 and the unbridled enthusiasm of the uninitiated for rock and roll.

With free admittance to the public, this was a truly a People's Festival.

They wandered over -- the beach scavengers with their nets, the fishermen, the day laborers, the ancient old folks with their portable stools and big straw hats -- and flashed broad grins from sun-bronzed faces.

They'd gaze at us, the leather-clad guys in boots with sleeve tattoos, lithe girls in stockings and white dudes toting guitars and tilted their heads at the strange post-rock sounds coming from Coatlxoxouhqui, the first band to perform on the massive stage erected on this Golden Beach.

Well, hello Qingdao folk. We're happy to see you, too. We're Beijing. This is what we've been up to.
Maybe we won't break your beach after all.

The entry of punk trio Cold Case on stage left marked the first appearance of the two large red flags manned by a pair of dedicated metal brethren. One promoted a website (we won't tell you which one), the other featuring the iconic Che Guevara face.

The flags and those who bore them remained a near-constant presence for the next three days, through Monday's rain and the weekend's brilliant sun.

The duo possessed quite a range of movements, which ranged from furiously waving them skyward, standing stationary in the center of a metallic ring around the rosy (and waving), running through the crowd using the staff as a javelin and even kneeling on the ground, holding them upright and reverently bowing down to the sandy alter of metal.

Musicians wandered the beach amongst the folk in the 27 degree heat in black leather jackets, boots and skintight jeans. Some went swimming.

Rising punk stars the Flyx played for thirty minutes and was followed by the first of the festival's great performances -- as well as one of the most bizarre.

Fanzui Xiangfa, three Western gentlemen residing in Beijing who play DIY hardcore punk that recalls Black Flag and Minor Threat, galvanized the crowd with acute microbursts of fury, including "Beijing Hardcore" and "Talk Is Poison."

They were later joined on stage by Demerit bassist Liu Liu who whipped those who weren't entirely flummoxed into a fucking frenzy.

The eyes of the folk read like those who knew that they had just bore witness to something that they couldn't articulate, yet realized to be a strange and new powerful force. Watching the youth, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, "getting incredible kicks from things they'll never know."

It remains to be seen if the confused reception was due to their frenetic brutality or the band's foreign status. (I hope it was a result of the former.)

And as far as the bizarre is concerned, the prize goes to folk dude Chuan Zi who lumbered across the stage with a shaggy dog to shrieks from his fan base.

Strumming away in Beijinghua with his acoustic guitar and the pooch perched underfoot, the keystone of his set was his peculiar rendition of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" (remember the pottery wheel scene in Ghost?) as his canine took backup vocals: yelping and barking on cue into a low-hanging microphone.

He sure nailed the personal branding (dog, flannel shirt, sullen disposition) but to this jaded correspondent, it came off as an ode to bestiality.


He'd be seen throughout the weekend, brooding on the beach alone in his red flannel shirt, sunglasses and disposable noodle water bowl for the dog while fans posed with the singing canine.

And it wasn't long before Exit A kicked off what would the leit motif of the festival: A quasi-metal band, followed by long stretches of folk and post-rock that would hypnotize most into unconsciousness (or segment the crowd by peeling away though who weren't fans of that particular genre) until the occasional punk or innovative indie rock band would pop up and transfix a plurality of the masses.

The threesome played an overly-long set of turgid lightweight industrial, which was promptly followed by another hour of Ma Tiao who were "aggressively bad," as one member of our party keenly noted while they sailed through a overly-long set of watered-down and uninspiring versions of radio-friendly genres in the rock cannon (reggae, sing-along pop, blues and hard rock).

With only one viable stage, there were few alternatives to engaging with the current performer.

The glaring absence of second or third stages with lesser-known artists, the lack of corporate sponsor tents (besides the Nojiji Records crew) or other diversions in which to bide time made for a rather uniform and stifling experience.

Of course, there was the ocean. While those of us who live in urban centers should be appreciative of the occasional brief foray into natural beauty, when one is faced with back-to-back sets of sonic bullshit, the dainty waves and salty sea air doesn't alleviate anything (unless you excel at the Dead Man's Float).

Rant #2: There were no food or alcohol providers in the immediate vicinity. Although warm beer, snacks and prepared meals were made available from a handful of tent-dwelling entrepreneurs, one kilometer separated the hoards from the Caribbean Bar.

Rant #3: The three portable bathrooms provided were not enough for the masses, at least during daylight. It was a blessing in disguise that the crowd never appeared to break 1000, and even more felicitous that a foreign presence with seafood-adverse stomachs remained nil.

Just image a few thousand individuals with la duzi.

But these kids didn't seem to be bothered: most didn't appear to drink. Pepsi products and Tropicana were enough. Both booths were manned by happy-go-lucky kids, with the Tropicana girls twirling their hair and jumping up and down like cartoon characters.

And it wasn't until a road flare was lit and tossed skyward during SUBS' set that we noticed that there was absolutely no security. Public security personnel didn't make an appearance until the third day, when most of us were rendered harmless: green from excessive drinking and glowering under makeshift umbrellas.

"If this is the ‘rock and roll' that all of the young kids are talking about," I imaged one square-faced officer saying to another, "then we have absolutely nothing to worry about."

After the self-proclaimed "spunk punk" quartet's solid set, we skipped Shan Ren (山人) and headliner Xie Tian Xiao (谢天笑) and proceeded to eat and drink ourselves into toxicity.

We did so at a seafood joint a kilometer away next to the neglected electronic "stage," which blurted out abrasive techno from a small pirate ship to absolutely no one. We selected creatures of all types -- crabs, oysters, halibut, shrimp -- floating in large red buckets and drank fresh Tsingtao beer for 20 RMB a pitcher, which was creamier, more flavorful and stronger than it's bottled counterparts.


Miss Tropicana smiled at me. "They are very cool," she said, turning towards the expat funk band on stage, the Dama Llamas, as they jumped around while cranking out frat rock peppered with curses and wah wah riffs.

It wasn't until the Qingdao residents performed their rendition of Carsick Cars' "Zhongnanhai" for an encore, replacing the famous chorus with "Tsingtao pijiu" and later, the name of their band until I wanted to toss a dead fish (maybe a beached octopus) on stage (as opposed to the eponymous cigarettes necessitated by the original).

"I prefer the next band," I said. "You should like them too."

Midway through the set of the next band, the Reason, the first of two of Sunday's standout performances, I meandered over and she looked frazzled and confused.

"I don't like them very much."

Even the crowd-- the amalgamation of metal fans, wholesome kids and the laobaixing -- were perplexed by the Beijing sextet's cathartic screamo, with emaciated singer Chang stretching his vocal cords to the breaking point as his band, their backs to the sea, churned up a nasty metal-infused stew behind him.

The flag-waving dudes were in full form: happier than crabs in sand with their rock and roll on the Golden Beach.

Over the beer and shrimp dumplings last night, I gushed about the Reason to a musician and his female companion. "You're so emo," they said. "Completely emo."

I wandered back over towards center stage with my bottle of Tropicana and lit a cigarette.

"Hey Emo," said the musician from last night as he saddled up beside me. "These guys are more screamo, not really emo. But very ‘metal' at some parts," he admitted. "Oh, and after these guys play, we're going to swing back at the hotel. Would you like to come with us?"

I thought about it for a moment.

"You know, swinging," he said while grinding his pelvis. His female companion smiled at me.

"I know what swinging is," I said. "But the concept of ‘swinging' means that you exchange partners. I don't have a partner, so it's impossible."

He thought about it for a moment. "Do you want to fuck her?" he said, gesturing towards the girl.

"Thanks for thinking of me," I said, "but I don't want to miss Demerit."

They wandered away back to the hotel. I almost regretted not joining them, for besides the brief afternoon light that rockabilly quartet Defy shined down upon us, showcasing a new frontman doing a mean two-step over smoldering 1950s rock standards, the day's sonic offering were grim and scattered.

We brooded through Norwegian quintet List as the peroxide blondes conjured up gloomy images of fiords and Irish (yes, Irish) coasts with violins and brooding melodies. We yawned at Rosa's dated brand of electronic-laced nu metal (the flag dudes were in their element, however) and moped through Fu Sha's (浮砂) folk rock as the sun turned a spotty aquamarine and violet and eventually sank behind a row of condos.

As the squeaky-clean pop punk quartet PB33 emitted 45 minutes of synthetic sing-along punk to a bouncing crowd in the darkness, I decided that I could have swung with the best of them, stopped to go fishing with the folk, sold the catch on the boardwalk and have made it back with time to spare.

It wasn't until Demerit later blasted through a supercharged set of blistering street punk anthems ("Beijing is Not My Home," "Bye Bye My Country") and some excellent new songs ("Generation Genocide") before settling into a three-guitar acoustic set (the extra string work came from folk singer/songwriter 刘2) capped with a rousing rendition of "Rock and Roll on the Golden Beach" that the day took on a festive air -- especially when in true rock star fashion, the quartet posed, using a roaring crowd as a backdrop, for photos from dozens of popping lights.

And in true non rock star fashion, vocalist Spike Li, one of Qingdao's native sons, brought his beaming parents on stage for another photo.

Punks exited, beers were clanked and it wasn't long before the adrenaline wore off and the crowd segmented yet again as beloved folk legend Zhou Yunpeng was led to center stage and the remaining asses in attendance hit the sand as if magnetized for a tender night of empowering folk ballads.

Our asses, however, left Zhou with his devotees (and later Su Yang) for another gastronomical spectacular stuffed with sea creatures: crabs, oysters, prawns, lobsters, clams and tonguefish.

The swingers were there, too.


A muscular fellow donned in nothing but a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts and a leather vest disappeared into the waves, reemerged, ran up the beach and deposited his bounty in neat rows next to a few pairs of Chucks.

His catch?

About a dozen tuna, six crabs and several rust-colored fish that none of us could determine. He did this several times until the permutations of potential interspecies battles were wide and varied.

Our entertainment -- the attempted crab vs. fish fights, bulldog vs. tuna fights and Ultimate Frisbee, all set to the bouncy, organ-infused ska punk of the K -- was exponentially more entertaining that morning's musical menu of gloomy post rock.

The morose sounds of Elk and the Sertraline were suited to the steady Monday drizzle, but were not enough to galvanize the indefatigable among us. Nor could the upbeat indie pop sounds of Nanjing trio Frozen Street rouse the faithful from their tents (their flags, stuck in the sand outside, hung listless) and the cloying girl band Orange Line only pissed off Mother Nature, who made it rain harder.

A few disaffected youth in anarchy-emblazoned trench coats wandered the beach. Miss Tropicana didn't bother to show up -- nor did the shop owners who steadily provided my beer and cigarettes for much of the weekend -- and "Rock and Roll on the Golden Beach" didn't even make an appearance until after the drizzle stopped.

Maybe Mars artists 24 Hours and the Gar later marshaled the beach, hammering out solid rock and roll and psychedelic shoegaze, respectively, while MAZE later put it all to rest with devastating post-rock soundscapes that made Godspeed You! Black Emperor! appear as amateurs and probably caused the tide to rise just a little bit higher on that chilly night.

We retreated to the bar. Drinking and eating and smoking and other things ensued. I can't really remember. The flag-waving homeboys, one kilometer down, must have been in ecstasy with metalcore act S.A.W. and later, festival closers Nuclear Fusion-G.

Thanks for having us, Qingdao. You have a lovely beach. We're glad that we didn't break it. And sorry about Saturday morning.

Photos from the festival can be viewed here.

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