Rock and Roll for Money and... Fame

Posted by Pete DeMola on 8. Okt 2009

BEIJING, Oct 8 - Last month, the rock and roll trio conquered 15 local competitors at the Beijing final of the Global Battle of the Bands Challenge 2009, where a panel of judges from the music biz (and one regular dude) voted almost unanimously (9 to 1) to award them First Prize.

Bands were only given two songs (or about 8 minutes) to showcase their originality, technical proficiency and "star power."

"Being a judge was a lot of fun, but it was also an interesting experience in terms of being a music fan," said regular dude judge, Peter Baird, explaining that the experience gave him a sense of perspective in examining bands strictly in terms of originality and technical proficiency. "In terms of Rustic, they operated on a completely different level from the others."


"It's not about winning or losing," said lead vocalist and guitarist, Lucifer Li, "it's all about how to get to Hong Kong for 50 RMB," referring to the entry fee for participation. "It's the first time that we've ever had to pay to play our own show," he added, thanking Baird for the support and encouragement.

"Without Peter," said Li, "we never would have entered," citing the cynicism held by many local bands on paying the fee.

The band, with the spoils of their Beijing victory in tow -- a new Gibson SG guitar -- will attempt to better their counterparts from Shanghai, Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong at the China National Final in Hong Kong on Nov 7. If they win, they will continue on to London in December for the World Finals.

Winners of the World Final will receive 10,000 USD, studio time with an accomplished (but yet undetermined) producer and a 10-date UK tour.

Worldwide, 3,000 bands are participating from over three dozen countries, including the United States, Pakistan and Jamaica.


Brainchild of the impetuous Li, the young three-piece (their average age is 20) are in a league of their own, putting on an uproarious live show unlike any other band in Beijing, leading many in China, according to the band's MySpace page, "wondering where they came from and why they are dressed like that."

They come from small towns in Hebei and their sloppy sets are equal parts theatrical and sonic.

Musically, they sail through waves of genres, from Celtic punk to sloppy 1970s rock and roll. "Wild Woman" is a mean blues rock stomp, while "Rock and Roll for Money and Sex" is full-fledged street punk. 1980s glam rock is given a nod by the inclusion of songs from bassist and backup vocalist Rikki Sixx's former band, Black Guns, while snotty UK punk often takes center stage via their manic covers of the Sex Pistols and the Toy Dolls' classic sing-along anthem "Glenda and the Test Tube Baby."

The band, rounded out by drummer Li Fan, combines this sonic diversity with hammed-up theatrics, most notably from Sixx. Clad in leather trousers, feathered hair and numerous sashes draped across his bare chest, the 20-year-old is a veritable stylistic throwback to 1980s hair metal acts.

"He is addicted to 1980s hair metal bands like W.A.S.P. and Skid Row," said Li on Sixx's encyclopedic knowledge of the decade.

"Everyone knows that," shrugged Sixx, whose barrel of onstage tricks includes crotch thrusts, leg kicks, rambling monologues about finding girls, beer spitting and trotting in tandem with Li across the stage.

"If the whole band is crazy, it's a good thing," he added.

Li agreed.

"We want to break all of the rules," he said, explaining that the band's primary onstage goal is to inject fun into complex music. This is a philosophy inspired in part by his idol Michael "Olga" Algar, founder of the early-1980s punk pathetique band Toy Dolls.

Sometimes their sets drift into the bizarre. Such was the case at a D-22 gig in April when Li, lyric book in hand, crooned Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" with only an electric piano as accompaniment.

That set ended with Li abruptly shoving Sixx's bass with a heavy black Dutch schoolboy shoe. Some gigs have ended in tantrums, while still others, much to Li's chagrin, have never gotten off the ground as a result of his bandmate's hardcore pre-show imbibing.


"I'm never nervous about rock things," said Li on the upcoming Hong Kong gig, adding that he has been practicing his British accent to prepare.

Although some may find it hard to take the band seriously, Li, a first year student at the Chinese Opera Institute, is a serious musician whose abstract, clarinet-fueled solo work is just as provocative as anything that local prodigy Zhang Shouwang has concocted.

"In less than a year, Li has become one of the most exciting and creative young musicians in Beijing," said D-22 owner and Maybe Mars label head Michael Pettis. "He really brings a whole new sophistication to Beijing rock and roll, and I suspect that by the end of next year he'll be one of the city's best-known music figures."

"If we lose, we still have tomorrow," said Li on the competition.

"We're still young and strong," chimed Sixx. "We will carry on."

Rustic is currently in the studio alongside Old Fashion, Flyx and Birdstriking recording tracks for Generation 6, a compilation record showcasing the next generation of the best in Chinese independent music. Look for that next spring on Maybe Mars Records. In the meantime, you can watch Rustic live on Fri, Oct 16 at D-22, in Wuhan on Oct 30, in Nanjing on Nov 1 and Hong Kong on Nov 6 & 7. Details here.

Rustic photo courtesy of Ray Deng. From left: Rikki Sixx, Lucifer Li, Li Fan.

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