The first time I came across Asian punk was in the early 1980ies, 81 or 82 I don´t remember. Some guy had smuggled out a bootlegged recording from Communist China. A trashy sounding tape recorded at a café in China. Dragons was the name of the band and through the murky, muddy sound of a crappy tape recorder you could hear Chinese traditional music played with electrical rock instruments including two covers. “Anarchy in the UK” and “Get off My Cloud”. The record, “Perfume de la Revolution”, was rare and I had it in my vinyl collection with a certain uncertainty if I really owned that record. Well that´s forgotten now. Then it was silent for so long.
The next time was in the nineties, it was some Japanese bands which I forgotten the most of. that primed for a while, then Silent again. My girlfriend was much into J-Rock when we met in 2002 and I wasn´t unfamiliar with bands like Dir en Grey and Blood. But they were more of Glam New Metal than Punk. Then in the shadows of the J-Rock we found Demerit. The Chinese Oi! Punk band. Demerit came as a shock, mostly because of the quality of the songs, lyrics and recordings. “Beijing is not my home” is a top class tune that stand out just fine at comparison with any American, British or Swedish punk classic. Roughly at the same time my band Lap Dogs was contacted by some Burmese fellows at MySpace wondering if they could release our songs in Burma/Myanmar at their Tape Label. What! Where the hell is Burma? Do they even have punk there? And foremost, are punk ever alowed in one of the most closed countries on Earth. I gave the permission to publish it and I lost contact with them. Never heard from them, and to be honest, we lost interest in our band as well.
Then my girlfriend told me that she found these cool, sympathetic punks from Burma on Facebook. At the same time I loged on to the forum Punkrockers.com and found some bands. The Rebel Riot, CultureShock and No U Turn. Not bad at all. The music is good, the recording are good and the Burmese lyrics gives it a new flavor. Just like people must feel about Moderat Likvidation, Asta Kask and early Anti-Cimex singing in Swedish. Last winter media did carry a worrying message over the world. In the Indonesian province of Ache, Islamist officials arrested Punks, put them in labor camps, nazi style, to deprogram them. All of the sudden the whole western world was aware of the Asian punks. People at different forums engaged themselves to help out the Punks of Ache.
Me and my girlfriend worried a bit about the Burmese punks should be in the same position, for challenging the order in Burma or Myanmar as the ruling dictatorship wants us to call the country.
But quite the opposit happened. The Nobel Peace Prize winner from 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi that been held in house arrest for more than 20 years was suddenly released and could take part in limited elections. As the leading opposition leader this was a step towards freedom, just like the release of South Africa´s Nelson Mandela once been. In that political context the release of the Burmese band The Rebel Riot´s CD Puppet Society in July 2012 must be seen as a another step towards freedom.
The Chinese Oi! Skin head Lei Jun, singer in Mi San Dao complained in the docu “Oi! Skins in Peking” that he could not publish his lyrics in China because of their censor ship laws. The Rebel Riot seems to be able to publish it DIY style. And that is a good sign.
On many levels I am Jealous on the young Asians. Their punk movement is so young and fresh, their DIY attitude have not yet been poisoned with the cynicism of commercialism and New Wave, New Romantics, Post Punk and Pop Punk. They still seem to be struggling just to get their shit going, like we did in the late seventies/early eighties. And they still seem to having fun doing it and believe in it. So punk can´t be dead.
In the docu “This band is so gorgeous” we follow the classic English Punk band Sham 69, the main band to inspire the Oi! Scene, or as they put it in the docu, the first original street punk bands tour in China. Well, is it Sham 69 that is on tour? It´s only the guitar player Parson from the classic line up that is in the band. But the Chinese don´t seem to care. Because they get to see and hear what it was all about. Even if it´s played with thin haired middle aged men with beer bellies and hurting backs.
Or should I put it in another perspective? It seems like Sham 69 as the grumpy old punks they were, was a role model to the youngsters in China. And a lesion to us in the western world. Mi San Dao singer, Lei Jun, sais in the docu “Oi! Skins in Peking” that he is in for the Skin head thing forever, it is not just a fashion or a trend. The old geezers of Sham 69 is a living proof of that.
When Ebba Grön broke in Sweden and became by far the most popular Swedish punk band in Sweden, and still is, there was a lot writings that they were too old to be punks after a year as a band. Those questions and articles followed Ebba Grön through their short and very successful career. Re-reading those articles in the book Thåström it seem like a different world. To be a punk pensionist at 22 or to be in it for life. Europe Vs. Asia. It is possible that the Asians Zen and philosophies might be a part of it as well as that they never experienced our “youth cultures”. Pop, Rock and Punk have always been seen as a youth culture, something that you should hurry to do when you are in your teens. Then you should get a suit and tie and a proper job. It never occurred to them that, some of us didn´t wanna live that life. That we were in it forever when it hit us in the seveneties and eighties. That we still play our anthems, wave our fist in the air as fast as we hear The Exploited, the Clash or KSMB , and close to our fifties still getting more tattoos, planning our vacations to see certain bands etc. I think the Asian brings us a certain perspective and some vitality to the word punk again. Not just taking our jobs.
The art world been operating in China for some years now. With various results we have approached the west with the east. In some ways it have been vitalizing, in others it have been Chinese copies of European and American art. From listening to the Chinese artist Li Xiaofei Artist talk at Candyland, it struck me that we, Europeans sit on a shitload of predjudice what life in China is all about.
Still I think Asian punk bands are in a danger zone here. To be copies of what have been done in Europe and America in the seventies and eighties. Or is it? Mi San Dao singer claim that Oi! Is a style, that because it came from England should be sung that way, not to be changed by adding Chinese elements in it. In a way he is right. And I think that every part of the world have its dialect of punk anyway. Because an Indonesian, a Burmese, Chinese or Japanese will do it with the local differences that make it different and yet so familiar. It is just to listen to bands around the world covering the Swedish band Asta Kask songs to discover that. And in the end Punk will not be about territories and countries, but about a certain freedom to express oneself and fuse once frustration over injustices all around.
Cheers and Oi! Punks, skunx and Skins.
My own memories and experiences
Videos; “This band is so gorgeous”, “Oi! Skins in Peking”.
Artist talk; Li Xiaofei at Candyland, Stockholm
And general contacts via facebook and Punkrockers.com