Welcome to February Shanghai! In the tradition of our forefathers Gwar, the rich history of bands going the extra mile and slapping on some face paint or an over-the-top costume is old as time itself. I bet that the day after the first beat was banged out on a rock by some inventive cavemen, some jackass homo erectus put a saber tooth head on and played the first costume-themed show ever. Now you have thousands of such bands across the world, from Scandinavian black metal acts who wear bullet belts and 12" spiked collars to gender-bending glam rock bands and everything in between. Don’t forget about your insane clowns, slipped knots, and sisters of twist. Music is about escapism and some of us prefer to escape to the underworld, or space, or to a Viking ship in the 1600’s.
China is no different and today we are going to showcase Middle Kingdom bands that aren’t scared of being ridiculed for wearing a little eyeliner or vampire fangs. While there are over 100+ metal bands that wear makeup or costumes, I’m narrowing down my list to some of my favorite artists that represent various genres of dress up rock. I’ll be using the standard Dungeon and Dragons rating system. Feel free to put links of bands you think should have been included in the comment section below.
For an extra helping of nerd stew, check out this recently started Shanghai based podcast about Dungeons and Dragons titled Polymorph Self. Ran by Dungeon Master Andy Best from the infamous Kungfuology blog, you have shows like "Elite Ranger Team" and "Elfsplaining", which should give you a good idea of the content inside. Now break out the corpse paint because it’s time to put on a show.
Performance: Black Metal
Holy Arrow is a new one-man Black Metal project from the city of Xiamen, or as it’s historically known, Amoy. The heavy Nordic symbolism combined with Chinese history elements make me just love this project to death. The first album titled Oath of Allegiance is a concept piece based on the story of Koxinga's campaign against the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty. They have a CD coming out soon on metal label Pest Production Records and hopefully a tour will follow. The music is solid, the concept is solid, and my personal oath of allegiance has been sworn to Holy Arrow.
Holy Arrow - "Chapter I:1645 - Fall of the Nation"
Performance: Thrash Metal
Skeletal Augury are one of the many corpse painted metal outfits operating out of Beijing. I chose them to represent the "evil" category, as time and time again they spew out the core values of dark arts bands like black bile from a infected wound. Their 2014 album Bless of Destroyed, Raped, Dismembered Flesh is just the tip of the blood drenched iceberg that keeps fans coming back for more Skeletal Augury. The band is also on Pest Production Records and tend to play regular shows throughout China.
Skeletal Augury – Live, 2016/6/8
Performance: Alt Rock
While I can’t in good conscious give RGST a high scale rating, personally I think this kid is awesome. Throwing on some vampire fangs and a little fake blood then hitting the streets with his own brand of alt rock infused with a little electro sound, it’s like he got a bootleg DVD copy of Blade 3 and and decided right then to travel down the undead road.
RGST - "Suicide"
Scare the Children
Performance: Nu Metal
Scare the Children take very direct influences from bands like Slipknot who believe in over-the-top Halloween themed costumes for their live sets. They also incorporate a similarly campy showmanship during their song intros and transitions, making them perfect for the festival stage and your nephew’s birthday party alike. Musically, they lean towards the harder side of Nu Metal with technically proficient guitarists alongside a keyboardist who also doubles as sound effects man. This one is for the kids and never forget -- it’s all about the kids.
Scare the Children - "The Amazing Circus of Betsy and Clown"
Performance: Folk Rock
Hanggai are the go-to band when you want that throat singing sound with authentic Mongolian instruments laid on top of contemporary rock chords. Their songs are primarily based on traditional Mongolian folk stories and often promote the bringing together of Hans and Mongols under one banner. They have literally been around the world and back again, touring nearly every continent playing world music and rock festivals alike.
Hanggai – Live 2010
Performance: Punk Rock
Fronted by former Boys Climbing Ropes singer Little Punk, the Beijing Misfits have been performing annually on Halloween for years up north. They play straightforward Misfits covers all dolled up in face paint, widows peaked hair, and leather jackets. Recently they also have been playing non-Halloween shows because the demand for the Beijing Misfits just can’t be contained to one yearly gig. The band is a bit of a super group with Nevin of Genjing Records playing guitar, Josh Feola of the SUBS playing drums, and Morgan Short of Resist Resist playing bass.
Beijing Misfits – Live at School Bar
Performance: Depressive Metal
Zuriaake are one of my favorite metal bands in China, churning out that depressive metal that includes lots of nature sounds like trees rustling in the wind or streaming water. They have been around for nearly 15 years and are one of the most respected bands in the international metal scene, though until 2015 were shrouded in mystery and never played shows. That all changed with a full tour that featured the band in full costume form laying down some of the most intense black metal anywhere in the world. Check out their latest album titled Gu Yan that proves these mysterious gods of metal still have the chops.
Zuriaake – Live 2015/5/9
Flesh Juicer wins hands down for the best name in Chinese rock. Most of the Metalcore band doesn’t dress up except for one gung ho member who regularly wears a freaky looking pig mask. They have been around for over 10 years and play big name festivals like the Hong Kong shin dig Clockenflap along with various Asia tours. While Metalcore isn’t really my bag, these kids lean towards the Death Metal side of the fence and I dig their sound.
Flesh Juicer - "Mountains"
Performance: Thrash Metal
Evil Thorn is another Beijing Black / Thrash Metal outfit that is worth mentioning as they don’t skimp on the body paint for live shows. The band is primarily focused around Scandinavian bands and European folklore and often sing about classic issues like "God just doesn’t understand" and "where did I put my razor blades?". They are also known for having lyrics that paint the Japanese in a less than positive light and can be found sharing the stage with similar Beijing bands such as Suffocated.
Evil Thorn – Live 2014/11/15
Rolling Bowling have represented retro rock in China for years and just last year they finally got some recognition and signed to mega label Modern Sky. With the standard outfit of fedora hats, creeper shoes, and classic tattoos, they keep the ideal of '50s rockabilly alive in our great nation. Their look is taken directly from the classic Outsiders movie where the greasers battle the socs on a nightly basis. Musically, you can’t get a better rendition of classic rockabilly and swing that is brought together with the ever present stand up bass (which can’t be easy to tour with). Also, they are just nice guys.
Rolling Bowling – Live at Dos Kolegas
Performance: Alt Rock
Silver Ash are a Chinese band that take directly from the Visual Kei movement of Japan with over-the-top costumes and elaborate hair styles. They have been breaking hearts with their brand of Brit Pop meets Goth for the past 15 years and have influenced countless bands and fans to get down with the black eyeliner and feathered hair look. They have had their share of ups and downs with public break ups and a USA tour cancellation back in 2004. However, in the past couple years they have came back strong with an updated look and new songs. Pick up a CD for your little sister today!
Silver Ash – "Pretty But Evil"
Performance: Punk Rock
While "costume" might not be the most precise word for their huge colored Mohawks and countless safety pins, buttons, and spikes, Hell City certainly do bring a bit of flare to the Beijing punk scene. Influenced by classic street punk from bands such as The Exploited and The Sex Pistols and more contemporary outfits like Total Chaos, the band released a CD last year titled Chaos Has Never Stopped. Their punk outfits are sometimes a little too well put together. Let’s just say spending 300rmb on a haircut and dye job is not punk rock. But musically they are solid and can often be found tearing up the likes of Temple or School Bar in Beijing. The band also operates a show series titled Chaos! Weekend helping bring together the scene.
Hell City – Live 2016/1/8
Alice Cos Group
Alice Cos Group is a classic format C-Pop outfit that has been operating out of Wuhan since 2010. They now boast nearly 200 members with most getting a monthly salary of 5,000RMB. Their usual gigs include comic book conventions, car shows, and mall openings. Costumes include the usual Japanese influenced maid or cute doll girl, which are solid but the music is just so so, even for the pop world. Oh did I mention that the entire C-Pop group is actually guys dressing up like girls? This unique form of Lady Boy Pop has been getting larger and larger, inspiring other 2nd and 3rd tier city fem boys into starting their own groups. You gotta love modern living!
Alice Cos Group – "Dancing Queen"
Happy Chinese New Year Shanghai! I’ll be staying home and working on my costume for a new music project I’m putting together titled "Over the Hill Emo White Trash Ensemble". It’s going to be Greeeeaat!