Han Han (left), along with the rest of Duck Fight Goose
Any given summer weekend that it does not rain in Shanghai is pretty much the best thing ever. Yes, the streets are alive with music and your corner aunties are dancing like they’ve never danced before. Over the past weekend Yuyintang hosted the fourth installment of the local band showcase titled Centaurs. You can check out a little more Centaurs back story in this Music Monday from July.
Since that article I’ve spoken with Duck Fight Goose front man and Centaurs organizer Han Han about his intentions for the concert series. He explained that the main point of Centaurs is to encourage local bands to work together and show that there is a Shanghai music scene. While many people argue about why Shanghai’s local music scene has a fraction of the bands that Beijing boasts, a million web comments won’t help the matter. If nothing else, Han Han is a man of action, and his taking on the issue of increasing the Shanghai scene's collective strength will hopefully pay off for all of us in the near future.
Today in honor of this Saturday’s record release show for Beijing rock band The Bedstars, we are going to focus on those tastemakers from up north at Maybe Mars records. So alongside some brand new Bedstars tracks, I’ll share some of my favorite Maybe Mars releases.
Maybe Mars -- Some Background
Carsick Cars / Maybe Mars's Shouwang
If you are involved in a music scene and still think in terms of “bands making it big”, then you should be taken behind the barn and put down. The bums won, Lewboski. One of the positive side effects of our wired world is that the power of record labels has been stripped. Sure they still make all the money, but just 20 years ago it was incredibly hard for non-pop-friendly bands to connect with their meager audiences any farther than they could drive to gigs (not to mention the world). With an army of music writers and multiple free music delivery platforms, the very real communication barriers of our recent past have fallen. More and more music fans are demanding a higher level of personal connection and knowledge that what they are listening to comes from a pure place. Enter Maybe Mars.
The label started in 2007 from a natural progression of the independent club D-22 that was supported by popular bands Carsick Cars and Joyside, among many others. While a large team of people contribute to the Maybe Mars organization, the three figureheads are P.K. 14's Yang Haisong, Carsick Cars’s Shouwang, and former Wall Street based economic theorist Michael Pettis. Wait, what is an economist who appears as an expert guest on news stations like NPR, BBC, and CNBC doing standing side to side with the leaders of China’s underground music scene? Well, SmartBeijing's Josh Feola can help you out with this detailed interview with Pettis.
Maybe Mars has released over 60 albums in her eight years of existence. While the wealth of respectable material they’ve amassed is huge, the actual monetary return from the company is nill. The only focus of the label seems to be providing resources for bands to record and play, and assisting with touring. This is in contrast with China’s main rock label Modern Sky, who got their start in 1997 and operate with more of a business model (although what that model is, I couldn’t begin to guess). Since Maybe Mars have grown into a big kid on the block, she is not without her share of scandals. Drug use, deviant sex behavior, and money laundering are just a few samples from Beijing’s rumor mill directed at Maybe Mars. But hey, what’s rock n roll without a little deviance and a lot of over-exaggerated rumors.
As Maybe Mars becomes more of an institution, it’s only going to become natural for bands to rebel against the established and form their own labels and open their own clubs. But for right now, Maybe Mars is one of the most positive forces driving Chinese music and I can only hope we get something similar down here in Shanghai soon. Alright, let’s finally check out some music!
I first met Bedstars a few years back when they played my record store. They were hard drinking and even harder rocking troublemakers with hearts of pure gold. Their new album Wet Hearts & Dry Vomitis is the culmination of six years of living the rock n roll nightmare -- the progression, the stagnation, and coming of age as a Beijing punk. It was at D-22 in the band’s early days that the four boys earned a reputation as rebel rousers getting into fights, puking, and walking out early during shows.
Style wise, the album isn’t my bag. There is a heavy influence from late '70s punk similar to Johnny Thunders. And while I’m a huge fan of classic shit punk, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken to a contemporary band with that style. What held my interest while listening to the album was my experience seeing them live, and knowing that they are simply a group of four guys living life on their own terms. The Bedstars' music represents the minutia of their everyday life and while I won’t be listening to the album every day, it’s still an important piece of Beijing history.
If someone comes to my store interested in Beijing punk, then Wet Hearts & Dry Vomitis will be one of the first albums I show them. If you haven’t seen Bedstars live before then I heavily suggest you check out Saturday's Yuyintang show. For now, check out this song “54” off their new LP.
The Bedstars – "54"
Top Five Maybe Mars Songs
Now I’m going to share five songs from various Maybe Mars releases over the past eight years. All are selected purely by personal taste, and are not listed in any specific order.
Ourself Beside Me – "Oh Jim"
P.K. 14 – "One-Man-War"
Muscle Snog – "Mind Shop Is On Sale"
White+ - "White"
Chui Wan – "Only"
Pick up that new Bedstars album at Saturday’s Yuyintang show and feel free to grab a few of Maybe Mars back catalog releases while you are there.