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Interview: Wu Hao and Kang Mao

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Wu Hao (l) and Kang Mao of SUBS
Wu Hao (l) and Kang Mao of SUBS

Since 2004 Beijing rock veterans SUBS (杀不死) have had a reputation for being one of China's most powerful live shows, with lead vocalist Kang Mao (抗猫) screaming, howling and shrieking over a tight, slightly brooding rock soundtrack provided by guitarist Wu Hao (吴昊), bassist Zhu Lei (朱磊) and drummer Li Fan (李帆).

In addition to performing original songs that actually rock (check out some MP3s here), the band is different from their Chinese peers in another way. They are an independent band not beholden to any music label. Although this means more freedom for the band, it also means not just making music but also spending time and money on marketing, promotion, distribution and other less-glamorous behind-the-scenes work.

After years of almost performing in Kunming, SUBS will make their return to the Spring City tonight, performing at Laowo Bar, partly in support of their most recent album "The Queen of Fucking Everything" and partly just to get back on the road. We had a post-prandial chat with Kang and Wu last night and found them genuine, intelligent and very friendly:

GoKunming: Welcome back, when was the last time you played in Kunming?

Kang Mao: We last played here at Speakeasy Bar in '05. Hard to believe... time's really flying.

We'd been meaning to come to Kunming for a while but things kept getting in the way. Last summer we wanted to tour but the World Cup got in the way. We were worried that we wouldn't be able to pull people away from their televisions.

In 2008 we were planning on playing here but the Wenchuan Earthquake ended those plans. We were in Xi'an getting ready to head to Chengdu – and after that Kunming – when the quake hit.

GK: How have you changed as a band since that Speakeasy gig?

Kang: (Smiling, perhaps ironically) All of our friends say we haven't changed a bit!

Wu Hao: Six years isn't a short time, but it's not that long, either.

Kang: Some people have told us our show has changed some, that before we were much more punk but now have a darker thing going on. We like the supernatural.

GK: How has Kunming changed since you were last here?

Wu: You have to understand, traveling around the country to as many cities as we do, it's easy to feel that every city is the same now. Same buildings, same cars, same traffic jams. There's a Wangfujing shopping center of some kind or another in every city in China now.

For me this is really upsetting. Every city has lost its character. Kunming isn't Kunming anymore, Guiyang isn't Guiyang and so on.

Kang: We recently played in Estonia. There are old buildings there, there were people our age enjoying themselves. It was romantic. You don't find that so much in China.

GK: Our Wangfujing mall is much nicer than Chongqing's.

Kang: I'm sure it is.

GK: We're getting Starbucks this year too.

Kang: Wow, you must be proud!

GK: What language do you usually sing in?

Kang: Mostly in English... some Chinese. Honestly, it doesn't really matter what language we sing in, the way we sing and play you're not really going to understand anything we're singing. When we sing in Chinese, Chinese people can't understand.

GK: I've never caught your live show, but I have seen a few clips online and would say you seem to have a pretty high level of intensity on stage. What's going on in your heads when you're performing? Is it just a job? Do you enter a trance?

Kang: When we perform, it doesn't feel like work. I've always worried about losing intensity over time, but it doesn't seem to have happened yet. We may seem like we're in a controlled zone but much of the time we're in our own worlds far away.

The only time that a show feels like work is if we suddenly have to deal with technical problems.

GK: Why did you name your last album "Queen of Fucking Everything"?

Kang: Hmm... I guess you could say we were in a bit of a weird place because our world was being inundated by fashion and trends and media and marketing were really getting more sophisticated.

But music didn't improve, it just became more poseurish and packaged. It was a dark time for our band and we were sick of it all. We wanted to smash everything.

GK: So would you say you're disappointed with the current state of rock in China?

Kang: I'm not in a position to say I'm disappointed because it's not really anybody else's job to entertain me. That said, I haven't come across too many bands that are doing something I like. I don't see many bands that are doing things their own way... commercialization is ruining things. The scene was turned into an industry before it had enough time to mature on its own.

Wu: I think there are some kids out there that can rock, but they get sucked in by media and used for as long as they're needed. Eventually bands don't know if they're making music or fashion.

Kang: We want to tell younger bands that they can take the independent path like us, but it isn't easy doing everything on your own.

Wu: From their perspective, I'm not sure I'd envy what we do. We use little money to do big things. It's a lot of work.

Kang: Our situation's like this: we spend all the money upfront, we do all the work and we get 100 percent of the takings, which aren't that big. But we've got freedom and total control over what we do. We never have to worry about how some douchebag working at a label is going to package us.

Wu: I worry that commercialization and commodification ruin a lot of potentially great bands. For us we just want to live our lives and do things our way.

GK: What would you be doing if you weren't professional rock musicians?

Wu: I'd keep changing what I do, dabbling in different things all the time.

Kang: I'd cheat people. Especially people with lots of money. And power. Once I'd cheated them out of their money they wouldn't be able to do anything because all the money was dirty. Then I'd go to the bank and change it all into coins. Then I'd smash windows up... I guess you could say I'd just run amok.

GK: Got anything new going on these days?

Kang: Actually, yes. Wu Hao and I have started our own band. It's just us, no bass or drums. It's not folk, but you can call it whatever you want.

We sold our souls through a third party to the Swan Nebula 5,500 light years from Earth. In exchange, our bodies are allowed to exist in their present forms for another 6,000 years.

That means if the nebula becomes a sun, it should send our souls back to our bodies before they die. It also means that you've been interviewing two people who don't have souls.

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Comments

Chengdu's entrance was RMB60. But it's worth it, as SUBS is the most consistent, hi-nrg Chinese rock band and one of the few bands on the mainland that are actually good enough to rock the crowd outside China.
Kudos to Wu Hao and Kang Mao for not selling out.

Kunming finally gets a decent show! Not gonna miss this one.

These comments will fall on deaf ears for most Gokunmingers, but the punx will understand:

What a fucking mystery. They talk about being not commercial, but as far as I can tell .they are poseurs. They play ridiculous, commercial, alienating festivals, over priced shows, do (hipsterish) photoshoots, and, well, are from the Beijing scene. They said their sound used to be punk and now is more dark? what? -again showing they don't know much about what punk is. Morne, Estranged, Amebix, anyone?

The only difference between them and the other shitty Chinese hipster rock bands is that they can actually play, and with passion. They sound good. But I don't see them as a truly independent band. The international underground rock scene doesn't know who they are. Don't look for them In MRR or playing a squat in Italy..

@ johnny9: what particular 'punk' criteria are you judging them by? i always thought of punk as DIY, in your face intensity, which they seem to have covered. as to where they are from - the beijing scene - would you rather they play to bars with five people who leave after 10 minutes in wuhan? does that make a band legitimately punk? and really, what is punk? i believe the talking heads and patti smith opened for the ramones at cbgb in new york. you admit subs sound good, can play and have passion - jesus christ, what else do you want in a live band? not punk enough? not dirty enough? unknown by the european and american naval-gazing scenes? i'm sure they could care less.

Aint no thang, Chibbles. There's always gonna be haters in this world. Just do as he recommends and let his words fall on deaf ears.

maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was the wednesday night, maybe it was the excess of alcohol, maybe it was just kunming, but something was missing. kudos to the band for pulling out all the stops regardless...

Let the haters hate, last night's show fucking ROCKED!

amazing show! I don't understand why there were few people. it seems that the community of foreigners has been lazy so please wake up guys! and wake up not with sean paul'song alarm. SUBS are really a truly genuine indie band. jonny9 you told us they can actually play and with Passion, they sounds good. that's all, isn'it? you are talking about punk... and SUBS are touring, making their own merchandising and music without any label behind them...have you heard about Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP?

I would have been there and counting for 3 at least. Sorry I couldn't make it!

@ chibbles, My comment was for people who understand what punk is (ie. about 8 people in Kunming) and its not a "in your face intensity" and panda/midi music festival is not DIY. Re-beijing cooment, Beijing scene should take some responsibility for the sad state of affairs.

Everything else in what you wrote is a straw man (naval gazing) or an unreasonable request (what is latin culture anyway? can't summit up in a blog comment?) Sorry that you don't know what punk is, the ramones and patti smith were punk pre-1979, not anymore. I like them though, just I like plenty of other music. Anyway, punk is not a style of music, especially now.

"HATERS" = not a word that means anything to punx. Wrong culture/wrong language. Try again.

But should I feel sorry that I am am annoyed that non-punk bands are constantly called punk by the media?

@ Gianni, NO, thats not even close to all, why don't you address the points I made?

Why not just enjoy the music which your inner heart can be touched and enjoy the soul who you can understand?Those people who loves freedom dispise the rules,so who has the rights to define anying?Everyone has different views,and the world is amazing owning to the existence of various views.Sorry,it is the current circumstance of china′culture industry,it is just there,whatever you like it or not.It is weird that we wish them to fight for the rock-roll and voice for the rock-roll on one hand,but we ignore how they survive in the fucking real wold on the other hand,a world murder dreams.At least,they sill stand there with decent and grace,at least they never cater to the public taste.As for the kunming part,somebody join in and somebody leaves,I think it is commom in any any countries,besides,most of them just transport to another battle field,But in the pub which you present,,yon can see how hard to operate the platform for the band.So from my angle,there is a lot of people in kunming who support,insist and make contribution to the rock-roll,

Sarchh

I just reply to you because you said the best things, though you seem to be very confused. After this, I am finished here, because this bores me.

"Those people who loves freedom despise the rules,so who has the rights to define anything" Lack of definition and lack of rule is not freedom-it is the slavery of living in other people's space. Freedom is social it means making your own rules together with other people-, without bosses, rules that reflect your struggles and reality.

"Sorry,it is the current circumstance of china′culture industry,it is just there,whatever you like it or not.It is weird that we wish them to fight for the rock-roll and voice for the rock-roll on one hand,but we ignore how they survive in the fucking real wold on the other hand,a world murder dreams."

I agree with you about this culture industry. But if my culture is for sale, I will do something against that. Actually thats what DIY hardcore is, isn't it?

And I don't want anyone to be a voice for anything. They can do whatever they want. And it is "the culture of not selling selling yourself" that they are trying to sell!

And I ABSOLUTELY DON'T IGNORE HOW MUSICIANS SURVIVE. I think about it everyday. Everybody must sell themselves in some way. We must live in 2 worlds at once.

The question is how to do that? where are the limit?, which things are you willing to sell? and who is who? The medium is the message.

It is the refusal to have this conversation that is the biggest problem !
You seem to be against having this conversation?
You just want to continue the escapism, but that is the problem.

jonny9,thanks for your views,it reflect the lack of my cognition and enlight me in some degrees,expecially your freedom wordings.
Through you said you feel boing,I still want to say,the key meaning I want to express last time is that I think we should show more respect and less blame to musician who has been borne and sacrificed so much for the things they adored and indulged,we have no rights to judge anyone,what we can do is merely provide some kind of presentation which based on our diffenent past, experiences and cognition to the world and the life.Our genuine intention is not to get an answer or persuade anyone,instead,as you see, we can see things more widely and clearly througt the collision of different throughs,at the same time we may close to the truth more,that is what rock-roll call on us to pursue always. Complying the common rules makes us combine and solid,but complying for no reason is just another kind of control and slavery,isnt it? That why I′m express my true feeling here
I don't think I had refused the conversation as well,if I don't care,I were just smile and skipped the wording what I saw.Standard depends on everybody′s inner heart,I dare not call myself a girl regards rock-roll as firm belief,it is too holy to me to bear.But I know I am trying hard to find myself and remember my original real face in the leading of rock-roll, and try to resist the dirty around me,I just believe the facing direction,What I can do now is cleaning my blood in the show and thinking of what I saw and feel,concern for the future of rock-roll.My explore way on rock-roll is no end,I am always an innocent student,maybe from your predecessor′view,(if I may say so),my understanding is surperficial,but I′m trying to figure it out seriously.
Yeah,as you say,maybe everybody sale themselves in some way,but to tell the truth,refusing facing on the irresistable things we don't like is another way of escape.The way the musician express their feelings is just a way of communication with others,how to understand it depends on personal.What they sacriced is a part of their small world,but all the strive will make contribution to the final common goal,to the wide world.Becides,they have no so much commecial fluence in my view,at least we still know their original face .If someone say he knows what punk is,it seems ridiculous to me just like someone put Bible front of me and say it is completely correct because it is just there.If I must be required to say something,punk′s spirit of revolt can be a gesture,can be a lifestyle,but as for the essence,from my humble of view, it is a call to uphold to our life flame,to keep the gas field in our heart stable and steady when facing the world,but the method of interpret it can be various.
Coming back to the culture industry,Please think about china′history through the ages,the agriculture style life and the inertia of obedience,the huge cognition and awareness gaps of people from different backgrounds...we can also see the arise suddenly magical world of materialism do make a lot of people suffering giddiness, at the same time the soul can′t keep up with the body to the aspect of society. This is the truth we can′t ignore. it needs time,but we are voice to make the numb crouds to hear the spiritual world,to keep ourselves alert .The existience of the voice,as other different responsible voices exists, balance the society atmosphere and make it operate healthy,that is enough.
As different social condition breed out different music,the core of the rock-roll is unchangeable,but something new is being added to make it sustain and develop,as always.Like human′body,every soci may get ill, but it will cure itself at the reasonable time.
People who love rock-roll and uphold rock-roll spirits always accustomed to express something in a fiere way,the most powful and uncompromising way as we comprehend,it just a tone of express, someone would know the instinction, there is no absolutely wrong and right.OK?
Welcome to correcting.

OK I will reply again because you seem so likable and sincere.

But I am not sure what to say, because I can't understand most of your English.

* Rock n roll does not =DIY punk/ hardcore. I don't claim to know what rock n roll is. Punk is not really a style of Rock.

*. I think you don't understand that diy punk is a social movement that exists, with buildings, histories, families, groups of people, landmarks etc. it is. If you had to face these people and places, you couldn't call it a gesture . These people don't all agree about all aspects of punk, but they know what it is.

You think it is some spirit. Yes it has a spirit, but many other things have that spirit too. So that spirit is not particularly punk.
Every diy punk knows what punk is. This seems strange to you because you think it is just an attitude, a gesture, an expression.

* RE:rules/bible

you are creating a strawman. What rules? What bible? When I said my name was jonny 9, why didn't you accuse me of making rules? When I called you Sarch-why didn't you accuse me of writing a law book or dictionary? if I say I am not Chinese? am I making rules? Every culture and community has taboos, codes, and customs, freedom is not found in the refusal of these. Actually we cant make art without them.

* why do you insist to define the issue in terms of China? It does not matter where they are from. There are DIY punk bands in most countries (outside of Africa), including Nepal, Japan, Argentina, and Indonesia. There are culture industries everywhere.

* if we work something to give away for free, and someone comes and copies it and sells it, how should i feel? We have the right to criticize others about specific things. If others speak for me, i have the right to criticize what they say. Criticism is not blind condemnation. Maybe you should ask if a refusal to judge others is actually more elitist than not judging them at all.

* you speak in totally abstract terms. As if nothing exists, until you speak of the band, then, suddenly real subjective people with real feelings exist for you.

###I think you should read your words, and ask yourself if there is anything in what you wrote which would be unacceptable to the owners on Nike, KFC, Hollywood, Mtv or Levi's? No, the culture industry loves your view. It says "We are all equal and everything is ok, and tolerance is a virtue"-meanwhile, outside our doors, we are not equal, the culture industry keeps working, and real things and places are commercialized and turned into a desert. ###

* why do you believe music is just about expression? The music I am talking about is also about relationships.

* a lot of people work hard and are passionate. Including idiots and murderers.

what an excessively terrible and self-righteous argument

I must apologize for my poor English,in fact,the first time I paticipate in comment is just because I stroll to the webside and saw something unfavorable directed towards the band I like,and I cant′ help retorting.Ok I think I find a reason to improve my English level,after all,the poor level obviously bring about some misunderstanding.

I reclaim that I am not mean to define anything,as I said,what all we said is nothing but personal views, views at present, like tiny pieces cutted from the cake. You know, as a philosopher ever expressed,"the language is pale,the more tangible the language is,the more far away from the truth.",(of course, I am making the inevitable mistake now). .Just like different people clarrify rock music to different sorts,depending on different angles such as the dressing of band members,the degree of voice- distortion of guita and so on.It is just a kind of codes for sake of communication.when I communicate with others,I could not spread out all the possibilities.But if there is no existiences of single tiny dots,what can use to make up a picture?How would we view the world? And who can give a complete interpretation to anything?

I understand the kind of groups you refer to,such as The Beat Generation at the 1960s or around in America, I agree with your view "Punk is not really a style of Rock.",I ever heard from a musician about that,to him punk spirit is spiri of all kinds of rock music. You said" that spirit is not particularly punk.",I am not mean that too,I just think that the common thing,the essence may be found in something genius.I support to criticizing and do not avoid criticizing .By it, something can be reflected,rebuilt and improved.Actually if you are glad to say so,I am criticizing you in some degree.The question is what the way others can accept.when I can′t accept, I voice,maybe some others can,just do our own stuffs,OK?

I know what you really want to express,you hope musicians refuse something,just like Oconnor refused accept the Grammy award and refuse to be packaged and to be a so-called idol..I revere her choice,But as you said,no one knows the right future,we are not advancing the road the SUBS is experiencing,we are not tangled by a lot of complex factor in their situation.In daily life,when you make a choice,someone said you are wrong,someone said you are right,but you just make your choice. Yes, most cases the medium is liar,but it is also a necessary way to make the voice not diminished,that come back to the problem of degree you have said .Bands that surface,bands that underground,most of them, are just two different ways to sustain some voices,to make people recognise or remember what rock-roll is.Even spy might be found in the most honest group you know,so we cant define that.The speculators may sometimes get the opportunities,but they will finally became does not like a people or a ghost,and be repelled,Ido not think SUBS is the speculators.What is more,what is the ultimate meaning for the fighting?or whatever,you know I want to express.If fighting is just for things like dissatisy,destroy and violence,it may become pretext of another kind of wild ambitions,dirty desire and ulterior motives man.(By the way, I am not refer to you at all.)The ultimate meaning may come back to the the true, the good and the beautifu,or as some musician said the universal love,peace and freedom. Through the wording above is somewhat fallol to me,but you know what I want to express.You know he chinese style mode of thinking contains some images or something only to be sensed, not explained,hope you will understand.

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