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.© Copyright 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.