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Interview: Brain Failure's punk success

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Xiao Rong, vocalist/guitarist of Beijing punk rock stalwarts Brain Failure (脑浊), has played punk music long enough to know what makes a great live show. For him, it's all about the communication and interaction between the band and the audience.

"You see, we're playing punk rock and punk rock is very simple and popular. It's not only about your own personality, it's about making all the young people unite together and have fun. Our band and the people listening to us are entertaining each other. That's what's important: communication by music. And we're a band that wants to communicate. We're not going to go up there and say, 'Hey, this is me and you have to watch.'"

The band, composed of vocalist/guitarist Xiao Rong, bassist Ma Jiliang, guitarist/vocalist Wang Jian and drummer Xu Lin, put on an energetic and tight show last night at Speakeasy Bar for a crowd of more than 300. The band tore through dozens of catchy, anthemic songs while sweaty local youth danced and moshed - a few even attempted to crowd surf.

Brain Failure proved itself capable of getting the audience into the act, getting nearly everyone present clapping to the beat or yelling back in call-and-response sessions. His hair dyed in leopard spots, Xiao Rong was a blur on stage as he jumped around and switched places with the equally energetic Ma. More than half way through their nearly two-hour set, he yelled to the crowd several times:

"Are you tired?"

The crowd roared back louder each time.

We talked with a soft-spoken, polite Xiao Rong prior to the show to ask him about the changing music scene in China and Brain Failure's experiences as the first Chinese punk band to tour extensively in the US.

GoKunming: Is this your first time in Kunming?

Xiao Rong: Actually, it's the second time I've been here with a band. The last time was about ten years ago. I love this city because of the weather.

GK: It's changed a lot...

Xiao Rong: Yeah. Coming here, I thought I would at least recognize Jianshe Lu and Wenlin Jie, but I couldn't even recognize it.

GK: Now you're touring in China. How long will the tour be?

Xiao Rong: This tour is happening in three rounds, each about two or three weeks. We're on the last round now. Shanghai, Nanchang, Changsha, Guiyang, Xi'an, and then we went back to Beijing for the Midi Music Festival on May first through the fourth.

GK: How has it been touring this time? Do you think the music scenes have changed in these places?

Xiao Rong: I feel many places have changed. For example, in Shanghai, now the market is getting bigger and the people are really choosing which bands they want to see. One or two years ago, it was like "Oh, there's something happening this weekend!" but now it's much more common. People are actually coming to see you, not just coming for something to do.

GK: What are some of your favorite places to play in China?

Xiao Rong: Basically all the big cities. Shanghai, Wuhan, Xi'an. With those places we can sell out the place, about 300 people per show.

GK: How did you get the opportunity to tour outside of China, especially in the US?

Xiao Rong: We got the opportunity because we were lucky. We worked hard and accepted all the opportunities that came to us. We've toured the whole U.S. about six or seven times now. We've played probably 500 shows.

We were very lucky to get to know some people. For example, the Dropkick Murphys who then produced our record and took us on tour and introduced a lot of good bands to us. [Dropkick Murphys bassist] Ken Casey likes foreign cultures and Asian culture very much and we got a lot of help from him.

GK: How did audiences receive you in the States?

Xiao Rong: Actually, it all happened step by step. We played at South By Southwest and then CMJ [CMJ Music Marathon in New York City], these kinds of music industry promotions. At the beginning, [laughs] it was like a cultural exchange, called like Asian Night. And people would come wanting to listen to "Chinese music," but we weren't really playing that kind of music. We didn't want people coming to the show because they wanted to see some Chinese people. But, as we played more local venues it went really well.

GK: Was touring in the US more challenging than touring in China?

Xiao Rong: Compared to touring in China, I think it's much easier in the States because in the States or Europe or Japan there's already an industry, so everything's pretty professional. You have a booking agent and they're making money, the promoters are making money, the clubs are making money and finally the bands are making money. So I think that's a good circle to do business.

GK: Do you think China's rock scene is going to develop in the same way?

Xiao Rong: I believe one day it's going to happen, but it's going to take a lot of people working. In China, I think it would be great if there was a bigger rock music industry. It could give a lot of young people jobs. There are many things a person could do in the music industry besides just being a musician.

GK: This February you and Big D and the Kids Table got together and released a split album called "Boston to Beijing", how did this come about?

Xiao Rong: We met them in 2005 in Boston. We played a big Halloween show with them and we've know them ever since. On the album the first six tracks are us and the last six are them. Also, Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones sings on some songs.

GK: Lastly, where are you going next?

Xiao Rong: Chengdu. We're taking trains all the way. It's a little dangerous, you're always afraid you won't get to the show on time.

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Brain Failure?The name sounds cool!Hope one day i can get the chance to hear their songs.I like punk actually:)

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