Music Monday is a weekly SmartBeijing column, serving up fresh audio/video streams from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever).
It's been a long, slow slog, but they've finally done it, the bastards. The Bedstars release their debut album, Wet Hearts & Dry Vomit, on Friday night at School Bar. This one's for them.
Ah, the Bedstars. If there's a universe where Joyside is God, they are its Adam, missing bones and original sin and all. I guess I first saw them in 2011, when they were just starting out, at D-22, the Wudaokou crucible that forged them along with so many other Joyside children. But they were always first among equals. Here was my impression one of the first times I saw them:
Their set started with an (in)auspicious malfunction. Either their guitars weren’t working, the amps weren’t turned on, or they just wanted to lead with acutely staged chaos. Whatever the case, their first song turned out to be a bass/drums duo with both guitarists smashing their instruments to bits and borrowing loaners from their friends. Now, I’m kind of on the fence when it comes to smashing guitars. I can really go either way. On a big stage, in front of a massive crowd, I think this kind of antic comes off as a calculated, distant and impotent maneuver, some kind of socially accepted/expected channeling of "rock and roll angst."
When done in a tiny club, drunk, amongst mostly friends and psyched as hell to play: INTO IT. Bedstars continued to rip on borrowed guitars, mixing Sid Vicious swagger with competent, blues-inflected guitar work and — most crucially — the roiling crowd energy that makes the difference between a show and an experience.
Bedstars guitar smash (photo by Liu Ying)
I have a lot of great memories of Bedstars shows at D-22. Those are probably outnumbered by the great memories of Bedstars shows at D-22 that I no longer have, the ones that were promptly drowned into oblivion during one of many post-gig baijiu bacchanals. I think I quit baijiu because of Bedstars. Wet nights, dry heaves...
This bit from their press bio nails the Bedstars vibe, especially that last pull-quote (culled from the always on-point archives of Wooozy.cn):
Their music carries on the classic punk rock tradition, finding simple and delicate truths within the rough grit of urban life, wide open and without inhibition. As for their live shows, it's been said: "Sometimes they're like the breath of a furious dragon, sometimes like mud thrown at a wall....."
Yeah, the Bedstars were really hit or miss there for a while. Somewhere just under half of the time they'd be too drunk to really stand, even if they could manage to still hit their instruments. There have been more than a couple of unintentional stagedives over the years. But their casual indifference to audience anticipations of sobriety/their own livers is part of their insouciant charm. And when they're on, they're really on, full blast, no regrets.
One of the criticisms I hear most often about the Beijing music scene is that it's "derivative." That derogatory D-word gets thrown in our direction a lot, as if in 2015 a post-punk band from Manchester or a glam band from Los Angeles has the exclusive right to music that notionally came from its city's past. Sure, Bedstars have borrowed sonic touchstones — and certainly some style tips — from the Lower East Side that Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell stumbled down/shot up in. To bring it closer to home, they filtered all that through Joyside: not only their idols' music, but their very visages, their friendship and patronage. (Post-D-22, Bedstars are most at home at School Bar, the house that Joyside built.)
The resulting brew is something very Chinese, very Beijing. Wet Hearts & Dry Vomit is the definitive epistle the Church of Joyside has been missing, even though its converts have been singing it for years. It's not all rock'n'roll revivalism, either. Vocalist Zhao Kai's lyrics explicitly draw from the potent mix of blood, sweat, and seed that colored the writing of proto-surrealist cynic Arthur Rimbaud. Zhao Kai, like Tom Verlaine before him, draws from the French prodigy's poetic discourse on sexual and visceral abandon to add murky chiaroscuro shades behind the ostensibly carefree facade presented by him and his bandmates.
Wet Hearts & Dry Vomit, nearly five years in the making, is a milestone not only for The Bedstars, but for an entire tribe that has sprung up around them and other bands with a similar Beijing-gutter-centric worldview. Like '77 New York, like so many music tribes in so many cultural niches across the 20th century, it's about the rejection of a socially mandated norm and the piecemeal construction of an alternative, stuck together with rusted safety pins and crooked Germs patches, foreign bricks glued with hutong mortar. Regardless of what it sounds like, with Wet Hearts & Dry Vomit the Bedstars have constructed a scene whose vitality in 2015 rivals that of any city in the world.
Before embarking on a national tour to spread their gospel far and wide, The Bedstars will officially debut their album on Friday, July 24 at School Bar.