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Interview: Matt Dangerfield, The Boys
A postmortem chat with UK punk legends The Boys, who had their China tour unceremoniously canceled by the Ministry of Culture last week...
By Jan 22, 2015 Nightlife
Oof. Rough week for touring acts in the old P.R.C. Freshest wound: the members of ambient electronic act Tycho, who played Yugong Yishan this past Tuesday, were unceremoniously detained following their Shanghai gig last weekend. According to a now-deleted Instagram from the band's drummer, Tycho had their passports confiscated and were held for hours before being made to sign documents saying they were in violation of Chinese law. Which they were, performing without a proper performance visa. But bands do this all the time here. A legitimate performance visa is prohibitively expensive in most cases. Pretty much Beyonce-level shit. So this was a puzzling, slightly troubling selective enforcement of the rule, especially from the perspective of local promoters who live in a grey-area comfort zone with respect to their DIY booking practices.

The Boys

At least Tycho got to play their gigs — their Beijing show this week came post-detention. No such luck for 1970s UK punk originators The Boys, who got the news that the Ministry of Culture had unceremoniously canceled their entire nine-date China tour as they were en route to play the kickoff gig in Shanghai. Rough break, for them and us. The Boys, if you don't know, are one of the founding groups of UK punk, alongside Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned. From the beginning they had a slightly more tuneful aesthetic than their brasher contemporaries, making pop-inflected punk rock before "pop punk" was even a thing. Hell, before punk was really a thing. These dudes are first-wave.

While The Boys' previously scheduled, tour-capping gig this Saturday at School has been canceled — the Ministry of Culture cites "public safety and crowd control" as the official reason — the band will still make it to Beijing for the weekend. I caught up with The Boys' lead singer and guitarist Matt Dangerfield ahead of their trip up. I guess it's less an interview than an MOC debrief, a postmortem tour autopsy, a casual chat about Chinese food and the Great Wall...


SmartBeijing: So, how's it going? Where are you now? Enjoying China? How's the food?

Matt Dangerfield: We're still in Shanghai. We're all really enjoying this city, there's a fantastic buzz about the place and a surprise around every corner. And the food is fabulous.

SmBJ: You've been interviewed by a few English-language rags ahead of this China tour, before the shit hit the fan… Without getting into any damning details, what was your gut reaction when your tour got canceled? Can you give us some details on why your tour was 86'd?

Matt: We were gutted when we heard that the tour was cancelled. We didn't know what to expect playing to Chinese audiences but we were so looking forward to it. All we have been told is that it was because of crowd control and security issues after the recent stampede deaths in Shanghai.

SmBJ: This can't be the first time you've had a show canceled, or at least run up against some dodgy circumstances with a venue, promoter, local government, etc...

Matt: I can't remember any gig of ours being cancelled before, and definitely not at such short notice - we were just leaving the hotel to play the first gig when we got the news.

SmBJ: So what's your game plan now? Are you still going to travel around and see the country, even if you don't have the opportunity to perform? Anything specific on your China / Beijing to-do list?

Matt: Yes, we are going to enjoy the sights of China while we are here. We are looking forward to seeing Beijing, the Great Wall and of course more delicious Chinese food. If nothing else we are becoming Chinese food experts.

SmBJ: This setback aside, you're on the road touring your latest LP, Punk Rock Menopause… What happens to a punk in the golden years?

Matt: These punks are growing old as disgracefully as we can.

SmBJ: You must have seen most of your original peers either burn out, sell out, or drop out. What's kept you going? What about "punk" — be it the lifestyle, the philosophy, or simply the music — has survived the test of time for you?

Matt: We certainly have, but what is more surprising is that so many of the original punks are still at it. Back in the '70s I would never have dreamed that would be the case.

SmBJ: We seem to be in a perpetual "comeback phase" for classic UK punk / post-punk. In the last few years alone, Public Image, Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, and Glen Matlock have come to China to give performances to fans who weren't even yet born in those halcyon days. Or, if they were, who certainly wouldn't have had the opportunity to hear the music in its original form. Why is it important for you to keep The Boys alive in 2015?

Matt: Thanks to most of the old music being reissued over the years and the way the Internet and word of mouth has made more people aware of it, all over the world, punk has a much bigger audience today than it had in its heyday. In a way we are just responding to demand.

SmBJ: You were one of the first "breakout" punk rock bands to get a major label deal. After your first two albums on NEMS, you did two more for Safari Records, and Punk Rock Menopause is out on the relatively smaller/more DIY label Wolverine Records from Germany. Can you talk a bit about your experience with these labels at different levels of the music industry?

Matt: We've had a mixed experience with record labels. NEMS didn't know how to deal with a punk band, I think our initial success took them by surprise. Safari did all the right things for us, but punk was losing its momentum by 1980/81. Our decision to go with Wolverine was on the grounds that small labels can do as well as large labels in the new music business, but we've yet to see how that will pan out.

SmBJ: Where does the road lead from here? Do you have more tour stops mapped out? Are you working on another album? Assuming all the paperwork could be sorted out, would you consider coming back to China for a proper, by-the-books tour?

Matt: Our next scheduled gigs will be Finland in March, and we'll definitely be playing the Rebellion Festival in the UK in August. Other than that, we are currently considering various offers from other countries. We've already booked the studio for our next album - July 2035, so put that in your diary!

We'd love to tour China. Right now we feel like we turned up for a party only to find the party's been called off.

The Boys will nevertheless make it up to Beijing for the weekend, making a few on-camera appearances with LeTV and Jonathan Alpart's Sound Stage program. Rumor is they'll pop up somewhere or other for an unofficial meet and greet, should you want to press the flesh and/or buy their new album. Will update you on that one when we're a little closer to the weekend...

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