[English] UnderBaby (地下婴儿 – Dixia Ying’er) – “Awakening” (“觉醒” – “Jue Xing”), 1999
Is Underground Baby (also known as UnderBaby or 地下婴儿 – Dixia Ying’er) the first Chinese punk band? The myth states that “All the same” (“都一样” – “Dou yiyang”) is the first Beijing punk song. We will eventually come back to the question of Chinese punk genealogy, and to the now traditional controversy between Wuhan and Beijing concerning the paternity of Chinese punk. Even the date of birth of punk is not clear: is it in 1991 with the creation of alternative bands in Beijing, in 1994 with the release of He Yong (何勇) first album, 垃圾场 (Garbage Dump), or in 1996 with the recording of UnderBaby’s first song? Lets for now admit that UnderBaby is the first (Beijing) punk band: the band was supposedly created in 1991 in Beijing by the brothers Gao – Gao Wei (高伟) and Gao Yang (高阳) in their parents’ cellar. We then find the band in 1995 during the first Beijing punk public live concerts in KTV parlours, and then in underground clubs near the Universities district of Haidian (海淀). UnderBaby became famous in the underground scene in the mid-1990s, with the two garage bands The Fly (苍蝇) and Catcher in the Rye (麦田守望者), which laid the foundation of punk music in 1990’s Beijing. National recognition came for UnderBaby in 1996 when their song “都一样” – “Dou yiyang” was recorded for the independent Chinese rock compilation 中国火II (Zhongguo Huo II – China Fire II). In China Fire II UnderBaby stands alongside the famous rockers Dou Wei (窦唯), Zhang Chu (张楚) or Wang Yong (王勇).
But UnderBaby is also known for having greatly contributed to Beijing punk spawning in the 1990s by opening up the first rehearsal room, located in the outhouse of their parents’ Peking duck restaurant in Baihua’r Hutong, in Xinjiekou (Xicheng district). This tiny rehearsal room was the main socialisation place for the first Beijing punk bands, who came there to rehearse, smoke and drink together at brothers Gao’s place. David O’Dell, an American student at Peking University in the 1990s, remembers his first visit of Baihua’r Hutong:
“On top were overflowing ashtrays made of soda cans elaborately twisted in half and notched with cigarette holders […] The furniture was sparse. A wobbly metal shelf next to the door held some cassette tapes and a dusty umbrella. Next to the cot an old couch sat with rips all over it, some by age, some on purpose. The walls were the typical Beijing chalky whitewash on grey concrete randomly decorated with magazine posters of rock and roll centerfolds and Chinese graffiti. The second room was split by a curtain of plastic strings for a door. I poked my head in to see a generic beat-up drum set and a large homemade amp with a blown woofer. There were two microphone stands ready at attention and a collection of patch cables slithering along the concrete floor. The room had a spare twin-size mattress leaning up against a sink that had been installed as an afterthought. The mattress took up half of the wall space in the room. It gave me a new perspective on how incredibly small this room was to be a rehearsal space for one person, much less a three-piece band”.
David O’DELL, Inseparable. The memoirs of an American and the story of Chinese punk rock, Manao Books, 2011, pp. 21-22.
Gao Wei and Gao Yang at Baihua’r Hutong, 1996, David O’DELL, ibid.
Poster of a concert of UnderBaby with Catcher in the Rye, May 3rd 1996.
UnderBaby songs embody the 1990s Beijing punks’ state of mind: a certain amont of youth disillusion, rage and the use of irony when confronted to the authority. The song “Awakening” (“觉醒” – “Juexing”) contains some provocative lyrics as “I want to take my blood and excrements / And throw them up on the flag”, which was censored in the leaflet (“excrements”, 大便 dabian in Chinese was replaced by “reply”, 答辯 dabian, while in the music video the word is covered by a truck noise). In 1999, UnderBaby publishes its first album with the help of the Taiwanese label “Magic Stone”, entitled, like the song, Awakening (觉醒 – Juexing), which features 16 songs.
“Everything’s the same”
I do what I can to hide my inner void
UnderBaby [Dixia yinger – 地下婴儿], “Dou yi yang” [“Everything’s the same” – “都一样”] In Awakening [Juexing – 觉醒], Magic Stone, 1999.
Leave me alone
UnderBaby (Dixia yinger – 地下婴儿), “Awakening” (“Juexing“ – “觉醒”) In Awakening (Juexing – 觉醒), Magic Stone, 1999.
One year after the release of UnderBaby first album, Gao Wei appears in Wang Shuibo’s (王水泊) documentary, Swing In Beijing (Youzai, Beijing – 悠哉, 北京, 2000), which features Chinese independent artists of the 1990s, as the filmmaker Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯) or the director Meng Jinghui (孟京辉). In this extract we can see Gao Wei talking about censorship of his song “Awakening”:
Whatever may be the arguments on the true genealogy of Chinese punk, UnderBaby really represented a turning point for Beijing alternative music, by successfully building a bridge between 1980s Chinese rock and 1990s punk movement. UnderBaby succeeded at understanding urban Chinese youth state of mind, in a way that was understandable by Chinese independent artists of that time. Apart from Gao Wei’s appearance in Wang Shuibo’s documentary, UnderBaby is also featured in the anthology of Chinese independent artists of the 1990s New Sound of Beijing (北京新声 – Beijing Xinsheng) edited by Ou Ning (欧宁), Yan Jun (颜峻) and Nie Zheng (聂筝) in 1999. This is also the limit of UnderBaby, who never renewed itself, and was unable to offer something else except a dim teenage depression, when punk audience wanted to hear more engaged and violent songs.
After splitting-up, UnderBaby got back together in 2008 for a concert at the D22 in Beijing, and even played with their former bassist Sun Dawei (孙大威), now a well-known 8-bits electro DJ known as “Sulumi”.
Poster of the UnderBaby concert at D22 on May 10th 2008.
In 2012, UnderBaby published a new EP, their first record since Awakening (well, if you except their 2008 live album 覚醒 2008 – Awakening 2008), named Metamorphosis (蜕变 – Tuibian). The band gave up their punk melody for a disappointing cloud rock, and equally dull lyrics.
Poster of UnderBaby concert at Beijing’ Post-Mountain, January 25th 2013.
Listen to the first album of UnderBaby (地下婴儿), Awakening (觉醒), Magic Stone, 1999:
1. 几公斤蔬菜 (Few kilograms of vegetables)
2. 觉醒 (Awakening)
3. 小弟弟 (Little brother – but also Small penis)
4. 束缚 (Tie up)
5. 被抛弃的游戏 (An abandoned game)
6. 我只有音乐 (I only have music)
7. 简单 (Simple)
8. 拒绝 (Refuse)
9. 种子 (Seed)
10. 我得了忧虑症 (I’m done being anxious)
11. 一条腿跳舞 (A dance step)
12. 再来点儿 (Come again)
13. 前冲 (Forward)
14. 门 (Door)
15. 地下婴儿 (Underground Baby)
16. 都一样 (Everything’s the same)
Listen to the second album of UnderBaby (地下婴儿), 蜕变 (Metamorphosis), Treemusic, 2012:
Track List (the English translation was made by the band itself):
1. 连环梦 (Chain of Dream)
2. 摇滚琥珀 (Rock’n’Roll amber)
3. 喋喋不休 (Nonstop)
4. 墙上的砖 (The brick on the wall)
5. 该做的事 (Thing to do)
6. 所有转变就在一瞬间 (All change in the blink of eye)
To go further:
The douban website of UnderBaby: https://site.douban.com/underbaby/
David O’DELL, Inseparable. The Memoirs Of An American And The Story Of Chinese Punk Rock, Manao Books, 2011.
OU Ning [欧宁], YAN Jun [颜峻], NIE Zheng [聂筝], Beijing Xinsheng [北京新声 – New Sound of Beijing], Hunan yishu chubanshe, 1999.
YAN Jun [颜峻], Ranshao de zaoyin [燃烧的噪音 – A burning Noise], Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2004.
Jeroen DE KLOET, “Popular Music and Youth in Urban China: The Dakou Generation” In The China Quarterly, September 2005, n°183.
And why not listen to Sulumi, former bassist of UnderBaby, who now makes 8-bits electro music: