Hang On The Box, Brain Failure, The 5.6.7.8’s, Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill

What do the Beijing punk bands Brain Failure 脑浊, Hang On The Box 掛在盒子上, the Japanese garage-rock band The 5.6.7.8’s and Quentin Tarantino have in common? To my surprise, it’s Kill Bill (volume 1), the 2003 critically acclaimed movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, and shot for a part in Beijing.

As I was looking for concert photos of Hang On The Box, the earliest all-female punk band in Beijing, I came across the website of the Japanese label « Sister Benten », founded by Audrey Kimura in 1994 in order to promote female artists in Japan, and more particularly Riot Grrrl bands. Sister Benten also released several albums of Hang On The Box in the early 2000s. Audrey Kimura is also a photographer, and she uploaded her Beijing concert photos on the Sister Benten’s website. On her 2002 concert report one can read:

2002.6.23 CD Cafe HANG ON THE BOX/Brain Failure/The 5678’s

We went to the CD Cafe 15:30 for the soundcheck. The 5678’s was there and talked about us the Trantino movie. They said it starts 6 am everyday and no time to go outside of the studio. But they have a good time and Uma Thurman is just beautiful. Xia Rong(Brain Failure) and Yan Yan are in the movie as the extra of The 5678’s fans. After the rehearsal we went a restaurant near the club to eat. It was raining.
I love rain in Beijing. It’s pretty with all those coloreful raincoats of people riding bicycles. CD cafe is the best and only licenced performing club in Beijing started mostly Jazz. You can see lots of the posters of Miles Daves, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Ella Fitzgerald etc. I have seen a lots of Jass records at the bootleg and cutted improts shops on the street. They love Jazz. The show started half past 9 pm and during the first band playing ShenJing and me starts selling CDs and BENTEN T-shirts. I sell them here around US$4-5.00 (=Chinese\40-50) and I don’t make money at all but that is a lots of money for Chinese people. My suites case went empty after the show all the time. Beijing is a international city. I saw people from East Europe, Japanese students, Canadian, UK, American and one of them talked me about Petty Booka he saw in SXSW. I don’t know how many people there but more than 50%(about 400?) of the audience were not Chinese. This was my 6th Hang’s show in Beijing. I just love their new song « I wanna say apologize to you » and the new arranged « You lost everything but it’s not mu fault »!from their1st album, Yellow Banana. Their best show was WWP in Tokyo and the first show I saw them in Beijing was also unforgetable but this show was also a special one for me and Hang. I will write about the reason when they finish their 2nd album recording.
-Audrey Kimura-

The set-list of the June 2002 concert at CD Cafe, with Joyside, Hang On The Box, Brain Failure and The 5678’s. Photo by Audrey Kimura.

Several things are interesting for us: first, the punk concert was organized by the label People’s Records at CD Cafe, the bar/live venue opened in 1995 by Li Yuan, the trumpet player of Cui Jian’s band ADO. Again, the relations between the early Beijing punks and the 1980’s Beijing rock community has to be highlighted. 

The the line-up: a classic Beijing punk-rock concert with a Japanese twist: Joyside, the legendary punk-rock self-destructive band, led by Bian Yuan – and now reformed in order to participate to the second season of the popular rock TV show « The Big Band » 乐队的夏天.

CD Cafe stage, photo by Audrey Kimura

Brain Failure, the legendary punk band from Beijing, one of the member of the « Boredom Contingent » 无聊军队, the first Beijing punk collective. In 2002 they were starting to gain recognition abroad – they will produce in 2005 an album in the US, « American Dreamer ». In 1999, They were featured in a Levi’s ad, stating that they were « banned from playing live » [sic].

Brain Failure performing at the CD Cafe on June 2002, photo by Audrey Kimura

Hang On The Box (HOTB), the famous all-girl punk band, formed in Beijing in 1998 and led by Wang Yue (Gia). Krish Raghav and Josh Feola are making a comic book on the story of the Beijing underground, you can read a fabulous excerpt on HOTB on RadiiChina, at one point they talk about Audrey Kimura signing the band on her Japanese label as well. HOTB was also well known abroad for being the first Chinese punk band to make the cover of Newsweek (with the title « China: The Limits of Freedom »). The band included Yan Yan (guitar), Yilina (bass), Shin Jing (drums).

Hang On The Box performing at the CD Cafe on June 2002, photo by Audrey Kimura

The 5.6.7.8’s are a Japanese garage rock band from Tokyo, formed in 1986. They are mostly well known abroad for their appearance in Kill Bill 1 by Quentin Tarantino, where they performed (barefooted) « Woohoo » in a famous scene set in a izakaya. Apparently, Tarantino discovered the music of the 5.6.7.8’s after hearing it in an urban clothing store in Tokyo, hours before going to the airport. In June 2002, they performed at CD Cafe with Joyside, Brain Failure and Hang On The Box, as we already said. They were in Beijing to shoot the Tarantino movie, because, yes, the izakaya scene was shot in Beijing, not Tokyo.

The 5.6.7.8’s performing at the CD Cafe on June 2002, photo by Audrey Kimura
The 5.6.7.8’s performing « I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield » and « I’m Blue at The House Of Blue Leaves » on the Tarantino’s set.

According to Audrey Kimura, Xiao Rong from Brain Failure and Yan Yan from Hang On The Box were also on the Kill Bill 1 set at the time, as extras for The 5.6.7.8’s. So I – totally legally – checked the movie once again to see if I could spot Xiao Rong and Yan Yan. And yes, they appear on the movie, during The 5.6.7.8’s performance. It was easier to spot Xiao Rong because of his distinctive hairstyle. Here are some photos of Xiao Rong dancing during Kill Bill. You can also notice that he is the first to leave the izakaya after Uma Thurman kills Sophie Fatale.

I must confess, it’s the first time I hear about this incredible story. And in fact, Xiao Rong talked about his experience as a Tarantino’s extra in an interview, after participating to another movie in 2010, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (雪花与秘扇) – where they apparently perform « City Junk » and « Leaving the City » (离开这城市) – I haven’t seen that movie but I most certainly will now. You can also see Brain Failure in other Chinese movies, as « 飞行日志 » (Ai Diary, 2007) or « 盗版猫 » (Copy Cat, 2009 – probably the first Chinese mainstream movie to include a rap battle) – the mainstreamization of underground bands is not something born with « The Big Band » as you can see. In the interview, Xiao Rong reveals that a foreign producer recommended Xiao Rong as an extra to Quentin Tarantino – who is known to love rock music – telling him that Xiao Rong was in a Chinese punk band. Intrigued, Tarantino invited Xiao Rong to drink, but the punk declined the invitation, saying that he was « too intimidated » (面儿薄).

So here we are with that story. A Japanese garage-rock band, known to the Beijing punk community, coming to Beijing in order to shoot a scene for Tarantino, ended up performing at CD Cafe alongside several Beijing punk-rock legends. A lot to unpack if you are interested in a social network analysis and the circulation of music and knowledge across different regions. Too bad Kill Bill didn’t include a performance of Hang On The Box.

Since you’re here, I highly recommend subscribing to Krish Raghav and Josh Feola’s newsletter, « The Buddha Boxes ».


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