[English] Wuliao Jundui (无聊军队), 1999
If UnderBaby paved the way for punk music in China by offering the possibility for bands to rehearse in their Baihua’r hutong room, it’s the punk collective « Wuliao Jundui » (无聊军队 – namely the « Boredom Contingent ») that truly laid the foundations of Chinese punk, for better and worse. Spoiler alert: there will be few happy endings for these first punk bands.
The two CDs of the Wuliaojundui, the 1998 live Christmas album and the 1999 eponymous album.
But let’s go back in time a bit: Underbaby and the Gao brothers established a new musical style inside the Beijing underground rock community, by playing punk songs alongside Catcher in the Rye, The Fly, but also more experienced rockers, as Dou Wei (窦唯) or Cui Jian (崔健), who attend and participate to this new generation concerts. Young punks gravitate around UnderBaby in the mid-1990s, who will take advantage of the rehearsal room in Gao’s brothers’ parents basement to form new bands and play punk music. From this musical fever the first punk collective will emerge, the « Wuliao Jundui » (« 无聊军队 »), the « Boredom Contingent », composed (mainly) of four bands: Brain Failure (脑浊), Reflector (反光镜), Anarchy Boys (or Anarchy Jerks, or A-Boys, well as you like – 无政府主义的男孩), and 69. We could write an article on each one of these bands, but for the moment we will focus on the collective and their musical productions.
The band Reflector (反光镜) singing « Scream Club » (« 嚎叫俱乐部 »), a tribute to the late Scream Club.
Beforehand, a quick reflection on the name of the punk collective, Wuliao Jundui – 无聊军队. There’s a lot to say about « boredom » in contemporary China, especially among youth. The 1990s mean for a lot of youngsters an era of collective boredom in a society that begins to value individual success. For this leftover youth, often beset by school and family crisis, this « Guizot moment », initiated by Deng Xiaoping’s « southern tour », is experienced badly. There was literally nothing to do during this period if you didn’t have any money or carreer prospect. But « doing nothing » is itself an intense activity for young proletarians, as showed by Paul Corrigan in its article « Doing Nothing », it’s a time to meet, to discuss, and why not to form a band. One could even add that this moment of idleness is conducive to celebration and music, a revolutionary moment that does not produce wealth, but rather human interactions:
« The inoperativity that defines the feast is not mere inertia or abstention; it is, rather, a sanctification, that is to say, a particular modality of acting and living […] What is dance other than the liberation of the body from its utilitarian movements, the exhibition of gestures in their pure inoperativity? ».
Giorgio Agamben, « Hunger of an Ox: Considerations on the Sabbath, the Feast, and Inoperativity » in Nudities, Stanford University Press, 2011, p. 104-112.
The Wuliao Jundui is linked to a specific place, Scream Club (嚎叫俱乐部), located in the Universities district. Punks previously had other places to perform, like the CD Cafe, or the Angel Bar, which they share with the Beijing rock community. The Scream Club is designed primarily for and by punks, who decorate the facade with tags. Created in 1997 by Lü Bo (吕玻), a young music fan who came from Shandong the year before, the Scream Club hosted all kinds of punk concerts and performances. The Scream Club is still a reference – a recent concert by Brain Failure featured a painting of the Scream Club on stage – and allowed the first punk bands to organize concerts and record their live performances. In 1999, the Scream Club opened its own music label, « Scream Records » (嚎叫唱片), which produced the two first CDs of the Wuliao Jundui. « Scream Records » is for Lü Bo a way to perpetuate Scream Club, which had to close following administrative and bureaucratic pressures. He nonetheless managed to close a deal with the official label « Jingwen Records » (京文唱片) in order to produce its CDs. One of the first CD to be released by « Scream Records » is the 1998 Christmas’ live performance of the Wuliao Jundui at Scream Club (1998圣诞 无聊军队在嚎叫俱乐部). It featured Brain Failure, 69, Reflector, and Rock Star, a band led by Tina, a Beijing Italian student. The first studio album of the Wuliao Jundui is released in 1999. It’s a monument of Chinese punk, still unmatched today.
Listen to the 1998 Wuliao Jundui Christmas concert at Scream Club:
1 铃儿响叮当（圣诞歌）(Jingle Bells)
7 我们的乐园 (Our Paradise)
12 一代 (A generation)
16 听话 (Listen)
An impressive CD : first by its length: it’s a double CD with 40 energetic songs inside, some not exceeding one minute. By the diversity of its influences secondly. We can find in the CD every type of punk-rock: classic punk, in the song « Long Live Punk » (« 朋克万岁 ») by 69, ska-punk in « Three Dirty Punx » (« 三个脏朋克 ») by Brain Failure, oi! in the song « Chinese Oi » by Anarchy Boys, and even hardcore in « My Hardcore » by Brain Failure and Reflector’s early pop-punk (for example « Keep this Little Secret until the Year 2000 » – « 让小秘密混到2000年 »). A summary of Chinese punk energy in this fin de siècle Beijing.
Listen to the full album of Wuliao Jundui, 1999:
1-1. 一代 (A Generation)
1-11. 嚎叫 (Scream)
2-1. 星期一 (Monday)
2-14. 我们决不妥协 (We’re Incorruptible)
Wuliao Jundui’s influence can still be seen today, for example when young punk bands cover « Long Live Punk » (« 朋克万岁 ») by 69. The Wuliao Jundui has made an impressive work in laying the groundwork for Chinese punk music : in less than three year they have listen to almost all Western punk music, and have created hymns that have not lost any of their acuteness. Unlike UnderBaby, the Wuliao Jundui has very clearly expressed the difficulties of Chinese youth in very explicit words. It’s no longer a question of expressing one’s spleen, but of accusing the new consumer society promoted by the communist regime, like in the song « What I Want to Say » by Reflector:
« 我想说的话 »我们不想学习工作
« What I Want to Say »We don’t want to study or work
We don’t want to fight or insult people
Now there are many people unemployed
So everybody is angry and do silly things
Parents say I’m a slacker
That I don’t have a good complexion
I’m getting old, can I still say something
If nothing happens then it’s okay
Don’t think that I’m kidding
Don’t think that I’m kidding
UnderBaby’s poetry and metaphors give way to insults, which is not devoid of humor and irony. The Wuliao Jundui does not hesitate to use insults and the most gritty expressions, in the purest tradition of London punk origins. Of course, these expressions are censored in CDs booklets : « Fucking Disco » becomes « Funky Disco » in Brain Failure’s song, whereas 操 (« fuck ») is replaced by three small dots… Another song makes fun of the famous « Chinese characteristics » (有中国特色的…), an argument used to justify just about everything, from socialism (中国 特色的社会主义) to capitalist commodification. In the song « Rock and Roll with Chinese characteristics » (« 有中国特色的 Rock’N’Roll »), the band 69 criticize the utilitarian spirit that drives Chinese rock.
After the closing of the Scream Club in 2000, the Wuliao Jundui will choose the Happy Paradise (开心乐园), also in the Universities district of Haidian, as its new headquarter. Scream Records has continued to produce underground artists, from punk to metal, and even hip-hop with one of the first hip-hop album by CMCB (Chinese MC Brothers).
Sounds, posture and texts, the Wuliao Jundui has given Beijing punk its letters of nobility since its debut album. But that did not prevent conflicts from breaking out inside the punk collective. Betrayal, fight, violence, the punk scene has concentrated a lot of tension from the beginning. Almost all of the Wuliao Jundui bands had a bad ending: Reflector became the laughingstock of Chinese punk by turning into pop. Brain Failure, after touring the US, has been criticized for its lack of involvement in Chinese punk, and in 2014 the main singer, Xiao Rong (肖容), left the band. 69 didn’t survive the violence of its singer Peter Liang, and the members Anarchy Boys have each taken different musical path from electro to pop music, before getting back together with the financial help of Ray Ban (I must point out that Anarchy Boys didn’t lose its rage: during a concert in 2012 the singer copiously insulted the public, who was according to him composed of too many « good kids » [« 好孩子 »]).
In short, it would be necessary to speak in details of each group, but this article makes it possible to introduce an important album in the history of Chinese punk, perhaps its cornerstone.
To go further:
A few posters of 1990s punk concerts, reflecting the D.I.Y. spirit of the punk community (as well as a partial mastery of Paint):
David O’Dell book again, who was the bassist of Brain Failure for some years: David O’DELL, Inseparable. The Memoirs Of An American And The Story Of Chinese Punk Rock, Manao Books, 2011.
Giorgio Agamben, « Hunger of an Ox: Considerations on the Sabbath, the Feast, and Inoperativity » in Nudities, Stanford University Press, 2011. Because who thought that Punk and Messianism could be brought together?
Paul Corrigan, « Doing Nothing » in Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson (dir.), Resistance through Rituals. Youth Subcultures in post-war Britain, Routledge, 2006.
Serena Zuccherini, Punk in Cina: nuovi fuochi di rivolta dopo Tiananmen, Castelvecchi, 2004. An Italian book on the beginnings of Chinese punk, with a lot of Wuliao Jundui references. Most of the book is available online on Google Books.
Scream Records’ douban: https://site.douban.com/screamrecords/
Brain Failure’s douban: https://site.douban.com/brainfailure/ wesite
Reflector’s douban: https://site.douban.com/reflector/ website
Anarchy Boys’ douban: https://site.douban.com/anarchyboys2011/ website
A video of Anarchy Boys covering (slaughtering) their classic « Loser’s Rock and Roll » song for the unplugged program of Ray-Ban, « Never Hide Noise » (with Ray-Ban):
David O’Dell uploaded a lot of videos from the early days of Beijing punk. We can see a lot of things, but the most interesting is the presence of a lot of musicians from the rock community during punk concerts. In these two 1997 excerpts we can see the famous canto-pop (and manda-pop) singer Faye Wong, then partner of Dou Wei, and the members of the first feminine rock band Cobra (眼镜蛇):
I highly recommend David O’Dell’s YouTube Channel.
Photo credits of the Scream Club: BeFire https://kknews.cc/zh-hk/culture/e954ylr.html