I met Kay Fan, the quiet, camera-clicking editor-in-chief of the Chinese rock-pop music magazine Hit, in Göteborg, Sweden, in August. He was there for the same reason I was there: to attend the Way Out West music festival. On a fishing trawler Fan and I got talking about the music scene back in our respective countries. I gave him a lowdown on desi rock of which he had no clue about. But I was pleasantly shocked to learn about China's thrashing punk rock scene - Girl Kill Girl, Hedgehog, Demerit, Queen Sea Big Shark, PK 14... - from Fan. "Is it tough to have a punk scene in..." - and I fumbled for the right word not to sound impolite but couldn't find it - "...an authoritarian country like China?"
Fan, not someone who stands out as an ambassador for punk rock, explained that the punk scene was so small in China and confined to Beijing and Shanghai that the authorities couldn't be bothered. "Listen to Carsick Cars. They're really cool," said Fan. The only Chinese band I knew was the one that used to air on MTV in the early 90s, the ethnic-prog-rock-metal Tang Dynasty. (Fan had never heard of them.) I was still very skeptical when he handed me his iPod for me to ear-bud in, thinking that he was making me hear a Chinese air guitar band that sang about the glories of the past to let off some steam.
And then I heard the Carsick Cars' 'Rock'n'Roll hero'. (You can catch them playing the track on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IK0smACnTM.) The jangly start is part Joy Division, part Sonic Youth (who Carsick Cars have opened for in European gigs), which moves on to pure punk with a great pop hookline. The rawness mixed with the touch of acid in the next track I hear, 'Mogu Mogu', is so refreshing in these bland everyone-drones emo times (www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQKdN4kBC6Y&NR=1). By the time, I reach the head-nodding hypnotic beauty of 'Zhong nan hai', (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ3x-vhIXEY&NR=1) I look up to Fan and nod even as I mentally bow to him and his Shaolin-esque taste.
The rawness of Carsick Cars mixed with lead singer's Zhang Shouwang's throwaway vocals is a great turn-on and it's served on a platter in their 2007 eponymous debut album. In their 2009 album, You Can Listen, You Can Talk, they sound a bit more polished losing some of their sharpness. Tracks like the Jesus and Mary Chain-flavoured 'Invisible love' and the speed-rolling, karate-chopping title song, though, are knock-outs. Carsick Cars sing in Mandarin as well as in English. But I don't really care. They just sound so very punk and - this is what's got me scratching my chin again two months after I first heard them - free.
Before you hear Metallica...
I'm going to miss the Metallica concert in Delhi next week and that's a pity. But I must say I've had my nice against-the-grain moment courtesy arch enemy of James Hetfield and Boys, Dave Mustaine. We all know the old story of how the perpetually drunk Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica just before the biggest heavy metal act on the planet became the biggest heavy metal act on the planet. We also know how - unsuccessfully - Mustaine vowed to upstage Metallica by forming Megadeth.
Well, now we get to hear the horse's story from the horse's mouth in Mustaine: A Life in Metal (Harper, Rs. 476) I know reading is frowned upon by metal fans, but read this. It's the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll jingbang from Ground Zero, peppered with a sob and flash story. How an ex-junkie-alcoholic, who's gone into detox more times than he's thrown plectrums into the crowd remembers all the shit, I have no clue. And, as a bonus, you get to read about the Metallica early years. Kerrang!