Interview with Xiao Zhong of Pairs

By , 2011年 9月 6日

Anyone following the Chinese underground music scene at any level has undoubtedly by now come across the ubiquitous and hyper-active Pairs. Despite what Pairs’s behind-the-drums-frontman Xiao Zhong describes as a “when it rains it pours” approach to media coverage, it seems to be monsoon season recently with a flurry of interviews coming out from This Town Touring, Shanghai 24/7 and American podcaster DJ EZ Eargazm.

‘Round about the time Pairs last paid Beijing a visit (and played a pbr show @ What Bar) they recorded a new LP with Yang Haisong in 4.5 hours which is soon to be released as Summer Sweat. The LP will be self-released at Yuyintang in Shanghai on September 30th and can be previewed at a laser tag party beforehand (awesome).

The duo will be returning to Beijing at the beginning of October for a trio of shows on 10/1 (Hot Cat Club), 10/2 (D-22) and 10/3 (Mao Livehouse) — which will be a good opportunity for you to BUY THEIR STUFF. As Shanghai’s DIY vet Andy Best says: Pairs are awesome and have consistently made their stuff available dirt cheap or completely free. So if you claim to support the scene come to this show and come ready to show some cash-love. They deserve it.

Without any further ado, below read some characteristically candid thoughts from Xiao Zhong on Pairs’s DIY modus operandi, the Shanghai scene, the Beijing ego, et al:

pangbianr: You’ve done a shitload of interviews! One thing you talk about in some of them [including this one by Shanghai 24/7] is Pairs’s (/your) totally open attitude to answering any questions thrown at you but it also seems you do a lot of work to get yourself out there in the first place. What is your “media strategy”, for lack of a better phrase? I.e., what do you do to raise interest in Pairs that other bands might learn from when promoting their own work?

Pairs: We don’t really have a strategy, or if we do it’s not a good one, because our shit isn’t timed out well enough. Rather than maintain a steady interest in what we’re doing, I’ll just constantly bombard bloggers and magazines with what we’re up to and get the ‘when it rains, it pours’ effect. So it can get to the overkill stage pretty quick. But my theory is that these magazines and blogs want to remain up to date, relevant, meet their deadlines but they really don’t have much to write about aside from this white DJ is coming and this restaurant is pricy but worth it kinda spiel; so I am always tugging at their sleeve like ‘look what we’ve done, happy to give you an interview or something cool for your article’ etc. Reduce the work for them or something. You have to be a jerk and hassle people. I know a lot of bands are afraid to email bloggers for fear of pestering them; fuck that, pester away. To get anything done, you have to hassle, pester, send follow up emails. This isn’t really limited in trying to turn heads to your shitty band either.

pbr: Another thing you’ve talked about [in an interview by This Town Touring], when comparing Beijing to other parts of China, is the “rockstar ego” Beijing bands tend to adopt. I agree but I don’t have much to compare my impressions with. Can you offer some examples (as specific or abstract as you want) of key differences in attitude or personality between Beijing and Shanghai musicians that you’ve noticed?

Pairs: We did a Maybe Mars showcase in Shanghai with a few bands and after our set F and I were out in the crowd watching the other bands, talking to people, hanging out with new friends, slinking around, talking about the royal wedding and having a great time, then I went backstage to get a beer and the other bands were all sitting in the room, not talking, staring at each other, kind of mumbling. It was a downer. If it was a house party, you would have left straight away, so I did. I grabbed some beers for some friends, Robin Hood, and then went back out to where people were having fun and enjoying themselves.I don’t know why bands would hang around such a boring room when there was a bunch of activity on the other side of the door.

So for me, it raises the question: why would people hang out in a place that is super boring as opposed to somewhere with real energy and fun, if they didn’t think it was much cooler to sit backstage as that’s what rockstars do.

I’m all for the fact this makes me seem like some righteous, Limp Bizkit ‘My Way’ kind of jerk. But I reckon if you saw that backstage area that night, you’d have the same impression.

Generally with Shanghai bands, I’ve never run in to any major egos or no-one is really revered. Where as I’ve heard people talk about Beijing musicians like they’re so far above them and how much they love them, but then those bands hide back stage, wear sunglasses on stage, blow smoke at the audience, barely say a word and do anything they can to avoid any real connection with the people there to see them.

It’s kind of like inviting everyone to your awesome house party and spending the entire night in your room sucking your own dick. Maybe I’m just jealous that I can’t suck my own dick.

pbr: The Shanghai scene seems much more DIY to me, from labels like QU records and Miniless, to self-publishing music writers like Andy Best, Jake Newby and Morgan Short, to people putting on interesting shows like you and the Trash-a-Go-Go crew. The scene in general also seems more expat-oriented than Beijing’s, with many of the bigger bands coming out of Shanghai including one or more laowai. Do you also have this impression? Do you think this is attributable to some core difference between the two cities?

Pairs: I see Beijing as pretty DIY, well a much more proactive DIY scene with Pangbianr, Michael/Luke starting zines and constantly putting on shows, Zoomin’ Nights, BeijingDaze and Beijing Gig Guide doing consistent blogs and throwing their own parties.

But you’re right in saying there is a very heavy expat scene in Shanghai. Not sure what the go is there. There are locals playing in bands here, no shit yeah, but it’s hard to get them involved and/or organised in some shows here. Whether it is an issue of communication, them struggling with some work life balance thing, a fiscal thing, public transport drying up before the show starts or motivation. I’m not really sure. We’ve offered Chinese bands to join us on stage to play with us, get in touch for booker details/contacts etc. but the only people that take that offer up are foreigners.

pbr: Were you in any bands in Australia? Did your experiences at home influence your approach to Pairs, in terms of either songwriting or promotion?

Pairs: I was in quite a few bands in Australia, and yeah we did a lot of similar stuff. Like hand fold and hand stick 500 7” covers with cut outs from magazines as the cover art so each one was different. Took a bunch of times. Playing heaps of shows, touring, constant emailing and hassling people. I brought a lot of that stuff to Pairs. By stuff I mean just that experience of what worked and didn’t work.

pbr: How did you get the name Xiao Zhong? How did F get the name “F”?

Pairs: F was called F before I met her. I have no idea what the go there is. I know her English teacher in middle school or something asked her what her name was and she replied ‘F’ and I think she just rolled with it.

I used to tell people my name was Medium French Fries as it sounds nice in Chinese, then it made sense for it to be Xiao Zhong. I only use that name so no idiots or future employers can google my name and so my moronic answers don’t come back and haunt me. Ghost of Christmas past.

pbr: In another interview you mentioned some cool bands you’ve come across in places like Xi’an and Wuhan. Sorry to rehash but can you namecheck some bands across China that you think are worth checking out?

Pairs: Small Train Heart, Belly Mountain, Colourful Z Bra, Your boyfriend sucks, Dada Baba, Laura Palmer, Paris and Doc Talk Shock.

pbr: What is your day job? How do you balance this with Pairs/music?

Pairs: I work at an International School in Shanghai. It’s not that hard to balance work and music/band; it’s much harder to balance work, band and personal life. Making sure my girlfriend isn’t feeling neglected, or I give myself enough time to just take a break so my body doesn’t sail away. I usually leave work on Friday, go to the airport, take my laptop and work on the plane, train or whatever and use that time to get stuff done. But I guess that time away from the house and leaving my girlfriend to handle stuff kind of sucks, so I need to start getting my shit together on that end, take some cooking classes and that kind of mess.

Pairs will perform in Beijing at Hot Cat Club on October 1st, D-22 on October 2nd and Mao Livehouse on October 3rd. More info on these shows coming soon.

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