Interview: Yang Haisong of P.K.14

By , 2011年 1月 11日

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This is a guest contribution from Australian music writer Bob Blunt. Bob has been based in Beijing for more than 2 years. Prior to that he published Blunt: A Biased History of Australian Rock.

P.K.14 live in Texas (image courtesy Charles Saliba/Maybe Mars)

If 2010 on a local front seemed a quiet year for the P.K.14 camp with just 3-4 shows, then there sure was some momentum built abroad. The band very much became internationalists last year with welcomed invitations to two internationally renowned music festivals: South by Southwest in March in Texas USA, and the Melbourne Festival in Australia in October. As we all know, part of supposedly cutting your teeth on the global stage requires being hauled into a festival or two, alongside bands from all over the world, and if that means getting a chance to heat the boards for Low from the States, or The Drones from Australia, it’s an invitation to not shrug your shoulders at. I reflected about that and other stuff with the band’s front person Yang Haisong over a coffee recently.

Yang Haisong: It has been amazing for us to have a chance to travel to different parts of the world. Touring has become this new exciting thing and it is something we love doing. In the States our label manager Michael Pettis (Maybe Mars) has a great network of support and that has really helped us. We have done two tours there now and met many of our personal heroes – the guys from Fugazi and Sonic Youth were really helpful. In Australia we supported the Drones at the Forum Theatre, one of the most beautiful places we have ever played. We also met guys like Shaun from our support label Tenzenmen who does a great job for Chinese bands there. He ended up coming down from Sydney and staying with us for the whole week, which was a lot of fun. We just hung out on the blocks of Smith and Brunswick Street, and saw some great local bands like Eagle and the Worm, and of course The Drones.

P.K.14 was part of the 2010 “China Invasion Tour” of the US (image courtesy Charles Saliba/Maybe Mars)

Haisong is also a realist. He sees the band’s development overseas as purely embryonic, nothing more nothing less. P.K.14 may well have cut their teeth on the Beijing stage for over a decade now, but garnering an audience internationally is a completely different thing. He describes it like an education, a process of learning, and he doesn’t have any bold expectations, being thankful for what has happened, if anything.

Yang Haisong: These experiences mean that we can go to different places, play to different people and learn from them. For example, before we left for Australia we had a little about its history (bands like the Birthday Party, ACDC and Midnight Oil), but there was so much we didn’t know. Now we know more about it and we want to go back next time and do a tour of the country, not just Melbourne. I think now internationally for Chinese bands it’s a bit like what was happening in Japan in the 1990s, with the Boredoms, Shonen Knife, and later 5,6,7,8. People from other parts of the world are becoming more and more curious about China, our culture, and our bands. For us essentially all we want to do is to be real about what we are doing. Rock music is part of our culture here and now, and we can’t hide from that.

P.K.14 on the road (image courtesy Charles Saliba/Maybe Mars)

If you have been lucky enough to witness a P.K.14 show you will know what I mean by this realistic approach that the band has. Not only is it refreshing, but it’s an approach that also comes from “a pure organic” call it what you will- an ethos of music and attitude which reeks of passion, spirit and conviction. Equaled with that is longevity and appeal and for a band that started in Nanjing in the latter part of the 90s, just when post-punk was really emerging in China. These three ingredients seem to be working.

Hai Song: If you think about it, all those great bands of their time — Television, Gang of Four, and Fugazi — they all embraced something that wasn’t just necessarily music. We don’t want to just look down at our shoes when we are playing a show. It’s a performance and an audience expects more than that. I mean there’s a lot more to a gig than just what you play; it’s also about how you come across. It’s important that the whole band has some strength and conviction in what they are doing; an attitude, otherwise what’s the point?

Growing up in Nanjing, the old Chinese capital, Hai Song didn’t have the same kind of access to music that younger Chinese kids have now. As a kid he really had to scratch and scrape for whatever left-of-field music and news that he could find from other countries. This is not surprising given that rock and roll didn’t really come China’s way until after the 1970s.

Hai Song: We had to do our own homework. In the 1990s, for a while there we had to listen to cassettes of bands from overseas. We read about stuff in magazines and usually it was all word of mouth. The whole Nirvana wave filtered here 3-4 years later than most other countries, and Chinese kids became more aware. Now these kids can easily go on a laptop, click and google and away they go. I guess that’s what happens today. Whether that’s good or bad, for me it’s just different.

2011 promises to be an interesting year for P.K.14, with an album and a national tour in the pipeline. Haisong will also be doing some work on his side project Dear Eloise with his wife.

P.K.14 will play at Yugong Yishan this Friday 14th with the newly revamped Carsick Cars and Mr. Graceless in tow.

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