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Beijing Hardcore Band Struggle Session on Unique Punk Hybrids from China

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Formed barely over a year ago and bonded over innumerable beers drunk from shoes (long story), Beijing’s Struggle Session has wasted no time in cutting a rugged, blazing streak through China’s DIY punk community. The band is comprised of four misfits coming from punk, hardcore, and metal scenes in North America, Northern Africa, and Australia: Oliver Torres on vocals, Aaron Moniz on drums, Alfie Henshaw-Hill on bass, and 15-year Beijing scene veteran Nevin Domer on guitar. The unlikely amalgamation they’ve formed in Beijing must be attributed in part to the open attitude of the capital’s punk scene, and the still relatively anarchic frontier of 40+ cities in the country that are open for a band playing any kind of fast, loud, fun music to tour through.

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Dedicated to spreading their noise along roads less traveled, Struggle Session completed a 33-city tour of South America earlier this year, and are gearing up for an equally ambitious tour of the US, Mexico, Guatemala and Belize in early 2019. Ahead of that, we’re happy to premiere a track from their forthcoming EP (which also features a killer Los Crudos cover, and is out today via Beijing label Dying Art Productions), as well as to share some recommendations from the band members of some of the most interesting punk/hardcore/metal/whatever hybrids they’ve encountered across China:

 

RADII: You all come from outside China, but have been drawn to the punk/hardcore scene here thanks in part to the open and omnivorous attitude that musicians and fans here have towards this kind of music. Whereas in the US or Australia you have whole independently and barely overlapping scenes for sub-genres like street punk or grindcore, for example, it’s all kind of mixed together here. What alternative splices of genres have you found particularly interesting or energizing in China?

Nevin Domer (guitar): In general, a lot of [this kind of] music, as it came into China in the past, didn’t come with baggage. It was stuff that people were discovering through [illicitly smuggled] dakou CDs, and after about 2002 through the internet. But it was sound and image, void of the history behind it , so people latched on to the stuff that they liked purely based on how it sounded and how it looked, and threw together different weird combinations of stuff they could like, stuff that was completely different genres but for them kind of made sense.

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Nevin: There’s not really a [specific] band that comes to mind, but I guess Demerit is one good example. They mix early ‘80s metal, especially Iron Maiden-type licks, with street punk, and then later with more hardcore elements too. And the stuff they’re doing, especially when they play abroad in the West, people are kind of surprised because it does have the street punk elements to it, so they can play street punk shows, but it also has hardcore and ‘80s metal elements to it. That’s pretty different from what you would normally expect from that sort of band. So maybe that’s a good example of an interesting mashup that a band is doing here [in China].

Alfie Henshaw-Hill (bass): Or you could even talk about older stuff, [‘90s Wuhan punk band] Shitdog or [Shanghai band] Top Floor Circus.

Nevin: Top Floor Circus is another great example. Instead of mix it up inside one song itself, they just did a completely different style for each album. The first time I saw them they were on this massive GG Allin kick. I went with an older band I was in to play this festival in Hangzhou, my band played pretty early and I got wasted in the afternoon, passed out on this bench and woke up to Top Floor Circus playing; the singer was completely naked, running around rubbing his ass on people, and they were playing this amazing GG Allin hardcore punk-type stuff with local Shanghainese lyrics, which I didn’t understand at the time.

 

Nevin: Later when I started reading the lyrics and getting into it, it was pretty genius stuff — commentaries on the punk scene and pretty much everything happening around them. They later went on to play shows where they pretended they were a Filipino cover band, they played a show where they actually got circus performers to do magic tricks and juggling, and eventually even did a hip hop show, just drawing from everything around them and have biting commentary on the social conditions of Shanghai.

Aaron Moniz: I would like to shout out two bands real quick. When we’re talking about the absence of a history of scenes, I was enamored with [Beijing band] D-Crash when I first saw them because they are like… I don’t know, noise grind crossed with two bass players that just scream and end songs whenever they want to, and sound fantastic. And I loved that about them when I saw them.

And when I first saw Die! Chiwawa Die! [from Guangzhou] I thought, “Oh, these guys are nice, thank you for hosting a tour for us.” And then the more I saw them play and the more I listened to them, I realized it was… I don’t know, it was fucked up punk, it’s screaming, weird keyboard sounds on top of whatever kind of hardcore influences that they came from. I think a band like that in North America would be seen as something like, “Oh my god, what are their influences?” But here in China they’re like, “We just play what we want,” and I love that about them.

Oliver Torres (vocals): Yeah, they’re my favorite.

Nevin: They’re a band that’s definitely influenced quite a bit by hardcore, but then have songs like “We Will Never Be a Hardcore Band,” and kind of rail against the typical sound.

Oliver:  For me, seeing that there’s so much potential to start from a clean slate here, what I’m starting to see is that a lot of bands are into other kinds of music besides just what they play. So my biggest thing that I want to start to hear is bands taking influence from other styles of music. A band that surprises me is SMZB [from Wuhan], who have a history of being really respected within the Chinese scene because they’ve been playing for so long, and they’re one of those bands that’s super political, which is a really difficult thing to be in China. But also, they play, I don’t know — Irish punk, Celtic punk music, which is not what I think of when I think about political music.

Oliver: I think about crust or these sorts of bands that are doing stuff really DIY, but it’s cool that everyone has their own idea of what it can be. It’s really fresh, there’s so much potential in that everything can start fresh and clean. I can be in an acoustic trap band and add my take on what punk is. As long as there’s the potential for that, that’s really great.

Nevin: SMZB is a really good example of how the lack of history of the music scene here allows bands to completely remake themselves in whatever image they decide. While it seems like an odd choice, they went for it completely, with bagpipes and tin whistle and everything, which is pretty impressive for a band from the industrial city of Wuhan. in China, somehow that just doesn’t seem odd.

Cover photo: Struggle Session live at School Bar in Beijing

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Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.