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Wuhan Musician Xu Bo: “I’m Still Optimistic About the Future”

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After almost two months under lockdown, the people of Hubei province in China are finally starting to see restrictions on their movements ease. In the provincial capital of Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first discovered, many of the draconian measures enacted in the face of the novel coronavirus remain in place, but the end does appear to be in sight for beleaguered residents.

One such resident is Xu Bo, leader of math-rock quartet Chinese Football, one of Wuhan’s — and China’s — finest bands. “To begin with I felt very anxious, but now as the situation improves so does my mood,” he tells us. “I’ve been staying at home and basically haven’t been out. Every day I’ve just been reading the news online, then playing guitar and writing songs. I’ve been eating my mum’s cooking every day. And I watched the first two seasons of Westworld from start to finish.”

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Xu had also initially sought catharsis in playing “a song a day” in a series of videos posted to social media. “It started out as a way to record my daily life at home, while also sending a message to others online,” he says, adding that the project has given his confinement some structure. “Because of this initiative, my life has become quite disciplined — every day I wake up and get out of bed and I start thinking about which song I’m going to sing today.”

Yet as time has worn on, with the isolation lasting perhaps longer than many had anticipated, it’s clear Xu is beginning to tire of the project. “I don’t want to feel forced to do it,” he says. The posts — a mixture of Chinese Football songs and covers — have become less frequent.

Everyone’s mood is kind of the same, just staying at home,” he says of friends and other artists in the city. “Because Wuhan has been at the center of all this, people here are maybe a bit more anxious — everyone’s been sleeping really late. When I’ve not been able to sleep lately, I’ve been listening to Yo La Tengo’s Summer Sun album on loop; it relaxes me and allows me to drift into dreams.”

Formed in 2011, Chinese Football started life with a similar sound to emo act American Football, the inspiration behind their name and a band they played three shows with in China last year, something that Xu describes as “like a dream come true.” Their sound has progressed and become more distinct over the years however, with the four-piece building a dedicated following through their interweaving of tight, punchy math- and indie-rock hooks.

 

Nearly two months at home has at least allowed Xu the space to write, though events have inevitably affected the style of music he’s been making. “Because I’ve had a lot of time and felt an impulse to express myself, I’ve been writing a few new songs,” he says. “In the last few years the way Chinese Football have written our songs has been me and the guitarist [Wang Bo] writing separately, then finishing things together when we practice, so this process hasn’t been affected much. The situation has impacted my writing though — because I need relaxing music to ease my anxiety, I’ve not really been making much ‘tense’ music.”

The band have a new record on the way, the third in a trilogy of EPs, though it now seems unlikely to see the light of day until the summer. Having been forced to postpone a series of planned performances in Europe in May, Chinese Football are hopeful of rearranging the shows for later in the year and tying the new EP’s release to those dates.

In the meantime, Xu has participated in the trend for livestreamed gigs that has swept the Chinese internet amid the coronavirus outbreak — albeit without a great deal of enthusiasm. “It’s been something to try,” he says, “but while there have been some aspects of it I’ve enjoyed, I definitely prefer offline gigs and interactions.” 

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As a user, Xu says he’s “not watched a single one” of the various livestreamed label shows or online festivals that have emerged to ease the boredom felt by millions of people across the country cooped up in their homes. He does backtrack slightly to say he enjoyed Taiwanese band No Party for Cao Dong’s recent spin on the genre that combined a livestreamed performance with a “choose your own adventure” format:

“I don’t particularly like things that once you’ve watched them there’s no lasting impression in your mind,” says Xu. “But No Party for Cao Dong’s livestream on YouTube […] was really interesting and changed my anti-livestreaming bias. Online shows or livestreaming perhaps have a lot of novel forms to be explored.”

It seems likely that there’ll still be ample opportunity for artists to explore such opportunities. In Shanghai this past weekend, a number of clubs reopened their doors with relatively lowkey events, but most live music venues across the country still remain closed. Wuhan’s livehouses will likely be some of the last in China to reopen.

“The novel coronavirus epidemic will undoubtedly hit the music industry, but I’m still optimistic about the future,” says Xu. “Maybe this is just a new beginning.”

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Right now though, he’s mostly focused on when the end of Wuhan’s city-wide quarantine will finally arrive. So what’s the first thing he’ll do once he can leave his home again? “I can’t wait to go and eat at all the restaurants I want to visit.”

Find Chinese Football on Bandcamp here, including a host of recently re-released versions of their records. Follow them on Twitter for updates on their European tour dates and more.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.