With all that’s happening in the world at the moment, it can seem like an epoch since the initial outbreak and subsequent citywide lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei province. For the people of the city, however, it’s a piece of history that will linger long in the collective memory.
In the midst of the air of fear and worry that accompanied the epidemic, creativity maintained, as the city’s musicians and artists used the outbreak as inspiration for new work. Groups like Hualun put together a new release and dropped songs on international collaborative albums, while Xu Bo, the vocalist and leader of emo rock band Chinese Football, stayed busy by posting one song per day on his social media.
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Perhaps most directly related to the outbreak, newish synth rock group Hardcore Raver in Tears conceived and crafted their debut EP, WUHAN2020, during the epidemic, releasing it on June 11. Written and recorded over the course of three months, the four tracks reflect upon one of the most momentous times in the city’s history.
The first single released on the EP, “WUHAN2020,” was accompanied by two music videos, one of which captured aerial shots of the central city’s most famous spots, while Lu Yan sings, “Virus in Wuhan, we all survived.” The track is a far cry from the group’s previous songs, sounding like a stark take on the chamber rock genre, with guitar lines that invoke baroque harpsichord notes.
It’s an homage to Wuhan, but also a reflection on the quarantine period. As Lu tells us, “The whole quarantine period was like a cyber bubble to us, it was a very strange and alienated time. Those tracks just naturally sounded this way.”
While Lu waited out the lockdown in Beijing, the band’s other two members, programmer Huang Cheng and guitarist Tan Chao were in Wuhan. During the epidemic, although the trio found themselves apart, stories coming out of the storied musical city inspired them to write music about their hometown.
“All the members grew up with the water from the Yangtze river in our bellies. It’s all very natural,” explains Lu. “Just like that The Clash song: ‘I live by the river!'”
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Wuhan’s musical legacy goes deep, and Lu’s other band, AV Okubo are probably one of the best-known musical forces from the city, regularly listed alongside groups such as SMZB and Chinese Football when recounting Wuhan’s musical legacy. While AV Okubo are perhaps best-known for their synth-heavy stylings and dance-rock sensibilities, Hardcore Raver in Tears goes even further in that direction.
This new project features chunky guitar lines, but also the inclusion of a programmer, while Lu says that the songwriting starts with the synths before guitars are added, the opposite of the process for AV Okubo.
Hardcore Raver in Tears guitarist Tan Chao
Before WUHAN2020, the group had already dropped three songs, each of which conveys Lu’s sharp sense of humor, something that can also be seen in the English name of the band, Hardcore Raver in Tears.
The moniker is taken from a hilarious viral YouTube video. As Lu tells us, “We saw a video on YouTube, in which there were two guys somewhere in eastern Europe, doing a dance battle to the music of 160-180 BPM. The one who danced better lost the game and started crying. That video is titled ‘Hardcore Raver in Tears after Losing an Epic Dance Battle.’ It’s quite funny, it’s quite us.”
Meanwhile, the group’s Chinese name, 白纸扇 translates to “White Paper Fan,” a rank in the Chinese Triads, a group based both in China and around the world, but best-known for its bases in semi-autonomous regions Macau and Hong Kong. This Cantonese connection crept into at least one of the band’s songs released in 2019.
Hardcore Raver in Tears vocalist Lu Yan
“Dongguan” is about one of the largest cities in Guangdong, a city now perhaps best-known for its organized crime in the ’00s, which saw it transformed into an area of vice. “Dongguan is a very important city in Guangdong that plays a huge part in manufacturing industry,” says Lu. “The song itself features two languages, disrupting the connection between time and space to offer an ’80s Cantopop feeling — only we added more of our own dark narrative into the tune.”
This playful nature, of blending strange stories with excellent music, is something that holds over from Lu Yan’s time in AV Okubo. On another of their singles from 2019, “Take Her to Wanda Plaza,” the group critique shopping mall culture in China, under the guise of a story about a zombie apocalypse.
Hardcore Raver in Tears programmer Huang Zheng
With all of that being said, the new record is a more somber affair with more serious lyrics, something that Lu says comes more naturally to the group. “For us people born in China in the 1980s, we have a somewhat Soviet temperament,” he says. “Not until recently have I found out that it is actually harder to maintain something tongue-in-cheek.“
While the meaning of the EP’s lead single is fairly obvious, other tracks on the release, such as “12:12” are a bit more obscure, with Lu singing, “I smelled something different than I saw, I saw something different than I smelled,” with a kind of philosophical wonder.
Elsewhere, “方舟二号” or “Ark No. 2” as it translates to in English, is a reference to the “ark-like” makeshift hospitals that were established in Wuhan to hold patients during the outbreak.
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As of now it remains to be seen whether the group will take the new EP on tour. They’ve planned a livestream this month which Lu will be directing, but beyond that their slate is clean.
“After we’ve been through this pandemic, I don’t think either a tour or the new record matters,” he says. “World peace is the most important thing.”
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