Countless bands have been booed offstage. But the very toughest of crowds are no match for XXYY—when the up-and-coming punk trio performs, they’re the ones who heckle the audience.
During a recent gig at Whales Bar in Kunshan, bassist Mike Bush tried to distract the room’s indifferent, mostly Chinese attendees from their dice games.
“I kept asking them ridiculous questions in English that they didn’t understand, and then tried to get them to agree. Like: ‘Excuse me sir, can I repeatedly slap your face and hug you? Yes?’ And he would politely nod. Then I would use Chinese and ask if someone’s brain was broken, and tell them to come up front to watch the music.”
His good-natured, albeit cheeky, ploy may have worked all too well. Eventually, the audience tried to match his mischievousness—two young ladies hopped onstage to rub birthday cake in his face and shove fake flowers down his pants. “It was strange, but hilarious,” he adds.
On Saturday, Bush, along with XXYY guitarist Mike Herd and drummer Jaret Shank, will release their debut album, PM250 at YYT (they precede that show with a smaller gig at Inferno tonight). Below, Herd and Bush talk about the inspirations for that new disc, the pitfalls of being in an expat band, and the quirky humor they use to connect with Chinese fans.
Your band formed in 2012, and you’ve been gigging steadily across town since then. Why did it take you so long to release your debut disc?
Herd: We decided to wait until we were all satisfied. We purged a bunch of other tracks because, in hindsight, they didn’t really reflect the style we were going for. Plus it (the slow pace) gave us time to also take some of the existing songs and revamp them a bit. We spent a fair bit of time also getting our pre production right, but it all paid off as we managed to lay all the tracks down within two full day sessions at 72 Studio.
Why call the album PM250?
Herd: It’s a play on words based on the apocalyptic air quality we were experiencing here a year ago, mixed with the Chinese slang er bai wu to mean an idiot. When we posted it initially on Weixin, we had a lot of people who genuinely found it funny.
Bush: Every time a Chinese person sees the album cover and notice the 二百五, they laugh and laugh. Our humor is one of the things that makes people interested.
Bush (L), Shank (M), Herd (R). Images courtesy of Rachel Gouk Photography
How does that sense of humor help you connect with Chinese audiences? The cultural divide must be tricky at times.
Herd: Yeah, but the audiences here are so enthusiastic. Our recent show in Huainan at Wooden House was crazy. All the students were jumping up and down like crazy and getting really into the tracks, and then physically dragging us off after the gig to take pictures and drink with us. It was mental. We’d never had a reaction like that before anywhere, and it will always stand out for me as an awesome and crazy show.
Several local publications have called XXYY one of the most prolific bands in town, noting that you play dozens of shows a year. Where does that drive and energy come from? Also, how do you keep things fresh with audiences after playing so often? Some attendees must see you very frequently.
Herd: We just really enjoy playing. I think with each show, you really get to see which songs work really well, and we try to vary the venues we play at, so as to avoid the same crowd coming each time. We also reach out to a variety of different bands who bring different people, so the audience does have a fair proportion of people seeing us for the first time. And we tend to just go with the flow and try and elicit banter from the crowd from our collectively limited Chinese.
Bush: I feel that every show is a bit different. We do banter with the audience quite a bit, sometimes even doing fake mid-show interviews with people in the crowd. Most of it is ridiculous BS, but it gets everyone involved and makes them laugh. We have quite a few fans that enjoy coming to most shows not only to listen to the music, but to watch the show. However, as Mike said, we play to many new audiences all the time. This is a big city with a revolving cast of expats, and 24 million or so locals. We will eventually play to all of them at this rate.
Who are your influences?
Herd: For me, I love The Wildhearts and Ginger, their frontman, is a terrific songwriter. I also love Joy Division and the Sex Pistols, and tend to lean more towards these sorts of styles when I’m coming up with a riff.
Bush: My favorite bands and musical inspirations are NOFX, Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, Alkaline Trio, Face to Face, and about a billion other punk bands.
What’s next for XXYY?
Bush: At the moment it’s hard to tell, but we are in the process of coming up with new songs and hope to bring another EP out early next year. Certainly more out of town shows will be booked. I really want to take the band to Xiangyang Lof Livehouse after the great things I’ve heard about there. But in the more immediate future, we will be preparing for our Halloween performance of Blink 182 at YYT on October 31.
XXYY will perform at Inferno (480 Yongjia Lu, inside the courtyard, near Yueyang Lu) tonight at 9:30 p.m. Then, they will release their new album at Yuyintang (851 Kaixuan Lu, by Yan’an Xi Lu, entrance behind the Metro Station) on September 13 at 9 p.m. Tickets for the latter are 40RMB, 60RMB with a CD.