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Yan Jun

Yan Jun: Drugs, Violence, Porno, Mafia, Anti-government, Anti-religion and Acid Mothers Temple

May 2015

"I’m in hell now. Welcome to hell if you love it too." Yan Jun reports from the Land Of The Dragon on Makoto Kawabata, the Chinese Bureau of Culture and doomsday cults

Many concerned friends email and ask me: “Hi! What’s happening in China now? Are you OK? Can you still set up a gig for me there?”

I reply: “No. There are no more gigs in the Land Of The Dragon. Don’t bother me anymore. I’m not okay under the watchful eye of CCTV. I’m in hell now. Welcome to hell if you love it too.”

No, I’m just kidding you. There are still some gigs after Makoto Kawabata got in trouble here. The story started when his neo-psychedelic rock group Acid Mothers Temple were banned from visiting Beijing and Shanghai in 2014. Some said it happened because of a secret letter of accusation. That’s possible. There must be some over-sensitive responsible citizen who heard a rumour that Kawabata looks like Shoko Asahara, the leader of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. Yes, some people still do think that long hair is evil.

Then we forgot about it and moved on. Makoto Kawabata decided to tour in China with KK Null in March 2015. But our secret accuser hadn't forgotten. He faxed more letters to some local Bureau of Culture: “Dear Leader! Please allow me to represent parents from all over the nation when I report to you an invasion by a vicious Japanese performance group who are involved in drug taking, violence, porno, mafia, anti-government and anti-religion activities… Stop them! Save our kids!”

It was during one of the many sensitive periods, the week of The Two Sessions during which there was supposed to be no accidents, no protests, no noises, no UFOs, no bad news – no nothing. I think it’s 100 per cent the same in most Western countries. They all make their air conditioners blow cold as hell so as to freeze human nature in the hope of making a secure society. I wasn’t surprised that Kawabata and KK Null were banned again, but after that week things went crazy. More gigs by foreign musicians were cancelled. Some gigs by Chinese groups also got cancelled seemingly because they have too many fans. Some outdoor commercial festivals were called off as well (events in China with more than 600 visitors need special permission for security reasons). 12 officers from five different bureaus (culture, industrial and commercial, police, fire control and who knows else) went to XP Club, one of the stops on the Kawabata-KK Null tour and the home of Beijing experimental music. After these officers pointed out many problems, the club luckily only got a notice to shut down for two weeks and a warning to host “no more foreigner musicians”. The unlucky Xi’an club Aperture, also on Kawabata and KK Null’s unlucky tour, had a seal put on their mixer after a secret investigation. Zajia Lab, a venue for all kinds of interesting events in Beijing, received a call from police to remind them before a gig that they can’t host any foreigner musicians unless they have artist visas. Somehow the Aperture managed to come alive again later. But Zajia had to finally close because a land developer wanted it empty. For sure the developer cares for neither foreign nor Chinese art so long as it remains less valuable than a shopping mall. Now I hear that XP will end soon as well.

The Bureau of Culture employs many young officers. They don’t look ugly, they know what hardcore punk is and they follow gig organisers on social media. A month ago, after collaborating with Miji festival and Porous festival in Beijing and Hangzhou, Katsuyoshi Kou and the nomadic Multiple Tap Festival travelled to Shanghai. The venue there was an art museum and the curator was sure that because it was an art space they would be free to put on whatever music they wanted as a concession by the Bureau officers. So they put word out on social media. But then a call from the authorities shut them down two days before the concert. I guess the officer is quite proud of it: It’s not colonial times here any more. All power belongs to the nation! And the nation is on social media!

I don’t think it was Acid Mothers Temple’s fault that their tour was cancelled. Nor was it the informer’s fault. It has been different here since the 2008 Olympic games. China is proud of its own history, money and everything. So why still follow the foreigners after we’ve got rich? Wang Fan, one of the earliest experimental musicians in China, once told students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: “Chinese music is the main dish, Western music is just the flavouring.” Whatever he actually meant by that, different music is now part of the globalised mainstream. But there’s still this turn inwards in China. More people have picked up on the big boss saying “reduce your influences from foreigner culture and enhance the national one”, as a way of running from this time and returning to an ancient one. But they are forgetting that things like Buddhism, Marxism, chili peppers and most of today’s Chinese musical instruments all came from foreigners, not to mention their favourite multimedia screens for local operas and breast building technology for song and dance shows dishing out national praise.

There are many similar stories in different cultures of accusations like those made against Acid Mothers Temple. One of the latest examples was Mothers Against Noise in 2006 which was initiated by someone calling him or herself M Smith. Some great noise artists, such as Emil Beaulieau and Merzbow, along with rock and pop groups like Sonic Youth and Radiohead, were considered by M Smith to be embracing rebellion, violence, nihilism, anti-religion, anti-authority and cult-like organisations, and more. Unfortunately this interesting internet movement recently closed their website, only leaving us with some funny discussions in a Yahoo group. Also in 2006, C-drik from Syrphe made a compilation in response to this broad censoring. He didn’t appeal to ideas about how healthy noise is or try and make claims about the value of tolerance (as AC/DC did when they claimed that “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”). C-drik simply shared 23 tracks of noisy music for mothers (and daughters, and everyone) to download for free. Then he thanked people who were interested in all forms of good music.

There is a CD (originally a series of LPs) that shows how doomsday cults hate modern Western music as well: Church Universal And Triumphant, Inc featuring Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s Sounds Of American Doomsday Cults.

US cult leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet moved her followers into bomb shelters as preparation for nuclear war; she was also an amazing vocalist. Through songs such as “Invocation For Judgement Against And Destruction Of Rock Music”, Prophet used prayer to challenge rock ’n’ roll, something she saw as a force against freedom across the world. In one incantation she sang out rock group names one at a time in a high pitch at high speed. It reminds me of some avant garde voice artists or sound poets like Jaap Blonk. Perhaps this feeling is correct: avant garde is indeed a kind of ritual, but one for escaping from bomb shelters.

Most people don’t like nuclear war. Some people listen to new age music and Chinese traditional music only because it functions as a smooth, soft shelter. I’m not sure if there is a great weapon from Chinese history (or Indian, American or whatever you prefer) that we can use against noise, crises, drugs and bombs, except maybe the Great Firewall or the mothers who rally against noise and anything else they don’t like. I have no idea but I’m sure that if a bomb is dropped, I won’t be one of the nationally protected elite. Chinese rock group The Tongue have a song with these lyrics: “Homeland, homeland please save me/Mother, mother please forgive me”. Yes, we need a dark, warm, soft womb to save us. But forgive what? “Forgive me for being an unruly rebel and loving the freedom of life”? The latter is a lyric from a song by a Hong Kong commercial pop group called Beyond, sung by the 2014 Umbrella Movement protesters. In a modern – indeed, Western influenced – style, they challenged their mother’s authority, and at same time they were as innocent as rock ’n’ roll kids. But they definitely didn’t like noise and weren’t noisy at all. But anyways, noise doesn’t mean left nor right, black nor white. There is no notion of justice or evil in noise.

Once I talked to a Japanese musician about those accusations made towards Makoto Kawabata: drugs, porno, violence etc. She defended him with an amusing post-modern smile: “Yes he is guilty, sort of.” But I think she would agree with what the Mothers Against Noise uncyclopedia page says: make more noise by making people laugh. Then I think back: do we need a kind of purified rock ’n’ roll which is high but under control, sexy but never sweaty, alive but immortal? Can this even exist!?

Comments

You guys should start doing some Maoist industrial neofolk, you would probably get state funding and national honor...

Wow, what an harassment! Keep it UP! Don't let them bring you down!

This is awesome. My band Sontag Shogun was in China in March and meant to play both XP Club and Zajia Lab, but our shows were cancelled (including two others) because of this incident. It's still so strange to me — but this starts to clarify a little bit.

Sorry for my friends Kawabata & Null, and everyone else. I've wanted to play some shows in China for years, but it always seems things make it more difficult than it should be. Good luck with it!

#MAN fighting. Thats the spirit!

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