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Comic book documenting Beijing underground music

Wire contributor Josh Feola and artist Krish Raghav share Hang On The Box chapter from their work-in-progress illustrated history spanning 20 years of Chinese alternative culture

The Wire’s China based contributor Josh Feola and artist Krish Raghav have opened the first chapter of their forthcoming comic book documenting 20 years of Beijing underground music from 1999–2019. Shared via the independent media platform RADII, it tells the story of China's female punk pioneers Hang On The Box and the impact they made on a heavily male dominated rock scene when they formed in 1998.

Excerpt from Hang On The Box

The Hang On The Box chapter is the only section the pair plan to share in advance of the publication of their complete project, which will cover everything from FM3’s Buddha Machine and The Wire’s other regular China correspondent Yan Jun’s long-running Waterland Kwanyin event series, to the weekly gig turned label Zoomin’ Night. The comic will also document larger topics such as the history of illicit ‘dakou’ cassettes being smuggled across ports in southeast China, the current wave of “boutique cassette and vinyl labels dotting the underground music scene”, mainland China’s connection with Taiwan and Hong Kong, and individual subcultures like hiphop, punk and techno.

“I lived in Beijing from 2009–18 and was involved in the underground music scene there in several capacities: musician, venue manager, promoter, festival organiser, label-runner,” explains Feola. “For the last six years I’ve worked primarily as a writer, though my approach to covering the scene I was a part of in Beijing was always less about music criticism and more about documentation. I’ve wanted to turn my near decade of experience in Beijing into a book for a while, but I kept coming back to the fact that there was no point in sitting down and writing a book-length block of text, because the hundreds of articles I’ve written on the subject over the years already constitute that.”

Feola first came across Raghav’s work via a comic the latter had drawn for GQ magazine. About the Beijing music scene, that comic featured a club called XP, which was managed by Feola. Working together with Raghav on their illustrated underground music history has been “invigorating”, he says, adding that much of his text for it was drawn from the interviews he has conducted over the last decade. “The visual format allows us to fit in so many more details and also draws in an entirely different audience than would be possible with a text-heavy article.

“The big picture for the book as a whole is telling the story of how the entire history of 20th century alternative music in ‘the West’ – from rock ’n’ roll and punk, to no wave and new wave, to hiphop cyphers and all-night raves – happened in Beijing over a single generation,” expands Feola. “While there are some parallels to times and places like 1970s Manchester or 80s Berlin (and some key figures from those periods like Blixa Bargeld and Mark Reeder will make cameos in our story as well), Beijing’s story is unique and we want to tell it as comprehensively as possible, based on our own direct experiences and research.”

A digital copy of Hang On The Box, including a bonus section not featured online, will be available from October. There are plans to publish limited edition prints next year, but the publication date of the full history has yet to be decided.

Hang On The Box featured in The Wire 246 August 2004 issue, which subscribers can read on Exact Editions.