There really isn't a better way to wind down after a very long Friday, at least if you're me, then with a documentary about Chinese punk music. Yes, really.
I went into Shaun Jefford's "Beijing Punk" expecting a blast of loud, fast fun, and that's exactly what it delivers, along with a little about to think about along the way. For a little background, Jefford explains at the outset that he took his camera to the Chinese capital in the year of the Olympics looking for an interesting story behind the big one, and finds his centered around the punk club D-22.
He loses a little focus in the beginning with kids who certainly look like punks, but only give him quizzical looks when he asks if they like punk music. Before it slips too far into mockery, though, he finds his groove by wisely focusing on three bands and their stories.
The first, and by far the most interesting (and often frightening) is Misandao, a Chinese skinhead band (let that sink in for a second before continuing), and its frontman Lei Jun. Rather than trying to explain just what a Chinese skinhead would be angry about, Jefford just lets Lei Jun and his bandmates show it as they swig cough syrup by the bottle and eventually talk about Hitler in chillingly neutral terms.
Less scary but more entertaining are Demerit and Hedgehog. The fun in learning about these two young bands is in seeing how the language of punk music is universal and how much it gets filtered through the unique state of trying to express it in a communist state.
The kids of Demerit delight in explaining that they don't have jobs because "working" in China means putting in 12-hour days, and as they show off their squalid living conditions and declare their absolutely filthy bathroom "punk," it's hard to argue with them. The trio Hedgehog is the most musically entertaining of the three groups (but then, I've always been a bit of a shoegazer when it comes to indie rock, and they are too), and it's a hoot to hear the two male members explain the appeal of having a female drummer (who, as almost all female drummers do , kicks all kinds of ass).
All in all, it's an interesting look at a scene that's still fresh and on the rise, and a world well worth visiting for an hour or so.