Zhou Brain Failure
History of the band and in China¡¯s
Punk Rock Scene
By David O¡¯Dell (bassist)
The punk scene in China basically started in 1995, following the
end of the Heavy Metal period which lasted far too long. The year¡¯s
leading up to 1995 Chinese musicians who were familiar with blackmarket
cd¡¯s and tapes were exposed to American Grunge (essentially Nirvana),
and by extension became equally exposed to alternative music in
general. Like a slow wooden door creaking open, the Chinese government
was slowly allowing eyes to peek abroad, and Western culture to
seep in through the cracks. By 1995, Nirvana had become Asia¡¯s Led
Zeppelin, and almost the sole source of inspiration for hundreds
of underground bands.
Luckily, as with all trends, the grunge period came to an end,
and punk rock was being scoped out by major labels in the states
as the next big thing to package mainstream. In China, through the
blackmarket conduits, musicians got a taste of Green Day, Fugazi,
Sex Pistols, Ramones, Rancid, NOFX and even Blink 182. Finding American
underground music is basically impossible on the mainland, unless
someone personally brings it over, the most common method for buying
western alternative music is to find the nearest blackmarket pirate.
In 1995 two bands had formed in Beijing, the music epicenter of
China; ¡°Underbaby¡± and ¡°Catcher in the Rye¡±. These two bands both
had similar backgrounds: most members were local residents of Beijing,
most were influenced by late 70¡¯s, early 80¡¯s punk bands (Ramones,
Sex Pistols, The Clash, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, Dead Kennedy¡¯s
and several others). However, the bands had distinctly different
sounds. Underbaby was speed, energy, angst and catharsis; while
Catcher in the Rye were bubble gum, Styrofoam, Robert smith, and
accapella. Both were extremely influential to the next generation
rising out of the crowds that went to see these first punk shows.
That second generation of punk bands came about in 1997, as if
the hands of the first generation had reached into the mosh pit
and pulled out the second generation, the new musicians sprang into
action with later influences of the mid 80¡¯s and early 90¡¯s (fugazi,
operation ivy, nofx, misfits, bad brains, etc.). The second generation
had created a gap between the first generation. The new kids were
younger, a lot younger, most were only 16 or 17 years old; while
the first generation started music much later after their 20¡¯s.
This new group found comfort in the slacker ethos, found shelter
in hardcore punk-ska, found disdaine in their earlier local Chinese
The second generation brought about bands like ¡°Brain Failure (I)¡±,
¡°69¡±, ¡°Reflector¡±, ¡°Anarchy Boys¡±. These 4 bands were eventually
signed to Jing Wen records to record a one time, double-CD album,
which was raped by pirate sales and eventually profits buckled underneath
the initial overhead, and nothing ever happened after the release.
(a year and a half later the record label finally got enough money
to do a $500 music video for Brain Failure). 1997 to 1998 brought
about the Mohawk, the most pit, stage diving and the foreign press.
As of year 2000, Brain Failure has changed members into the current
lineup you hear now. The only remaining member, Xiao Rong (pronounce
Sh as in shutup, Ou as in ouch!, Rong as in wrong) has been the
driving force behind the bands sound, lyrics and direction. Other
members include Wang Jian (pronounced Wong Jeeyan) the lead guitarist
and backing vocals, Xu Lin (pronounced Shoo Leen) drummer extraordinaire,
and last but not least the narrator of this introduction David O¡¯Dell
(pronounced¡ ) Texas imported bassist.
The new members were culled from other bands such as the Chinese
¡°Azriel¡± and ¡°Cocktail¡±, both bands were influential to developing
a more mature punk sound and not so much labeled as developing the
punk fashion as the earlier bands did. All the members have been
doing music full time for about 4 years in and out of bands from
around China, finally solidifying into Brain Failure (II).
While other bands consider themselves house bands, bar bands and
the like, Brain Failure continues to strive for music development
in China, constantly rehearsing and bringing new songs into the
lineup. No other band in China right now is as active musically
as Brain Failure. Each month Brain Failure will pump out between
one to two new songs, which gives our song list quite a hefty range,
right now as of March 2001, we have around 25 songs. Other bands
have held the same 10 songs for over 3 years, and still continue
to get gigs (albeit at $10 per band); competition is a non sequitur
on the socialist mainland, especially in a place that doesn¡¯t promote
change or consider change a good thing.
To sum up Brain Failure, the easiest most understandable label would
be basic punk rock of the early 80¡¯s, with some punk-ska on a couple
of songs. In general, the band¡¯s concept, what defines it¡¯s music,
it¡¯s attitude, is basically ¡°city life¡± and all the ilks that come
with living in one of the world¡¯s most populated, most polluted
cities; Beijing (if you haven¡¯t been there, you have no idea what
it could possibly be like, consider that it¡¯s just a little bit
better than Calcutta India, which is the armpit of the Earth). We
relate ourselves to the early bands found in the New York or Washington
scene around the late 70¡¯s and early 80¡¯s. You could say what we
write is similar to Jello Biafra or Jonny Lydon, and the band¡¯s
following merits a comparison between the Dead Kennedy¡¯s and Sex
Pistols political and socially critical edge.
Brain Failure¡¯s goals are to be the first mainland punk band to
land a small record deal outside of China in the west (America,
Europe). We are currently planning on doing a tour in Japan for
summer of 2001 with Japan¡¯s No.2 punk band ¡°Sobut: Sons of Bitches
United and True¡±. We are not looking for a major label, although
the money would be great we¡¯re sure, but we¡¯re looking for a quick,
relaxed step into the foreign market, which is why we¡¯re trying
to give the smaller underground labels this opportunity to listen
to Brain Failure, and possibly sign us for a western distribution.
The label who signs Brain Failure can essentially become a conduit
for future mainland bands; low cost, good quality, high global demand.
The bands in mainland China are not looking for fame or fortune,
they simply want to get enough cash to sustain themselves. Going
to a western country to do a tour or perhaps a week of concerts
in a large city would be a life¡¯s dream for any Chinese band, especially
these guys. Brain Failure is willing to pay for plane tickets, if
a label can sponsor an album, book and promote shows, a place to
stay and some food.
Brain Failure Guitar Tabs:
Our songs are a revival of traditional, simple, direct , lean punk
chords, based on Ramones style, and influenced with some Operation
Ivy and Hardskinz.
1) Lick You Baby GCD
2) Fucking Disco DGA
3) You¡¯re gonna die CGF
Get the point¡
The original band started up in 1998, only to deteriorate to drugs
and slack, the members who left never did anything musical again
after punk¡¯s heyday in 1998 / 1999. Quite a shame actually, because
the original members were incredibly good musicians, they had enjoyed
doing nothing too much. The second influx of members happened in
September of 2000, after almost 1 year of no Brainfailure shows
or rehearsals, the new brain failure was back with new blood and
a new vision for Chinese punk rock.
So far Brain Failure has racked up 3 years of concerts, totaling
around 100 concerts in Beijing alone, with some other concerts in
other cities in china. We¡¯ve been lucky enough to have been interviewed
and published in over 10 different languages spanning 10 different
countries (the Congo as well). As of this writing, we¡¯ve been involved
and filmed in 15 separate documentaries from countries like France,
Australia, Germany, England, USA, Sweden, Italy¡ Newsweek, Time
Magazine, ABC, CNN, MTV, Channel V, all have documented Brain Failures
route to free the minds of China¡¯s youth.
However, as good as this sounds, having foreign press love you
as much as they love us, doesn¡¯t do anything for the band here on
the mainland. Most reporters take a bite out of our time, our energy,
and then just run and get their paychecks¡ in the meantime we don¡¯t
have enough money for rent or beer. so, we normally don¡¯t do interviews
and films anymore unless it¡¯s for a good cause (getting us a foreign
record deal), and we at least try to get a beer or a hamburger out
Brain Failure, if you look at it as a package, has a brand that
has sustained roaring, moshing crowds no matter what the venue or
what the ticket price, there is a loyal following of people who
believe in the band¡¯s vision and relate to the band¡¯s reason d¡¯etre.
Brain Failure is labeled as China¡¯s best punk band, and one of China¡¯s
best rock and roll bands of the new century.
What are we looking for?
PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: We want to sign to a foreign record label and
release an album with international distribution before year 2002.
SECONDARY DIRECTIVE: We would like to play a concert outside of
China, preferably fully-sponsored because the band members and the
whole society here cannot afford the cost of airplane tickets.
10 Benefits to signing Brain Failure:
1) first mainland Chinese rock and roll band to sign foreign label
2) strong existing media coverage in most western countries (USA,
UK, France, Italy, Germany)
3) 3 years experience in organizing and playing in concerts as headline
band and as primary warm up band for other foreign bands (we¡¯re
not little kids, we have solid experience)
4) extremely ¡°visual¡± band, powerful and energetic, knows the media
and knows timing, not just a concert, but a true performance.
5) Solid recording experience from previous mainland album and self-promotion
6) Brain Failure has a growing loyal following, however, this is
only on mainland china.
a) Band members in China don¡¯t require the huge expense of western
counterparts because social living standards are lower in mainland
china (sweat is cheap).
b) We know the utter definition of ¡°low-budget = no-budget¡±, only
bands in other 3rd world countries would understand.
c) We are interested in being the first and the best, not the richest
or the most famous.
8) High media impact as China becomes more focused in world¡¯s trade
and culture stage.
9) Signing Brain Failure will ensure that more good quality bands
from china can go through the prospective record label and get their
message to the West, while the record label gains good ground on
being the first Western label to ever distribute Chinese rock and
10) Remember what happened to Japanese bands in the 90¡¯s, the West
ate up their music like French fries! It¡¯s China¡¯s turn now to take
the torch and light up the future.
4 not so good benefits to signing brain failure:
1) Unstable music market = lack of money to experiment on Chinese
2) Piracy is rampant, and releasing a brain failure album in Asia
(the most likely market) would surely become pirated all over the
world¡¯s most populated countries within one month.
3) Western market may not like Chinese rock music because it¡¯s not
viewed as ¡°strange¡± enough.
4) The band is located in China, not an easy place to go to, and
not an easy place to get out of.