Teenage wasteland

By Anton Berkovich (That's Shanghai)
Updated: 2007-07-06 09:47
Even if you're not a fan of punk rock music, it's hard not to admire P. K. 14. Indeed, the four-man Chinese punk band based in Beijing has been nominated for "Best Band" and "Best Rock Band" at past Chinese Music Media Awards. But better still, unlike their Cantopop counterparts, they're not afraid to make a statement. "Why take the easy way out and sing, 'I love you', or 'You're breaking my heart?'" says drummer Tan Tan "Mainstream is there for those who want it, but it doesn't speak to us.”

P. K. 14 (short for Public Kingdom for Teens) is part of a generation of musicians who came of age in the mid-nineties and have rejected the Teresa Teng-inspired sappiness which dominated the music of that era. That said, they don't copy their American and British punk counterparts. Put another way, P. K. 14 and like-minded bands aren't street corner anarchists. Rather, they voice a simple desire to do their own thing, and connect with their audience. "It's important to be small and see issues that are immediate and local," says Tan.

The band reaches out to its demographic with songs such as "Religion Lost" and "Speaking Wounds". "I think it comes back to the fact that we like singing about things around us and talking about the little local occurrences," says Tan, commenting on the band's decision to sing in Chinese.

Which may not sound usual until one considers the number of bands that have switched to English. "You lose a lot of meaning when you sing in a second language," says Abe Deyo, P. K. 14's promoter. "I really like the fact that they still sing in Chinese. It adds to their authenticity and contributes to the truthfulness to their lyrics. That's what makes them stand out."

Though their classification as punk is the subject of much debate, the band accepts it for the sake of convenience. They waste little time worrying about what to call themselves and focus on what they do best, playing music. Says Tan, "We don't force anything. Of course, we have strong blueprints for some of our sounds, but others are just a natural fit."

Quite so. Their sound is an easy melange of garage music, with hints of Gang of Four, Queens of the Stone Age and Wire, cut in with catchy, funky bass lines and Nirvana-like grunge guitar riffs. But the energetic vocals brought to the stage by front man Yang Haisong is really what sets P. K. 14 apart.

It’s a sound that they plan to keep, as the band objects to the idea of a record label dictating its musical direction. Still, they're not fazed by the lack of industry big bucks. "If you don't make money," says Yang, "you're useless. You have no worth in this society."

Over the past ten years the band has seen members come and go; in fact, Yang is the only remaining member of the 1997 line up. But changing membership hasn't held them back. P. K. 14 has toured both China and Europe extensively, has been nominated for several awards, released three albums and one single. And they still maintain the energy of a pack of teenagers, skipping school to smoke up and write songs in their garage. That is as long as things keep moving forward and they don't lose momentum.

P. K. 14
Location: Eno, 139-23 Changle Lu, by Ruijin Lu
Time: 4pm, July 7
Ticket: free entrance and free drinks
Tel: 021-6386 0120

P. K. 14
Location: Yuyintang, 4F Bld. B, Door 10, The New Factories, (Tonglefang) 28 Yuyao Lu,by Xikang Lu
Time: 9pm, July 7
Ticket: RMB 30, RMB 25 for members
Tel: 021-64360072