In the summer of 2005 I was in Beijing for John Coates’s 60th birthday conference. Mrs. Tom Scocca, then and now a Beijing expat, wrote me one afternoon and asked me if I wanted to go to a punk rock show.
I always want to go to a punk rock show!
I met Mrs. TS in the neighborhood of Beijing University. There was a record store next door; I managed gesturally to convey to the salesman that I wanted to buy some CDs, but to express any more exactly what I wanted was impossible, especially since I had no idea exactly what I wanted. The salesman solved the problem by holding up CDs, one by one, and identifying their English-language counterparts: “Chinese U2.” “Chinese The Cure.” “Chinese R.E.M.” Chinese R.E.M. sounded great, so I bought the PK 14 album thus identified: not at all like R.E.M., it turns out, but dreamy, loud, and worthwhile.
The punk rock show: a small audience, about half Chinese and half Western, watched a sequence of noisy indie rock acts. The best single moment was provided by the Angry Jerks, from Nanjing, who covered “You Think You’re A Man” with the appropriate fervency. (That is to say, a lot of fervency.) But the standout band was Carsick Cars, who opened with a buzzed-out cover of “Sunday Morning” that only gradually became recognizable — and then became unrecognizable again. They closed with a great, pounding shouty track, “Zhong Nan Hai.”
If you like that, there’s more Carsick Cars streaming here. These days they sound a little less noise, a little more like The Clean. Even better!