Our Global Hit is about a Chinese band that stands out to both Chinese and foreign audiences. The band is called ?P.K. 14,′ and its music has been called post-punk. But its lead singer says he's been influenced by everything from Bob Dylan and Motown to the Beat Generation and French existentialism. Mary Kay Magistad reports from Beijing.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. A lot of pop bands have emerged in China over the past few years. Their music covers a wide range. There's punk, rock, metal, folk, hiphop, you name it. Our Global Hit today is about one Chinese band that stands out, to both Chinese and foreign audiences. The band is called PK14. Its music has been called post-punk. But its lead singer says his influences are broader than that. He lists everything from Bob Dylan and Motown, to the Beat Generation and French existentialism. That gives fans obviously a lot to connect with as The World's Mary Kay Magistad reports from Beijing.
MARY KAY MAGISTAD: On a steamy summer evening on a weekday night, young Chinese in tight black jeans and black t-shirts smoke cigarettes, drink beer and hang out on the sidewalk, outside a gritty nightclub called D22. They're waiting for their favorite band to take the stage. Gang Qing, a 20-year-old political science student, says PK14 is his favorite band. He uses a Chinese expletive that means ?awesome,? then shrugs and says, ?they're too good to describe.? He likes their raw rebellion, their biting take on social issues. His friend, Liu Sisi likes the lead singer.
LIU SISI: He's not only just a singer, but also a poet.
MAGISTAD: The singer, Yang Haisong, cultivates that image, a sort of angst-ridden Beat Generation philosopher turned post-punk-rocker. And when he takes the mic, he has the packed room in his palm. Yang says one of the themes in his songs, and the band's music, is rebellion.
YANG HAISONG: But rebellion for me is inside, it is not a surface. So you are against the system, refuse the society, refuse the mainstream, that's rebellion. It's not the way you talk, the way you walk, the way you dress.
MAGISTAD: But refusing what in society? Or what in the mainstream?
HAISONG: You can understand it, all the people can make money, earn more money to buy a big and bigger house, bigger car, and have a wife, you have a middle class life. I can understand people like this consumerism, but for me, it's not for me.
MAGISTAD: PK14's creative arc over the past 13 years has followed the rise in China of a consumer economy and a growing middle class. Yang's the only original band member left, others departed because of homesickness, serious illness or, in one case, a sex change. But one thing that's remained constant, Yang says, is creative inspiration from China's dizzying changes.
HAISONG: When you growing up everything's disappeared. A lot of things disappeared, your friends disappeared, your blocks disappeared, but at the same time it's very, very exciting for the artist. I guess it's the best age for the artists. The best time.
MAGISTAD: But all this change that's great for artists, Yang says, is not so great for ordinary people.
HAISONG: Now, it's very, very bad to the neighborhood, for everybody. The changing is making people losing their roots. Everything's changing and make them so very confused. Everything's like chaos. You don't know all the new policy. Every month you get a new policy about cars, about buying house, about the bank, even about the food. It's confused. It's very confused.
MAGISTAD: That's reflected in the dark-edged lyrics of Yang's songs. In this one, Northern Spiritual, Yang sings, ?There is a voyage that ended too fast. You thought it was your future. Your foot prints are still on the pavement. People who won are in control of everything.? And later, ?Legend will find its own destination. The light rays that have shone on you will die out eventually. Despair. Birds are leaving. Truth is covered. Something is about to collapse.? Don't come to a PK14 concert expecting to feel uplifted, unless you get uplifted pogoing to songs about blood, fear, loss and the cruel dark night. And, of course, rebellion. This song, Red Train, starts, ?The youth with their immaculate faces, get on the Red Train, perplexed.? In China, you don't have to dig too deep to find the metaphor. But PK14 steers clear of being overtly political, and Yang says the band has only been told once not to perform one of its songs in public. He says he feels less limited by China's censors than by how hard it is to make a living as a musician in China. He doesn't. He needs his day job as a music producer for other bands to pay the bills. And then, he says, there's the pressure from his parents. Even now, when he's almost 37 years old, they haven't quite forgiven him for dropping out of engineering school years ago to take up music.
HAISONG: Because my parents had hoped, I think all the parents in China hope their kids to do a serious job, not to play music. Cannot make a living, you know. That's where the biggest pressure come from.
MAGISTAD: But are your parents not aware that you're the leader of one of the most respected rock bands in China?
HAISONG: I don't think they know that.
MAGISTAD: Seriously? They don't listen?
HAISONG: No, they don't listen to any rock music. I don't think they listen to music. They are not music fans.
MAGISTAD: But there are plenty of PK14 and Yang Haisong fans out there. Some have followed him since the beginning, some are new, and young and fresh to the themes of angst and rebellion. Yang says he sees a difference between his generation, which saw music as a kind of religion, and some of the younger fans who come, just wanting to have fun. Or maybe, he admits, he's just getting older.
HAISONG: I can feel that and I know something must be happen in the future. For me maybe something changed in one year, or maybe 5 years or 10 years, who knows? But so I try to grab the now. If I have still have energy, I try to grab the energy and put it out.
MAGISTAD: He still has the energy. And his words of youthful rebellion still resonate with each new generation coming up. Here in the club, shouting along to the lyrics in Red Train, that the red is the blood of China's youth, on a journey they can't entirely control. For The World, I'm Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing.
WERMAN: China's PK14 puts the wraps on this edition of The World. When we're not on the air you can find us online at TheWorld.org. From the Nan and Bill Harris studios at WGBH in Boston, I'm Marco Werman. Have a good one.