There’s nothing better than being blindsided by a band you have zero prior knowledge of. The element of surprise, the giddy sense of discovery, the brazen feeling you’re going to be bugging everyone and their mother to join in with your admiration. If you’re lucky, it happens a few times a year, and in March of 2018, luck struck when I set up shop at Yue Space for a batch of up and coming bands from Kunming, the southern capital of Yunnan and a place known for its year-round springtime weather.
I was really there for South Acid Mimi Team, the all-female synth-punk outfit (fresh off their dizzying debut FYI) but came out instead singing the praises of Plastic. The no-nonsense melodic punk band hit the stage like a cherry bomb of charisma and punk rock swagger, delivering one frantic, surly, and sure-footed punk tune after another. A gut punch to the senses, they’re a band that revels in a brand of disobedience, compulsion, and wound-up romanticism that you simply can’t fake. While they proved a breath of fresh air to the audience that evening, they had in fact been cultivating their ‘presence’ for some time, cutting their teeth across the country at every dive imaginable. That hard work eventually paid off, attracting the attention of underground music curators Maybe Mars who signed them earlier this year.
The band makes their way to Beijing this Mid-Autumn holiday to record their forthcoming debut album, but before they do, they’ll revive their antics over to School Bar on Friday, Sep 13 for a full moon reckoning alongside Xiao Wang and The White Papers. I chatted with the band about how punk brought them together, running amok in Kunming, and how much baijiu informs their choices on and off stage.
Despite your different backgrounds, it’s clear that punk is in your blood. Was it punk music that led you to one another? How did all you end up in Kunming and forming a band together?
Basically, you could say punk brought us together. I met Andy at a Bedstars show in Kunming, and we decided to start a band (drunk decisions). We posted online about starting a punk-ish kinda band and found Jesse. A year later, I was at another show at Mao Livehouse and met Bokai. The drunken conversation involved: ‘Hey, do you like Joyside?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you wanna make a band?’ ‘Yes.’ And then we were four.
Jesse, Andy, and I all came here during study abroad before deciding school wasn’t for us and never left. Bokai had moved here [from his northern Yunnan city] to Kunming because he didn’t want to go home and as it was, his friends and university were all here.
At first glance, Kunming doesn’t seem like the kind of place that punk would thrive. What’s the vibe like down there and how does it shape the music scene?
After DT Bar closed earlier this year, the “scene” that was slowly gaining traction over the years with some new bands having popped up over that time, was heavily hit, especially in terms of venues that can act as a community. It wasn’t just about music; there was a barber there, great beers, barbecues, fundraisers for Yunnan. That’s the essence of punk to us. So, I guess we can only see what can develop from here on out. But, the vibe that we did feel has kinda faded.
There are good local bars started by our friends such as Xianke and Cheap. We go there for drinks. We can be pretty lazy after coming back from tours…
Beijing offers all kinds of activities and dive bars to waste the night away in – how much trouble can one get into in Kunming?
We don’t go out that much in Kunming anymore. If we do head out, it’s usually over to this hilltop community where Bokai, Jesse, and a lot of our friends live. And we drink liters of baijiu. The difficulty is trying to walk 40 minutes back home without sleeping on the sidewalk.
But before, that’s a whole different story. One time we made another band with all of us and opened for ourselves so that we could drink for two (which ended up to be about 3,000 kuai). Yeah. They didn’t pay for two bands though.
Your Beijing appearance last year was one of my favorite live sets of 2018. What memories do you have of that weekend?
Thanks! Glad you had some fun at that gig. But, the highlight of that weekend was probably at 10pm the night before Yue Space. Andy and I had just bought another bottle of vodka cause we were just chilling that night (supposed to at least). And then Marshall from Temple says they need another band to finish the set that night (well, that moment). We tried to refuse until he said there’d be booze. We go downstairs to where Bokai is talking to Wang Yue and interrupt what was probably an interesting conversation. ‘Bokai, we gotta play a show. Let’s go.’ ‘What? Why?’ ‘There’s free beer.’
So, Bokai is convinced. We do not take any of our instruments and walk to Temple. A band just finished. We stumble into the back area with toilet paper and scrawl out a seven-song setlist in front of these musicians who have no idea what we are doing there. And then we ask to borrow all of their instruments.
The beers arrived. We tossed someone’s phone around trying to tune ‘our’ instruments. And then it’s all fuzzy from there.
With punk bands there’s usually a fine line between rambunctious looseness and tumbling over yourself and falling flat on your face – where do you draw the line? Is there anything you do to loosen up before a show?
We drink a bit before a gig. We’ve learned over the years how much is too much before starting. Most of the time. It can get tricky when we get put to the last band, or our set’s gonna start pretty late. Because we wanna drink and see the other shows, y’know? We all understand each other on a good level, so we kinda gotta watch each other before the gig starts.
The good word is you’ve been snagged by Maybe Mars – congrats. How did that relationship come together?
[It came about] by annoying our good friend Nevin [Domer, of Maybe Mars] for five years.
But, honestly it’s been a long road that wasn’t easy, and I don’t think any of us really imagined it getting this far. Alive. We started as four guys all the way in Yunnan, traveling eight or even 12 hours on crowded busses through winding mountain roads with crazy bus drivers who I thought would surely kill us before the baijiu would. We were playing these gigs in these cities that would randomly appear in these valleys. Our first crowds were farmers and laborers, many of whom would tell us they’d never even seen a band before. We did that for about a year, almost every weekend.
Then, we went on a weekend tour with local Kunming punks Xi’er to Changsha and Wuhan. And that’s when we decided to go all-in: just touring whenever we could, whenever we got that last kuai in there for the budget. We didn’t break even almost every time. We’d come back completely broke, but we’re addicted to it.
On that note, can we expect an EP, or better yet, an LP down the road? You won’t be leaving Kunming any time I guess right?
We’re recording in Beijing the week after the School gig. Expect the album in the spring. We’ve discussed vinyl and CD releases as well. We’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up this fall/winter that we’re looking forward to. So, we’ll be touring around again.
What do you want to let your Beijing fans know before you head up north? Any requests?
Wanna do a shot?
Catch Plastic play alongside Xiao Wang and The White Paper this Friday, Sep 13 at 9pm. Tickets are RMB 80.
Want more ear candy? There’s plenty more where this came from.
Photos courtesy of Plastic