(Header photo: Xiao Wang (L-R): Liane, Anlin, ZaoZao, YueTu – Photographer: 小猴)
By Ceridwen Brown
In this diary series, British drummer Ceridwen Brown shares her life in the girl-heavy haven of the Chinese underground music scene. Be sure to check out Part 1.1, Part 1.2, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.1.
Weeks after the first round of China Grrrl shows, Xiao Wang once again make their presence known, this time with founding member and Anlin back from Canada to join them on vocals. Currently based in Montreal, Anlin is a board member for their Rock Camp for Girls and Gender Non-Conforming Youth which uses music and social justice to empower underprivileged young people. She designed the Xiao Wang tour, which they ask us to join them for, titled: Gender is Not a Genre.
The day after the Shanghai show, with barely any voice left, Anlin comes over to chat about Xiao Wang, Feminism, and the problems with labels. Her English, which she learned as a child from Michael Jackson albums, is impeccable, and now living abroad she has her own insights into the difference between western and Chinese interpretations of punk and alternative music.
Tell me about your idea for this tour
Anlin: I actually changed the name a couple of times from ‘female is not a genre’, to ‘riot grrrl is not a genre’ then finally to ‘gender is not a genre’ – It’s not a binary term any more. Back in China people were calling my band Xiao Wang ‘riot grrrl’ all the time and I didn’t know the meaning of it. I studied it in the music library in Montreal thinking it sounded cool and soon realized it was actually a movement – one that never happened in China and yet was being used as a term to describe our music as if it were a genre itself that was gender specific. In Xiao Wang we are not saying or claiming to be anything…masculine, feminine or to set any expectation. If girls watch us and feel empowered as a result, while this would always be our intention, it isn’t what we are primarily expressing.
How did you start Xiao Wang and what got you interested in alternative music?
I grew up only hearing Chinese pop until my aunt, who is a translator, bought me a Michael Jackson album as a gift from Berlin. I couldn’t believe someone was making music like this! I learned to recite all the lyrics and my aunt wanted to help me improve my English so she kept buying me tapes and CDs. When I got older, I would buy cut tapes that were coming in on the black market from the west country, then when I went to university I started watching live shows. I’d take the train from Tianjin to Beijing to see whatever was on it, it didn’t matter what bands. My friends and I would stay up all night then get the 6am train back to sleep. I moved to Beijing and met YueTu and had the idea… what if we started a band? She loved bass so much and I wanted to drum. We found some music teachers and they were our first classes ever! I also wanted to sing though and playing drums and singing was so hard. We saw ZaoZao drum with a different band and knew we wanted her!
What is Xiao Wang’s music about?
Initially I had broken up with a guy who claimed to be a feminist but turned out not to respect women and at the very start the music was about that. It made me so angry, I knew I wanted it to be super heavy. Another meaning for Xiao Wang is ‘Little King’ which can be a name for guys like that. Me and YueTu also had had our own idea of what punk meant, but because we loved it too much, it was an idealistic view. We wanted it to be true that everyone would be open minded and there’d be no discrimination, but in reality that doesnt exist in any community. Now the others write all the songs so I can’t say what they are about although I have my own understanding. They’re not political; the restrictions in China are definitely a problem at first for people who want to write about that, but actually when you are blocking something I think it makes people more creative. If you are a creative person you will find a creative way to express what you want to express. For uncreative people it can certainly be a dead end.
Does your family support your music and your work now with the Rock Camp?
My parents’ lives are super traditional and my small hometown is very conservative, but my mum also loves literature and wanted to become a Suzhou traditional Opera actress when she was little. In the traditional culture, being a girl on stage is kind of shameful for a family, so her parents stopped her from doing it. Now it’s like the same thing for me but my mum hasn’t related the two kinds of perfroming yet. She wouldn’t understand rock music. Once I played one song at a big table with all of my family there and only my aunt commented at all like ‘hm.. that’s pretty loud!’; everyone else just kept eating.
My mum didn’t want me to repeat her life; she wanted me to study abroad so she raised me in a kind of open-minded way. At the same time her life is so conservative that she criticizes me for being too open-minded but she made me this way! I am SUCH a weirdo in my hometown. When I go back I talk to people and they can’t beleive I am from there. My parents don’t really know or understand what I’m doing in Canada or with music at all but so long as I get my degree from a good university they are happy. They know if we argue we will hurt each other so we don’t talk about anything else.
How did you get involved with Rock Camp for Girls and Gender Non-Conforming Youth?
When I was doing my riot grrrl research I read that the rock camps were the biggest legacy of the good things about riot grrl; so I looked for one in Montreal and reached out to them. I plan to start the first equivilant one in China. I’ve spoken to some other non-western camps, in Mozambique, Colombia, Peru… the Mozambique one is just called LOUD Mozambique because they don’t want to emphasise the girl element. They are all very different depending on location; in some places there is so little idea of what this is and it needs to be run differently for the parents and the young people themsleves. They will take seven months to build a connection between the girls and the instruments, giving them one hour per week of tuition at their school then after seven months they start what we consider the regualar camp. It’s a lot of work, I respect them so much and they now have the first ever girl band in Mozambique music academy. In China I think many girls just dont realize that the opportunity is very near to them and if they want to start they can start very easily. When you’re little, it’s a super Chinese thing that parents will force their children to learn piano, so often times people have some basic music ability anyway. But even when we first started Xiao Wang and had the idea to form a band, we doubted ourselves a little bit.
How do you feel about the status of modern feminism in China?
It’s kind of hard, even some of my very educated friends are reluctant to use this word as it can have negative associations. We have a word, not as strong as Feminazi, but also a bad term that translates to ‘feminism dogs.’ Even people who will call themselves feminists can act in a way to replicate the patriarchy that exists. That’s how they grew up and they don’t think about it too much so they can’t reflect on it. I’m sure even inside my mind some parts are still like that, but I’ve had the opportunity to study abroad and look back and realize that there are some things you should not say or do because there is more to consider.
You can hear more Xiao Wang here at the CHINA GRRL bandcamp page. The compilation is a work in progress and will be available to purchase in full in the future.
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