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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dakou: Real Punks Are Chinese

Someone once told me that the punk scene in China is more "authentic" because there, the government can put you in jail for saying something they don't like. That actual repression, the threat of jail or worse, makes everyone involved seem just that much more hardcore. A recent feature on the Public Radio International/BBC program The World touches on the fascinating origins of punk in China with a story about remaindered cds:
The story starts about eight years ago. Punk music was a rarity in China at that time. But that was changing, thanks to dakou.

Record labels and retailers from across Asia took their surplus CDs -- the ones with the telltale notches in the cases -- and shipped them out as trash. Thousands of these dakou or "saw-gash" CDs ended up in Chinese garbage dumps. Then, through a network of scavengers and middlemen, these dakou CDs found their way into China's alternative record stores.
This image of a network of scavengers, sifting through garbage dumps to find old Nirvana and Sex Pistols cds, seems incredibly romantic. In a sense, Chinese punks (and, presumably, other musicians who aren't part of such a well-defined subculture) literally built their scene out of the leftover debris of western capitalism. This even serves to mitigate somewhat the ever-present tension between punk's anti-authoritarian nature and its corporate, commercial exploitation -- The Sex Pistols may have become part the capitalist machine almost immediately after playing their first power chord, but their music (due to the action of that very capitalist machine) eventually ends up in a place where it has real revolutionary potential.

The World story also profiles Chinese punk band Subs. They're actually pretty good, if you're in to that sort of thing. Two of their songs (Drew The Line and What More) are available for download.


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