One of the points that has garnered a lot of attention in coverage of Beijing's booming rock scene is the prominent role of women. 24 Hours is no different: their bassist/lead singer and guitarist are both women, and their lock-tight playing, bounty of jaggedly catchy hooks and no-nonsense, utterly confident stage presence left the crowd in a state of dazzled awe.
Musically, they recall a lot of the bands that have influenced this past decade's indie sound: the band themselves cite garage, disco and post-punk as influences, and will appeal to fans of Bloc Party, the Long Blondes and (perhaps most of all) Franz Ferdinand. The band's name comes, according to their Myspace, from the film "24 Hour Party People", the 2002 classic that covered Manchester's music community through the late 1970s and 1980s, and their Brit-pop roots gleamed clearly through their set.
They aren't however, slavishly imitative of their influences. For a Chinese band that performs in English, the group's lyrics are surprisingly good. Though it's not something to judge by a double standard, it needs to be acknowledged that writing songs in a foreign language is significantly harder than singing in one, and I strongly doubt that most folks living in Xi'an, central China, get the chance to use English as much as say, those from France or Sweden, other countries whose bands (think Phoenix and Peter, Bjorn and John) often sing in non-native English. Their lead vocalist, Zhang Chen, in a classic retro-black dress and straight-cut bangs, swung between delivering lines with dark, tongue-in-cheek gall a la Alex Kapranakos and nailing speedy bass lines in full rock-out mode. Her voice is already far more filled-out and authoritative than peers; beyond the yelps and shrieks, she’s also able to actually carry a tune. Additionally, the other two band members frequently sing as well, sometimes employing an engaging call-and-response male/female interplay that suggests a more danceable, gender-switched Von Bondies.
Their songs, while not breaking much new ground, are well-constructed, layered three-minute affairs, with plenty of impressive, angular riff exchanges between the guitarist and bassist. Meanwhile, drummer Li Guan Yu glided effortlessly from punishing four-to-the-floor rock to funky disco hi-hat work. And as high-caliber as their songcraft is, what really lifts 24 Hours into rarefied territory is their musicianship: the three-piece are already a ferociously tight, skilled rock machine. If they missed even a single beat, I certainly didn't hear it, and the way they consistently landed genre-leaping, mid-song rhythm changes and breakdowns was quite mesmerizing. That is, except for some in the crowd for whom the band’s rock righteousness was simply too much to contain, pogoing in riotous joy throughout their set.
And though you can get a taste of 24 Hours on their Myspace, just know that the posted tracks do their live shows no justice, which is surely why fans are so eager to hear their upcoming debut album, to be released, I’ve heard, in October on Maybe Mars records.
Bigger Bang followed 24 Hours, and while their musicianship was not at the same stratospheric level, they show a lot of upside, while they continue to develop their sound and presence. Working much in their favor, however, is spry lead singer Pupi who, in her Karen O-evoking eye liner and bowl haircut, staggered and swung around much like, well, Karen O. She dominated the stage with her slightly deranged, smiling clown-girl poses, and though her voice was drowned out by her bandmates, she has an undeniable charm and pull. The band's sound is similarly YYYs-molded, moving from minimalist punky pop nuggets to softer, fuzzed-out ballads.
Earlier on, the crowd was treated to a couple of other decent acts: Defy, a fun, old-school rockabilly group in full greaser get-up whose set included lively renditions of the 50s classic by Eddie Cochran, “Summertime Blues” and the Clash’s “I fought the law,” as well as the proggy, surf-rock tinged jams of Rubber Phonograph Needle, who looked like they’d just walked off the set of a Monkees cover shoot and whose similarly well-dressed girlfriends/groupies stood motionless before the stage throughout their entire set.
24 Hours: http://www.myspace.com/nopartypeople
Bigger Bang: http://www.myspace.com/biggerbangtheband
Rubber Phonograph Needle: http://www.myspace.cn/rubberphonographneedel