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Monday, April 19, 2010

Rustic at Dos Kolegas

Around the time of Rustic’s band members’ births, about two decades ago, their country’s doors were just being opened up to the rest of the world. With that came sweeping changes, new opportunity and exposure to alternative lifestyles previously unimaginable in China, especially for three self-proclaimed “poor boys” from rural Hebei. Jump forward to 2010, when Rustic, on their way next week to London to compete as China’s national entry in the upcoming Global Battle of the Bands, are well on their way to their openly stated dream of rock stardom: eyeliner, booze, women and all.

They’re not quite there yet. On Friday evening, they played before a half-full Dos Kolegas crowd, which warmed to their trademark retro rock and roll theatrics without being completely won over. Rustic’s tightly wound pop-punk, which gleefully mines everything from early Sex Pistols-era punk to 80s hair metal, makes for an escapist, hope-fuelled performance, where members announce their starry-eyed dreams as brazenly as bassist Ricky Sixx’s open chest; the stage a platform that lifts them—at least for now—far above the cynicism and irony of the modern world.

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…but girls are always a boy’s best friend!” screams lead singer Lucifer, wearing his trademark rectangular sunglasses, a nod to his idols, the British “punk pathetique” band Toy Dolls, whose coarse humor and working class pride present clear inspiration. He continued to throw out a litany of tongue-in-cheek one-lines throughout the set, including “If you say you don’t play rock for girls or money, you’re a liar!” and, in reference to their upcoming contest: “We’re just three boys from Hebei who are going to kick the world!”

They led the set with “Girls Are Not Yours”, a riff-tastic dedication to hedonism, whose fast-flowing hooks and chorus are all Mötley Crüe and Poison, a nod to Ricky Sixx’s glam metal roots. His is an obsession turned way-of-being that flows through his entire soul, from his bleach blonde shag and skin tight cow (niubi) pants to his sensual, phallic bass-playing. Lucifer, who briefly demonstrated his musical prowess with a surprise clarinet solo early into the set, sneers his way a la Billie Joe Armstrong through tales of debauchery like gutter punk-ish “Pay to Cum” and “Rock n Roll for money and sex.” His guitar playing is smooth and assured, and he and Ricky possess a magnetic, naturally flamboyant interplay. Behind them, drummer Li Fang, with his bright red mop top, propels the mythological Starship Rustic forward with swift, deliberate economy.

They closed with “Anarchy in the UK,” fitting given that their next gig will take place there, but also because of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s recent passing. The show was entirely over-the-top, utterly anachronistic and filled with a joie de vivre so refreshing within Beijing’s gloomy post-punk-focused scene. It was also a lot of fun.

Forget the fact that hair metal died long ago, or that most casual observers will see Rustic as a group of country boys playing dress-ups. These three wild boys from rural China—poverty-stricken, naïve and boundlessly talented—are out trailblazing a new path to that of their yuppie peers, but one born of the same ambitious dreaming and dedication.



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Written for Beijing City Weekend, published April 11, 2010:

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