The Little Punk of Shanghai's rock scene
Trapped in between hundreds of drunk and sweaty Shanghai live music fans in Shanghai’s intimate Yuyintang livehouse, and the metal pipe partitions at the edge of the venue’s stage, a petite figure, barely five feet tall and 85 pounds soaking wet, thrashes her limbs about, dancing, frantically waving her body around, unflinching at the violent pressure from the wild mob at her back.
Tonight she’s dressed in black, complete with zombie face paint and a faux Devil hawk, to resemble a miniature Glen Danzig in honor of Halloween. But Huang Pei (黄佩), 22, or Little Punk (小朋克) as she’s become known around China, is immediately recognizable, an individual in a country of musical clones and copycats.
“She has a complicated personality, her drives and interests do not submit to trends or ideologies,” explains Andy Best, proprietor of Qu Records and collaborator on Huang’s recently released solo debut "Hey guy, you are big time alright."
“She has the aura of cool,” he says.
From Jiangxi to Shanghai
Best described as "too smart for her own good," Huang graduated from her rural Jiangxi Province high school in Shao Rao at the age of 16, quickly shipping out to Shanghai on her own to attend university. A bit of a rebel and wild child, and curious about the vast differences between Jiangxi and Shanghai, she took solace in the city’s barely visible rock scene.
“Jiangxi people are pretty reckless. It’s in our blood,” says Huang. “[In Shanghai] you see lots of cuties, [you’re] overwhelmed by hell loads of people, try to get some friends, get pretty f*cked up and heart-broken.”
She has a complicated personality, her drives and interests do not submit to trends or ideologies.— Andy Best, Qu Records
It was while attending a show by then-alt-country Canadian trio Boys Climbing Ropes, flailing away in the crowd, doing the very same dance that has become her signature, that Huang was discovered by the band’s singer, Jordan Small.
“We started seeing some insane kid tearing it up in the crowd ... it was strange to see such a small girl dancing in a trance to our music,” says Small. “After about a month we could see that she was for real. And I suppose in a way we started to feel more complete as a band.”
The addition of Huang quickly changed Boys Climbing Ropes into a more refined indie rock unit, catapulting the band into the role of city’s most-coveted live act, cited around China as Shanghai’s finest musical export. While the boys carried the bulk of the instrumental load, it was always Huang in the front that captivated the audience.
“She seems to represent a particular part of Chinese society that is not obsessed with the new wealth and material status that consumes most people," adds Small. “She is a prehistoric flame that burns in a young body.”
After releasing their "Pleasure to be Here" (2008) and "Except for the Darkness" (2010) EPs, playing Modern Sky Record’s Strawberry Festival (2010) and making an appearance at Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo, Boys Climbing Ropes went on a brief hiatus, allowing Huang the time and space to record her solo debut, a partly autobiographical effort that took shape over summer 2010.
“The song[s] on 'Big Time Alright' [are about] how a girl’s thoughts change as she grows up from a teenager to a semi-adult ... accept life and its eternity of boredom and pain, to get by and pursue happiness," explains Huang. “I’m expressing myself under the theme of ‘young blood’ in the solo stuff.”
While her message seems vaguely coded, Huang has always been a magnetic character, having attracted the attentions of basically every single rock fan in Shanghai at some point or another, and the songs on her debut are a testament to the artistic nature of her soul.
“Little Punk's voice sounds like Little Punk and no one else,” explains Best of Huang’s deep and almost masculine tone. “I believe [her] style and music has the power to cut through the B.S. and stand up on its merits.”
The seven-track album, now available for free download on band camp, produced and mixed by Luwan Rock’s Adam Gaensler, is a complete statement of Huang’s growth and development from the day she hit Shanghai. It’s a closed book on her journey from a provincial Chinese village to the country’s most modern city, a brief musical chapter in a life that is sure to continue in a new direction now that the record is stamped and released.
“['Big Time Alright'] defines a lot of who I am,” explains Huang. “Of course, I’ve grown up and changed a lot in Shanghai. I’ve gotten less angry and more witty ... happy times.”