Bang Bang Tang are back, and this time they're doing it for themselves
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It’s an abnormally damp spring evening in Shanghai, and despite the uncomfortable conditions outside, 300-plus music fans cram inside the city’s Yuyintang rock club, capacity 150, to catch a glimpse of local indie pop quartet Bang Bang Tang (BBT, 棒棒糖), and their cute, affable frontwoman Freya Hu, better known as Xiao Bai.
The creation of Bang Bang Tang (棒棒糖)
Dressed in a cream lace, sleeveless top, navy, floral knee-length skirt and matching stockings, decked out in mounds of pearl accessories and black leather gloves, Xiao Bai sways and swivels around the cluttered stage like a pro, fans eating up her coquettish banter and bubblegum melodies. This is a rare moment, one of the seldom occasions when a Shanghainese band looks comfortable and in control of themselves and their audience, and to think, less than one year ago, BBT called it quits after a creative dry spell.
BBT sound better than they ever have, like a proper band, distinguishing themselves as a musical force to watch in 2010
“We had no new ideas and our opportunities to rehearse were really rare,” explains Xiao Bai. “In Shanghai it’s really tough to find bandmates.”
Like many Shanghai bands of the late aughts, Bang Bang Tang, Mandarin for lollipop, formed in the dank underground confines of 0093 Studios’ now-defunct Lingling Lu location. Combining pop melodies and song structures with jazzy arrangements and virtuoso musicianship, Bang Bang Tang debuted in late 2007 at the city’s annual Maxell band competition, placing third.
After honing their sound into a more indie rock-tinged package, BBT took to the city’s club circuit, slowly and steadily building a fan base, despite their blatant disregard for the local preference for garage rock, nu-metal and skate punk.
“I like Joan Jett and PJ Harvey... but the music I like and the music I make is not the same,” offers Xiao Bai, the band’s principle songwriter, who is also a post graduate student of education at East China Normal University.
While the band -- Xiao Bai, guitarist Chen Gong, bassist KK and drummer Pipa -- spent the next 16 months gigging in and around Shanghai, they eventually found themselves at the same evolutionary crossroads as every Shanghainese band, plagued by the reality that traditional Chinese culture and 21st century expectations place an emphasis on careers goals, rather than rock-star dreams.
Forced to re-asses their positions, Bang Bang Tang split in early 2009, only to re-unite six months later when a fan approached them about shooting a music video for the song “我最爱缺陷男" ("My favorite male defects").
Bang Bang Tang back in action
“The [music video] brought us back together,” states Xiao Bai of the band’s reformation. But despite the video, an inclusion on last November’s Shanghai Rock 2009 compilation and several notable performances since re-grouping, Xiao Bai remains adamant that BBT is a passionate hobby rather than a career move.
“I don’t want to be a full-time [band], it’s difficult to live well. I’d stop playing live, but I’d never stop making music.”
Perhaps it’s this very rejection of the notion that independent music can provide stability and opportunity in contemporary Shanghai that has allowed Bang Bang Tang to make the move from a fledgling college band to a local headliner. Or maybe it’s because they’re not wrapped up in the idea of making it big despite an independent LP release on the horizon.
But for one this one night in April, BBT sound better than they ever have, like a proper band, distinguishing themselves as a musical force to watch in 2010.