By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s unprecedented for a Chinese punk band to tour the States, but Demerit isn’t just any Chinese punk band. This month, they are aiming to show America just exactly what they’re made of.
Spike Lee and band members started Demerit back in 2004. For the current tour, they found a temporary guitarist, Wang Bing, who is joining them. Lee, Chang Ning, and Du Shuan all grew up in Qingdao, but they all live in Beijing now.
Lee plays the bass. Ning and Bing are both guitarists. And Shuan is the drummer. They are all in their late 20s, except Shuan, who’s 23. Lee first met Ning and Shuan. Bing was actually in another band when he was recruited by Demerit to replace a previous band member.
“Growing up, I listened to whatever music was played at home,” Lee said in Mandarin. One of his earliest musical influences was Taiwanese folk-rock singer Luo Dayou. Lee said his parents listened to Luo at home as well.
These days, he really likes the Ramones, Seattle’s own Nirvana, Anti-Flag, and Metalhead.
He taught himself to play the guitar when he was in high school. At the time, he felt frustrated because he didn’t like what his music teacher taught him. He decided to venture out on his own to create his own music. Basically, he had no formal training in music before starting the band.
Lee once performed at a Chinese music festival, which about 10,000 people attended.
Lee has stated that he would really like to visit Japan and Europe. What he would love the most would be to travel all over and play music. But Lee has also stated that he’d like to move back to Qingdao someday, to work and play music in his hometown.
When asked about the inspiration for his songs, he said that the lyrics come from his surroundings, society, life, and personal experiences.
In fact, Demerit’s sophomore full-length effort, “Bastards of the Nation” (Maybe Mars Records, 2008), has been critically acclaimed by both the public and the press, with Painkiller, China’s top metal magazine, declaring it as the 2008 Record of the Year.
“Punk rock music always lifts me up,” Lee said.
Demerit has written more than 20 songs and has released an underground demo and album. They have been featured on other live albums. Lee says that when they perform, they bring a different energy to the stage, other than jumping up and down and rocking out.
They play blazing sets with a ferocious energy, mixing street punk and 1980s metal with pointed commentary on local social and political situations.
Lee’s most memorable performance was the band’s first show back in 2004.
“We really sucked,” he said.
They performed at a small bar that had a small audience. They had very questionable equipment, but he described the experience as great and super exciting.
Two years later in 2006, Lee and the band members performed at one of China’s largest music festivals, something he had always dreamed about. He was nervous, but at the same time, thrilled and excited because the audience was huge.
Being on the road and performing from one venue to the next, the band has definitely met a lot of new and interesting friends along the way.
Lee’s family dislikes the idea that he and his friends are in a band.
“They think I am wasting my time and that I should be wearing normal clothes, working a normal job, and getting married, having kids soon,” he said.
They basically want him to be more conservative, he noted.
Demerit’s appearance on the Warped Tour will be their first visit to the United States. They will be playing 15 dates before embarking on a headlining tour down the West Coast. In Mandarin, they said they are very happy to be able to perform on the tour with other bands. Unlike other performers who get some pre-stage jitters, Lee said he isn’t nervous at all because he’s more excited than anything.
For a taste of Chinese punk rock and something new and different, Lee encourages people to come out and watch their performance.
They will play at Warped Tour at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash., on Saturday, Aug. 13. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at email@example.com.