Interview: These Are Powers on Their Trip to China, Dan Graham, and Playing the Whitney
"We actually had to record in our practice space, and pretend like it was a show. We're like, 'Hey, Chinese government! Here we are performing for you on video!'"
Rebecca Smeyne Late night snacks in Wuhan: These Are Powers' Pat Noecker and Bill Salas
Just back from a four-week tour of China, Brooklyn/Chicago trio These Are Powers are popping melatonin pills to get back into the circadian rhythms of the Western hemisphere. That 12-hour time difference should really hit just about 7pm tonight, when they'll play the Whitney as part of the museum's Dan Graham retrospective. Physically jarring, yes, but something fits about a band that doesn't want to be a "band" playing for an artist who doesn't want to be an artist.
These Are Powers' visit to China was set up by Michael Pettis of Beijing label Maybe Mars and the owner of club D-22, and Shou Wang of Beijing band Car Sick Cars. The pair have brought Battles and Sonic Youth to China in the past, and have enough connections in China's burgeoning "No Beijing" scene to have found steady partners for Noecker and bandmates Anna Barie and Bill Salas to play with during some Beijing improvisational sessions, as well as getting people to the shows. On Wednesday, we caught up with guitarist Pat Noecker to talk about the band's trip. Despite some challenges--mostly pollution, PAs, and food poisoning--Noecker says that These Are Powers want to make Beijing and Shanghai regular stops on their overseas tours. All bands should. "It's just something you'll never forget. If you can go play shows that far away from where you're from, you can play anywhere."
Rebecca Smeyne In Hangzhou - afterward the promoter claimed "a show like this has never happened in Hangzhou before"
I read a little bit about the "No Beijing" scene there. Is it really a movement?
I didn't really hear that term thrown around too much while I was over there. But I believe that's what they call it when they're speaking to members of the media. It's not like "post-punk" or anything like that. It's a range of noise bands to electronic bands.
What kind of preparation did you have to go through, as far as dealing with the government and cultural authorities?
We were debating with the Maybe Mars people on whether we should get performance visas or tourist visas. They said, "Just tell the authorities that you're recording in China when you come through." So we got tourist visas. When we went through the gates in Beijing we were a little nervous, hoping they wouldn't look at our passports and research us on the web and see that we were playing around China. We were taking a little bit of a risk, but the Chinese authorities are not that hip to the Internet and bands coming there yet.
The second thing we were instructed to do was record our set for the Shanghai entertainment commission. They had to hear and view the set to insure that we were not invoking any anti-Chinese or free Tibet rhetoric. They also wanted to make sure profanity was absent from the tunes. We had to videotape our set with very clear audio to make sure they could hear the lyrics. So we did that, and we got off the plane they examined us for H1N1, swine flu...those three things were the main protocol we had to go through to get there.
So how do you perform for an unseen audience of Chinese cultural officials?
We actually had to record it in our practice space, and we pretended like it was a show, so we all clapped and said, "Thank you!" at the end of it. It was really silly. It was by far the most awkward I've ever felt playing a set of any music that I've been a part of. We're like, "Hey, Chinese government! Here we are performing for you on video!" I guess it worked.