Buried in the backwater of a high numbered Sky television channel is a most curious and unexpected bit of programming, it's called Propellor. It's a continual broadcast hoping to introduce us all here in the UK to the delights of the diverse culture in China. Not an ancient Chinese culture or grim faced propoganda of the old world but a modern 21st century outward looking China.
A world, frankly, the broader population here still knows little about, unless of course it's the recent unusual and somewhat chilling sight of two behemoth Chinese military aircraft turning up on a runway in Australia in the search for the missing MH370 airliner.
Anyway, here on the Propellor channel 189 at a various unlikely hours the programs are often fronted by bright young Chinese girls, who sometimes introduce us to bizzarre interviews with typical English stereotypes which presumably is for young Chinese people, and there are many here, to help understand what the hell is going on in this odd little Island.
You see understanding our culture appears as polar opposite to their world as theirs is to us. And boy it does seem odd at times.
Popping up in this eclectic programming comes one where we are introduced to 'China Rock'.. and no that's not the type of "Chinese Rock" that Johnny Thunders use to sing about but rock music in China. Lasting for an hour and a bit we're taken through the many styles and shapes that rock takes in this new 'open China'. And wow there is a lot more than you can ever have expected. Sure from time to time we've heard a mention of a Chinese rock band and one or two show up on the occasional blog but it's just a second glance and gone.
But there are all types of rock and it looks like they've absorbed and learnt every known category the west has come up with over the last 50 odd years.
There's Metal, Indie, Rock and Roll, Punk, (like metal, punk seems a hit with young men ready to abandon all old world decorum during a gig), there's surprisingly Reggae, Dub, not surprisingly Disco, Jazz and even Psychedelic and Progressive. The psychedelic is more in the line of a middle period Pink Floyd type and crosses over with Progressive.
As one of the members of a psychedelic band explained "psychedelic music is something you must listen to with your heart".
Eh? It seemed what he means is he writes a song on what he feels like, as opposed to straight pop music which he must believe is more predictable in it's subject matter. This psychedelic/prog lyric is also more like an allegorical poem then lyrics we might associate.
The subject might wonder about life and where it leads, this will be represented by traditional symbols like birds or water or plants or animals.
it's all very earnest, very serious and philosophical.. for a young dude that is.
Other young fan dudes understand this meaning and nod approvingly to the sage words. There is no mention or sign that psychedelic has ever been been the result of being clean out of your face on lysergic if you get the drift.
All these bands have all the equipment we're so familiar with. There's every type of classic amp and guitar on display. They are all played with studious precision and the tone and nuances are exactly like the originals.
And that's it. It suddenly occurs you are listening to an exact replica of something that sounds very familiar but not quite the same. The words, scrolling by in translation all seem correct but not in the same way. They're sort of back to front or upside down in their meaning to us in the Western world.
Our rather cynical ears can find it slightly daft.
Take for example even the name of the band. They are "Iron Kite" and they are a Metal band.
OK... I think we can see where that has come from. But for their serious considerations this is an important name, for they have seen this as being words of contradiction. Like the contradictions in life. And they give an example of the contradiction in living in the country and city life. Which seems an amounting difficulty for people in modern China. There is a huge gap between the two. One very poor and one very rich.
So as you can see, understandable and quite old school as far as song lyrics go. In fact that was realised back in the 60's only the other way round.
Then it was "going back to the garden" as Joni Mitchell sang.
Iron Kite go onto to make other upside down analogies.. they talk about how they see that cabbage.. yes stay with this... but cabbage means much to the Chinese people. It is eaten by rich and poor alike, and this has no boundary.
Iron Kite tell us further more the band identifies with this.. "so we are like the cabbage.. for rich and poor". An admirable sentiment no doubt, but somehow the whole thing goes upside down again when they add finally..
"We are the cabbage of rock"
Yes guys it's going to be tough cracking the western world.
Here's a great example of that upside down world. With an Indie band, although they are described here as Folk (?) -"China's Most Welcomed Folk Singer Hao Yun - It's Life" (at the Shanghai Midi Festival).
Notice the almost exact replica of any pop festival, certainly here in the UK, and the perfect Indie band sound and sing-a-long. Then read the lyric translation as Hao Yun sings and thousands of young fans join in with "Can't wait until I get to 60 to start looking for the freedom that I want ".
See that? it's gone upside down again.
Rock and Roll here has always been "hope I die before I get old".