IN MY EARS #4 McKids
Release: Streets Kill Strange Animals - McD Kids
Listen to the track 《狂欢》
In My Ears is a weekly music column by Josh Feola 赵识, Beijing-based writer and musician and founder of pangbianr.com
Streets Kill Strange Animals has always been one of my favorite Beijing rock bands, but one of the hardest to pigeonhole. Coming up in the D-22 scene of the late 2000s, Streets Kill never quite adopted their peers’ dutiful replication of the classic Manchester post-punk sound, nor the noisy pop sound popularized by some of that venue’s earlier veterans like Carsick Cars and Hedgehog. Though their moody and melodic songs are often seasoned with a liberal dash of noise-rock reverb, I’ve always considered Streets Kill Strange Animals — and their guitarist, Leng Mei — to be more composition-oriented than most of the late D-22 bands, which mostly veered off into noisier, or more psychedelic, or straight-up non-rock territories.
While they’d sound at home on Maybe Mars, the house label of D-22 and its successor, XP, Streets Kill signed with the bigger, broader label Modern Sky to release their first two albums. The second of those, McD Kids, has just been released, and it’s by far the band’s strongest material to date. The recording is raw and powerful, but also clear and musical, reflecting the touch of its producer, Lv, who was also behind Duck Fight Goose’s excellent CLVB ZVKVNFT from earlier in the year. McD Kids is solid and surprising; I’ve had it on repeat all week and still discover subtle details hiding in each track, yielding pleasant surprises with repeated listens.
As Streets Kill Strange Animal’s sound has matured, so has Leng Mei. I sat down with him near the beginning of the band’s exhaustive album release tour to discuss his own underground music history, which brought him from Nanjing to Beijing, his experience working with Modern Sky and with Lv, insight he’s gained working as a music distributor through his own Taobao store and with Maybe Mars, and how “fast food culture” is permeating Chinese society today.
How do you think your sound has evolved between your first full-length album, Plan B: Return to the Analog Era, and McD Kids?
For our first album we recorded a lot of it on separate tracks, but this one we mostly played together, all at once. I think it sounds more direct and a bit rougher.
McD Kids was produced by Lv from Shanghai. Why did you choose to work with him? What did he add to the process of completing the record?
Lv produced two Maybe Mars albums, Muscle Snog’s Mind Shop and Duck Fight Goose’s SPORTS. When I first heard the Muscle Snog album years ago, I thought it was a really great noise rock album, so when Streets Kill Strange Animals was getting ready to record our first album I got in touch with Lv. He was also very interested, but Modern Sky didn’t give us enough budget. For this album, we insisted that Lv record and mix it. This time the recording process was very fast, so fast that we weren’t that confident in it. At the beginning of the mixing process we were a little bit disappointed, it felt kind of directionless, but afterwards we slowly communicated with Lv and in the end he came out with a great mix. Now it’s clear that Lv’s perspective was that this album should be simple, rough around the edges. I think his intuition was correct. He didn’t embellish or modify our music much.
What foreign artists have influenced your songwriting process? To my ear, the opening track "麦当劳少年" reminds me of Psychic Ills, and "困在街上" sounds a bit like a song by The Men.
The biggest influence on my music is from Sonic Youth, though I rarely listen to them these days. I think any given song will remind someone of another song, right? Actually Xiao Bao, who does live sound mixing, taught me a method of connecting my guitar to a reverb pedal that gives it a different sound, I’ve been using that method ever since. I think everyone in the band is improving.
What about Chinese bands? Who influenced you when you first started going to shows or playing guitar?
With Chinese bands and artists it’s hard to say. Cui Jian, Tang Dynasty, Dou Wei, Zhang Chu, He Yong, etc, I’ve liked them all. When I first started to make bands in Nanjing, I would always go see shows by P.K.14, Qi Ba Dian (七八点), and Quanyuzhe 18 (痊愈者十八). Later I saw Re-TROS play in Nanjing, and one time I saw an analog noise set by Xu Feng. The most moving show I saw after moving to Beijing was Mini Train Heart’s show [at D-22 in 2011]. I was also really happy to see The Yours the first time they played at XP, and one Snapline show sticks out in my memory. I think Snapline is the king of underground dance music in China, even though they don’t have very “electronic” instrumentation.
Within this long string of names, some of them gave me influence through their lyrics, and others struck me with just their music. Quanyuzhe 18 ended up moving to Wuhan, and turned into a new band, Shitdog. Wang Junping from Quanyuzhe 18 and Shitdog is a mystery, fuck… recently I’ve thought that I want to interview him about those days. I would have to say that the Chinese rock album that’s had the biggest influence on me is Cui Jian’s Balls Under the Red Flag.
Going back in time — what made you want to start Streets Kill Strange Animals in the first place? Can you talk about a few key local bands, venues, or shows that made you want to start a band yourself?
I started learning guitar in Nanjing. Later, as I said, I’d often go see P.K.14, Qi Ba Dian and Quanyuzhe 18 play in a dance hall that I think was opened by the drummer of P.K.14’s dad. There were a lot of shows there. Me and my old friends would also practice there all the time.
When did you move to Beijing? Why?
forming two bands there, and neither had a bassist. So I came to Beijing to try it out.
I remember the first time I saw local bands in Beijing — it was in 2007, Yang Haisong brought me to D-22. That night was Snapline, Hedgehog and Guai Li. I still remember the excitement I felt that night, I thought the bar was so awesome, and I struck up a conversation with Li Weisi from Snapline.
You've also been active as a music distributor for many years now, both through your own Taobao store and working with Maybe Mars. Have you noticed any changing patterns in how Chinese kids are buying or listening to music today?
I just really enjoy selling records. When I worked at Maybe Mars I managed their Taobao store, and through that I met a few really faithful Maybe Mars fanatics. Every time I’d announce a pre-sale this one Beijing dude would be the first one to place an order, and he’d always immediately ask when the CD would arrive. I remember when we first started to sell the Hiperson album, every day a small hill of their CDs would pile up on the table. I also help friends of mine in bands in Beijing to distribute their albums. For example, Michael Winkler of the Jingweir label gave me a bunch of their CDs and zines, and I sold them in my personal Taobao store. I only sold a few of them, but there were still people interested in them, and that was very gratifying. Later, Yang Haisong’s label Share in Obstacles put out a few vinyl records, I also helped sell some of those. I feel that indie music collectors in China today are more and more interested in vinyl.
Can you talk a bit about the name of the new album? What does McD Kids mean? What does the album cover signify?
McD Kids (麦当劳少年) is the name of the first song on the album. It tells a short story: one day at a McDonald’s I saw three boys cruising around the dining area, picking up leftovers that other customers had left behind. They were so absorbed with this task, it was like there was no one else in the world to them. McDonald’s may be a sign of the quality of life of a lot of young people today, and this kind of fast-food culture exerts an almost imperceptible influence over people’s behavior. It infiltrates everyone’s visual field, everyone’s taste, just like the “energy” that Chinese media try to transmit to viewers.
The cover is a photo from Beijing Silvermine that left a strong impression on our designer. She already loved this image well before we even finished writing the album. This photo comes from a collection arranged by photographer Thomas Sauvin, of vintage personal and family photographs from Beijing recovered from trash heaps in silver mines, and our designer thought this one in particular was very interesting. What’s covering the cat’s head? It’s a fast food delivery bag, but you can also think of the bowl of cat food as “fast food”. Whether it’s humans or animals, we all are obsessed with fast food.
Streets Kill Strange Animals
About the author
Josh Feola is a writer and musician based in Beijing. He’s organized music, art, and film events in the city since 2010, via his label pangbianr and as booking manager of live music venues D-22 and XP. His ongoing event series include the Sally Can’t Dance experimental music festival and the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter (BEME). He has written about music and art for publications including The Wire, LEAP, Sixth Tone, and Tiny Mix Tapes. He also co-authors the Gulou View opinion column for the New York Observer. As a musician, he formerly played drums in Beijing band Chui Wan, recording on and touring behind their debut album, White Night. He currently plays drums in SUBS and Vagus Nerve, and also records and performs under the name Charm.