Jonathan Campbell, behind him: photo of Cui Jian performing with The Rolling Stones in 2006
I first came across the name Jonathan Campbell in August 2011 when I was preparing for the Demerit interview. As a fellow Toronto resident — I was immediately fascinated by his bio and adventure in China and couldn’t wait until I read his book, Red Rock: The Long Strange March of Chinese Rock and Roll. A few months later, in January 2012, I found out that Jonathan would be a speaker at an event held by University of Toronto’s Pan-Asia Student Society, which I’m part of. But to my dismay, Jonathan wasn’t able to get as in depth on Chinese rock as I wished at the event because of time constraints.
But I found another opportunity when Jonathan Campbell officially launched the book in Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel on March 24th. The best part of it all was the fact that I could finally get my first taste of Chinese rock because bands Nova Heart and Shanren performed as well (courtesy of Canadian Music Week). In addition to Jonathan, music journalist and ALDTV host Al Di and Helen Feng of Nova Heart joined to discuss Chinese yaogun (that’s rock and roll in Chinese, but Jonathan Campbell believes it’s something more than a simple translation).
The event started with a short set by Nova Heart, the solo project of Helen Feng, who is known as the “Queen of Beijing Rock”. Nova Heart is a great mix of electronic beats and Helen Feng’s ghostly vocals. The resulting ethereal quality was quite memorable. After that, Jonathan talked about Red Rock a little bit and showed some video clips of Cui Jian (whom he cites as the father of Chinese rock and roll) and the documentary of SUBS to stress his point that yaogun (搖滾) is different from the Western notion of rock n’ roll (樂與怒). The panel between Jonathan, Helen and Al Di that followed was a quite interesting discussion. I learned a few fun things, for example, that China has an anti-lips syncing law. Helen’s sharing of her musical experience in China and her upbringing in North America was quite insightful as well.
Jonathan Campbell, Helen Feng of Nova Hear, Al Di
The talk concluded with the folk-yaogunners Shanren’s fun set. I think most of the audience wasn’t sure what to expect when Shanren climbed on stage — at least, I wasn’t. As a music photographer and a devoted Warped Tour-goer, I thought nothing would shock me as far as performances go. But I was in awe when Shanren played its first note. In fact, I believe I was completely dumbfounded because it was nothing like I have seen or experienced before. Sure, I suppose I have heard of traditional Chinese music and some Chinese folk at some point of my Chinese existence. But it was an entirely different experience when Chinese folk elements were combined with rock and roll. It was like nothing you have ever listened to — something that couldn’t exist in Western rock and roll but was purely yaogun. Shanren also got the crowd moving in what is known as “Chinese disco dancing”. The crowd had such a great time that they demanded an encore.
Thank you Jonathan Campbell, This Is Not A Reading Series and the Gladstone Hotel for the one of a kind event!
Photography and recap by Jessie Lau