The biggest stars from the first generation of Beijing punk bands, Brain Failure were founded by the leopard haired Xiao Rong at the end of the ‘90s. Countless line-up changes later he left the band (which now contains no original members) in early 2014, leaving a core power trio of DD on vocals and guitar, Xiao Feng on bass, and Xu Lin on drums. They are best known for playing a fairly accessible form of punk and are often compared sonically to The Clash, though Xiao Rong’s vocals, especially on their earlier output, owe a fair amount to the discordant style that John Lydon debuted in The Sex Pistols but really made his own in Public Image Ltd.
Brain Failure first came to attention with their inclusion on the four-way split album ‘Wuliao Contingent (无聊军队)’ which brought together the leading lights of Beijing’s nascent punk scene (69, Anarchy Jerks, and Reflector) on one really long album. In this early incarnation the let’s rerecord that as it’s not being played fast enough attitude of the ‘80s US hardcore scene is much in evidence and is only for those who like their music fast, chaotic, and full of shouting. Their love of a singalong chorus is still present, though not as much to the fore as in later work.
Their first album not split with other bands, ‘Turn On the Distortion’ (2001), saw them using English lyrics for the first time and revealed the band’s main interests to be women, partying, living in Beijing, being a punk, and run-ins with the police. Their song ‘KTV’ is a particularly frank exploration of the entertainment options available in China.
Not many Chinese bands have attempted to break America, fewer have succeeded. Brain Failure gave it a good shot, touring extensively with the Dropkick Murphys, recording a single with Chuck D from Public Enemy on guest vocals, and releasing a split album, ‘Beijing to Boston’, with Boston punks Big D and the Kid’s Table. Unfortunately, ‘American Dreamer’, the album released to coincide with the tour, made little headway in the States and they were soon heading back to Beijing to regroup and refocus, this eventually culminating in a return to their native tongue, the ‘Nous Avons De La Chance’ EP and the equally Gallic album title ‘Dare To Be Tous Le Jours’, two of their strongest, and best produced releases, despite straying into mid period Green Day territory sonically.
With the departure of Xiao Rong has come a slight change in style due to the loss of his distinctive vocals. With DD now singing lead they sound more akin to the sort of punk terrace anthems that would be co-opted by football crowds if they came from the UK, a sort of Chinese Sham 69. Whilst this line up has yet to release a full length album what material has been released shows that losing their lead singer may yet give them a whole new lease of life.
Where to Begin…???
‘Utopia Again’ from their latest EP of the same name with its “whoa-ooo who-o-o-o-o-oo-oooh!” refrain is one to sing along with at the top of your voice whilst pretending you know all the Mandarin lyrics. Three Little Dirty Punx and Faint Smile from the compilation Beijing Scream are great examples of their slightly ramshackle early recordings and the sound of a band just enjoying playing. The oddly titled ‘Listen To My Back’ from ‘American Dreamer’ is another sing/pogo-along track but this time in English, and those who like their punk more melancholic and lower tempo should try ‘Nous Avons De La Chance’.
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