China Calling: A Punk Tour with Clowns

0215_travel_1To be a band touring in China was totally a dream come true. We had been offered the opportunity a couple times over the last 12 months, and with not much else better to do, we anxiously accepted the offer.

There were a few meetings with our friend Tom of This Town Touring (a Chinese/Australian booking agency), but aside from the constant reassurance that there would be shows to play, we had little to no idea of what we were about to get ourselves into.

My name is Stevie Williams and I sing for the Australian punk-rock group known as Clowns. I like to sometimes think that in our six years of formation we’ve achieved a lot for a bunch of kids who started a band fresh out of high school with no contacts or knowledge of how to build a musical project from the ground up.

In our time we’ve managed to release three EP’s and two full length records which have all sold into the thousand. We’ve seen various band members come and go; our first recordings were in our friends bedroom on his family computer; and we did our last recordings in one of Australia’s most esteemed recording studios.

We’ve played 300 gigs (which have included multiple international tours) varying between outdoor music festivals for thousands of people and backyard pubs in no name towns for less than ten.

During our tour of China in January, we managed to play nine shows in under two weeks through eight cities of China’s south, which included the prestigious Midi Festival in Shenzhen. China is one of the greatest places in the world to travel, and indeed tour a band.

Clowns front man Stevie Willliams performs in the crowd in the parking lot at Brisbane, Australia’s 4ZZZ radio station in 2013.  (Credit: Matt Warrell)

Clowns front man Stevie Willliams performs in the crowd in the parking lot at Brisbane, Australia’s 4ZZZ radio station in 2013. (Credit: Matt Warrell)

As a group of four Western blokes, we were struck with the obvious barriers of language, culture differences and diet changes, but we were also lucky enough to experience what it was truly like to be a touring band through China, speculating on the differences between China, the rest of the world and the subtle, city-to-city differences within China.

After arriving at Hong Kong airport at around 3 in the afternoon and in awe of a complete culture shock, we did our best (which was not very good at all) to try and find a way to the border with Shenzhen. We jumped into a car with a driver who didn’t speak a word of our native tongue, which complicated the process and of course had us a little bit on the edge of our seats.

After an hour long altercation at the border involving our passports and musical instruments, we were finally let through the border of China into Shenzhen feeling confused, anxious and, yet, strangely excited for our first show. Listed below are the tales of three of our adventures through this amazing country, in my top three favorite places of China.

Shenzhen

Shenzhen was the first city we visited in China, so I think it was always going to have a lasting affect no matter what. However, the more overwhelming factor that has lead it to being in my top three cities we visited is that we actually played the biggest show we have ever played to date within its city limits.

From the owners of the bar, to the punters and to the Westerners  we ran into after the show, there was a real sense of community and honesty …

Within hours of arriving in China we were already playing a show to over a thousand people, and within 24 hours we were playing at the Midi Festival to over eight thousand people. The city itself reminded me a lot of Sydney, Australia with its bright lights, food courts and style of architecture. I’m still a little bit in awe of how valuable and cherished its arts culture must be too.

In Australia, it’s easy for any band to play a show, but it is incredibly hard to get the kinds of shows that we were lucky enough to play in Shenzhen. Sure it probably helped that we played over Western New Years Eve and that we are an international band, but the size, scale and vibe we received from the shows we played in Shenzhen are unmatched to the other three hundred previous gigs we have played over the world.

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(Credit: Sam Gibson)

In Australia, it is really hard to find yourself on a bill at an outdoor music festival with thousands of people watching. Even just mere photos of the experience have still left my friends at home in a bit of shock, and we feel so lucky that we were able to have the experience be part of the festival. I had been told by the locals that the government in Shenzhen is particularly open-minded to music in comparison to other parts of China. In my opinion what they have managed to achieve from the music scene there is great and they should continue to do it.

Dongguan

Arriving in Dongguan, Clowns from left to right, Joe Hansen, Stevie Williams, James Ahern and Jake Laderman, take a moment for a picture by the Dong River before the gig.

Arriving in Dongguan, Clowns from left to right, Joe Hansen, Stevie Williams, James Ahern and Jake Laderman, take a moment for a picture by the Dong River before the gig.

Dongguan is a beautiful city. Although our time was short, it wasn’t disliked or under appreciated. We spent our day roaming the streets and crossing bridges over huge stretches of water and eating some of the best food we had over the entire trip.

We played our show in a cool little dive bar called Brown Sugar Jar, which through its hospitality and layout reminded us similarly of what many smaller music venues are like within Australia, and subsequently made us feel right at home.

Although the show was a little bit quiet, we definitely felt a welcoming presence and were comfortable with our surroundings. The people who were at the show were there for it all, and weren’t shy for a photo or two after the show, which is always a bit of a strange experience for us.

The one shining positivity from the entire experience was definitely the attitude and kind nature of the locals. From the owners of the bar, to the punters and to the Westerners we ran into after the show, there was a real sense of community and honesty that existed, which I felt had maybe lacked in other parts of the country we had toured, which made Dongguan stick in my brain for the rest of the trip.

Wuhan

Finally my last of the top three places we played in China is Wuhan. Another city which stuck out from the bunch, despite the fact we spent less than 24 hours there. We were told as we were getting into Wuhan that, with a population of 8 million, it was considered quite small.

Coming from a country where our entire population is 22 million, and our city which is the second biggest having only 4 million, it was definitely a bit of a culture shock.

Although we were tainted with a five hour train ride to get there and it was starting to get quite cold as we travelled further into the north, we all felt a similar sense of community which was described earlier in Dongguan added with a bit more of a hustle and bustle big city vibe and plenty of street food.

The venue we played, called Real Live, was by far the most professional smaller venue we came across. They had a full backline set up for us to use, expensive set of lights and a huge list of cocktails on order from the bar, which is something we were all very pleased to find. I think that particular show may have been my favorite gig in a pub within China purely for its crowd interaction and vibe.

 

Category Travel