Round Eye Pave the Way For Punk With Unique Elements And A Singular Sound
The sax-infused punk rock of Round Eye is a real head-turner, drawing focus towards China's punk scene and the growing potential in an unexpected place
Round Eye's half of the newly release 11-song split with Orlando's Libyan Hit Squad "Full Circle" released on Genjing Records starts off with an aural assault. Blaring sax, cymbals riding, and a ceaseless scream fill every pocket of empty space on the eponymous intro track. It's a strong introduction, but it's hardly indicative of what Round Eye is all about. The horns aren't strictly used for the blare, as they prove quickly in their track "Kenting" in which they hit plenty of sweet spots. The change-up from wall-of-sound fullness to clear catchy crispness is indicative of the range Round Eye are capable of. Round Eye's ability and willingness to eschew conformity to the punk rock genre or any particular genre while maintaining a signature sound evokes 80s hardcore punkers Minutemen, who themselves pushed boundaries in all directions.
This isn't to say Round Eye is stretching their brand to record something that everyone will find appealing. The album's production is far from polished, and the gritty sound is retained throughout the album. Not by any means a lack of quality, the grit is instead a fitting aesthetic for Round Eye's style. I had the opportunity to communicate with Round Eye members leader Chachy, bassist Xiao Long Bob, saxophonist Lewis, and drummer Jimmy Jack via e-mail, discussing topics like the group's genesis, China's influence on their music, and that nasty, nasty punk sax.
Round Eye are an intriguing band, even without mention of their location abroad or their utilization of the saxophone in a genre which is hardly known for its instrumental variety. Any track off their side of the split would undoubtedly turn heads; when you dig into their story though, it just gets that much more interesting. Chachy band leader and former member of Libyan Hit Squad met Xiao Long Bob 6 years ago "at the University of Florida while waiting in line to sell back books." Lewis and Jimmy Jack who were already living in Shanghai by the time the other two had arrived were put in touch with the band through mutual acquaintances. "A phone call and a few text messages later, well, Round Eye was birthed." Chachy has a formidable background in punk rock; Jimmy Jack's drumming speaks for itself on the record; Xiao Long Bob has been playing bass for (believe it or not) a mere 8 months; and Lewis has an extensive jazz background, having played in reputable big bands as a teenager and college student at University of Nottingham. With the exception of Jimmy Jack (who jokingly, I think, claimed he "never wanted an English guy or a sax player" in the band), the band members are intrigued by the elements Lewis' sax playing can bring to the music. The consensus is that it sounds "sexy as hell" - which you can't disagree with and that it brings "a nasty edge" to many of the album's tracks. "When crafting the sound for the record," Lewis disclosed, "it was about injecting the music with [my] jazz-influenced sensibilities." The product is an undeniably unique sound, not quite any one thing.
Although nothing in particular about this album screams "China!" or features any particular Chinese flavor, I still wonder if these guys would produce the same sound, given a different environment. Chachy, who has been living in China for two and a half years, had the most to say on the subject. "China's shown me some very beautiful, very ugly, and very interesting sides to how a life is lived. Being a Laowai in a city as big and fast as Shanghai, I've grown accustomed to the transiency of my surroundings so as a result, I live and work fast... In regards to our sound, I'd say China's resonance is indicative in songs like 'Kenting' or 'Got Her Runnin''. The low de-tuned drone of the E string and the melody are direct influences from Chinese street musicians; not the licks themselves but rather how they progress is scale." The band members' experience in China is congruent with most foreigners': the ubiquitous contradictions, the change in status from "just another schmo" to "foreigner", the change in pace, and as Xiao Long Bob pointed out, the "Wild West" feel of living over there. He elaborates: "It's been a blitz of new sounds from a new society and new instruments. All rules are left behind and any of us can go any direction with our playing. It's the wild west out here."
Such an environment seems like fertile ground out of which a real punk scene can grow. Chachy had this to say on the future of the relationship between punk and China: "Punk music is derivative of rebellion; a shout in the vapidity of silence. I think with how things are under the red thumb of China, people do and will have quite a lot to say in whatever way they can whether it's through music or anything else.... The DIY ethos behind [punk] has shown me that there is much more to it than simply a form of music. There's a community and a fucking wild one at that. The potential is there within that DIY PMA way of thinking (positive-mental-attitude: Thank you Bad Brains). The world's seen it coalesce in the 80s with the US hardcore movement and hopefully it will see it again in the new wave of Sino-punk rock. Just take a look at Beijing and what is happening there, it's incredible and the potential is already blossoming." For those of us outside of the scene, it's hard to imagine a punk renaissance taking place in China of all places, but the prospect is intriguing to say the least.
It has only been in recent years that China has become known as a place where any and all rebellions are disallowed or immediately tamped out. Perhaps punk will once more revive the essence which resides within Chinese people and society that wants to be galvanized and part of a movement. Right now, however, Round Eye like many other foreign bands in China - has only managed to tap a small portion of the potential Chinese audience. All things considered, the incredible work Round Eye is doing now can only serve to stimulate the scene and inspire others to join the movement. In Jimmy Jack's words, "Music is a virus!" and Round Eye is doing all they can to get themselves as much exposure as possible. "The next step, I imagine, is to tour and to tour A LOT and buy records, and write zines/blogs, and talk, talk, talk, listen, then talk some more, spread the buzz to help keep it going."
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