22 February, 2007

Afro Punk and Beijing Bubbles

Last night I went to a back-to-back screening of two documentaries: Afro Punk, about black (or otherwise non-white) punks in the US, and Beijing Bubbles, about punk and rock musicians in China. The directors of both films were there, so we got a (too) short Q&A period after the screenings.

I first encountered Afro Punk on my stint as Art Director for the (as far as I know) now-defunct NRG Magazine. We did a write up of the movie, as well as an interview with the director, James Spooner, when it was originally released in 2004. I'd never gotten around to it, but I was intrigued to watch the movie, since I could see a connection between black people being outsiders in this very white music scene (which, considering the outsider aesthetic of punk, is highly ironic), and my own experience as a white Puertorrican trying to fit into a culture that prides itself on its mestizaje, or mix of races. The movie does a great job of portraying the frustration of black punks trying to fit into the scene, not only in NYC, but all around the US. It features many interviews with punks around the country, as well as some black punk musicians, most notably Angelo Moore of Fishbone. One of the most interesting points that the movie makes, is that -according to the film- although black punks are apparently few and far between in the scene, many punk bands, such as Bad Brains, Fishbone, Candira, Burn, etc., have black members. This doesn't necessarily come as a surprise, but it's certainly food for thought.

Beijing Bubbles was not as in-depth as I would have liked. The directors had only two weeks to shoot in Beijing, and they had made no prior contacts in the scene before going over there. . . it shows in the film. Instead of being about punks in particular, it seems to focus on rock musicians in general, and one gets the feeling that the people showcased in the film are the only ones that the directors could find on such short notice. Fair enough, as I'm sure it's a huge pain to get in touch with such an underground scene in China, especially on such short notice. The most notable aspect of the film is the footage of Beijing itself. Not at all the bastion of communism that you'd expect, Beijing has grown into an emminently capitalistic city, with mega-malls, high-class shopping and business districts right over the river from what looked like shanty towns. Adding to this disconnect, the musicians showcased were for the most part working musicians, but I use the term loosely- some of them were being supported financially by their parents, and others were eking out a very meager existence with no possibility of really living off their music. The interviewees ranged in age from 20 to 33 years old, which I thought would really come into play when they were asked about their attitude towards their government, and their reaction or impressions of events like the Tiennamen Square Massacre in 1989. The younger kids seemed oblivious , and perfectly content to be part of a consumer society, albeit on the lower rungs. The older kids seemed aware of their place in history, but what you get is an attitude of utter indifference and despondence towards anything or anyone establishment-related. Healthy, sure, but I didn't perceive much awareness of context, which was surprising, considering how communist propaganda is supposed to 'educate' the population as to the adverse effects of consumer/capitalist society. Just goes to show: communism is dead, and it died slowly and painfully on the altar of the almighty dollar, hemorraging from within.

In all, a great night of documentaries, followed by a visit to the 5th Ave. Apple store with my friend Ben, (who wanted to check out the crazy glass elevator) to see if they'd gotten the AppleTV in yet. Alas, No joy. The wait continues. . .

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