Chatting about the Beijing Music Scene with Disaster Chat

Two American brothers, Justin and Jesse, and two English Joes formed the bilingual band Disaster Chat in Beijing in 2013. Since starting their band(乐队), they have performed in bars and venues such as Lush, a charity show atClub 13 , XP, Hotcat Club, School Bar, Ritz Carlton Tianjin, DDC, VA Bar, 4 Corners, and the Shuangjing Block Party. Disaster Chat talks to us about the music scene in Beijing, their experiences playing in China, and writing lyrics(歌词) in Chinese.

Meet the Band

From Left to Right

Justin, Oklahoma US (Same womb as Jesse), Drums(鼓手), Bongos, Djembes, anything you can hit with a stick.

Jesse, Oklahoma US. – guitar(吉他), bass and vocals(主唱)(the talent)

Joe Bruce, Middlesbrough England– Lead Guitar, Bass, Pretend Guitar Pedal User

Joe Harvey, Bedfordshire (Westoning) England– Rhythm Guitar, D Chord Specialist and Backing Ooohs and Aaahs

1. What type of music do you play?

Bruce: We all like different types of music from one another, and therefore bring different influences to our music. It’s pretty difficult to categorize what our 'sound’ is, but we all like a nice melody and we have tried to play different styles throughout our time as a band, ranging from lighter stuff to rock(摇滚乐). We do have a bit of instrumental post-rock going on. All topped off with some wonderful Chinese-English Lyrics from Jesse.... delightful!

Harvey: About the music - It’s really, really good music - it is the sort of music you hear live and think 'this isn’t s**t’ and then you listen more and pay attention and then start thinking 'why isn’t this band famous?

2. How would you describe the music scene in Beijing?

Bruce: Diverse(多种多样)! In any bar on any night (and actually within the same bill to be honest) you can hear some wildly different styles(风格). From what I’ve heard, lots of bands like the heavier stuff here, but with the cover band scene being very much pop-sing-along-loveliness that we all enjoy, there is a definite mixture!

Harvey: I once witnessed 4 Japanese girls dressed in Santa outfits playing at 13 Club, some other band called the Dukes also played that night, they weren’t as good as the girls in red - and… that’s the end of that story.

Jesse: The Music scene is slightly bipolar between the foreign scene and the Chinese style. Foreign bands are made up of mostly cover bands designed to bring a drunken crowd to full climax in one of the hangout bars while the original bands are generally looking at trying to spread their love but encountering massive challenges in language and adaptability skills. The Chinese scene seems to consist of heavy rockers and experimental music hoping for the slightest chance of a shot amongst ridiculously huge pop stars and the mainstream(主流) commercial giants.

Justin: Despite American pop being incredibly popular in Beijing, I find live music for the most part to be lots of punk, metal, screamo, and indie rock. A lot of rock basically, except for the random oddballs, such as a full on bluegrass band.

3. What are the differences between being in a band back home and in China?

Bruce: Good question. Not a whole lot to be honest. You write some songs, you think they’re pretty good and you go out and play them for people. It’s the same anywhere you go. A crowd is a crowd and you just hope they enjoy it. I have to say, though, that having Chinese lyrics and playing to a Chinese crowd can go down especially well. We like that aspect of playing in China.

Harvey: Because of the venues I played at back in England were places like: my bedroom, my living room(客厅), a garden. I have no true comparison. It’s my first band which is sometimes quite evident when you see me playing the guitar.

Jesse: I feel like the main difference is simply being an international band. Back home we were, for the most part, very in one nationality’s frame of mind. Here we have to break out of our cultural and artistic(艺术) boxes to express(表达) our art in a form that reaches across borders.

Justin: Playing in bars here adds the nice element of being able to trick drunk people into dancing, an advantage I lacked playing at home, since I was quite young then and usually played in booze free places.

4. You write most of the songs that you perform. What are your favorite lyrics from some of your songs?

Bruce: That’s Jesse’s thing. I admire him a lot for the melodies and lyrics he’s able to dream up. They suit the style of music very well. I especially like the song Made it 3 which is about the contraire nature of people these days.. "One plus one is two. So says everyone, its undeniable. Of all equations take me to your truth(事实), cos one plus one is two, one plus one is two.. but you made it three."

Jesse: I really enjoy the lyrics "stay up late, watch The Wire, close enough to touch but only held back by the long on her face, her sick sweet distain" This song is about being stuck in the friends zone by a girl you really like and The Wire is Joe Bruce’s favorite TV show(电视节目) so I put it in there as a tribute to him and it also really fit the image and feel of the song perfectly.

Justin: I'm convinced Jesse merely creates the lyrics on stage as he goes, I generally just lip sync along to compensate for not knowing the words.

5. Some of your songs are in Chinese. Who writes these songs? Can you share with us some of your lyrics?

Jesse: I usually write the Chinese songs and I ask some of my Chinese friends to make sure I am not making any huge mistakes. Right now we have two Chinese songs

One of the songs is about falling in love with a girl at a supermarket(超市) but never having the courage to go up and talk to her. Its chorus is…





Our other song is about the Chinese concept of how studying abroad is a must(必须) in life and how society and parents will do a lot to make sure their students get that time abroad. Then it describes how this concept tears apart established relationships and how long distance is tough as thing that’s really tough.

Some of its lyrics go as follows.









Harvey: I advise on the (语法) and the (语音) (No, he doesn’t!)

6. Who was your favorite artist that you saw in Beijing?

Bruce: I enjoyed The Harridans show for sure. I really liked a Shenzhen Band called Friendly Cannons who played at DDC a few weeks back. Cool as!

Harvey: Japanese girls in Santa outfits(服装) (can’t remember the name of their band though or any of their music)

Jesse: I am really partial to a lot of the Chinese bands I hear at the Strawberry music festival but I really enjoyed a band we played with Called Mr Lady. They had some jam tunes that could really make you move!

Justin: I recently saw a band called Pokemon Dad, not sure what the name was all about, but the edgy rock sound and frequently changing(改变) flow of the songs really hit hard. Cool experience.

7. What song best encompasses the time that you have spent in China and why? It can be one of your songs or someone else’s song.

Bruce: I have two: the song Gumboots by Paul Simon is so happy(快乐) and chirpy that it represents how I feel 98% of my time living in China. 'We Will Become Silhouettes’ by The Postal Service would cover the other 2%. That Beijing air(空气) is going get us all one day!

Harvey: Gangnam Style

Jesse: We have a new song that really talks about being in Beijing and how we could not make in other places and despite how rough it can be, Beijing is home.

Justin: Yellow by Coldplay, because you see a lot of yellow(黄色).

8. What challenges have you have faced since starting Disaster Chat?

Bruce: I love hanging out with these fellas and playing music with them. It’s such a stress-free environment for the most part. I’d say we all have similar ideas on how to progress(进步) and what we get out of it. We’re not afraid to try different styles and genres.. its all good, clean fun!

Harvey: Playing the guitar to a level beyond what my teddy bears witnessed back in England.

Jesse: We have faced a lot of challenges(挑战) such as learning how to flow together as a band and growing more confidant as live musicians. We also have faced challenges such as learning how to grow our band in a manner that all suites us while also maintain the importance of our creativity(创造性) and music.

Justin: We constantly have strings break on stage, a curse that has followed us relentlessly.

9. When and where are you playing next?

Bruce: Recording an E.P is on the agenda at the moment. Hopefully have that done soon after the may holiday! Shows-wise, I know we’ll be at School Bar in Wudaoying that weekend, and a festival in Shunyi called Rynostock the following weekend. We play(演出) at 4:15pm - 5pm Hit us up on wechat for further information! 3rd May at around 9pm/10pm at School Bar.

For shows and more information about Disater Chat, add them on Wechat.

Kristen Carusos is from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She graduated from Kennesaw State University with a major in International Affairs and a minor in French. She studied abroad in China for the first time in Shanghai in 2010 and again in 2011 at Beijing Language and Culture University. She graduated and moved to Beijing in 2012 and has been studying Chinese since then. She works in the Marketing Department at the Sinology Institute.