That metal never dies is a faith. No God of Metal ever existed. Nor God of Leather Jacket or God of Harley-Davidson. Yet that famous gesture, firstly consisting of the raised index and little finger and later thumb, index finger and little finger is a depiction of the horned head of Satan. Hippies endow the horn with the phrase 'I love you', which, though helping to promote world peace, deprives the gesture of its unyieldingness as well as its sense of silent promise.
Creaking under the weight of Christianity, the rebels search deep into history for alternatives. They search those ancient religions shut out by orthodoxy or better still they look to the antithesis of God, the rebel Satan, the biggest loser of the Western world. This is when the idea of heavy metal germinates. It is like the Monkey King, face covered by moss, waiting for the day he is released from stone and he can get even. When that day comes he will need gestures, symbols and facial expressions to use as codes between friends.
Last century the relationship between rock music and God was generally intense, sometimes intimate, occasionally improved. It is beyond the interpretation of a few words. There are too many factors to be explored such as history, culture and modernity. It is like Uighur people who, unable to speak good Mandarin, have to give up. As the roast mutton smokes and the mutton oil on the ground is lit by lamp-light, both history and culture are rendered without speech.
Generally, however, Satan is nothing but a bystander. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost but he didn't believe in Satan either. For me, what he believed in was language. Don't all poets live in rhymes and letters? People after all need a bit of faith. In a time that was, is, and will continue to be trapped in confusion and humiliation, people are always eager to embrace a livelier life. Apart from the already existing options, there are other options including those unnamed and those which are beyond our grasp like sand slipping through the hand. One can believe in all of them. When people believe in heavy metal they believe that the effector, the rhythmic pattern, the soundbox and the rocket-like guitar are all the instruments of Mass with the black t-shirt as the cassock. Satan, on the other hand, is simply an excuse. Whether Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, aren't they also greater than Satan? Tony Iommi invented guitar riffs that were crushingly effective and flexible. Whether Satan or God, they can only admire. One sees heaven in a wildflower and one also finds the universe of guitar riff forever changed since that day. It is like the dark night is saying to itself "let there be dark lightning". And there it is.
Then the heavy metal is like Satan returning to hell with its own ceremony and people divided into a variety of genres and sects. As for totalitarianism, capitalism or whatever, hardcore punk works against the world whereas heavy metal with its long, gloomy face antagonizes reality with mythology.
Speaking of faith, artists probably believe in art. But saying this sounds far too much so one has to understand it without words.
A friend of mine quoted me the words of the lead singer of a hardcore punk band: “you lose it if you get serious”. He says, at best, this is a band of perverted white collars. It reminds me of artists who have been living in depression and anxiety throughout the ages. One day a few years ago, ZHANG Ding explained to me the skill of painters. For example, small objects seemingly suspended in the air, effortlessly appearing and disappearing. I was suddenly enlightened. Rock music in Beijing, oil painting in Chengdu or Lanzhou, or Linxia, wherever it is from, it is all the same. Don’t be too serious. Carry a bottle of wine and a guqin, go to read WeChat under the pine tree and leave Captain America to go and fight.
All in all, one cannot lose.
A few years have passed and I recall the first meeting with ZHANG Ding. It turned out to be at the Midi Music Festival. It was the festival of the rebel army, at least at that time. It was the festival of losers. We re-invented the reality.
A few years have passed and people have seriously lost themselves. Reality has re-invented itself. I never returned to Midi again. What about ZHANG Ding? An artist who beat a cactus with his own bare hands, he didn’t move to Songzhuang art colony or convert to Buddhism. Instead, he has settled in Shanghai. Looking back at the Midi or the video of the cactus, what will he feel? Taopu, the art park where his studio is, a small object which seems suspended in the air, is witnessing the explosion of contemporary art. Is it a capitalist revolution, or a revolution in a capitalist manner, or the Velvet Revolution in a new epoch? Reality is ruthless. Rock music, art, hold up there, even as anti-revolution.
I have talked at the table with ZHANG Ding about rock music. “Metal never dies, rock forever” a deputy director of an art museum said, adding, “Insist underground, fuck off the mainstream”. He claimed that these words were initially spoken by him in the 1990s when he hadn’t joined the underground band. True, it was a century of confrontation and creation. The huge power of heavy metal in China at the beginning of the 90s almost invented an underground nation; however, Beijing remained its capital.
The revolution in Beijing was heated, many years later the revolution in Shanghai is calm.
ZHANG Ding calmly resides in his Taopu studio: From the perspective of time he is far away from the cactus, and from the perspective of space there is also a certain distance between him and the ceiling, making it possible to create large installations. I have seen some of them. There is plaster, which reminds me of the art courses I took in the workers’ culture palace; there is stainless steel that makes me think of the T2000 in Terminator; also there is the sponge in the refrigerator which reminds me of the man-made leather sofa exposed under the sun. And there come many sounds, some from the 8-inch KRK studio monitors and some from the speakers made by ZHANG Ding which make me think of the voice from the counterfeit Peoples Temple loudspeaker boxes, rampaging in the huge cement space: the sounds crash into each other, lose their original forms and turn into a blur of noise.
It illustrates that even though in Shanghai, the inner ocean of noise hasn’t been solved.
The sounds, the shots, and also the string quartet, now it’s rock music’s turn. Does ZHANG Ding want to steal my job? These sounds, like the body hair of the Monkey King, merging and multiplying when colliding, mixing when reflecting, like the drowned Monkey King in the hot-pot. ZHANG Ding, you’d better invent the sound-absorbing sponge as soon as possible.
When people wander in the white box, exhibiting the ramble towards the space with a kind of silence surrounding it like water. Oh, such a peaceful moment, like returning to the mother’s womb. Such silence is like in the Cathedral, spiraling us upwards like a vortex, towards the ceiling, towards God. The art museum is eternal. Let’s replace this eternity with another religion - a religion that is fiery, a religion belonging to the vandal and the losers.
Rock music is not the only thing we can depend on to break the silence. In a white box with severe reflection, even heavy metal will die. It should carry its whole nation. Sound-absorbing foam, carpets, plants, bookshelves, three hundred wild-haired men in black, whatever mish-mash, come here and stop such reflection!
Does it mean we should occupy the art museum? Maybe this isn’t ZHANG Ding’s intention. How does he earn a living without art museums and galleries? Groys and all of the Hans, what are they living on?
Moreover, the wild-haired men in black won’t occupy anywhere but in their occupied life they make gestures, gather in the darkness, shake their heads near the loudspeaker boxes. From any point of view, they have been surpassed, turned into objects, waiting for the coming of sociology. They are still obsessed with legends and fond of confrontation, at least the physical confrontation among the bodies in the mosh pit, which makes them become part of history. But we are planning to give up history.
Or we just send the losers into the galleries and cool them down.
Metal never dies. Long live the art. Everybody has a dream.
It was probably in 1993 when I first saw the video of the Concert in Red Square in Moscow in 1991. Rock fans believed it was the concert that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union a long time since. I hope so. But how can that be? “It’s the power of music!”. But how can that be? It wasn’t in Red Square at all. Didn’t the camera shoot it clearly? But we only have faith in what we want to believe. Maybe this is the power of music.
In the 15th episode of The Walking Dead, one-armed Merle Dixon finally died. He drove his car, listened to Motörhead, drank wine, and chose death. Motörhead mixes heavy metal with punk, so do Metallica, Slayer, Napalm Death, and all of the early grindcore. Heavy metal is male whilst punk is female. So the two opposing principles of nature meet, offset each other and dismiss the dream. The place where dreams stop is the place where reality starts. The sound of sawing wood, the crazy speed, and the shouting is not towards hell or the other shore but to tear down the decoration of hell, to expose another shore. This is also the power of music.
Wagner’s followers give up communism, drawback offstage, and worship the strength of composers. Heavy metal creates its own god, worshipping the jacket, the Harley motorcycle and the penis-like guitar. All the undead are gods. Zombies are the onset of human’s dreams about eternity. Classical music and heavy metal are the appropriate soundtracks for zombie movies. All the art museums are sacred that should be underscored by moderate electronic music. At the time when I watched the video with my friends, the artists in Lanzhou and Chengdu were fond of Kitaro. This is also the power of music.
However, Merle’s death seems so cool. Just like the lonely hero of doomsday. It’s a TV series after all. Even the freakish white-collar worker who watches soap operas on Youku, is there anyone who doesn’t want to change the world?
ZHANG Ding’s homemade loudspeaker boxes seem counterfeit any way you view them. Like the props which the Dadaist Hugo Ball wears when reciting, they seem holy because of the ridiculousness. And also like the Intonarumori, a futuristic noise machine made up of cases, boxes, and cones, like some new combination of pyramids and monuments. When placed in the future, it seems clumsy and outdated. Isn’t WeChat the most avant-garde noise machine of today? Every word you speak to it is postponed, so we are separated in different futures by time. The pyramids? The pioneer from outer space? There might not be any future for the semi-automatic machine apart from its embarrassing presence.
I guess it would be another ridiculous performance because it’s really counterfeit. Except for the fake, the swill-cooked, the shameless, is there anything that is more real now? ZHANG Ding’s Intonarumori machine with poor cyberpunk operation electrifies the pagodas and credence. His rock monsters, a group of Chinese youth some of whom come from Inner Mongolia, electrify us with their Chinglish and their imported guitars. ZHANG Ding’s temporary Red Square electrifies our imagination. As long as there is electricity, the dangerous noisy electricity, even in such a cheap white box where there isn’t ground wire at all…
Then here came rock music, which also could be called Chinese agrestic rock. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been so many new kinds of music that heavy metal has had no choice but to drawback to the underground. But the agrestic rock is shameful in that it contains the legends of another time and space. The rite is only preserved underground: three hundred men in black, coming to the loudspeaker boxes by bus, with big satellites, sheep horns, inverted crosses, skulls, and curses, which are reflected with each other. They say that life is a piece of shit and that only the vibration of music can make me feel that I am still alive. Whether you believe it or not, it’s the faith…
Yes, only faith is true. But hasn’t the faith broken down?
The other people in Red Square, did they hear about the videotape?
Pantera, The Black Crowes, Metallica, AC/DC, and all kinds of Cowboys from Hell possess the show. Does ZHANG Ding intend to turn ShanghART into hell, a counterfeit hell? But lord, please prepare some free liquor, vodka or something. Vomit everything clearly, deputy director, vomit until you become an empty shell without any organs inside. Just like yesterday once more, history is still running in orbit, never wanting to leave.