Breaking the Status Quo, Effeminate Gestures and more: An Educational 10 Questions with Jeroen Groenewegen of Second Hand Rose.
This Saturday, Second Hand Rose and their wild antics descend on the worker’s gymnasium, following the footsteps of XTX and Bob Dylan just to name a few.
First time i heard about these guys mentioned, i was told they were the Rolling Stones of China and that they were all washed up… i believed it. Thankfully, I’m a curious bastard and and did go catch them live for the fist time at Tango a few years ago.. and then in blew my mind!!
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure to learn more about the band and also spend quite a bit of time listening to their music. It just so happens that Jeroen, their percussionist, got in touch and i couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hit him for 10 Questions. I expected some good answers from the man, and what i got was a an education… Thank you!! So let’s meet him, shall we?
1- Who is Jeroen and what are you up to? this is your chance to plug your stuff
Firstly I want to apologies for my parents, who gave me such a inexplicable name. Please remember me as Yulong (rain-dragon).
In 2011 I finished my PhD on Chinese popular music (download: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/17706). Then I moved from the Netherlands to Beijing, where, among other things, I got involved in the organization of a showcase festival and music industry conference called Sound of the Xity. Add Second Hand Rose and the odd translation job to that, and you know why I haven’t been able to give my analytical beast the space to tear at social reality these couple of months.
2- let’s start at the beginning: how did you first encounter Second Hand Rose and how did you join the band.
I became friends with Wang Yuqi at Midi Festival in 2002, when he was playing guitar with this exciting new outfit called Second Hand Rose. In 2005 I had the opportunity to invite a number of Chinese bands to perform in Amsterdam. Wang Yuqi came as the second guitar player of Muma. I arranged for him and his then-girlfriend Marie-Claude LeBel aka Malika to stay at Maikel Liem’s ( of Amazing Insurance Salesmen) tiny apartment. It was a lot of fun, with the Shanghainese writer Mianmian living the rock life and A Dong (then Subs drummer, now again PK14 bassist) getting a free tattoo etc.
Anyways, after the Amsterdam China Festival I started my PhD at Leiden University. It focuses on the artsy folk singer Xiao He, the pop diva Faye Wong and Second Hand Rose. So over the next couple of years I talked a lot to Liang Long.
But he never knew I play drums. Hell, I forgot about it myself, until I started playing again in Beijing. Eventually Zuoxiao Zuzhou told Liang Long, who then called me.
Second Hand Rose had performed with percussionists before. They were thinking a woman or a foreigner would be an interesting addition to the band. I guess that’s me.
3- Would it be correct to describe you as a music-sinologist? What first attracted you to music in Chinese languages?
Music-sinologist sounds fine to me. Sinology makes people think of the old days of colonialism, but simply changing the name doesn’t mean knowledge stopped serving power, quite the contrary. To avoid these discussions I define myself as moving in between ‘China studies’ and ‘popular music studies’, like the Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies Group of which I am part (www.facebook.com/interasiapopularmusicstudies).
When I came to Beijing as an exchange student in 2001-2002, playing music and going to shows was a nice way of making friends. I think that’s what music does, bring people together. I was also intrigued about how these people reflected on their lives, engaged with the world around them.
4- Congrats on the latest Second Hand Rose album. I’m really enjoying it. How much input did you have on the songwriting, music and lyrics?
Thanks for liking it. I didn’t have much input. The album was more or less finished when I joined the band. They used a few samples I use in my Roland SPD-SX, and I introduced them to Outdustry, who arranged the mastering.
5- You’re playing with Second Hand Rose, Carl Edmunds is with SUBS, Jonathan is with P.K. 14 just to name a few. it there a trend of foreign drummers with local bands? I don’t see that with other instruments other than maybe Nico who was with Voodoo Kungfu
Eddie Randriamampionona has played guitar with Cui Jian since the 1980s. It just seems like a normal thing to have foreign band members in the increasingly cosmopolitan metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai etc.
Pet Conspiracy and various projects of Zhang Si’an / Jean-Sebastian show that foreigners do more than drum, but maybe you’re right, it still seems outbalanced.
Anyway, for PK14 and SUBS it seems unproblematic to have a foreigner on the drums because these bands have a relatively ‘Western’ sound. But Second Hand Rose plays Chinese rock. It includes Chinese musical elements and engages the Chinese nation in its music and lyrics etc. So what does it mean that I’m on stage with them?
Take Sam Debell of the folk rock band Shanren. At international shows he doesn’t play percussion with them because his white face makes the band look less authentic. When I frowned at this, he shrugged and pointed out he has also profited a lot from his ethnicity in China. So, sometimes I wonder whether my joining Second Hand Rose promotes tolerance and open dialogue, or whether I’m more like an ethnic minority singing and dancing in support of Chinese nationalism. Please let me know.
6- You’ve been with the band for a while now. What are 3 of the best memories and 3 of the worst experiences related to being in a Chinese rock band?
1) Last year December at our solo concert in Tango, the see-through red curtains opened and a sea of red and green fans waved ecstatically. Arena, first ring, filled to the brim with about 2000 shouting and jumping people. All that adrenaline.
2) In July we did one or two festivals every weekend. Travel, sound check, chilling in the hotel, explosion of energy on stage, swimming in the pool next day. We were getting better and better at it, culminating at Zhangbei.
3) My Hong Kong friends at our show in Hidden Agenda last October shouting my name. Yulong!!!!
1) Second Hand Rose gets much less female attention that I assumed. Bummer.
2) We toured Taiwan for the first time last October. At one show, in Taichung, there were no Chinese drum and bongos, which I had to replace with my sampler. But I had no monitor speaker, and there was no light where I was standing, so I could hear nor see what I was doing. I had to drink ‘menjiu’ 闷酒 afterward.
3) I am not always comfortable with being told I’m wrong, especially not when it is in very direct words and in front of others. I have a fucking PhD, with honors, I never was a professional musician, I’m not even playing my own instrument, what am I doing here? It’s not like it’s paying all that much. But then I realize I’m being petty and that I should man up.
7- A little known fact is that you wrote a book about Chinese underground rock a few years ago: “Tongue: Making Sense of Underground Rock”.. how did that come about and where can we find it?
That book was my MA thesis, which I wrote in 2005. I thought most foreign research on Chinese popular music was too political, and tried way too hard to construct rock music as the subversive voice of the people against the state. So I took the most political moment in recent rock history I could find – the performance of Painter 油漆匠 by Tongue 舌头 – and argued it was much more interesting than venting frustration with the status quo.
During the performance of the song a friend of the band would get on stage with a bucket of red paint and throw it over the members, who wore white outfits. Meanwhile Wu Tun would sing ‘It painted our youth, it painted everything we are…’. I was interested in going beyond the idea that we could start over with a clean slate. We’re all complicit.
If anyone wants to read it, please contact me.
By the way, Tongue’s reunion concert at Mako a few weeks back was really awesome. Loud, tight, powerful. Best ever.
8- Word association: for each one of the following, write down the first thing that comes to your mind.
* yaogun: Oh YEAH
* qipao: Tux
* Cui Jian: At Zhangbei festival, old Cui had just called for girls from the audience to get on stage, so a mob of hysterical women (some not so young) where trying to fight their way in past where I was standing. The only girls that did get on stage had been waiting there for 15 minutes. It was all prearranged, but the frenzy of those who didn’t make it, couldn’t possible make it, that was real.
* Liang Long: Shouldn’t wear a hat. And then a typical hand gesture he makes when he talks. Quite effeminate for a tough Northeastern rocker.
* Polka Dots: Negligee
9- Do you feel fans can appreciate the band’s music without understanding the lyrics as it’s a form of Er Ren Zhuan( or crosstalk rock as i call it)
es. But I can hardly say no, can I.
Liang Long’s banter is hilarious, but there’s plenty going on in the music too. I think part of the joy for our audiences comes from hearing pop culture cliches in unexpected constellations. We have songs that refer to Micheal Jackson and Metallica, but also reuse parts of Chinese pop songs, internet pulp, folk music and drinking games. As an audience member, it would help if you can recognize a few of these fragments. Maybe the ‘instruction videos’ we made are useful, as well as the other info on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/2ndHRose). ‘Liking Second Hand Rose… good for everyone.’
10- You’ve been a staple presence at pretty much every music industry event i’ve been to the last few years. We’re not gonna talk about the state of the industry but if you could pick 3 actions that would benefit the scene right away, what would you do?
1) A streamlined and transparent permit system for live performances. Now the system relies too much on personal contacts, and too many people can veto. Because of this, promoters need to give away lots of tickets, which are resold on the black market and which drives up the price of the remaining tickets. Moreover, the current permit system creates unnecessary insecurity, which is bad for business. For instance, only last week Avicii’s show was canceled in Shanghai because of last minute permit / security issues.
2) Allow copyright holders to organize themselves in a collecting agency, which should then be in the position to collect income from state-owned media companies such as radio and TV stations (who still think the music industry should thank them for getting exposure), and internet media giants such as Baidu and Tencent (who see free music as a cheap way of attracting people to their platforms), or at least speak out on behalf of the music industry. This would circumvent the dysfunctional MCSC.
3) China should establish a music export bureau, following examples of South-Korea and Taiwan, where bands can apply for support for recording and in travel expenses to major international events. Now such support seems incidental and unchecked.
Christmas is coming up, any of these three items would really make my day. Thanks.
how about that… i feel like i need to do another one with him because the answers just brought forth so many more new questions. It’s a pragmatic look at the situation as far as where the band member fits etc… that i’m hoping to explore even more.
“Useless Rock” Concert by Second Hand Rose
7 December 2013, 19:30
Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium
I’m thankful that Jeroen took the time to answer these questions and look forward to catching the gig on saturday at Gongti.
what did you all think?