The Chinese indie music scene reminds me a bit of Game of Thrones.
One of the most cited reasons Game of Thrones took off the way it did is that it subverted expectations; a main character being killed off in the first season was unprecedented, shocking, and ultimately exciting: nobody, and nothing, was safe.
That means, unlike a lot of stories, the people who make it out at the end aren’t picked from the start, the politics and landscapes are always changing, and those who survive are fundamentally, well, survivors.
They have luck, they have grit, and they have a will to make it.
When looking up indie rock bands (frankly, regardless of the nationality) it’s pretty common to find a zombified version of your favorite band has come to life with a new bassist or vocalist, or maybe they’ve renamed, rebranded – maybe there’s been a large musical schism or break up, a la Panic! at the Disco who is now so Brendon Urie-branded I sometimes wonder if the once-loved Pretty Odd. mastermind Ryan Ross was a fever dream of mine.
All this to say: Bananaclub is a band of such survivors. Composed of drummer Zhou Yuelong (Bacchus), guitarist Shi Zheng, and vocalist and lyricist Wen Wu, the band established itself in 2021, a phoenix rising from the ashes of Wen Wu’s over-decade long project of Antitune, which debuted in 2009 when he was 17. Born in Shijiazhuang, notoriously one of the most industrialized and polluted cities in China, Wen Wu’s music seems built to be a salve, producing upbeat and escapist beach-wave dream pop over the years.
His newer project Bananaclub has a similar sound, touted as chill wave dream pop, though the lyrics have a bit more maturity and acknowledgement of the tougher aspects of life, like unfulfilled longings and regrets. “We are all living in a jar full of loneliness and ordinaryness,” he sings in Lifestyles, a song from their 2021 album My Answers Are in Your Heart (我的答案都在你心裸). While still acknowledging the struggles of life, their message is ultimately about believing things will turn out better. As their “mojim”(like Chinese “A-Z lyrics”) profile describes, their music depicts “the image of a teenager who is frustrated but still full of hope in life.”
In fact, such messages dominate the band’s tour announcements and manifestos, encouraging fans to treat their music as a place for love, daydreams, safety, and hope – to let their music remind them to love their loved ones harder, to let go of ideas of wasted youth and instead accept we’re all lost and trying our best no matter our age. When explaining his reason for touring, Wen Wu shares: “I never thought of pleasing anyone, but more looking forward to seeing in [the fans’] eyes the things [they] never mentioned to anyone.”
It’s then little surprise that Bananaclub’s most recent single is a high energy ode both celebrating and lamenting a transient moment of connection with a potential lover outside a bar.
I never thought I’d meet you here
but I just want to remember your name
You told me not to spoil the atmosphere
I didn’t expect you to leave as soon as I turned around
leaving only a moment of sadness
The curious sound of the synth melody is pushed into energetic movement by the guitar and drums, Wen Wu’s voice accenting the beats with the simple, but nostalgic lyrics. The pre-chorus is playful against his confessional lyrics before diving into a chorus the whole club can jump to, singing along against the synth that runs in quick falling waves.
I’ll be on a street corner
just waste together
waste my love
I will wake up one day
getting over you
I’m never loving you
Hi girl, bye bye
The song sputters out in a chaotic finale of sound, repeating the same line, “I can’t take you with me tonight,” emphasizing the impression of lost moments. Frankly, it’s a Craigslist “Missed Connections” post, tristful and wistful feelings stirred up in one mixed bag of emotions.
Currently on tour, one can only hope this newest single is only a tease that Bananaclub has more in store as they collect inspiration across the clubs of China’s metropolises. In a music culture dominated by hashtags, TikTok trends, and – frankly – being youthful, it’s comforting to know Bananaclub has withstood the fires of time and come out edified into a strong, well-steeped sound that can’t be quickly erased.
But if my vouch isn’t enough, I’ll end with Bananaclub’s pitch:
“Go wherever you want,
to feel the passing time,
To see the birds circling freely in the sky,
Go be who you want to be.
If you’re tired, ‘just let it go’
If the pace of the times is too fast, why not come to Banana Club to party together?”