Interview with Streets Kill Strange Animals

Since forming in 2008 Beijing’s Streets Kill Strange Animals have steadily made a name for themselves as one of the most interesting and original band’s coming out of China’s capital. Emerging at a time when all eyes were on China and the music scene was literally exploding, SKSA have proved they are in it for the long run, working on the their sound, doing regular live shows, touring, and in 2012 putting out their first full length, Plan B: Back to the Analog Time, a title that hints at the themes within (whereas lyrical content rarely deals with wild animals getting wiped out by traffic despite the band’s moniker).

It terms of sound SKSA manage to strike a balance between experimental and sometimes harsh noises that a select few Beijing venues have become laboratories for, and an accessibility that allows anyone to enjoy their music. It’s unconventional, it’s loud, it’s fuzzy, but it’s not purposely obtuse. If we compare their sound to paint there is way more structure and form than a Jackson Pollock, but at the same time far more coloring outside the lines than an Andy Warhol. Instead Streets Kill Strange Animals are like a Picasso inspired piece of street art, recognizable form twisted and toyed with, applied to an imperfect canvas, and doused in vibrant color.

Lyrically there is a lot of discussion about China today, a place that has changed rapidly, leaving the big cities unrecognizable to their own inhabitants over the course of a mere decade and a half. Life is fast, constantly changing, and ultimately unsustainable, where normal people can only stand by and watch pandemonium unfold around them. The lines of SKSA’s songs tell the story of this disconnect, like Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’, watching the world go, but separated by a glass barrier, unable to reach and touch what’s before you.

Genjing Records is excited to present a 7” featuring the previously unreleased tracks ‘Through’ and ‘The Bridge’. We had a sit down with guitarist/vocalist Leng Mei about the roots of the band, influences, and the story behind all the noise.

Who are Streets Kill Strange Animals? What do you do?

We are Zhang Yang (drummer), Yang Dan (bass player) and me, Leng Mei (guitars and vocals). Zhang Yang is living in Baoding city of Hebei province as a drum teacher, Yang Dan doesn’t work, and I work as the distributor for Maybe Mars records.

How did the band start out?

I came to Beijing looking for musicians for the band in 2007, the band started in 2008. Zhang Yang just joined us this summer.

Who would you cite as some of your early influences?

I think Yo La Tengo influenced me first! Before that I heard lots of Low and Red House Painters. But finally I really wanted to make a band like Sonic Youth. Maybe this was a kind of evolution.

You come from Nanjing originally; how is the feel of the city different from Beijing?

I grew up in Nanjing, and I think there is a great difference between the weather and culture. It is so cold without heat in winter and so hot and wet in summer in Nanjing; Beijing is the center for artists.

Your music has been described as being “future shock”, being directly influenced by the rapid pace of change and modernization in China. What are you trying to communicate through your music about change, modern life and identity in a place that never seems to stand still?

I love it to be described as the “missing past”; there was less pollution and fewer people in the 80’s of my childhood, though you could enjoy less entertainment and there wasn’t such chaos in the cities. So it seems that I’m a passenger on the bus these days.

Tell us about the two songs on this 7″: what were the ideas behind the songs? How and where were they recorded? Why did you choose these two tracks for the Genjing release?

‘Through’ tells the story of a lonely boy who is always looking for something around the city; ‘The Bridge’ is asking us what is a dream? But it could mean anything to anyone. We recorded them at the Tree Studio in 2011, our friend Michael Winkler also added the guitar and vocals in ‘The Bridge’. We really didn’t like the mix before, so Li Weiyu, the producer of Duck Fight Goose, re-mixed them. We liked his work for Duck Fight Goose and Muscle Snog, and the result is good.

‘Through’ holds the hallmarks of a noise rock anthem you could expect from the Sonic Youth, with touches of My Bloody Valentine, whereas ‘The Bridge’ is both haunting and psychedelic, like one of the Smashing Pumpkins slower, darker numbers. What influences these two different sides to Streets Kill Strange Animals?

They are the first two songs I wrote in about 2003, we changed the arrangement a lot. I heard Yo La Tengo’s Painful and Sonic Youth’s Goo hundreds of times, as well as many good indie rock bands from Matador and Sub Pop. Maybe my first noise experience was ‘Drown’ by The Smashing Pumpkins’ for The Singles soundtrack — what great feedback they did!

Why do you think it’s important for Chinese bands to put out music on vinyl?

For me vinyl means you must respect the music. MP3s are like a whirlpool filling with uncertain information. They are easier for people, but I don’t like them.

You’re about to embark on a pretty extensive tour of China in conjunction with the release; what are you looking forward to?

We exist to do shows, it’s nice to meet more people and play with the bands outside Beijing.

After the tour is done what’s next for Streets Kill Strange Animals?

We will write new songs when we finish the tour, but before that we must have a good rest!

You can pick up Streets Kill Strange Animals’ new 7″ ‘Through’ by mail-order or from select stores around the globe. If you reside in the Middle Kingdom be sure to catch the band on their China tour as they roll through your town!