Talking Trash with Xiao Zhong from Pairs

Over the past few years Pairs have become one of the most talked about bands in not just Shanghai, but the entire Chinese DIY scene, largely due to the fact that they run laps around most other bands in terms of their output. The Pairs approach to music making definitely syncs with the 80/20 rule championed by the Crap Art / Album a Day movement (“If only 20% of the effort is needed to get 80% of the quality, then by spending only 20% of the effort, we can create five times as many artifacts at 80% quality!” ). The results are often scrappy, lo-fi, out of tune, out of time, and intensely fun. It’s so carefree it’s inspiring; I defy you to listen to a Pairs record and not want to pick up an instrument, start blasting away, record an album right there in your living room and then book a tour and take off the next day.

The Pairs discography spans everything from noise punk to piano ballads (and most recently Christmas covers); their live shows are controlled anarchy at it’s very best, Xiao Zhong looking like he’s one blast beat away from a nervous breakdown, screaming his heart out, sticking his drum sticks down his throat, while F sways to and fro, smashing out a few rudimentary chords with unrelenting ferocity. At this point they are few scenes across Asia that haven’t come into contact with Pairs and their sonic barrage, and while it’s lo-fi anger on record and stage and some staunch opinions in print, maybe the most important point is that Pairs are some of the nicest human beings you will ever encounter and pillars of China’s DIY scene. For every minute of time they put into their own band they are willing to lend to others, whether it’s setting up shows, tours, silk screening shirts, or sharing contacts. Pairs are part of it all.

Following up from the split release with New Zealand’s God Bows To Math we had a sit down with Xiao Zhong of Pairs to discuss how 2013 has treated the band, including touring South Korea, reactions to their piano punk album Eltham Join, and what the future might hold.

How was South Korea? Did you get any plastic surgery done? Did you sleep in an alley after losing a soju drinking competition?

South Korea was so much fun! Such an easy place to get around. Love Motels totally won us over, I don’t know how they make money but it was just a joy not having to wait for some sucker to photocopy my passport so the man knows where I’m sleeping.

No plastic surgery or hair plugs. No drinking competitions. We were a little boring this trip I guess but I can’t handle hangovers, and fuck being trapped wanting to vomit on a bus for five hours where no one speaks English. Also, soju hurts the gut hole, but way less so than baijiu.

Pairs playing at Rat On Swamp Dog in Shanghai

What’s going on in Shanghai right now? We’re seeing more releases coming out of the scene, but are things moving or just going round in circles? Are more people wearing Ray Bans on stage?

Thank fuck Converse and Ray Bans have little to no interest in Shanghai bands. That shit is a little gross. I’m not a big anti corporation kind of thing, if they want to get involved and chip in some money – cool, I just hate bands wearing sunglasses on stage.

I just watched that Beijing Punk documentary and realised that even though it was five or six years ago, I know most of the bands and people – seems like they are still doing the same stuff, fighting the same fights, talking the same shit and reading old Shanghaiist interviews with people, you can see it just goes around in circles. Venues are getting harder to book for various bullshit reasons and it seems to lack an excitement. But that’s me, I’m overly critical.

In addition to your recent “Christmas” album you’ve put out “piano punk” and electronic records this year. Have people been coming to your shows and complaining about the lack of Elton John and Daft Punk covers in your live set?

No, but I think before every set we played in South Korea we heard Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky.’ It’s a nice song to set up to. We did get booked a show in Jiading and they were disappointed when they found out we weren’t a piano band. They even set up the keyboards and pushed us to do a song from Eltham Join, but I can’t remember any of them. Best forgotten some of them, anyway.

How did you cross paths with God Bows To Math and Muzai Records?

One my old band’s first tour of New Zealand, we met Benjii who had a radio show and DJ’d Glassjaw before or set. He was writing for a zine as well. We became instant friends and we went back the second time, we played a show with friends of his which was Martin and Tom from God Bows To Math’s old band. Then when Pairs went to New Zealand, Martin and Benjii hooked it all up and were just living legends and made me wish that I lived in New Zealand.

Rhys & Martin

China is a big place, there’s plenty of folks you could be splitting 7″s with. Why go to the trouble of doing a split with a band from New Zealand?

Because I love those guys. I love their sense of humour, their attitude, how motivated they are, their songs, their influences – everything. Just super funny and friendly guys. Plus, it gives us a chance to work with Muzai Records. I have dreams where I just sit around talking to Benjii from Muzai Records and wake up super happy. Plus, it helps them on their tour here and it probably builds some kind of very flimsy bridge. Soft power or whatever the men in the know say.

That split with GBTM linked scenes from the UK, China, Aus and NZ; what’s the value of joining the dots between the different scenes?

Basically, we have a bunch of go to people who are up for ideas and are all about seeing them through to completion. A lot of people will say ‘Yeah, I love it, let’s do it!’ and you never hear from them again or they pull out last minute when they are expected to fork over the cash. But in our list of ace guys who put their money where their mouth is and do things with the right attitude, there’s Bomb Shop in the UK, Genjing in China, Muzai in New Zealand and Tenzenmen in Australia. So it just made sense to bring everyone together and introduce everyone and make total best friends forever. I know when Benjii went to the UK, they caught up with James from Bomb Shop and Tenzenmen helped God Bows out on their Australian tour. Just makes sense connecting a bunch of good sorts and seeing what they can do.

Without sounding overly morbid one day you are going to be worm food: at that point what will that vinyl record mean to the world?

I nearly became worm food in Korea. Had a fucked heart thing at Samsung D’Light. Didn’t feel good at all, couldn’t breathe or really move. Lips went all white and lasted a good 24 hours. Made me worried I had punctured my lung or had a blood clot or some shit.

I don’t know what the vinyl will mean. Probably not much. But it’s something for the resume, something for the experience board, a good way to feel productive and have a project with a bunch of friends and maybe someone will hear a song they haven’t heard and that will inspire them to do something productive with their time or just give them two minutes of a good time. Bury me with the record though. I’m taking the masters to my grave.

Now the split is done and dusted what are Pairs going to be up to? A smooth jazz record maybe?

Nah, two more records in the works. Drums are done on one, just need to work with Reykjavictim to get some guitars down and we’ve got a proper full band one with real songs and bullshit coming out before Summer 2014. Just got to find out who we will record with and where and all that boring stuff that makes me cry.

Pairs at Basement Bar in Busan, Korea

This isn’t goodbye; it’s just an intermission before the next email interview. Any words to share until next time?

Thanks so much for helping us organise our South Korean tour! It was such a good time. We met some really great people, got to breathe fresh air and eat healthy food. Wi-fi was everywhere and fast and the girls are amazingly beautiful. I feel like every band should go there, and play Basement Bar in Busan. People there go crazy!

Keep up with Pairs and their prodigious output on Facebook, Douban, Weibo and Bandcamp.