Tim Chan of China Syndrome and Asian Persuasion All-Stars by Gord McCaw
Rock Against Racism, taking place this Saturday at the Rickshaw, is kind of a masterfully-curated smorgasbord of music, headlined and organized by local hardcore punk institution DOA, but it's a lot more than that - especially in terms of the music on offer. We presume DOA might whip out a few of their reggae tunes for this event, but they're really the only punk act on the bill, which also includes the Kàrá-Kàtá Afrobeat Orchestra (who helpfully contain their genre in their bandname), Buckman Coe (who kinda contain a few genres but the song I linked reminds me of Jack Johnson's more happy-go-lucky moments), long-lived local reggae/ funk unit Roots Roundup (whose co-founder Greg Hathaway I interviewed not too long ago about this very event), power-pop trio China Syndrome (whom I have written about many times; you can go here for further links) and the Asian Persuasion All-Stars (see here for my interview with them). That last is kind of a supergroup united by the members mostly coming from Asian backgrounds and having a desire to fight anti-Asian racism, incorporating members of a few of the bands playing that night. You're not going to get a richer, more fullsome, varied or longer night of music for $25 anywhere in Vancouver (that's including the fees! Eventbrite page here).the Aboriginal Mothers Centre, the Kàrá-Kàtá African Village, the Urban Native Youth Association, the South Burnaby Metro Club, and Nation Skates Youth. So you can party all night for twenty bucks and actually do something moral and helpful with your money? Jeez, why would you go anywhere else this Saturday?
DOA's Joe Keithley says of the event,"We are in a tough and unsettled time right now and as we have gone through the pandemic we have seen racism grow in Canada, to the point where racists organizations are seemingly getting stronger. So as a way of trying to fight this scourge I thought back to the Rock Against Racism rallies that D.O.A. played on in the late 1970's. Those rallies were a great success and they motivated people to stand up to this kind of BS. So the Rickshaw Theatre and I have asked musicians to join this cause. I really believe this will work because music has always had the effect of making us stronger and it has the power of healing at the same time."
My questions for Tim Chan were brief (and in fact contained in a single sentence!) but I'll break them down to set up his answers.
Tim: Asian Persuasion All Stars (APAS) is a big band and in being this way we can perform with different configurations depending on people's availability, illness, etc. Actually I don't think we've had the same lineup for two gigs in a row! We just played a gig last week as part of Asian Heritage Month to benefit local anti-racism organization Elimin8hate at D6 Bar & Lounge in the Parq Hotel and, due to illness and scheduling conflicts, we had a relatively 'stripped down' lineup of APAS of 10 members -- we were missing three people, but we did have a full three piece horn section. Nonetheless we still pulled it off and had a great time. For the gig before that at LanaLou's we had a totally different horn section, co-opting Melissa Lee and Jose Blanco from the Vanrays. We are fortunate that we have such great musicians in the band, so we can adjust easily to whatever configuration we end up with. Our usual horn players (Kevin Tang, trombone and arrangements; Ashton Sweet, trumpet, flugelhorn, sax; David Brown, baritone sax) are all well-seasoned and incredibly talented players and are involved in multiple bands here in Vancouver; I feel so privileged to play with them.
Are there new songs or new recordings?
We are still primarily a covers band and we have been talking a little bit about writing our own material. All of us have the potential to write, so given time we will hopefully come up with some songs of our own. Covers-wise, we've added some eclectic new material including a reggae-fied version of Depeche Mode's "People Are People," the raucous "Birthday Cake" by Cibo Matto, "September" by Earth, Wind, and Fire, and some upbeat 'dark wave' in the form of the Cure's "In Between Days." We have recorded a new cover song and will be shooting a video for it outside as soon as the weather cooperates with us -- we've just had really bad luck over the past month or so with the bad weather as well as trying to get everyone in the same place on the same day!
Have there been any interesting experiences, discoveries, life-lessons or such playing in a band organized around anti-racism?
Our experience so far has not been that different really from being in our other bands, though others in APAS might have different opinions... Overall, again it has been a fabulous experience, having the opportunity to play with musicians I've never played with before (as well as reuniting with Eric Lowe, whom I've been in multiple bands with), and really getting to know everyone. We were mostly aware of but did not necessarily know each other, and APAS was a great chance to get quite a diverse group, musically speaking, to play together.
Tim: Well my ethnic background is something that is always there, but not necessarily played up. For sure, APAS definitely leads with our identity and it's been a really positive experience. I'm really proud of who I am and who we are, which is different from when I was younger and wanted to hide from it, mostly in reaction to racism. But Eric and I have always flirted with playing up our background -- we did a campus radio show together in Victoria called the "Two Chinese Guys." The name of the show had nothing to do with the content, which of course was playing the punk/indie rock of the day, though we did do one show with both of us speaking in our respective Cantonese dialects and not understanding what each other was saying at all! Eric and I, along with Kev Lee (of Bum and Infamous Scientists fame), also had a fuck band going for a few years called the Rocking Chinamen. We initially focussed on taking the piss out of songs that had any small mention of Chinese or Asian content (e.g. "China Grove," "Kung Fu Fighting," "Rice Riot" [our version of DOA's "Race Riot," but with the lyrics "Rice riot, don't fry it, bird's nest soup, don't even try it..."]), but we eventually ended up just playing fun stuff we all enjoyed like the Replacements, Ramones, the Saints, the Lyres, NRBQ, Descendents, and the Dictators.
Tony Lee: One surprise from playing in the band is what a joy it is to hang out with all the friendly people in the band. No one his big ego, which makes for a few Canadian standoffs with decision making (no, after you!) Not surprising is how difficult it is to get everyone together.
As far as Asian identity goes, we were trying to find compatible opening bands but we are a bit trapped in a scene of mostly white and mostly older (fifty something) musicians. Good ones though. We have recently met some great younger singers like Amanda Sum at Elimin8Hate events.
We like to cover Asian artists, but my taste is stuck in the nineties with Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife and the Blue Hearts (who only sing in Japanese). We've got Japanese Breakfast and Mitski and the amazing Linda Lindas now, and I'll get some BTS going eventually.
Eric Lowe:One unexpected reaction in playing with this group is how audiences and other musicians just treat us like a band, not an Asian band. Our ethnicity rarely, if ever comes up. I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering the musical circle we hang in is quite inclusive, but it's still refreshing. A second surprise is how despite being a 12/13 piece band we manage to fit onto the tiny Lanalou's stage - like we've squeezed into a clown car holding instruments. On a personal note it's been a pleasure getting to know everyone in the band, a really great group of people.
We've been keeping things pretty low key on the China Syndrome front, despite getting this more high profile gig. We've decided to continue as a three-piece for now--we're really enjoying playing in this configuration and further developing our sound this way. We've come up with a few new songs during the pandemic, but don't really plan to record until we have more new material to choose from. However, we have been rehearsing some older songs from our back catalogue; we're revisiting some stuff we haven't done in years or have never played as a three-piece. So if you're itching to hear some deep cuts from the debut China Syndrome album or Nothing's Not Worth Knowing, check us out over the next while!